I recently learnt of the death of the renowned French thinker and philosopher Roger Garaudy (July 17, 1913-June 13, 2012). Although deeply sorrowed by the news the mention of his name brought back wonderful memories of the times that I used to visit Garaudy at his house or run into him at intellectual or literary forums.
In fact, after his harsh and rather public critique of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, most of his French supporters and publishers disassociated themselves with Garaudy and he amassed many Arab followers and friends.
What saddens me further is the lack of recognition major French newspapers such as Le Monde and Le Figaro gave to Garaudy upon his death, instead remembering him simply as an individual who was in denial of the Holocaust. In contrast Arab newspapers rendered Garaudy in an entirely different manner with intellectuals in Jordan describing him as “the most important cultural figure in the 20th century.”
Furthermore, former Syrian Vice-President Abdul-Halim Khaddam had called him “the greatest philosopher of western contemporary times.”. What is ironic is that the same newspapers that fail to write objectively about Garaudy today — based on the response his book The Founding Myths of Israeli Policy generated — used to praise the very same individual for his condemnation of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon before 1982.
My last meeting with Garaudy was at his house on the suburbs of Chinvier-sur-Seine, a beautiful towering home, which sat high on a hill, in 2004 where he handed me an electronic copy of his new manuscript titled Le Terrorisme Occidental (Western Terrorism).
Garaudy was troubled as to how he would publish his book, as he did with all his writings, due to the hostility he received from French publishers after the sensation caused by The Founding Myths of Israeli Policy. Some deemed this book to be an act of Satan while others went further to say that it contained ideas that alluded to those of Hitler.
The book caused such a stir in the intellectual and cultural heart of France, that a few newspapers even went to the extent of terming the book a ‘suicide attempt,’ while most individuals were taken aback by his ‘anti-Semitic’ ideals. Le Monde advocated that Garaudy, an “Old Red Communist”, had moved to the other side of the mirror — pointing out his ‘evident embrace of Nazism’.
The publication of the book resulted in Garaudy having to go on trial and pay a fine of 300,000 French francs (Dh183,500).
Garaudy was persecuted for his book which was said to have simply revealed lies and cleared up myths about Israel, not to mention the exposure of the Zionist lobby in France, which drives the world of French politics. Garaudy struggled in philosophy, history and theology against all forms of committed fundamentalism.
Most notably his beliefs included defending Marx against the Soviet Union, which led to his dismissal from the Communist Party in the 1970s, defending Christ against the theology of domination, and defending Islam against radical Islamists.
With regard to his last book, Western Terrorism he informed me that he managed to sell 30,000 copies in a confidential manner because the majority of libraries refused to display and endorse the book. I clearly remember an occurrence in which the extreme right party broke into the library in the Latin Quarter of Paris, which had displayed the infamous The Founding Myths of Israeli Policy. Since the book’s publication Garaudy’s world and life underwent significant changes.
Garaudy once confided in me, saying: “What I want is to portray the correct concept of Islam which the western press presents a caricatured image of.” He went on to add: “I talked about fundamentalism in Christianity and Islam, no one attacked me, but when I talked about fundamentalist Zionism in Israeli policy, I was immediately summoned by the police justice and slandered in the presence of a bunch of journalists, most of whom had not read my book yet [and] triggered a defamatory campaign against me on a mass level.”
Garaudy published about 50 books in his lifetime with the support of major French publishing houses, Gallimard, Grasset and Seuil among many others. His book Call for the Alive sold 190,000 copies, in comparison his book on Zionism was boycotted by most publishing houses with no one wanting to publish it.
The hostility Garaudy was subject to from the West was the result of his conversion to Islam, which was then perpetuated by him winning the King Faisal Prize for his forthright critique of Israel. In France, such refutation of Israel surmounts to irreverence as the media is dominated by the Zionist lobby despite the fact that Jews compose only 2 per cent of French society.
Dr Shakir Noori is a writer and journalist based in Dubai.