08.22.11

Freedom Wins in Libya

As Libya's ragtag rebels face a renewed pushback from Gaddafi's troops, Bernard-Henri Lévy pays homage to those who have written a new page in the history of their country.

We’ve heard it all!

They were getting bogged down in this war.

The insurgents were disorganized, undisciplined, lightweights.

The National Transitional Council was divided, torn by factional rivalry, tribalized.

And in fact, when the moment came, the tribes loyal to Muammar Gaddafi would put up a fierce resistance from their Tripolitan bastions, one that would go on for a long time.

And as for Nicolas Sarkozy, he had embarked upon a dicey, ill-thought-out adventure, one from which his own political allies should try to extricate him.

In truth, the conflict, once more, opposed these two vast parties that are as old as politics itself. On the one side, the eternal family, not so much of enemies of the people or friends of the despots but of those paralyzed by Power, bewitched by Tyranny. This is the eternal family, yes, of those incapable of imagining, and I do mean imagining, that the order of dictatorships is transitory, ephemeral, as are all human orders, perhaps even more. And on the other side, the great party of those whose judgment has not been clouded by this strange passion, this paralysis of the soul inflicted by the Gorgon or by the cold monster, those still capable of conceiving, just conceiving, that dictatorships endure only due to the credit granted them, that is to say the fear they incite in their subjects and the reverence they inspire in the rest of the world. And when this credibility is gone, when it goes flat, like a bad charm or a mirage, dictatorships crumble like castles in the sand or become paper tigers.

When the time comes, I will go into, at length, all I have witnessed, in Libya and outside Libya, during these past six months that have perhaps changed the face of this beginning of the century.

But for the time being, I wish to pay homage to all those, both here and there, who refused to despair in this gamble on the simple freedom of men, one so natural but which seemed mad to many.

I wish to do justice to the Libyan fighters some dared to describe as bolting like rabbits when confronted with the legions of a devil of histrionics, men I had the privilege of being next to on the fronts of Brega, Ajdabiya, Gualich, and Misrata, and who, once more, demonstrated this invincible force I have found, throughout my life, among those who make war without enjoying it.

I want to tell of the probity of this Transitional National Council that I saw spring up and then gain maturity, and which, with its men and women of diverse origins, lifelong democrats or converts from Gaddafism, those returned from years of exile or those who worked to oppose the regime from within, had scarcely any experience at democracy either, no more than its members were familiar with things military, but knew enough, despite all this, to add a magnificent page to the world history of resistance.

I wish to salute the American and European airmen, in particular the French, who joined a war that was not exactly theirs but whose mission was to take the time required to accomplish the task mandated them by the United Nations, to bring assistance to the civilian population; to incur, if they had to, the rumble of impatience from those who didn’t find that things dragged on during 42 years of dictatorship but who, once past the first 100 days, when it was a question of saving innocent lives, found them interminable; and, sometimes, to place their own lives in peril rather than taking the risk of hitting a civilian target.

And as for Sarkozy, one can be on the other side, one can be opposed to the rest of his politics, as I am, but how can one fail to recognize that it is France, under his presidency, that took the initiative to support the birth of a free Libya? How can one not pay tribute to the unheard-of tenacity he demonstrated during every stage of this war? And how can one fail to remark that he will have done for Libya what a François Mitterrand had refused, to the very end, to do for dismembered Bosnia?

Supported by France and by their other allies, the rebels have written a new page in the history of their country.

Beyond their country, they have inaugurated an era, and it is difficult to believe it will have no effect upon the region in general and, in particular, upon Syria.

And this anti–Iraq War, this military intervention that came, not to parachute democracy down on the heads of a silent people, but to support an insurrection that had already demanded it and, in preparation, had provided itself with transitory but legitimate representation will remain, as well, one for the history books.

In this moment, only the mediocre in spirit could refuse to share the pure joy inspired by this compelling event.

What is dying: an ancient concept of sovereignty in which all crimes are permitted as long as they go on within the frontiers of the state.

What has been born: the idea of the universality of rights that is no longer a pious hope but a passionate obligation for all who truly believe in the unity of mankind and in the virtue of the right to intervene, which is its corollary.

The time will come, of course, when questions will be asked, doubts expressed, perhaps mistakes made or the first setbacks encountered. But, in this moment, only the mediocre in spirit could refuse to share the pure joy inspired by this in every way compelling event.