The Role of Religion in Contemporary Conflicts and Hate Movements

TIME: 12:00 – 13:00, Wednesday 23rd March 2016

VENUE: Committee Room 14, House of Commons

CHAIR: Alan Mendoza, Executive Director, Henry Jackson Society (joint chair with The Hexagon Society)

HOST: Lord Risby

SPEAKER: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Philosopher, Journalist and Writer

Lord Risby

Ladies and gentleman I think we are going to start although there will be others joining us, but we are limited by the amount of time we have in this room. May I first of all welcome all of you to the palace of Westminster and thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for facilitating this and to thank the Henry Jackson Society for bringing so many brilliant speakers who give insights into so many aspects of life.

My name is Richard Risby and it is a pleasure to chair the proceeding. It’s a great personal pleasure for me to introduce to you Bernard-Henri Levy, who is of course Philosopher of great distinction and a writer and a filmmaker. He started his life as a war reporter. It’s taken him, with great bravery, to really troubled areas in of course Libya and he has recently launched a book, which I think is going to be compelling reading.

What he’s going to be talking about today is the role of religion in contemporary conflicts and hate movements. This is an incredibly appropriate time to be talking about a subject like this after recent events. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Bernard-Henri Levy in the past few years, we have been doing projects on Ukraine, and what I greatly admire about him, if I may say so, is having a great intellect, a brilliant writer and speaker but nevertheless has the most logical mind of actually solving problems aswell as talking about them. So with that in mind, it’s a delight to have you here in the palace of Westminster and greatly looking forward to what you have to say.

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Thank you my dear friend. Yes, religion and hatred of course but I would like to start to take the question of today, through what happened yesterday in Brussels. I cannot, I don’t feel like doing otherwise. Like all of you, like all of the Europeans who are shocked by what happened yesterday. I would like to devote this hour to the victims of Brussels and to take what happened in Brussels as a starting point for our discussion and offer my remarks. Because first of all one of the biggest dangers we face probably in front of these Jihadist attacks is to get accustomed to say one more, just one more. No, it is just not one more but it is always another one. All the intelligence services say the question is not if but when and where. It has to remain, each time it happens as a sort of absolute scandal. And for me the situation in Brussels today, this state of emergency, this absolute state of emergency, the sound of the phone when you call friends in Brussels of the rings and the assurance of police, the assurance of fire extinguishers, the assurance of emergency services. This serves so well the situation of war in which Europe is in nowadays that I could not have prevented myself from starting with that.

And starting from that means that I need to make a few remarks. First remark, more than ever and I will tell you only about topics on which I think I have a little expertise, on which I have reflected on or acted enough to have a slight expertise. But first of all, first remark, more than ever in front of what happened in Brussels like after what happened in Paris, what happened in London. More than ever we have to refuse with all our forces the tendency, the possibility of the speech of excuse. To explain why not, but to explain in order to excuse, to find any justifications to these sort of acts of mass killings should be absolutely I will not separate it of course but morally to shame them.

I see already since yesterday people saying again relaunching the expedition through the poverty of the damned of the earth who have no other social but to come. We have to say on and on to react, to reason this way is an insult to all the poor of the world who has far as I know, don’t commit suicide attacks, don’t execute civilians. My grandfather were poor people, the father of my father as far as I know, they don’t even have the slightest temptation to take revenge of their poverty with this sort of act so we have to have the reaction to issues, this sort of issue. The idea that this act of terrorism come as a reaction to for example the war, there is some interference in France and I know you have some politicians and leaders in England who say that terrorism is a reaction, a response to a war which is waged, which is supposed to be waged against the (inaudible) Muslim world but maybe and again could someone explain to me which war where involved the girls kidnapped by Boko Harem in Nigeria. Could one explain which war were implying. The victims of ISIS, the thousands of victims of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq Yazidi crucified, humiliated and killed. These acts are a reply to which war? We should defiantly have the reflex to refuse all these options. To refuse the idea. And even Belgium in which war is Belgium not really going to imply. This is again a joke.

