WASHINGTON—Targeted sanctions against the Nigerian government for allowing the mass slaughter of Christians within its borders should be on the U.S. congressional agenda, according to a celebrated French war correspondent.
Bernard-Henri Lévy, a renowned French philosopher and rights advocate, was on Capitol Hill recently to stir the conscience of the West regarding past and present genocides, chief among them the war on today’s Nigerian Christians.
“The Nigerian government is not only tolerant but complicit in the violence in Nigeria,” Lévy told a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Oct. 27. “Were I a congressman in the United States, I would study targeted and well-proportionate sanctions against the regime which encourages such crimes.
“I accuse the regime of [Muhammadu] Buhari of complicity of the Islamist Fulani’s.”
Lévy was referring to the ethnic group linked to the destruction and displacement of hundreds of towns occupied by Nigerian Christians.
“The killers have friends in the top levels of the state. People are persecuted not because of what they do, but because of who they are, and what they are is Christian. And for me, this was unbearable,” he said. “That is a scandal.”
In more than 30 books and 45 years of onsite reporting, Lévy has decried scandals in countries ranging from Bangladesh to Libya to Sudan, as well as Northern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria in 2019.
Known as a commanding figure for four decades in the war of ideas against Marxism and anti-Israeli hate, the 73-year-old Lévy is now on a book tour to promote his latest book, “The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope.” He calls it a manifesto for democratic nations to take responsibility for forgotten wars against helpless minorities in faraway places.
Hosted by the International Committee on Nigeria, Lévy has taken his case to members of Congress, to scholars gathered at The Hudson Institute, and to rights activists meeting for a showing of his film at the French Embassy.
“It’s true that the world has accepted so many genocides, starting with the Armenian genocide early in the 20th century,” Lévy told the press event on Nov. 10. “Right up until 1994 in Rwanda … many people were concerned about Rwanda, but only after it was over, and then there were only bodies to count.
“The new genocide is in Nigeria.”
Yet what does distinguish the situation in Nigeria is that the Western world has an opportunity to step in while there is still time to prevent a blood bath as devastating as the Rwandan genocide, according to Lévy.
“We have to escalate more the means in the West to resist,” he said. “We have to act, to do, but the third thing is we have to see.
“My project is to bring the Nigerian question to the highest levels of the U.S. government and to the United Nations.”
Asked why the conflict has been portrayed as a clash between farmers and herders, Lévy cited a need by the United States to keep the status quo intact.
“To say this is simply a farmer–herder clash is absolutely absurd,” he said. “What was that phrase so popular during the Clinton administration? ‘Oh, it’s the economy, stupid!’ The United States thinks, ‘It’s the oil, stupid,’ which means keep the business and economic arrangements.’”
The tasks ahead are multiple, Lévy said, pointing out that civil society in the United States could do much to remediate the crisis in Nigeria.
“In this country, you have a lot of vibrant churches. They care greatly about Christians in the Middle East, but they should care exactly the same about the churches in Nigeria. If I were a member of one of these Christian churches, I would go with my buddies to Nigeria and rebuild a little church. This could be a task of civil society,” he said referring to the thousands of churches in Nigeria that have been burned by ISIS terrorists and by radicalized Muslim mercenaries who destroy churches and massacre unarmed farming families in order to make room for grazing routes.
There are signs that U.S. mainstream media is taking notice of what Lévy has called Nigeria’s forgotten conflict. His book and film come on the heels of Fox News Corp.’s 38-minute documentary produced by war correspondent Lara Logan and streaming on Fox Nation since Sept. 27. “Radicalism in Nigeria,” her close study of the testimonies of citizen journalists in the killing fields of Plateau state, drew similar conclusions as Lévy’s film regarding the malevolent actors in Nigeria.
The ISIS-linked insurgencies known as Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa have killed thousands of unarmed farmers, as well as Nigerian soldiers. Yet the more deadly forces in recent years have been organized militias of paid radical mercenaries, which raze villages and kill scores of people without intervention by the police or the Nigerian military. Both Logan and Lévy have stated that the goal of the insurgency and the Muslim mercenaries is the same: the complete Islamization of the country.
In Lévy’s telling, at a time when the world was ignoring the plight of the forgotten, he felt called to investigate in person.
“I went as a personal challenge and a moral duty when everyone else has turned his back I decided that I had to go to Afghanistan and to Nigeria, a country full of secret police,” he said. “When half of the world is thrown out of the boat and the world can’t care less, to me that is a scandal. When I saw the West turning its back on the Kurds, I saw it as a shame.
“It was a physical challenge and a moral duty. When I saw everyone else staying in his own neighborhood, in his own apartment, because of the pandemic, precisely because of the pandemic, I decided I had to do it.”