Art Goldhammer has a post on his blog on that French fraud named Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom I have blogged about more than once. Goldhammer, “with the greatest reluctance [breaking his] vow never to write about BHL”—a vow I should make as well, though I know I won’t respect it— is amazed at BHL’s claim that a post-Qadhafi Libya will normalize relations with Israel, and wonders
Exactly who is not telling the truth here and who is confused about the nature of BHL’s activities is not clear. Perhaps he misrepresented what the NTC said. Perhaps he misrepresented his position to the NTC. Perhaps he made things up when talking to Netanyahu. Perhaps the NTC simply misunderstood, or BHL did.
I have the answer for Art, or, rather, I am 98.5% certain I do. BHL made it up. I make this assertion because he is notorious for making things up. The examples are legion. E.g. his Le Monde “reportages” from Georgia in September 2008 were riddled with manifest figments of his imagination. His accounts of his twenty-year long “friendship” with Ahmed Shah Massoud likewise reflected a challenged relationship with the truth. And one does not forget his infamous roman-enquête of the murder of Daniel Pearl, where he brazenly made stuff up.
And then there was BHL’s trip to Algeria in late 1997, which laid bare his vivid imagination, for me at least. In the first part of his lengthy reportage on his visit, published in Le Monde on 8 January 1998, BHL wrote about how he gave his minders at the hotel the slip, took a stroll through the heart of Algiers, had an early lunch at a cheap fish restaurant on the waterfront, and met a “moderate Islamist”
Un islamiste modéré ? Le hasard m’en fait rencontrer un, le lendemain matin, toujours à Alger. Il est tôt. Je suis sorti de l’hôtel sans prévenir les anges gardiens première infraction à la règle ! Je suis redescendu, place des Martyrs, jusqu’à une échoppe, toute noire, où l’on vend, en plein Alger, des appels à la djihad, des récits héroïques de la guerre d’Afghanistan, une biographie autorisée d’Ali Belhadj, le chef emprisonné des islamistes. Et je me trouve devant la mosquée Djama el Kebir, rôdant, hésitant à entrer, observant la foule des fidèles qui se hâtent pour la prière (regards de connivence; nouvelles du matin ; petits rires ; embrassades ; mélange, qui me surprend un peu, de vieux en djellabahs et de jeunes chaussés d’Addidas…). Je suis là, donc, quand un type, bizarre, très agité, s’approche : « Qu’est ce que tu fais là ? C’est la place des musulmans ! Les étrangers n’ont rien à faire ici. » Puis, sans transition : « Tu as de l’argent français ? Viens, on va manger du poisson ; tu verras, c’est l’ami de ma soeur ! » Et me voilà donc attablé, de bon matin, devant une assiette de poisson trop frit dans une gargotte de la pêcherie, à écouter l’édifiant récit de la conversion à l’« islamisme modéré » de Saïd et de sa famille.
When I first read those lines I practically fell out of my chair. It was patently obvious to me that BHL’s story was entirely fabricated. Algiers at the time was a very dangerous city for Westerners, who were being explicitly targeted for assassination by Islamist terrorists (and who roamed the city during those years). Westerners did not take walks in Algiers in the mid and late ’90s, and if any tried to do so, they would have been picked up by the security services within minutes. BHL did not specify what hotel he stayed at but it could only have been one of two, the Aurassi or El Djezaïr/Saint-Georges, both of which have gates. No one goes in or out of these hotels on foot without passing by guards. Moreover, these hotels are not in the center of the city, so to get to where BHL says he went would have involved at least a 20 to 30 minute walk. The notion that a Western visitor as high-profile and recognizable as BHL could have done this unnoticed on the teeming streets of central Algiers—even today, let alone back then—is laughable. To get an idea of what Algiers was like for Westerners in those days, a well-known American political science specialist of Algeria bravely visited Algiers in mid-1996; as he told me afterward, he had a detachment of heavily armed body guards lent to him by an ex-prime minister friend of his and basically did not leave the Aurassi hotel during his entire stay. People came to him. US diplomats, for their part, were confined to the embassy compound and still are (US rules, not Algerian).
Back to BHL, I was so indignant at reading what was clearly a lie that I called Le Canard Enchaîné and spoke with its journalist who specialized in Maghreb matters (and who incidentally co-authored a scathing book on BHL several years later, and from which the title of my BHL posts is derived). When I told him why BHL’s story could not have been true, he replied that I was obviously right. Vous avez raison, évidemment. But he didn’t write about it, nor did anyone else. So now I am, thirteen years later. Mieux tard que jamais.