In Italy and Israel this is again and again a repeat of this morning on some level that Daesh and ISIS, is a bad reply, a criminal reply but nevertheless a reply to a vast enterprise of terrorism and so on. Again it is a bad joke. Number one, if there has been any terrorism in modern times but in France I mean in the last 14th or 15th Century, the best ones, much better than English, much better than French, much better than Americans who are really bad in terrorists whenever we could (inaudible). It was a rumour, the rumour of force and still wants to be, would like to be a force for empire which has no instance to give on these matters to anyone. So all the excuses, all these sorts of excuses have to be refused, expelled, censored, morally censored from our minds. The excuse by Israel which again is a joke, I talk to you with my little expertise, I think to be one of the few observers in Europe who has took the time not about Daesh but about Al-Qaeda ten years ago, took the time to investigate really the terror. What is in the brain of Al-Qaeda terrorist jihadists but there is not such a difference between Al-Qaeda and ISIS, ideologically not so much.

I did the investigation when I wrote a book about the killing of the American drummer Daniel Pearl. I made a long investigation, I spent one year in and out in Pakistan. I saw the Pakistani and Afghani jihadi groups. And I reached the conclusion that the Middle East question, the Palestinian question has had all this time, it has absolutely zero rule in the decision to put a bombing belt and to commit a suicide kill. Absolutely no choice. During one year I remember so well, I never heard once, one of these guys, one of these Taliban’s or members of a terrorist group explaining his act, explaining his wheel of (inaudible) through the Palestinian question. To an extent, by the way that this time in Pakistan, which was the homeland of terrorism, Pakistan was really the place to be for jihadists and it is still in part. Not with even Palestine and Israel are so removed, they don’t give a damn. The Pakistanis are jihadists at this time and still today they care about Kashmir for sure. They care about India for sure. Palestine, Israel they absolutely do not give a shit about that so again we have to get rid of all this poverty and reflect for countries to say let’s solve. I am in favour by the way of solving the Palestinian and Israel situation, I am deeply fed up of that because it is the right of the Palestinians and it is in the best interest of Israel but I make a bet here if and for God’s sake, if this problem reached a solution, we cannot remove one single jihadist from this bench, not one. And it is the same for ISIS, I feel my expertise might be less accurate than for Al-Qaeda that as far as I know, again, the Palestinian (inaudible) is really nothing in that propaganda.

So we have to get rid of all that, all these excuses by terrorism, by war, by Israel and Palestine story and so on. The biggest killers of Arabs today are Arabs, especially Bashar al-Assad, the number of victims is outnumbered now, so all of this is absolutely nonsense. So what is the sense? Who are the guys who committed this atrocious act yesterday again in Brussels, after Paris, after London, after New York, who are they? What do they have in their brains, in their minds? To say it in one word, I would say that we are confronted to a new form of the old, the first of the 17th century terrorism political patterns. It’s a way of thinking, it’s a pattern of action, it’s a way of politics which is at the same time political (inaudible). It has to be seen through the two screens, through the two glasses of politics and religions. In politics my conclusion is in my first book published about that in 1994 about Islamism, radical Islamism. In 1994 I published a book called ‘Dangerous Purity’. My conclusion was that is has already, the Jihadist’s had already in 1994 and was supposed to have more and more, the trival to have more and more, two faces form Jihadists the political face and the religious face. Political face that is probably the best way to name, to word it, even if it is not perfect, consists in putting it under in the wrong line, in the wrong story in what we have called in Europe, fascism. If we miss this link between Jihadists and Europe and fascism we miss a big point of it. And it’s not when I say that, it’s not just a struggle, it is a historical fact.

