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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

The Honor of Benghazi

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Indeed, history has more imagination than men do.

It is Friday, September 21st.

The burning, global-wide topic of the hour is the demonstrations of hatred from one end of the Arab-Muslim world to the other, on the pretext of a despicable anti-Islamic "film."

Everywhere, talk is exclusively of these Salafists, thrilled with the opportunity for a hostile takeover of the Arab Spring, whether Egyptian, Tunisian or, alas, Libyan.

The revolution is frozen, some say. Others mutter that this is proof that these societies definitively balk at the values of moderation and tolerance that are the soul of democracy. There were good things about the dictatorships, others triumphantly proclaim: Didn't they at least have the merit of maintaining some semblance of order, of controlling the human beast, of suffocating the extremists?

And here in Benghazi, this capital of Cyrenaica that was the cradle of the anti-Qaddafi uprising two years ago, where, in still unclear but atrocious circumstances, American Ambassador Chris Stevens, this generous, luminous figure, such a true friend of the new Libya, was murdered, a coup de theatre has occurred. Thousands, no, tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators have taken to the streets, demanding, simply but adamantly, the disarmament of the militias and, in at least two cases, that of the Salafist militia Ansar al-Sharia and that of the Abu Slim Martyrs' Brigade, chasing them from their headquarters, their barracks, sometimes from the hospitals that they have occupied since the end of the war and where they have tried to establish a reign of terror.

The event is still too fresh to fully rejoice in.

But the fact is that the citizens of Benghazi, bare-handed and in just a few hours, have accomplished what their leaders, with their police and their embryonic army, had scarcely dared to undertake in the space of eighteen months.

The fact is that with their banners and their slogans ("Never again Al Qaeda!" or "Blood shed in the name of liberty must not be in vain!" or "No to armed groups, yes to the army in Libya!") they express the exact same message that the friends of free Libya despaired of ever hearing from the mouths of elected leaders.

And the fact is, finally, that, concerning the martyred Ambassador Stevens, the solemn occasion moved them to words of desolation and sorrow, the right words, the true words, that their leaders, whose first reaction was to blame the United States for not having adequately protected their diplomatic representatives, had been incapable of finding either: "We demand justice for Stevens!" one read on certain signs, while the crowd marched behind others, adorned with his portrait, that read, "Libya has lost a friend!" -- in those words, they said it all; in one breath, the same that carried them through the heroic hours of 2011, the people saluted one of their own and rendered him homage.

The fighting (for there was some, that night) caused a dozen deaths -- which is no small matter.

The confusion of hours was such that the farm at Hawari, 15 kilometres from Benghazi, which served as headquarters to another brigade that had already placed itself under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, was attacked -- it was an error, and the demonstrators acknowledged the fact by immediately leaving the premises.

And moreover, nothing says that the departure of the Islamists is not merely a tactic of retreat, a ruse permitting them to regroup and to return in strength to recommence their seditious dirty work, its aim to crush liberty, at the first opportunity.

But, nonetheless.

The event is there, magnificent and, in a sense, irrevocable.

Whatever may follow, the people have given us a rare lesson in dignity, political intelligence, and courage.

In the merciless struggle since the fall of the dictator that has pitted the assassins of cities and their supporters, the urbiciders and the local citizens, it is the latter, the civilized citizen city-dwellers, who have marked the decisive point -- and that, also, is irrevocable.

In the only war that counts, in the war that, in Libya as in the rest of the Arab world, opposes not the West and Islam but, within Islam, those who seek peace and those who wish for war, Islam that aspires to a dialogue between civilisations and Islam that is betting on the clash between the two -- in this war, yes, the liberals gained a decisive advantage in winning, hands down, the first free elections of the after-Qaddafi era, in July. But, now they have gained a second one, none the less brilliant, by forcing their leaders to finally control those who truly insult the Koran, the assassins of Stevens and their wicked mentors.

So goes the Libyan revolution, from dream to nightmare, from bloody retreat to restrained and fraternal advance.

And so go all revolutions -- exactly as in France: from 1789 to 1793, from the Gironde to the Montagne, from the feast of the Federation to the September massacres and then, on to Thermidor.

But the truth is that, this Friday, seeing the images of men and women who wished only to save their city and, with their city, the memory of a fight they refused to abandon to those who would drown hope, thus renewing the founding pact, I was proud of my Libyan friends.