Lévy's Challenge to the Left
An interview with the iconic liberal French writer, Bernard-Henri Lévy. Setting aside his bizarre characterization of McCain supporters, there are a lot of reasons here to hope he has Obama's ear (if, by some chance, Obama wins.) Read it all, but here's a segment on Jimmy Carter and the Arab brand of fascism...
Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy: For forty years, Iâ€™ve been in favor of the Palestinian state. A sovereign one. I wrote that for the first time in 1969, forty years ago. But, I am able to recognize, and one should be able to see differences among Palestinians (as among any people) between the democrats and the fascists. The problem with Jimmy Carter is that he is unable to do that. When he treats Hamas as responsible people, Hezbollah as respectable peopleâ€”both as regular interlocutorsâ€”he is just blinding himself and trying to blind us to this main difference, without which we are in dark times. Hamas is a fascist party. They rely on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they believe in it, they have it in their chart, they have a cult of martyrdom, they have a religion of the blood, a conception of the race and anti-Semitism, by the way, which are the components of a new form of fascism, a new version, which just by its being Arab does not make it innocent. You can have a French fascism and an American fascism; you can have an Arab fascism.
Guernica: I suspect there are still many American liberals who arenâ€™t aware that certain Arab nationalist groups (like the Baath Party) and Muslim groups (like the Muslim Brotherhood) are fascist movements with ties to European fascism. Paul Berman, of course, writes about this here in the U.S. You have written about it, too.
Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy: We Frenchmen know that such a tradition can be vibrant as long as it is not acknowledged, criticized, or mourned. As long as we did not acknowledge the depth of our fascist temptation, it was living in our unconsciousness. Itâ€™s a long process. Itâ€™s painful. Itâ€™s difficult. A people, a nation has to do it. You are criticized when you do it. I was shot down, morally speaking, when I wrote The French Ideology, the thesis of which was that Franceâ€™s problem was not that it was occupied by a foreign army, but that it held homemade fascism, which was our specialty. We did that. You in America, it took you one century to acknowledge that you have in the depths of your history a very dark side. Segregation. Racism. The Ku Klux Klan. You had to engage in a quasi-revolution in language to get rid of all that. Itâ€™s a huge task. Every nation has to do that.
Itâ€™s the same for the Arab world. They have the same task. They have to look in their memory. They have to look in their past. They have to mourn their dark temptation. To tell them fairy tales, to help them blind themselves is the worst we can do for them. Democracyâ€”which has some vibrant elements in the Muslim world, among women, intellectuals, the young generationsâ€”needs this work of mourning, this work of sorrow, this work of truth, about the past. By which territorial, by which providential privilege would the Arab world be immune to or out of reach of fascism? No way. You had fascism in Japan. You had fascism in Europe. You had fascism in people like Lindberg in America. You had fascism in Latin America and in the Arab world.
Guernica: The problem may be that some Americans hear â€œIslamo-fascismâ€ for the first time from partisans with a very right-wing agenda. What your book does, what Paul Berman does, and what others have done is to point out that this is a very concrete tie.
Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy: It is not a slogan. Itâ€™s a concept.
Guernica: Itâ€™s a fact, according to your book, according to Berman.
Bernard-Henri LÃ©vy: Itâ€™s a fact. I gave all the historical evidence on one side, ideological evidence on the other, of this tie. It is not a fatal tie. I donâ€™t believe in eminent guiltiness. I donâ€™t believe that there are blessed people or damned people. No angels and no beasts. You have in Islam, like in France, like in Europe, a battle, a very fierce fight, between those who want equality for women, anti-racism, the triumph of human rights, and those who want the values which have been built and popularized by the fascists. Itâ€™s a battle.
Big of him to acknowledge that just because we hear the term "Islamo-fascism" coming from the political right, doesn't mean it is necessarily discredited as a concept. In fact he challenges the Left to examine their own knee-jerk opposition to anything supported by their political opponents:
When I was a very young man, I was told, You should not criticize the Soviet Union because the French Right does it, too. So what. Iâ€™m going to bless the killings of millions of people in concentration camps on the frivolous motive that I have some stupid right-wing Frenchman who agrees with me? He will be forgotten. Bush is the same. Bush is nothing. I take rendezvous with you in two years, and nobody will care about Bush. I take rendezvous, and Bush will be opening his library. You will see, it will be a non-event. So Iâ€™m not going to sacrifice, Iâ€™m not going to let die, Iâ€™m not going to betray all these heroic women, courageous young men who fight for democracy because Bush seems to want to help them also. Maybe he does, by the way. I donâ€™t care. Bush is nothing. He was something. He is nothing now.
A left-handed compliment, to be sure, but a bold admission for any person of the Left in 2008 to say that, yes, Bush "seems to want to help" the very same people that Lévy himself, and presumably, freedom-loving liberals everywhere wanted to help. He makes these remarks in the context of a discussion about the Palestinian territories and Hamas, but it actually comes close to granting Bush the presumption of having acted in good faith in his relentless promotion of freedom and democracy around the world....mixed in with just a dash of smug elitist contempt for the man himself. Though their values intersected, the man on the French Right in Lévy's youth is "stupid", and Bush is "nothing". Any virtue, apparently, resides solely with him and his fellows. Sigh.
But when it comes to identifying the fascists and the democrats in Palestine, or Iraq for that matter, and calling them by their name, Levy has principles that are beyond Bush-hatred. And that's refreshing coming from a man of the Left in this place and time. It's a good read....Lévy on anti-semitism, Obama, and Iran.