For example if you see the Muslim brotherhood which is one of the founding faces of Jihadism. Muslim brotherhood, sure there are some Muslim brothers who are not killers, and there is probably a wing of Muslim brotherhood with whom it is still possible to speak. But Muslim brotherhood as itself, it has to be said was created at the end of the twenties and the Arabic world in general, as a response, as an Arabic version, as an Arabic face of this huge revolution which was inflaming Europe in what was the fascist world in the twenties. And then in the thirties which grew birth in Iraq, but which had some effect in Japan and America and the Arabic world. The product of the fascist revolution in the Arabic had a name, it’s a fact, it was the Muslim brotherhood. It was the big in the name of fascism, it was phrased as an Arabic wording of huge worldwide fascism and it has remained the Muslim brotherhood as a remnant of this fascism. Because what, one measure, difference between the Arabic Muslim world and the European world regarding this question of fascism is that sooner or later with goodwill or bad will, Europe more or less has made the mourning, made the work of mourning of fascism. It took time, it took pain, it took sacrifice for the national pride of France, of Germany, even of England. It was difficult to admit but it was more or less done. In the Arabic world, it is the only place in the world where the work of mourning has not been done at all. Why? Because there was narratives immediately after the second world war, there was a narrative saying fascism was a European phenomenon. The Arabic world had nothing to do with that, it was immune, there was an immunity in the Arabic world. We are not into fascism so if you are immune you have nothing to do. Now if you are not guilty you have no excuse to make and there is no mourning, or sorrow or whatever. So this the political aspect of Jihadism today. It is like the last big dark pearl which is dropped by the oyster of the old fascism. This is one big point and if you understand that, there will be a lot of things which you will understand.

The antisemitism, we are at the core of it, the racism which is something else but we are at the core of it. The hate of the cities, I was talking to the BBC a few moments ago and I mentioned the world of the metroside, the fascism invented in the way in the form of genocide. But were also inhabited by the (inaudible) inside which is metroside. Your insides, your hate initiatives. One of the definitions of fascism is the hate of the spirit of the cities. Old fascism, in the old versions, in the new versions. (inaudible) The very existence of this city which means of a place of stability, of a place of citizenship, a place of civilisation made them mad. It was an insolvency of the spirits, in the spirit of the city which is core to fascism. In Cambodia the red males where fascist that in this sense that for them, the existence of the city which was (inaudible). But they emptied the city, they sent everyone in the fields and so and so.

Okay so why do they attack London? Why do they attack Paris? Why do they attack the silver city on the hill, New York? Why today do they attack Brussels? It could be because you make more people dead in cities but there can be other ways, I don’t want to say, but we all I know I suppose and I don’t want to reflect on that. There could be other ways to make a lot, a bunch of deaths in the west not attacking cities. There is the fact of punishing a city, humiliating a city or freezing the city, of obliging the inhabitants of the city to go back to the shadows and live like rats, frozen in their home is a huge pleasure for all the fascists in the world, including today the jihadists. If we try to say, to see what jihadism is, it has this political face first. This political face which is the new version of the old because it has never been eradicated but taken in the world of fascism. But it also has a theological face. There’s the political phenomenon which has to be treated politically as you Brits treated the fathers of historical fascism and you did it so bravely in England, more bravely than in France, except a few, my family. But it has to be done politically, it has also has to be treated theologically and there is again a big important point. Of course there is a big risk when you enter into the theological explanation, big risk to criminalise, this would be a disaster, this would be unfair. It would be a spiritual crime, to criminalise all of Islam. The jihad, the jihadism is not a true and fair expression of Islam. And I’m ready to admit that more than ever the majority of our Muslim friends and brothers in humanity are horrified by Islamism, after all at the end of the day they form victims of the biggest numbers. So we have to be very careful on that of course. Islamism is not Islam and the line has to be drawn very, very carefully. But it would be unreasonable for me to say that Islamism has nothing to do with Islam.

The other mistake would be the nothing to do-ism, there’s nothing to do which would be a big mistake. There is something to do. There is a link, it is not just by commodity, by facility under Islamism say that there’s links. It is not just because by tradition that they train fidelity, worship to Quran. And this link to Islam, has to be carefully identified and has to be strongly denounced. It is obviously a form of Islam and if we are blind to that, as most of the observers have been up until now, especially on the left which is my family. On the left there has been a long blindness, to this religious aspect of this sort of crime, well not from today. It began in Nigeria twenty years ago, it began in Iran 36 years ago and so on. If we are blind to this terror logical aspect we are defeated. We have to hold the two ends of the rope, connect the two threads, the political edge and the theological thread. This is very important we have to defeat equally the temptation of the (inaudible) Islam and Islamists are saying and the temptation of the ‘nothing to do ism’ in the school of blindness. So to name the phenomenon, to give it the proper name to support that there is the political phrasing this theological one.

