"Merkel is right"

French star philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy is in favor of military intervention in Syria, he thinks the travel ban for Grass to Israel is absurd and he defends Dominique Strauss-Kahn against the international mob.

It's Sunday morning last week and Bernard-Henri Lévy, France's most famous living philosopher, is at work. He walks into the lobby of the Hotel Bristol in Paris on his cell phone. When he has finished his conversations after half an hour, he approaches us and apologizes for the delay. The phone rings again. Levy disappears. Philosophy means for the 63-year-old star intellectual not to wallow in the seclusion of a library about abstract concepts, but to do very specific things, such as: To turn the war in Bosnia-occupied Sarajevo into a movie in 1992 or go to Pakistan to investigate the murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl by Al Qaeda in 2002, or in 2011, to convince Nicolas Sarkozy, then French President, of the need for military intervention to overthrow the Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. And now? Levy switches off his mobile phone.

Bernard-Henri Lévy: Excuse me please, I had to worry about the two Syrian fighters, who have accompanied me to my presentation of the Libya-film at the film festival in Cannes.

profil: What is going on?

Lévy: They need to return to Syria. They are high-ranking combatants and will continue to fight against the regime. To organize their return was extremely complicated.

profil: Why have you brought them to France?

Lévy: I wanted them to see my film about Western intervention in Libya. And I wanted to draw the public interest in Cannes to Syria.

profil: Are you fully convinced that a military intervention in Syria is necessary now?

Lévy: Yes.

profil: What do you think is the biggest obstacle?

Lévy: There's only one thing: the UN Security Council.

profil: If the two veto powers Russia and China block to intervene, can we circumvent the UN?

Lévy: Sarkozy was ready to do so in the case of Libya. Whether now there is a head of government of a NATO country, is another question.

profil: Also the military situation in Syria is totally different.

Lévy: You can prevent the air force of the regime to rise. You can stop the tanks to drive from one place to another. You can set up No-Kill Zones in the country.

profil: So far it does not look as if someone wanted to take responsibility for it. Maybe the Europeans are more concerned about the euro crisis.

Lévy: Sarkozy has decided Libya's intervention in the midst of the financial crisis. I have always believed in the power of the individual, in the power of personal involvement. An individual, a leader can change the course of history. This belief in voluntarism I have kept from the Leninist era. The Libyan intervention came at an unexpected time - from France, the country that had received four years earlier Gaddafi. Now it looks as if a military solution is impossible in Syria. We will see.

profil: Is the newly elected head of state Francois Hollande for you as good a partner as Sarkozy was?

Lévy: I have only once, shortly before the election, met Hollande for lunch. I've talked to him about Syria, and I saw him very determined on this issue.

profil: This was in all the papers. You play a very unique role as a philosopher who is politically active. Whether left or right, you have been in contact with every president since Mitterrand and thus influenced policy.

Lévy: Yes. It annoys people. But I do not spend my life trying to call the President. I write books. And occasionally I set up a sort of cry for help to the President. To Mitterrand in the case of Bosnia, Afghanistan with Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy was Libya.

profil: The fear is growing that the whole Arab Spring takes an unpleasant turn. In Egypt, about Islamists and former regime loyal to the beneficiaries of the first free elections.

Lévy: The developments vary in different countries. In Libya, the Democrats are stronger than is reported. The construction of a state from scratch, in a society that has never known a political system is in progress. Libya is also the only Arab ex-dictatorship, where there are less anti-Western feelings - thanks to the military intervention.

profil: But in your film you show at the end the calls for the introduction of Sharia law.

Lévy: And that day there were demonstrations against this call. That is democracy.

profil: In Egypt the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood wins power. Is that in your eyes a threat to the values of the revolution?

Lévy: Certainly. But this is a political struggle like between the Girondins and the Montagnards during the French Revolution. Of course, the revolution in Egypt has also released a lot of bad feelings. Recently I read an article about the flare up of anti-Semitism. How is it that Arab anti-Semitism is endemic and powerful? Should we ban it? I think it would be better. On the other hand, it might just be strengthened by it.

profil: During your meetings in Libya, you always presented yourself as a Jew. Did you encounter any problems?

Lévy: Yes. The Libyans were surprised that a Jew who is still close to Israel supports them with such determination. It did not fit into their idea. But even though the regime on state television showed a portrait of me that presented me almost as an Israeli, I was not bothered. I've met fighters, ordinary people, as well as senior officers, but no one has shown me hostility.

profil: it looks as if we get to deal with Islamists everywhere. Not just with Hamas and Hezbollah, but now with Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic parties, which sometimes are moderate, sometimes more radical. Is this the revenge of the imperialist influence of the West?

