Nation Building

An interview with Bernard-Henri Lévy

They were the ones who made the biggest contribution in the defeat of ISIS. So how did the whole situation affect them? It gave them international recognition de facto.

A lot of people all over the world — not enough, of course — but a lot of people know now how great the Kurds are; how they contributed to the defeat of Daesh.

OR: What steps should be taken to address Erdoğan's ongoing war against the Kurdish community both within his own national boundaries and just over the border in Syria?

Lévy: You the Americans and we the Europeans should stand at the side of our friends and allies — the Kurds. We should not, on the very day when Erdoğan is attacking them, say: “Who are you?” We should not hold back on delivery of weapons. We have to stand at their sides.

Even if Turkey is a member of NATO. This attack of the Turks against the Kurds, by the way, raises the question of whether Turkey belongs in NATO. I myself have had long-standing doubts. I had major doubts after the battle of Kobane about the place of Turkey in NATO. Now, since Afrin, it is a certainty that the place of Turkey is not in NATO.

OR: What should organizations and individuals who are interested in directly helping do?

Lévy: It depends who they are. If you are a student, get in touch with students in Kurdistan and build some bridges. If you are an intellectual, you go speak with the intellectuals of Kurdistan. If you are a money-maker, you can invest in Kurdistan. We have to make the reality match the commonality of our values.

Judged by values, Kurdistan and America and France are sister nations. This is the reason why, for example, with Justice for Kurds, we have a project — a monument for the Kurds, somewhere in New York. For the Peshmerga, for the Kurds fallen for us — fallen in fighting for our values.

We have to understand; we have to believe; we to celebrate; we have to transmit; and we have to tighten the links.

OR: What are the top organizational priorities of Justice for Kurds?

Lévy: The biggest priority is knowledge. Make the cause of the Kurds, their identity, the sense of their fight much more well-known. For me, and I think it is the same for my friend and comrade Tom Kaplan, one of the biggest achievements of JfK would be this monument.

The dream is really to have, in New York and in Paris, two monuments, beautiful, honoring our cities and these Kurds who shed their blood for us. For our values, for our children. In order to prevent more terrorist attacks on our soil. We want a monument celebrating these brothers in blood, the Kurds.

OR: Why do you think that there is a rising tide of illiberal politics in certain regions of the E.U.?

Lévy: Not only the E.U. You also have illiberal politics in America. We have it, alas, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Why? Because this is the fate of democracy. Democracy is a very fuzzy relationship, which is always naturally at the edge of the crisis.

There was a crisis of democracies just before 1914. There was a crisis of democracies just before 1939. And there is a new crisis of democracy today. And the crisis of democracy always involves attempt to kill democracy with the very weapons democracy wields.

This is when the humanitarian defenders of democracy step back, when the defenders of democracy lower their guards. The natural forces of society don't go in the direction of democracy. Democracy is not a natural state; democracy is difficult. It's hard. It takes effort.

OR: Do you think the importance of liberal democracy needs to be explained more clearly to people? What do you think is the best way to combat illiberalism?

Lévy: Not only to explain. Of course we must explain, but what has to be reinforced constantly are all the institutions which made liberal democracy in the first place. There is a tendency to believe that liberal democracy is just a vote.

Voting is a little part of democracy. It's crucial, of course. But it is a very minimal part. There are many, many other conditions. The rights of the minority. The checking and balancing of powers. Trust in elected representatives. Democracy is the strength of the press, the belief in truth and the belief that truth is more valuable than lies. All these are crucial beliefs for democracy, and we have to feed and build and reinforce all of them.

OR: Do you see this crisis of democracies, as you've called it, getting worse before it gets better?

Lévy: I think that it can get even worse, because democracy is being attacked from inside and from outside.

There are some big countries — very strong, much stronger than what the Soviet Union was in the past — who fight against democracy actively. For example modern Russia, which is at least as strong as the Soviet Union. And you have China, which will be very soon the biggest power in the world and which is defending, preaching, and illustrating a bedrock model of society which is not liberal democracy.

Some pretend this proves de facto that markets can do without democracy, that democracy can do without liberalism. This is what I call the attack from all sides.

Even at the time of the Cold War, the part of the world that was under the spell and the curse of communism was less vivid and efficient than China is today. You have today across America, in American campuses, universities, very active groups defending the Chinese model. You have that in the press, you have a big lobby.

OR: Even on this side of the Atlantic, there is a lot of comment that France has become a hostile environment for Jews. To what extent is that true in your experience?

Lévy: Hostile, I don't know. But there is strong anti-Semitism which is on the rise in France and in Europe in general. And in America, too.