Now what to do in front of this political, theological threat. What to done in front of Brussels, New York, Paris, London, tomorrow probably somewhere else. What to do? My, as all of you, as my friend Lord Risby, as all the other entities who are here, I will reflect a little on that and arrive to a few conclusions which I would like to share with you. Number 1 we have to admit without any doubt, without any hesitation that we are not confronting a police problem but a war. Very often, at the time of the world trade centre attack, this has been forgotten but Bill Clinton when George W Bush said that we was at war, Bill Clinton said no no we are not at war, it is just a police problem, they are hooligans, they are gangsters and they have to be taken and dealt with. Bush in this case, and it doesn’t happen often, Bush was right. He was right. A war of a new sort, a war without borders, a war without front line except I will tell you in a minute why, but it is a war. In war you have to have some alliance and the western cities have some natural allies and that should be again, stressed very clearly. And there is one align which I would like to name and I would like to insist a few minutes on that which is Israel. You can like or not Israel. You can think that Israel deals in the proper way with the Palestinian issue or not, but there are three things which are undoubtable. Number one, that what we are facing today in Paris, in London, in Brussels, in New York, they face is since (inaudible) and recently the stabbings, Israel is confronted to this sort of jihadist, terrorist attack since gone. Israel to quote the world to date in Paris, the state of emergency, there is a big discussion in France now to know if it should be in a state of emergency or not, if it should be put a little lighter or not and so there is a big discussion to know if the declaration of the state of emergency will not weaken the locality in the news of democracy. But there is the possibility, we had the state of emergency in France during the Algerian war, fifty years ago, and it was very bad for the state of affairs of the French democracy. Israel is above the line because it has lessons to give to us French, to you Brits if I hope not, if it happens again to you, to Americans in terms of how to deal with a state of emergency. Israel has lessons to give. Israel lives in a state of emergency not since 6 months like us French but 67 years since the very day of its creation and the miracle, the example is that it never implied a resignation to the democratic values of the religious state of Israel. It is a fact that the Arabic language is one of the two official languages of the state, it is a fact that the Arab minority which is much more strong than the Muslim minority in France, much more strong, around 5/6million, under 10% of the French population is Muslim today and it raises a problem as you know. In Israel there is 20% of the population who is Muslim, not only Muslim but taking part, suffering with, sympathy, and empathy with the enemy in the situations of war. It is very rare to see that, 20% of the population of the country which when the country is at war in Gaza and Lebanon is officially in favour of the enemy. This is Israel. These people right or wrong, I think it’s right, they are represented in Parliament, in the proportion which France frankly should put the shame on us the French at least, maybe less England but the number of parties, Arab parties, number of MPs coming from this minority, which is a very great example of democracy and of state surviving of what we can use in spite of a state of emergency.

That fact that you can, a war is always terrible and there is no good harm in the world. This is a weakness are sufficient numbers of wars to be condensed and that armies as always are never injured. The mistake that Israel make, who have put some procedures that make it possible in the middle of a battle to call on a simple solider and to say this act is immoral, this operation should be stopped and behave not so badly in a state of emergency. So, Israel is a natural ally and with the advantage of being on the spot, close to the spot is a natural ally to the democracy to be named as such and embraced as such. We can be Jew, non-Jew, catholic, no importance, if we want to deal strategically with the jihadist issue, we cannot prevent a real assuming, a real recognition between us and us of a strategical alliance with Israel. And I say that because I know we are facing a growing movement in Europe and in America by the way. And in Europe, especially in England of a new movement called BDS. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions which in the name of democracy and of peace pretends to demonise Israel. BDS is a democratic movement which will speak and should continue but if you want to fight ISIS, you have to know that BDS prevents, that BDS is an indictment for the Israel fight. It’s like this, we are at war or not, if we are at war we have to say to the student organisation of a big school, one of the biggest in England, for example, that these people who plead for democracy are invariably linked to the worst of the terrorism of today, that these people who pretend to be in favour of peace, are in favour of war because they are hostile to the state solution. We have to say to these organisations that this BDS movement has its routes again concretely, historically, archeologically in the ideologically of the political ideas. That BDS has its roots in the end of the forties, when some ideologists where extraverted from Germany to shelter in some of the Arabic countries especially Iraq and Syria and they built the first BDS movement. So this is a point that has to be stressed, if we want to face seriously Daesh. We have the democracy not only a democracy but a good democracy in many fields exemplary in general, and in particular regarding the question of the minorities as I said, we have to strengthen resulting in, without any hesitation with them.

