Bernard-Henri Lévy’s sexism with a human face

He Strauss-Kahn't believe it either

Let me introduce you to Bernard-Henri Lévy. You might like him. Rather than joining the fashionable Marxist currents in the Left during and after 1968, he led a group of left-wing philosophers fiercely critical of the authoritarianism inherent in Marxism. More recently he has been in the news for his role in persuading Nicolas Sarkozy to back the Libyan rebels against Gaddafi.

But don’t judge him too soon: BHL (like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, his name is often abbreviated in France as he is so well-known) has joined the excuses brigade in trying to rubbish the sexual assault allegations made against DSK.

His article for the Daily Beast (what an appropriate title!) is almost a parody of the tired old arguments wheeled out to rubbish sexual assault allegations. Apart from partially justified criticism of the way the American tabloids have rushed to assume Mr Strauss-Kahn’s guilt (one described him as “Le Perv” on its front page), it is a collection of innuendoes and outbursts without merit. Take this:

I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.

The urge to belittle Tristane Banon (for that is her name, as a quick glance at the article Mr Lévy linked to would have reminded him if his memory had failed) is breathtaking. It’s also factually inaccurate: she had already talked about the alleged attack on television in 2007, though Mr Strauss-Kahn’s name was blanked out. (It’s worth mentioning that she hardly got a sympathetic hearing then either.) Again, an otherwise intelligent person confuses the presumption of innocence with presuming that any victim or witness is a liar and a fantasist.

This kind of arrogance is what we in Sweden call härskartekniker (domination techniques), one of the ways in which paternalistic men try to intimidate women and belittle them. Fortunately there is no need for me to dwell on any more of Mr Lévy’s cringeworthy article as it has already been demolished in an excellent post on the Reason blog.

Should this unpleasant outburst from a cuddly left-wing philosopher be a surprise? Not really: Mr Lévy has led the charge of the excuses brigade before, when Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland after the US demanded his extradition. Among other things he wrote a remarkable article on the Huffington Post where, in between damning famous filmmakers for being reluctant to sign a petition in support of Mr Polanski, he described the brutal drugging and raping of a 13-year-old girl as a “misdemeanour”.

With that sense of proportion, is Mr Lévy a man to take seriously?

Update: Kenan Malik writes very cogently on how odd it is that Mr Lévy and others are outraged that Mr Strauss-Kahn is being treated like an ordinary sexual assault suspect, and why he prefers snooping British tabloids to the deferential French press.

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Picture credit: Bertrand Delanoë on Flickr, republished under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

P.S. The title of this post is inspired by the title of Mr Lévy’s first book, Barbarism with a Human Face, a criticism of Marxist authoritarianism.

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