The French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy has lambasted Turkey’s pro-government press for its alleged role in a violent attempt last month to derail his investigation of a gruesome massacre in the Libyan town of Tarhuna.
In an interview with The Algemeiner on Monday, the philosopher and human rights advocate recalled how his itinerary in the North African country devastated by civil war was leaked on social media.
“I had hardly set foot on Libyan soil before the schedule was posted to Turkish and Qatari Facebook pages,” Lévy said. Turkish state media actively reported his visit as well, with the government news agency Anadolu provocatively describing Lévy as a “controversial French Jewish intellectual” and then referring to him repeatedly as a “Jewish writer.”
On July 25, Lévy’s convoy was fired upon as it returned to the city of Misrata, located about two hours to the east of Tarhuna.
“After I had completed my investigation, photographing sites and filming witnesses, I was headed back when an armed group fired at my convoy and tried to stop it,” he recalled. During the melee that followed, Lévy was called a “Jewish dog.”
The composition of the armed group “appears to have included municipal police, representatives of the al-Kaniyat militia, and probably Islamists and others nostalgic for (the late dictator Muammar) Kadhafi,” Lévy noted. “It’s hard to say. What I can say with certainty is that it was quite violent. But for the cool head of my driver, and without the detachment of the national police that was following me, things could have turned very ugly.”
The al-Kaniyat militia was responsible, Lévy elaborated, for a “succession of massacres” of civilians in Libya that stretched back to Kadhafi’s overthrow almost a decade ago.
“The strangest thing — and in a certain way, the most terrible — is that, behind the executioners, one always finds the same clan, the Kani, and their militia, the al-Kaniyat,” he explained. In June, investigators discovered a mass grave containing 230 corpses in Tarhuna, some of which exhibited signs of torture and including the remains of children as young as three.
But the authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey — a major player in Libya that supports the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli militarily and politically — has long spurned Lévy because of the broader political positions he has taken, such as supporting Kurdish national rights and opposing the “neo-Ottoman” ambitions pursued by Turkish leaders.
“On at least two occasions, Erdogan has done me the dubious honor of condemning me by name,” Lévy said. “Once at the time of the Kurdish referendum for self-determination. And then on another occasion, a few years ago, he named me as one of those responsible for the removal of [Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed] Morsi in Egypt and his replacement by [current President Abdel Fattah] al-Sissi. Which is absurd, but that’s what he said.”
Continued Lévy: “When I see that, when I see how a lunatic like Erdogan operates, I say to myself, yes, anything is possible. The more so because, I repeat, the details of my agenda were revealed on Turkish social networks: who I was going to see and where; what routes I would take; what intersections I would pass through; where I would stop for lunch, for dinner, to shoot film, and so on.”
Lévy was scathing when asked about the antisemitic dog whistles emanating from the government-controlled press in Turkey.
“The Turkish press was disgraceful in this matter,” he said. “Of course I am Jewish. And I am very proud to be. However I am not a ‘Jewish writer’; I am a ‘French writer.’ And the Turkish journalists know this very well.”
Antisemitism does exist in Libya, Lévy observed, “but less, apparently, than in the country of Erdogan. I remember, in 2011 [when NATO intervened in Libya], the immense crowds, sometimes tens of thousands of young people, to whom I did not hide my membership in one of the oldest tribes in the world.”
He asked: “Could I do that, today, in Istanbul, or Ankara ? I’m not so sure.”
A veteran of conflict reporting in the Balkans, south Asia, the Middle East and other regions of the world, Lévy was adamant that he would not be phased by his recent experience in Libya.
“What befell me is proof that nothing worries these cold-blooded monsters — in this case it was Erdogan’s neo-Ottomans, but the same can be said of Putin’s Great Russians — than an initiative that comes from the people themselves, from civil society,” Lévy said. “The seeds, from this point of view, have been sown. Sprout they will. And the story will continue.”