No, these images do not show Bernard-Henri Lévy with “jihadists” in Mali

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A video accumulating nearly 650,000 views since July 15 affirms, with supporting photos, that the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, nicknamed “BHL“, would support the “jihadists” which are raging in Mali. She had previously appeared on social networks in December 2021. The writer she saw is known for his interest in war zones, particularly in Bosnia, Libya or Syria. These photos showing BHL alongside armed men circulate in a climate of high tension between Bamako and its partners, including France. Be careful though: these images were taken in Sudan, in 2007, and have nothing to do with the situation in Mali .

You won’t believe today’s news“, mumbles a voice with robotic accents, while a slideshow adorned with a badge”URGENT INFORMATION” scrolls in the background. We see the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, surrounded by armed black men.

According to the author of this three-minute video, these images are proof that the writer is a “french spy“: he “provide arms to jihadists“in Mali, their”gives the position of the Malian army“and even carry”gold from Africa to Europe“, he asserts.

Screenshot of a Facebook post made on July 19, 2022

These pictures were viewed nearly 650,000 times since July 15 on Facebook. The post has been shared over 23,000 times.

The video had previously appeared on this same social network on December 18, 2021 – AFP had already verified it on this occasion.

It circulates while political relations between Mali and its partners have continued to deteriorate: on July 14, Bamako thus suspended all rotations of the military and police contingents of the United Nations Mission in Mali (Minusma).

This suspension comes in the context of a diplomatic standoff that lasts several months between Mali and its partners, in particular France, which Bamako pushed towards the exit in early 2022 after nine years of military presence in the country via Operation Serval then Barchan.

Fake news has multiplied on Malian and more broadly West African social networks since France undertook in June 2021 to reorganize its military system, after nearly nine years of presence in the Sahel. This plan provides for a reduction in the workforce, from 5,000 currently, to 2,500/3,000 by 2023.

Photographs taken in Darfur in 2007

However, the two photos showing BHL alongside armed men have nothing to do with the current situation in Mali.

The first, where Bernard-Henri Lévy is identified by a blue arrow and discusses in the middle of a group of armed men, is found on the site of the French weekly L’Obs. It is published in a slideshow uploaded in September 2015 and shows, according to the accompanying caption, “Bernard-Henri Levy [qui] talks with Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Commander Tarrada and his soldiers in the war-torn Darfur in March 2007“.

The second, where the French philosopher appears in a suit jacket leaning on a vehicle, alongside several men who are also heavily armed, was published by the magazine Purple in 2009, which dedicated that year a portrait to BHL in the form of maintenance. The image is used to illustrate this text, alongside the first mentioned above.

The caption for this second shot is more concise and only mentions that it was taken during a “reportage” in Darfur, in 2007. But the name of the photographer – Alexis Duclos – is mentioned.

Contacted by AFP on January 3, he confirmed that he was the author. “These photos are taken from a report I did with Bernard-Henri Lévy in March 2007 in Darfur“, a region in western Sudan, he said, adding that they were”returned clandestinely [dans ce pays] by Chad“.

The second photo showsFrench writer Bernard-Henri Lévy [s’entretenant] with the leader of the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army), Rocco, in the region of Beirmazzain Sudan, Alexis Duclos told AFP.

This report had for but to denounce and show the massacre of the Muslim tribes of this region and in the neighboring country of Chad by the Janjaweed militias“, Arab militiamen mounted on horseback and sent by the power of Omar Al-Bashir, ex-president of the country, against the different ethnic groups of Darfur, according to the photographer.

This vast region is regularly shaken by clashes, particularly caused by territorial disputes or difficulties in accessing water and has experienced a long war which since 2003 has left at least 300,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced according to the ‘UN.

From his stay in this region, the French philosopher notably drew a article for Le Monde Afrique, entitled “Things seen in Darfur” and published in March 2007, in which Alexis Duclos is quoted.

Born in 1948, BHL is a regular in war zones (Bosnia, Palestinian territories, Syria, Libya, etc.) and a fact of the defense of human rights is its trademark. Philosopher, novelist, journalist, playwright, publisher, filmmaker, he has published several books and made several films on these conflicts. Very appreciated but also very criticized, his detractors accuse him, among other things, of being more sensitive to the misery far away than to that of the corner of his street.

This information has also been verified by The observers of France 24 and the Malian news site The Milestone.

Low cost videos

This viral video claiming that Bernard-Henri Lévy is a spy for sale by France whose mission would be to defend French interests in Mali is yet another example of a type of video that imitates information to misinform.

The recipe for this content is simple and adaptable to all types of subjects: a robotic voice-over with hazardous syntax, a design imitating news channels, all affixed to a slideshow of images that sometimes have nothing to do with with”information” which the authors of the video claim to disclose.

Here, the voice-over delivers a text that aims to challenge the viewer (“Look at this English. Did you see it well?“) and induce doubt as to the reasons that motivate Bernard-Henri Lévy to travel to several areas of conflict, particularly in Libya.

The continuation of the monologue evokes pell-mell factual information – his biography, the themes of his work, the composition of his family – and unverifiable rumors – BHL would have married to carry out espionage missions, would “allowed the death of Gaddafi“or arrest”of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo“. He would even carry “mining resources by helicopter under the order of the French presidents of each generation“, and therefore more recently of Emmanuel Macron.

This overabundance of information, mixed with the scrolling images, makes it possible to “divert your attention“, estimate in December 2021 for the AFP Shyam Sundar of Pennsylvania State University, who sees this format as a “lethal combination” in terms of efficiency.

As your brain tries to process all of this stimulation, you won’t focus on the audio you want and will be less able to spot misinformation. (…), you are mentally overwhelmed“, he continues. And therefore more difficult to spot rumors or false information.

Easy to mass-produce because little is spent, disseminated very widely via social networks, these videos are often used for propagandistic purposes. In Mali, for example, this type of video is widely published on groups opposed to the French presence in the country.

The French army leaves Mali

This false information is one of the latest incarnations of the distrust of part of the Malian population towards the French military presence on its soil, which is about to end: the last French soldiers must indeed leave Mali in here a few weeks.

Pushed out by a hostile Malian junta, the French caused their response in February after nine years of uninterrupted presence to fight against the jihadists. After Gossi and Menaka, the soldiers are in the process of leaving their last hold in Mali in August.

In total, France must leave Mali some 4,000 containers and a thousand vehicles, including hundreds of armored vehicles.

This withdrawal comes in the midst of an outbreak of violence in the Sahel. More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, already more than the 2,021 designated for the whole of 2021, according to AFP calculations from a compilation of the specialized NGO Acled.

At the end of this titanic withdrawal, only 2,500 soldiers will be maintained in the Sahel against more than 5,000 two years ago.
France will notably keep more than a thousand men in Niger, where a battle group has determined to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.