Conrad Black: Out with Qaddafi

Roundup: Historians' Take

Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at

The war in Libya about to end, at least the anti-Qaddafi part of it, is one of the most unusual in modern history. It began as a rebellion that the regime appeared it could probably, narrowly, suppress. French author and very public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy visited Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the seat of the rebellion, and telephoned the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and told him: “French flags are being flown out of the windows of Benghazi, and if France doesn’t assist the rebels, their blood will be on our flag.” This was somewhat tortuous reasoning, as if all a dissident group in one country needed to do to gain the support of another (relatively powerful) country was to show some enthusiasm for it....

France has no historic concern with Libya. However, France does have a Muslim problem. Having occupied Algeria in 1830, and treated it legally as a province of France and not a colony, France — when it vacated Algeria in 1962 after a fierce and bloody war of independence — had to receive not only the one million Europeans, in the Algerian population of nine million, who fled the vengeance of the rebels, but also more than a million Arabs who had been loyal to France. Almost 50 years later, the Muslim (mainly Arab) population of France has grown to seven million in a population of 60 million.

Many of them can be presumed to be enthusiastic French citizens, but many are afflicted by the social disease of millions of other Muslims across Europe, and are very antagonistic to the nation and culture that is their host. The backlash against Muslim violence and other provocations has become a powerful issue in France, and, at the time of Lévy’s call from Benghazi, for the first time in the Fifth Republic (founded by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, and the most successful governmental system France has ever had), a racially exclusivist and right-wing populist party (the National Front) was running almost even in the polls with the Gaullists, who have won eight of this Republic’s ten presidential elections, and the Socialists, who won the other two elections....

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