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Behold Bernard-Henri Lévy’s Bold Thoughts On #MeToo And Roman Polanski

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a man of ideas. A celebrity philosopher of the kind that has no equivalent this side of the Atlantic, he’s nonetheless picked the United States as the subject of his latest book, “The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World,” in which he lays out how a trend towards American isolationism may doom the democratic project.

Ever a booster of interventionism, BHL was invited by The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner to share his thoughts on the American justice system and how it should be more forgiving of the rich and powerful who run afoul of the law.

“This is class justice reversed,” Lévy told Chotiner, when asked why he believed America went too hard on accused rapist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a buddy of his. “Today, in America, you have this huge wave of political correctness, which was good at the start, which was good in principle, but which has, as often, produced some crazy effects, and this is one. You have class justice reversed. It was clear in the case of Strauss-Kahn that the fact that he was rich, he was white, and he was powerful made him be treated in a way particularly severe, with the perp walk.”

But Chotiner also pressed Lévy on a question of semantics, citing a Daily Beast article in which he wrote another Strauss-Kahn accuser, Tristane Banon, was a woman who previously “pretend[ed] to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape,” implying what Chotiner – and most people with a grasp of the language – believed to be skepticism. (Lévy later attributed this diction to translation – in French, the word he had initially written, “pretender,” means “to claim.”)

Strauss-Kahn was never found guilty of sexual assault, or, for that matter, aggravated pimping and gang rape, but Lévy doubled down on his defense of culpable statutory rapist and filmmaker Roman Polanski who lives as a fugitive from justice in France. Chotiner gave Lévy ample opportunity to distance himself from an earlier claim that Polanski’s rape of a 13-year-old, for which he pled guilty was a “youthful indiscretion” (committed when Polanski was 43).

“What I wanted to tell you was that, a few years ago, I made a little investigation, and I discovered that the year when he committed this crime, in the same county of California, he was probably the most heavily punished among the men who did such crimes,” Lévy said in answer. “Because he was famous and rich and so on, he was not spared by justice but exactly the reverse.”

To Lévy’s mind, Polanski, who fled the United States on the eve of his sentencing, had served his time (he had a brief prison stay during which time he underwent a diagnostic study).

Bringing it back to a Gallic concern, Chotiner also asked Lévy about his support of France’s so-called “burqa ban.”

Lévy reaffirmed his belief that the ban is a boon for secular Muslims and liberates women who “are forced to accept the idea that they are not the equal of men, that there is something un-pure in their hair, in their freedom, in the grace of the way they move, which is only reserved to women and which is not the case for the man.”

Clearly he’s an authority.

But then, Chotiner, who was combative throughout the interview, appeared to agree to some of the points Lévy raised in defense of the ban, championing the value of different faiths and communities embracing secular and feminist ideas. Foremost among them, he stressed that we should join together to believe women – to not assume they’re pretending when they make accusations of sexual assault.

“I believe that respect of women is better than non-respect of women,” Lévy answered. “I really believe that secularism is better than bigotry. I believe that not because they are Western values but because they are values that protect and save bodies of people.”

Bold ideas from one of our bravest thinkers.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

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