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August 4, 2016 8:52 am

Bernard-Henri Lévy: A Long-Awaited and Critical Appeal Falls Short

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The scene of the Nice attack. Photo: Twitter/UN Human Rights.

The scene of the Nice attack. Photo: Twitter/UN Human Rights.

On July 31, forty-two men and women describing themselves as “French and Muslim” published a call to fellow French Muslims to “assume our responsibilities” and “act” against terrorism.

The letter was eloquent. Its message was clear.

Appearing on the same day as the ceremony that drew countless Muslims to the cathedral in Rouen to pay their respects to Father Jacques Hamel, murdered in the name of ISIS, and just a day after the faithful in many of France’s mosques were urged to share in the sadness of their mourning Catholic compatriots — crowning, in a manner of speaking, the mounting number of statements in which intellectuals, writers and imams have condemned readings of Islam that support terrorists in their nihilistic cult of crime and death — the July 31 manifesto may well be the decisive moment in an upswelling of solidarity and conscience.

And the first thought that came to mind was this: Finally! Yes, finally a plain statement containing not a scintilla of denial! Clear voices breaking the silence to take an unequivocal stand against the criminal tendencies at work in benighted readings of the Koran! And what a relief to see Muslims, distinguished Muslims, acknowledging that while radical Islam is not wholly unrelated to Islam writ large, they do not share that view — indeed, they dissociate themselves from it in the strongest terms — so that henceforth it cannot be enacted or defended in their name. The bold stance we have been waiting for has finally come. This is good news.

Except that no sooner was the letter published, no sooner did we recognize the nobility of the authors’ gesture, no sooner did we laud the courage of this thinker, of that former cabinet member, and of those business leaders and physicians who, at that instant, had placed themselves on the front lines of the war between the two Islams — a war that is (and this cannot be overemphasized) the great issue of our era — another thought crept in.

The letter begins with an enumeration of the recent terrorist acts that have beset France.

It does not omit Charlie (“the murder of cartoonists”), Bataclan (“the murder of young people listening to music”), of Magnanville (“the murder of a pair of police officers”). Nor, of course, does it fail to mention Nice (“the murder of men, women, and children celebrating the national holiday”) or Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray (“the murder of a priest celebrating Mass”). Clearly, it purported to present an exhaustive list of the attacks.

Except it left one out. And what it left out was the hostage-taking at the kosher supermarket on January 9, 2015, which occurred less than three years after Mohamed Merah’s murders at the Jewish school in Toulouse.

The omission was immediately noticed. I was disturbed by it, and said so on Twitter — which earned me (and others, I’m sure) an avalanche of insult: “You’re never satisfied … When Muslims are silent, that’s bad; when they speak up, that’s bad, too … What are you doing to national unity? Maybe you’re the one who’s trying to pit French people against one another?”

But the fact is that a slip like this cannot be allowed to go unremarked. And, given the prominence of those who signed the letter, it cannot fail to be upsetting.

What could have been going through the head of the person who (as is typical with this sort of group letter) composed the first draft? Or through the heads of the 41 others who, in the hours that followed, read and re-read the draft (as is also the usual practice), weighing each word, suggesting changes and talking things through before eventually signing?

And what are we to make of the embarrassment of the signatory who, interviewed on Europe 1 the morning after, responded that the four people killed at the kosher supermarket were part of “the Charlie effect,” and that this did not need to be “spelled out.”

The infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen might have said that those four deaths were a “detail” in the sequence of events. Borrowing an expression from the United States, it might be observed that apparently Jewish lives matter less than others.

But I will refrain from over-interpretation. And still more from engaging in polemics. I do hope, however, that a clarification will be issued promptly to dispel the confusion.

I expect that these men and women of good will, whose intentions are — as has been observed — above reproach, will explain their thoughts, as well as any reservations, in the days to come. Because one cannot effectively denounce the executioner while simultaneously drawing distinctions among his victims. One cannot purport to oppose ISIS’ intention to immerse France in blood and fire and then, when the time comes to count the dead, display selective memory.

And above all, one cannot claim to be seeking a way out of an “intolerable situation,” one in which denial feeds the problem and confusion sows seeds of division and suggests the possibility (God forbid) of the war of all against all, while at the same time soft-pedaling the antisemitism that is, like it or not, one of the signs and, perhaps, one of the sources of what Abdelwahab Meddeb, the great scholar of Tunisian origin, called the “malady of Islam.”

A question of principle, yes — but also one of truth. A necessary way station for anyone truly wishing to “reestablish Islam” and win “the cultural battle against Islamic radicalism.”

If we are to join forces to win this war, there is no other way forward.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His books include Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.

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  • Bernard-Henri Levy excellent article!!!!!

  • Ayatollah Ghilmeini DD

    M. BHL is only half right. If you put a coin on the track, the coin can be found afterwards but the train continues as though the coin was never there.

    Europe was blind to Hitler’s train. It is blind today to the Islamist train speeding into the west. The train is not stopping. Unless the train STOPS, the Louvre and Jeu De Paume will burn and the people of France will find themselves under the boot once more.

