On 13th December 2011, Bernard-Henri Lévy addressed an audience including Members of Parliament, members of the House of Lords and diplomats at a meeting hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic and International Security and The Henry Jackson Society in the House of Commons.
M. Lévy began by saying how pleased he was to be delivering his presentation not only in London, but in the Palace of Westminster, the home of democracy. Providing a testimony of what he saw during the war in Libya earlier this year, during which time he played a unique role in advising French President Nicholas Sarkozy, he spoke of the close relationship between M. Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron, and the impact this had had on events in Libya.
Questioning how such an effective bond formed between these two heads of government, he explored the nature of leadership and the impact of history on decision-making today. Lévy cited the youth and liberalism of Sarkozy and Cameron as crucial factors in the success of their partnership, as well as their sense of freedom from the paralysis induced by events in the past, such as Bosnia and Darfur. Comparing the courage and conviction of M. Sarkozy to the lack of such attributes in his predecessors, M. Lévy noted the need for a mixture of knowledge and wisdom in strong leadership. In response to a query from the audience, he said that the more recent events surrounding the European economy would not lead to an undermining of their relationship, but rather that this would eventually help them to overcome differences.
Giving his personal account of the ‘miracles’ leading to the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, M. Lévy spoke on the changing nature of international interventionism. He examined the basis on which such interventionism could be justified, such as mass uprisings and human rights violations and noted how the events in Libya had changed dramatically the perception of interventionism – previously viewed as Western and neo-imperialist – in the Middle East. This shift in how people in the Middle East, as well as their new leaders, viewed international involvement, he said, would have a positive impact on challenging radical Islamism in these newly democratic countries by challenging existing doctrine. In particular, M. Lévy observed how NATO’s intervention had forced many Libyan Islamists into re-evaluating their perceptions of the West and the nature of its role in the Muslim world.
Following a comment from the audience, M. Lévy elaborated on the nature of revolutionary movements, with a specific focus on the death of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, with which came the loss of a crucial archive of his dictatorship. Discussing the nature of revolutions and the emotions it inspires in people, he cited in particular Jean-Paul Sartre’s writing on the phenomenon of group infusion. He said that whilst Gaddafi’s death could, and possibly should, have been avoided, he noted that the most important outcome was that the Libyan people, including the leadership and the military, felt the same regret as the international community regarding Gaddafi’s death.
Audience members also asked M. Lévy about his views on the Palestinian cause and its use by some people as a tool to attack Israel, and the prospects of the uprising in Syria. On Palestine, he spoke of the nature of what it meant to be a people and the nature of self-identity. He acknowledged the misuse of the Palestinian cause by some other actors in the world, but stressed that the important focus must be finding a way to bring about peace between two people in two states.
M. Lévy discussed the differences between the situation in Libya before the war, and the current situation in Syria. He pointed out the lack of will in the international community until a clear leadership came forward requesting foreign involvement. Speaking of the great shame of the attitudes of certain countries on the UN Security Council, he said that until they changed, they would bear responsibility for the mounting death toll in Syria, which he believed would play heavily on the minds of the individual diplomats forced to represent the views of their leaders obstructing efforts to find a solution. However, he also noted the small glimmer of hope that he saw in the changing attitude of the Arab League. He said that their recent taking of responsibility for the situation in Syria demonstrated an inherent acceptance of the concept of international involvement in order to stop the violations of human rights, previously a concept viewed as Western and therefore undesirable. This shift in attitude, he said, provided some light in the dark events currently gripping the Syrian nation and its people.