As I began, if we speak in terms of wars, a war of spirit, a war of violence alas on the ground because these people they have to surrender or to disappear, there is no third way. There is another alliance which has to be named which is so crucial, which should be our target, our common target for the politics, for the people of Europe. This other alliance is with the moderate Muslims in Jihadism, everywhere, especially within our countries. There is a big proportion, in my opinion, the majority, and I may be wrong, of Muslims who do not recognise their selves in jihadi, I even think a huge majority we have to encourage them in this feeling. We have to help them in this, we have to give them the courage and the bravery of saying it more loudly.

The more difficult thing as I said this morning, I have one friend of mine, a great friend who is one of the best writers in the world who knows the price of saying that he has an argument with Islam, that there are some verses of the Quran which he would like to tell you guys little. He lives like a hunter for the past 30 years so it’s very difficult for the mother of the (inaudible) but it was also difficult for those in the Soviet Union. I remember, thirty years ago that this fight who were fighting against the Soviet Union and against the steer of the ideology. There are so little, there were so little, ideologists in politics in our countries who extended to them and who gave them weapons. We have to do the same with the moderate Muslims in Jihad. We have to do the same with the moderate Muslim states in particular. Let’s not forget were are obsessed with Iran, Pakistan, Syria and we are right because Syria are the biggest killers of Arabs in the world. Iran if they had the bomb it would beat of all that but it’s the Muslim states who are the natural allies of the West. There are some Muslim states which have embraced the values of enlightment and democracy. I would call three, one is Morocco. Morocco made unique reform of the rights of women, unique in the Muslim world, not against the Quran but with the help of the Quran. That has been the long work of Iman’s, wise Muslim man working on the Quran discussing as Rabi’s did in the past centuries and trying to make compatible the rights in the Quran. This is huge, this has to be supported, this has to be appraised and this has to be encouraged. And this has to be the core of our allies.

There are countries like Bangladesh, poor countries but some rich Muslim countries who would be good allies. And this will be my last point for a few minutes, then you have the Kurds in Syria and in Iraq. I told you about my recent expertise and possibilities. I am just finishing a movie about the fight of the Kurds against Daesh. At the frontline of 1000km across Iran and Syria they are fighting ISIS. And I filmed that. I spent in and out 5 months with a team of Kurd serviceman on this road, a big road with the Kurds since July 1st to the end of November and I drove two conclusions which I will end with.

Conclusion number one, you have great guys, Muslims, most of them Muslims who are valiant but who are also pro-west, who are democrats, who have women in their battalions and who embrace most of our values. Who our natural allies who to face and fight the jihadist threat, we have to be with them. The other thing, the other conclusion to which I reached during this month is that in front of them, this is very little know I think, that with these battalions of women, of men, of Kurdish, ISIS is weak. I was testimont, witness to five concrete battles I filmed four battles from July to the end of November. In the four battles, the situation was the same, the Kurds won and Daesh flied a way. In other words we have to know and this is a lesson, of our Kurdish allies with ISIS they are very brave when the martyr is to behead a hostage on his knees and are very brave when they have to face a valiant and professional army. You draw the conclusion you want from that.

