Contemporary French Civilization

Lévy, un ami qui vous veut du bien: the (mis)appropriation of Islamic practices in Bernard-Henri Lévy’s fulfilling of France’s mission civilisatrice

Contemporary French Civilization (2021), 46, (4), 463–478.

Abstract

This article analyses the dynamics of cultural (mis)appropriation underpinning Bernard-Henri Lévy’s (BHL) catchphrase islam des Lumières. Be it against the backdrop of global terrorism in Qui a tué Daniel Pearl?, that of Franco-French societal issues in Ce grand cadavre à la renverse, that of French interventionism in La Guerre sans l’aimer, or that of homegrown terrorism in “Le moment churchillien de la Ve république,” BHL warns against the danger of a certain form of Islam whilst advocating an “enlightened” Islam that is, for him, compatible with French republican values. To this end, he (mis)appropriates conspicuous Islamic practices by claiming that they have nothing to do with Islam. Thus, BHL’s islam des Lumières is invisible and reduced to a cultural heritage that is void of religious practices. Drawing from cultural studies, social sciences, postcolonial studies, and African American studies, this article will argue that BHL is a “well-meaning colonizer;” a paternalist who seeks to fulfil France’s mission civilisatrice by (mis)appropriating Islamic practices in order to tell Muslims how to live their faith.

Cet article analyse la dynamique d’appropriation culturelle sous-tendant “l’islam des Lumières” cher à Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL). Que ce soit dans le contexte de la guerre contre le terrorisme de l’administration Bush dans Qui a tué Daniel Pearl?, celui de débats sociétaux franco-français dans Ce grand cadavre à la renverse, celui de l’interventionisme français dans La Guerre sans l’aimer, ou suite à des actes de terrorisme commis par des citoyens français dans “Le moment churchillien de la Ve République,” BHL alerte contre le danger d’un certain islam tout en se faisant l’avocat d’un “islam des Lumières” compatible selon lui avec les valeurs républicaines françaises. À cette fin, BHL s’approprie certaines pratiques islamiques en déclarant qu’elles n’ont rien à voir avec l’islam. Ainsi, son “islam des Lumières” est invisible et réduit à un heritage culturel vide de toute pratique religieuse. S’inspirant des études culturelles, postcoloniales, afro-américaines et des sciences sociales, cet article avance que BHL est un “colon bien-intentionné,” un paternaliste cherchant à accomplir la mission civilisatrice française en s’appropriant certaines pratiques islamiques afin d’apprendre aux musulmans leur religion.

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Roger, Fabrice