    The enemy believes France to be weak and craven- unwilling to fight and unwilling to make a stand. As things stand now, they are right.

    You have no De Gaulle, you have no heroes. You better find them soon.

  • Sarah Shapiro

    Bernard-Henri Levy’s excellent article reveals how an obvious truth can be denied, not only by French Muslims.

    In Canada, Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s statement of regret for her Green Party’s support of BDS is –like this article–an act of courage when courage is unpopular.

    Truthful words are good for the health.

    Truth will prevail.

  • richard sherwin

    it’s not only the ‘malady of islam’…. it’s also the ‘malady of xns’, even supposedly secular protests in the USA and England like BLACK LIVES MATTER, but not jewish or israeli ones. the exceptionalism which excludes israel and jews has become universal at least in the west and mid east by now — with the help of left wing intellectuals, black antisemitic preaching, and palestinian & moslem organizers OPEC funded and perhaps still funds. cf Venezuelan and South AMerican populisms, let alone those in the USA.

  • Edward Paul Campbell

    Likewise, Erdogan fiercely denies the Armenian holocaust to this day. Today in the Middle East it appears that Christians are more of an endangered species than even Jews, especially in Syria and Isis/al-Qaeda controlled west Iraq. Which Western government has stepped forward to save its own..? None.

  • Zeke

    The “malady of Islam” is ultimately derived from the Islamic belief that they are entitled to conquer the world. The anti-Semitic element is derived from the perception that because they are few in number, Jews are weak and can be conquered easily. That Israel has done so well against the armies of Islam contradicts these beliefs and this has led to Muslim rage.

    If Muslims wish to live in peace with their non-Muslim neighbors, they have to find some way to abandon Islamic supremacism. I’m not holding my breath.

    • SE Florida

      I would hardly call it Islamic supremacism. It is closer to irrationality. But Zeke is right.

  • Edward Paul Campbell

    Forty are going to make such a difference to the four million Muslims in France. We can all sleep easily in our beds now, Insha’Allah 🙂

  • robert davis

    So we’re never satisfied with …Hitler? we should have been satisfied with “Kristal Nacht”? sure that was less than Auschwitz…Anyway those 42 clowns are NOTHING even if they stated terror against Jews and in this case it’s LESS THAN NOTHING, it’s only good for themselves because the danger for France and europe is not the terrorists who are “only” they say say about 10,000 but the moslem population who is in France and europe to RULE FRANCE AND EUROPE AND IMPOSE ISLAM sooner or later. As to terror it comes FROM THE MOSLEM POPULATION so that if there are so many it’s bBECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY MOSLEMS. To stop terror those lowneries are useless WE NEED A QUOTA ON THE MOSLEM POPULATION for example at MOST 1% of the total population. The least dangerous can stay keeping in moind even they are dangerous since there are so many pacific moslems who breed terrorist children.The global “elites” protection is only postponing the civil war which will make more casualties tomorrow thantoday.

  • richard sherwin

    as suspected, when muslims and french moralizers finally start travelling the road to their utopias together, the jews ‘vanish’ — not even roadkill, or collateral damage…. just like the 6 million the french had no hand in vanishing. and the sho’ah that never ‘really’ happened. and….. no mention of even one jew slaughtered by these radical muslims… a cute inversion of the canadian policy re jewish immigration before and during ww2: ‘one jew is too many’…. enjoy watching the crepe become crap, and the waffle become diplomatic cookery.

  • Nina Diesendruck

    Thank you for all your words.
    As you say “long-awaited” and still, so few.
    Hope this may be an encouraging initiative to many more groups of Muslim thinkers, teachers, politicians , public figures in all walks of life, to speak up and make the voices of this silent majority heard: loud and clear!

    Oxalah, this could come about while there is still time to save this crazy world of ours.

  • Don’t expect a clarification about the omission of Islamic-driven Anti-Semitic attacks against French Jews. France is desperate for normalcy, and Frenchmen will accept any kind of positive response from the Muslim community. Europe lost the cultural battle against Islamic radicalism. And the greatest loss to Europe will be a mass exodus of its exemplary Jewish citizens.

    • robert davis

      “A mass exodus of its jewish citizens”, sure JUST BEFORE THAT OF THE CHRISTIAN CITIZENS. As to “cultural battle” I would call it the medias’ pr. a great heap of lies and crap repeated ad nauseam since general de gaulle ie 60 years. If you repeat since 60 years ad nauseam earth is flat and the sun runs around it, would you call that rubbish “culture”? anti culture would be more suitable.

  • sam cohen


  • Lia

    Thank you, Sir, from a nonJew, nonIsraeli, in another part of the world.

  • and the french school children killed by Mohamed Merah? and Ilan Halimi, and Sebastien Salem? it all began with jihadi attacks on French Jews.

  • Brilliant and clear with out apology… Thanks


    Amen to everything you said, and said so eloquently. Thank you.

    • Morris stern

      Kol hakavod for a balanced and aptly nuanced response!