2002 : The Day I Met Bernard-Henri Levy (by Atiq Rahimi)
It’s February 2002. After 18 years in exile, here I am in my native city, Kabul. It’s cold. The snow, like a blank page, covers the ruins, the wounds of war, as though now the Afghans may mourn and rewrite their history and their destiny anew, after twenty-five years of human barbarism—begun by the communists (1978-1992), further fomented by the civil war (1992-1996), and reaching its peak with the Taliban (1994-2001).
People still look at one another timidly, their words still hesitant, their hands always trembling. But hope grows, quietly, in the hearts of Afghans. For, since the 11th of September 2001, the entire world has turned its attention to them. The soldiers (the International Security Forces), the humanitarians, and the political representatives, they’re all there in Kabul, but, unfortunately, there are not many artists and intellectuals. Yet Bernard-Henri Lévy is there, on a mission sponsored by the French government, to “study the means of a French contribution to the reconstruction of this ruined country”. In the circle of Afghan ex-Mujahidins, intellectuals, and politicos, his name often comes up. They discuss his commitment during the Afghan-Soviet war and, in particular, his support of Massoud, as well has his philosophical and intellectual vocation in the world. They recall his first trip, in the summer of 1982, when he came here to create Radio Kaboul Libre, designed to broadcast messages from the resistance to the Afghan people, and his intervention for Action Against Hunger in 1992.
I finally meet him on March 3rd, at the French embassy. He questions me at length about the cultural state of the country. We exchange ideas and ways to encourage helpless Afghan writers and intellectuals in exile to return to the country. That they should come back, and not let the fundamentalist theologians take their place! We are in the midst of discussion when the city of Kabul begins to tremble beneath our feet. An earthquake. As though someone were shaking this ground, to wake it up.
We rush towards the embassy garden, all the while continuing the discussion of our hopes and dreams. The following day, BHL is to give a lecture before the Afghan intelligentsia, 300 people, on the premises of Radio Kabul.
The result of his mission will be a report to the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, a precise and precious document which, after summing up the current situation, will brilliantly demonstrate the French government’s duty regarding Afghanistan and the necessity of aid to the country. If this report were widely read, not only in France, but in the other countries who maintained a presence in this ruined land, and if a quarter of what the report proposed were put into action, Afghanistan might have a chance to extricate itself from the disaster that presently threatens.
Bernard-Henri Lévy has continued his personal contribution to the reconstruction of the country, particularly in the areas of the press and of art, by supporting an important media center, Aïna, founded by the great photographer, Reza, under whose auspices he created the tri-lingual magazine (in Dari, Pashto, and French), Les Nouvelles de Kaboul. He helped the Kabul Weekly to get back on its feet, etc.
Furthermore, he produced my feature-length film, Terre et cendres, a first in Franco-Afghan cinematographic co-production, which was presented and praised at the 2004 Cannes Festival as well as over fifty other international film festivals and where he succeeded, I believe, in offering another vision of Afghanistan.
So he maintains his commitment, wherever the liberty of a people is threatened, the integrity of a culture deformed, or human dignity scorned, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Born February 26, 1962 in Kabul, Atiq Rahimi fled to Pakistan in 1984. After seeking political asylum in France (he has dual nationality, Afghan and French), he obtained his doctorate at the Sorbonne in audiovisual. Novelist and filmmaker, his first feature film Terre et cendres (produced by Bernard-Henri Levy), is presented in the section Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2004 and won the Prix du Regard vers l’Avenir. On November 10, 2008, he received the Prix Goncourt for his novel Syngué sabour. Pierre de patience (POL).
Translation by Janet Lizop
Photo 1 : February 2002. Meet the “Maleks” of a village near Kabul. (c) Marc Roussel.
Photo 2 : Feature film “Earth and Ashes”by Atiq Rahimi (c) D.R.