Paris, June 16, 2012 (AFP)
Roger Garaudy, a communist and darling of French intellectual society until he denied that the Nazis used gas chambers to kill Jews during World War II, has died aged 98, officials said Friday.
Garaudy was fined 120,000 francs ($18,000) by a Paris court in 1998 for his anti-Zionist work “The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics.”
The court found that his account had distorted the wartime deaths of an estimated six million Jews.
He died on Wednesday in the Paris suburb of Chennevieres, local officials said.
Garaudy, who converted to Protestantism, Catholicism and finally Islam, joined the French resistance and was held in Algeria as a prisoner of war of France’s collaborationist Vichy regime.
He joined the French Communist Party after the war, was elected to the French parliament and became a member of the Senate.
But he was expelled from the Communist Party in 1970 after he criticized the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, although he had defended the Soviet intervention in Hungary 12 years earlier.
A big man with glasses as thick as his southern French accent, Garaudy was for years seen as someone who symbolized the “dialogue of civilizations.”
“My greatest pride is to have remained faithful to my dream as a 20 year old, the unity of the three religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” he said.
The author of around 70 books, Garaudy described himself as a Don Quixote fighting the windmills of capitalism.
Within the Communist Party hierarchy he was known as “the Cardinal” both for his sense of authority and his attraction towards the Church.
He was for years the darling of the French media and intellectual milieu for his philosophical work and his political courage.
But that ended with his conversion to Islam in 1982 and subsequent criticism of Zionism, which turned him into a pariah.
The head of Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in 2006 cited his treatment as an example of the West’s “hypocrisy and duplicity.”
In 2002, he won the then Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s human rights prize.
“He ended up pitifully on an intellectual level, with the lowest kind of revisionism,” said the head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, Richard Prasquier.
“Historians will one day look at his ideological drifting that turned him one of the best-known revisionists,” Prasquier said.