Lord Risby

Well thank you very much, bad news for us this room needs to be cleared in 7 minutes, I regret that a committee is coming in here and we have no alternative. So perhaps there’s time for just 1 or 2 very brief questions   and brief answers and we can get otherwise fit more people in. The lady on the aisle there yes

Question 1

I just wanted to ask you in that last context of the Kurds being natural allies against ISIS and Daesh, where does Turkey stand in that context because what goes on in Turkey obviously impacts on were we align

Bernard-Henri Levy

Very good question, very big issue. If you take the example of the battle of (inaudible), Turkey betraying all its intellectual commitments, betraying all of its alliances especially NATO. Two things, number 1 they blocked the Peshmir? guards, soldiers who wanted to cross their border to go and help the Syrian Kurds. And at the same time they let in, they let in, facilitated the convoying of the weapons and the armed vehicles of Daesh. This is documented by the Turkish press itself. So there is a very dirty game of Turkey, I’m not against dirty games if they are cleaned but it has to be cleaned. And the question has to be raised and if not, if Turkey does not become very clear with its force and its force from behind, another question should be raised in my opinion which is the belonging of Turkey not to Europe but to NATO.

Lord Risby

Gentleman there on the same row as the lady, could you stand up? Thank you.

Question 2


Bernard-Henri Levy

This was one of my main arguments when I published the investigation into the death of Daniel Pearl. I said that America made the most curious (inaudible) nature and even absurd alliance with Pakistan. I wrote that Pearl back then before (inaudible)was hiding himself in Pakistan. I wrote about the absolute alliance between the ISIS, the secret and between the Jihadists, so for me it was the very example of the big diplomatic mistake of America. Now this, not only me, all those who believed like me got some results and I think America took some distance from that. I am not sure if it is enough. I am not sure that the elites in Russian countries see or are fully aware of the game of their Pakistani ally. I remember I wrote a piece a few years ago, taking all the examples, the 10 or 12 last examples of the so called number 2 of Al-Qaeda arrested in Pakistan. In 10 years, there is 12, 12 number 2s for Al-Qaeda. Each arrest coincided with a great rendezvous between Pakistan and America. A loan, a delivery of high level weaponry, a F signal for planes, a visit of the president in Washington this year so is coincided as if they had in their drawers, in their bank accounts a few number 2 for Al-Qaeda ready to put on the market like when the big owners took gold to make the rate go down. Okay so they have some number 2s of Al-Qaeda, probably some people of Daesh ready to put on the market in order to get back to Daesh. So in this war, there is a question of the alliance, there is a question also of the betrayals, and then there is the question of false allies. It’s a war of costs, a war of (inaudible). We say Turkey, Pakistan is another one. We have to deal with that, it will take our lifetime but at least let’s not be blind and stupid.

Lord Risby

Very regrettably were going to have to close the proceedings, may I just say this Bernard-Henri, if we look on the screen up there , there’s a statement by our home secretary, our justice secretary about the tragic situation which has happened in Brussels and you were absolutely right to emphasise in the beginning of your speech the sheer human suffering and tragedy of what has happened. I am also very pleased to have a representative of the French embassy here at this gathering, not only because of Bernard because the out pouring of grief in this country on very human terms has been dramatic for our Belgian brothers and sisters and our French brothers and sisters to. But what I think was so brilliant about this speech is it evolved into an historical context that the way that facism has infected, if you like, the whole thinking of in some societies, in Islamic societies and has created this Jihadism. And also looking at it in a comprehensive way as to how we begin to deal with this problem in a practical way. It is the absolute problem of our time, in this building we have had people killed by terrorism it is something we are all suffering from and it is something that we need to actually analyse and deal with because it is the greatest problem of our time. I just wanted to say to Bernard-Henri this is a very interesting room because in this room, committee room 14, Prime Ministers have been standing here for decades making speeches, addressing members of Parliament and I note that I have seen at least 2 Prime Ministers do that. I believe your speech was one of the most compelling, brilliant and powerful speeches I have ever heard in this room. I won’t say any more than that except to say that for everybody here it’s been an exceptional experience and a real treat, and a brilliant moment for which we are hugely thankful to you.


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