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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Posted: February 21, 2011 08:20 PM

In Cairo, since last week, trying to observe from its epicenter the unfathomable earthquake shaking the Arab world. I'll come back to this, of course. I'll come back in detail. But how can one fail to salute, already, the tremendous slap in the face that, from Bahrein to Tripoli, Algiers to Sanaa, will have been inflicted upon those who adhere to History at a standstill, played out as a fatality, petrified in its unfortunate destinies. And how, moreover, can one not be astounded by the courage of the men and women who confront, bare-handed, the forces of repression the Egyptian counter-example seems to have decided to cede absolutely nothing? At present, we must unconditionally support these Arab revolts against dictatorship.

News from Paris, of the unofficial opening of the campaign of a certain Dominique Strauss-Kahn. And, from his detractors, echoes of very nasty murmurs. From the right: this man who has neither region nor territory, this definitively rootless individual, this Frenchman of paper who has never learned to pat a cow's hindquarters, what does he know of "rural France"? What can he tell us about the France we "like"? What right has he to pretend to incarnate the "real country"? The others, on the left: how can a director of the IMF, exiled in Washington for the past four years, familiar with high finance, represent his party? Embody the hopes of the simple people of his country? How can the new man of golden china, erstwhile belt-tightener of the "PIGS" (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) not turn out to be, when the time comes, the objective ally of "liberal order"? The double face of a "French ideology" that, decidedly, never tires of proving those who would destroy it right.

I remember Jean-Paul Dollé, the man a last handful of friends--Roland Castro, Regis Debray, Gilles Hertzog and I--buried in Beaugency cemetery last week. At the end of the 70s, didn't he write a book called l'Odeur de la France [The Scent of France]? And, in the midst of the era of the New Philosophers, didn't I publish this work myself? Yes, of course. But, precisely, once upon a time the odor of France was also that of the most lofty works. Once it was the homeland of the idea, of the perfume of universality, of which a post-Maoist could recall that it was never so great as when it was for all men. Once upon a time, yes, there was a philosopher and poet who, when he said "France", brought to mind a people of the Communards, the Dreyfusards, the Maquisards whose uncrushable grandeur another of our friends, Pierre Goldman, whose biography he would write, evoked. What a backslide. And how sad.

And Philippe Sollers's "La France moisie" [Moldy France]. And this 1999 article to which Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette cannot resist alluding, in the film about the author of Paradis. Over a decade later, the audience still gets the allusion, unfortunately, loud and clear. One would like to tell only of the rest. One would like to see and hear only the beauty of these images and the impression of unbridled youth emanating from them. In this film, one must be able to pay attention only to this invention of a style and, thus, of a way of existing, to this manner of being infused with the light and the beauty of art and, consequently, of the world that will be Sollers's other lasting "mark". But no. The times demand it. The wretchedness of the echo chamber and of the hideous mirrors they offer. The interminable knell of fascism à la française.

And the Jardin case. I haven't read Alexandre Jardin's book about his grandfather, Jean Jardin, who was a collaborator of Pierre Laval. And, obviously, I don't have it here with me. But I think back on the astonishing violence of the reactions it inspired. I think of this torrent of venom, these insults, these phony witnesses called upon to talk of the forebear's sense of measure and the venal baseness of the grandson. I hear again the yapping of the right-thinking conformists who, furious at having lost their "magical child" and finding him replaced by a "prosecutor" hell-bent on "sullying the name of the Jardins", dish out their eternal, warmed-over couplet about the Pétainist-Resistant who, with one hand, sent Jews to the gas chamber and, with the other, claimed to have saved a few. Once again, the book doesn't matter. Here is a Frenchman who tries, with probity, to empty the closet of the family poisons. And confronting him, the old, terrified pack who, because he pronounces the word "memory", can find nothing better to do than to draw the revolver of insults. Well, that creates a context. And even an atmosphere.

And meanwhile, the King of Bahrain is killing people. Colonel Qadaffi launches his appeal for civil war and is behaving like a butcher. One of the rare credible opponents of Bouteflika's dictatorship in Algeria, my friend Saïd Sadi, is insulted in his country's press and sometimes in that of our own. And the nuclear power of the Arabo-Muslim world--namely, Pakistan--is beginning, in general indifference, to reverse its alliances to support the Shura of the Taliban, allow ISI agents to support the Jihad in an increasingly open manner and, last but not least, invite nearly 11,000 Chinese soldiers to Gilgit-Baltistan. Normal? Not exactly. But this, too, I shall come back to.

From here on, there are two solutions. Either the terror of Captain Ahab, as he thought of his first whale (for me, Pakistan, already, forty years ago) and confronted the "horror of the dark abyss" opening before him again. Or else (and, given the choice, I prefer this) the undying passion of Musil murmuring, in the hour of greatest peril, "Go on! Go on! Only the tragic makes one think."