Bernard-Henri Lévy is an intellectual engagé in the best sense of the term: he combines serious, acute thought with untiring activity to further the common good. His latest project, Justice for Kurds, is a foundation aimed at securing statehood for this dispossessed people since the end of the Ottoman Empire. We spoke with him about what the Kurds need and what concerned citizens can do to help.
Octavian Report: How did you first become aware of the Kurdish cause?
Bernard-Henri Lévy: I first became aware a long time ago. My first trip to Kurdistan was in the fall of 1991. So: not yesterday. It was just after the first war against Saddam. I went to Kurdistan, and I discovered that it was very a peculiar situation. They practiced a very special sort of Islam — an enlightened Islam, compatible with democracy and human rights.
I have been fully aware of that for nearly 30 years. But I knew it even before. One of the main searches of my life was for an enlightened Islam. This has been one of my biggest concerns all my life, as an activist for democracy. Since my first trip there I have known that Kurdistan is one of the embodiments of that.
OR: What was it that prompted you to take action now, to create an organization devoted to bringing attention to this issue?
Lévy: The betrayal of the Kurds by the West, and especially by America. This took place last September, at the date of their referendum: September 25, 2017. That was when I saw the extent of the betrayal by the West, when I understood the extent of the misunderstanding. When I understood the extent of the ignorance about the role the Kurds played in the common battle against obscurantism and terrorism. I realized then that there was a huge job to do, a huge work which remains to be done in order to let the world know that this people is a great people very close in spirit to the West.
OR: Why are the Kurds not a bigger cause célèbre internationally?
Lévy: Because they are embarrassing for the "cold monsters," to quote Friedrich Nietzsche, that are the big states. They are embarrassing because they complicate our relationship with Turkey; they complicate our relationship with Iran; they complicate our relationship with Iraq; they complicate the geopolitics and the diplomacy of the core of the “cold monsters.”
OR: Why do you think we continue to privilege our relationships with those countries — all somewhere between very strained allies and outright adversaries — over the needs of the Kurds?
Lévy: This, for me, is really an enigma. I was in Erbil, in the beginning of October, and I saw exactly what you are describing. I saw America offering on a silver plate the head of the Kurds to Iran; to Iraq; and to Turkey. For me, it was so absurd. On one side, a true, faithful ally — the Kurds. On the other side, our worst enemy, Iran; and our false friend, Turkey.
We preferred the false friend and the biggest enemy. Why? Probably because it makes our life easier. Probably because we are afraid of these countries. Don't forget that Erdoğan, for example, is a blackmailer. He blackmails the West on migrants and blackmails the West on terrorism. Migrants, as you know, he considers a bomb which he has in hands, ready to be thrown to us. On terrorism, when he had an argument with Anglea Merkel in March 2017, he said, "Be careful. Starting from now, no European citizen will be safe in any city of Europe." Which was an appeal to terrorism. So we are afraid of this blackmail. We are afraid of the threats.
OR: What your take on the abstention, basically, of the global Left from Kurdish support vis-à-vis its support of the Palestinians?
Lévy: It is probably because in the Palestinian issue, there are Jews in the middle. There are no Jews in the middle, no Jews in the landscape, in the case of the Kurds. No one wants harm to come to the Palestinians, but to use Palestinians as a cause, to use Palestinians as a hammer means using them as a hammer against the Jews. The Palestinians are being used as a tool in the revival of anti-Semitism.
OR: How did the Kurds end up stateless and spread out across four countries?
Lévy: The decision to not give them a country was just after the First World War. First they were treated as a salve. And then, two years after, treated as the opposite because of the protest of the Iranians and the Turks. The international community renounced its promise because there were the same forces which are opposing the Kurdish cause today.
OR: Do you foresee the Kurdish state in northern Iraq ever getting international recognition?
Lévy: A few things stand in the way. They don't have a monopoly on violence. We saw that last October. When the Iraqis decided to break the monopoly, they did it in a blunt way. Number two, it is true that they are much more of a state, and an efficient state. Despite the fact that they were beaten in October, they are much more of a state than Iraq. Iraq is a failed state; the KRG, Iraqi Kurdistan, is a functional state — at least, much more functional than the state of Iraq. And you could say, by the way, that Iraq is a ghost nation. A creation of colonialism, of militarism, of British and French colonialism. Iraqi Kurdistan is a much truer state than Iraq.
When will this be recognized? When will the reality match the vision? I cannot predict when the community of nations will recognize what we are seeing now. But my assessment is that it will happen, though there is a new delay following the referendum of last September.
This will not last forever. I think that the moment will come, maybe sooner than the adversaries of the Kurds believe.
OR: How has the Syrian civil war affected the major Kurdish communities in the region?
Lévy: I don't it a civil war in Syria. I call it a war against the civilians. It's not the same. It's a war of the state of Bashar al-Assad and of ISIS against the civilians of Syria.
The Kurds, as were all the minorities of the country, were taken hostage, were blackmailed by the regime and by ISIS. They were trying to protect the civilian population, sometimes making some compromises. But they were the best and the most ardent and vibrant fighters in the fight against ISIS.