Paris people

The unavoidable warrior

Bernard-Henri Lévy, 62, is what you can call a case. Obscenely rich, very influential and married to a beautiful actress, Arielle Dombasle, who resembles a mermaid and even has that kind of name. The International Herald Tribune just called him “the Gabriele d’Annunzio of the 21st century”. But at home, in France, he attracts violent rejection and even allergic reactions.

An unavoidable war

Fact is, that after having missed somehow the Arabic spring in Tunisia and Egypt, Mr. Levy then concentrated all his efforts on Libya. He was the one who managed to get the Libyan opposition a hearing from president Nicolas Sarkozy – followed by the recognition of the Interim Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya by the French. We all know how this ended up: on March 17, Washington voted with France and Britain for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya to protect the civilian population. Levy calls the intervention in Libya “an unavoidable war”.

The second minister

Since then, the French press has seen him as a kind of second foreign minister. Lévy is also omnipresent in the foreign press. He gave a major interview to German news magazine Der Spiegel (here is an English version) and harshly called German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle “a disaster”, later he appealed for his resignation.

Lévy also said to “Der Spiegel”, that he was surprised by “the incredulity and the gratefulness of the three Libyans when they understood what Sarkozy had just said to them. The great significance of what he proposed to them. The radicalism of his gesture. That moment of astonishment and of realization -- it was a beautiful moment.”

Why do so many people still hate Mr. Levy? A lot just don’t like his “mise en scene”: the white shirts always a bit too open, the skin always a bit too suntanned, the suites always a bit too expensive.

The conscience of France

But he’s not only the “le plus beau du quartier”, the most handsome guy in the neighbourhood, as the line goes in Carla Bruni’s song of the same title (who was the one who broke up the marriage of Lévy’s daughter Justine). He’s also the conscience of France. Mr. Levy is the guy who never misses a crisis, a war or a violation of human rights.

He somehow is a “public enemy”. And nobody expressed the rejection better than the writer Michel Houellebecq in their common correspondence published under the same title (Public enemies): obscenely rich, he is the “philosopher without thought, but with relations” and the “filmmaker of the most ridiculous film in film history”.

Motivated by fate

There is a lot of jealousy at stake in the fact that many of the French really hate him. But this doesn’t explain it all. I guess it’s the immense gulf between his convictions, his commitment and his own lifestyle. But Levy explains his commitment and his privileged situation: He is motivated, Lévy says by the “strange thing called fate, which ensures that one person is born into hell and the other into excess. I can hardly stand the contradiction. The thought that the only reason someone is treated like an animal is that he was born in Darfur, this sense of horrible injustice, is a feeling I have had since my youth. I was a student at the time, and left university to go to Bangladesh. There was a genocide going on there that no one was reporting. I felt that this commitment was my moral duty.”

A butler dressed in livery

I will never forget the day when I did my first interview with Mr. Levy. A butler dressed in livery opened the door and later served green tea. Back then, Mr. Lévy and his wife where living in a palatial apartment on Boulevard Saint-Germain. They now occupy an apartment at Hotel Raphael surrounded by gold-framed mirrors like the hall of mirrors in Versailles – waiting for the restoration of their new residence – and for peace in Libya.Photos:
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most important one in France? Bernard-Henri Levy arrives here for a meeting at the presidential Elysee palace in Paris on March 10th. Photo:  AFP, Eric Feferberg
AFP, Nikolas Kominis