Lévy: You might despair, but that's the story. She gives birth to monsters and ambiguous creatures. However, is it worse to be confronted with moderate Islamists as with dictators? I think, in Egypt, I prefer the moderate Islamists against the corrupt, unpredictable, deeply unstable dictator Hosni Mubarak. Dictatorship is the worst solution. To think they could guarantee stability, is the craziest and most inaccurate notion.

profil: So it's still better now?

Lévy: We must do everything to connect Islam to modernity, it has turned its back to the long period of enlightenment; And so the terrible clash of civilizations theory proves to be invalid.

profil: What motivates you to engage in the world? Is it the trauma of the Holocaust?

Lévy: Of course. When I wrote my first book, I did a modification of Adorno's quote "After Auschwitz to write a poem is barbaric." After Auschwitz, I said, you can no longer run by the chair of philosophy and a dissertation on the life and death. A philosopher has a duty to the themes of the massacre, persecution, to deal with slavery and subsequently try to implement the ideas derived from it in practice.

profil: Your counterpart as committed intellectual in Germany is Günter Grass. You have the "What must be said," because of his last poem, in which he had put the nuclear threat from Israel on the Iran matter criticized. How do you feel about the travel ban imposed by Israel in response to Grass?

Lévy: If I were an Israeli citizen, I would find this measure absurd. To ban someone is always a bad solution, unless it is a terrorist, and Grass is no terrorist. What Grass has written is scandalous, but that did not classify to be declared persona non grata.

profil: In his latest poem, "Europe's shame", he criticized the fact that Europe treated Greece horribly and so loses its cradle.

Lévy: I have not read it. But it's true. That Greece and Italy are the two worst-hit by the crisis countries is terrible. There are two sources of European culture.

profil: In Greece, the crisis has led to an emergence of a new left-wing radicalism. How do you find it?

Lévy: It is a political project that will ruin Greece and evokes a new military dictatorship. This alliance of left-wing populism with neo-fascism is scary.

profil: You believe austerity is the right concept?

Lévy: a slightly modified austerity, yes.

profil: Where do you stand in the dispute between the German and French growth austerity policy?

Lévy: Rather on the part of Germans. I think Chancellor Angela Merkel is right, and Hollande will see in the next six months.

profil: This is an amazing response for a French leftist.

Lévy: I think it would be an implosion in Europe for all - including the Left - a catastrophe, a civilizational disaster that would open the floodgates for all sorts of excesses.

profil: More than a year ago you strongly protested against the screening in handcuffs of the then head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on suspicion of rape in New York. Are you shocked at what has since been known about Strauss-Kahn?

Lévy: I'm shocked at just how he is treated by the media. His private life is none of my business.

profil: The suspicion of rape is usually not what we mean by privacy.

Lévy: So far these are only suspicions. I would be shocked if this would prove to be true. Premature judgments based on rumors I find distasteful.

profil: The case has shown the journalist Tristane Banon, Strauss-Kahn for attempted rape, the court held that it had acted to "sexual aggression", but the offense was time-barred.

Lévy: A rape is a serious crime that a woman can never forget. Why Banon has waited until the affair Strauss-Kahn had begun before the outrage which they had become victims, has made known?

profil: This is not unusual, it happens thousands of times.

Lévy: Yes, for simple to women, who must have fear of not being taken seriously. For a writer who is deeply rooted in the French political society, who is believed to be more serious, its different. So far, Strauss-Kahn is dragged through the mud for crimes of which no one knows whether he has committed.

profil: Concerning the affair of the pimp ring, the customer - and complicity - should have been, he says he did not know that it had been for women to prostitute. Can the IMF chief be so naive to think that beautiful women crossed the Atlantic mid-twenties to now with an over-sixty-year-old having sex?

Lévy: The man defended himself as best he can against a worldwide mob.

profil: This is the American, French Justice respectively.

Lévy: And the Justice of the consumer society, which meets in permanent session and calls every day new explanations from him. The manhunt is unbearable. If he is guilty, he should be punished, but nothing justifies this methodological humiliation. By the way: As much as I think a rape of a terrible crime - the alleged complicity of pimping means in his case, he did not pay prostitutes.

profil: ... but he still helped them to be "employed" in their trade...

Lévy: I think that this is not a crime against humanity. I'm sorry to say this, but that does not justify this collective hysteria.  

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz