Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


A French Intellectual’s French Views of Islam


Print Email
Bernard-Henri Lévy (and friend) last June in Venice.(Marco Sabadin/AFP/Getty Images)

Bernard-Henri Lévy, self-styled bearer of the torch of Enlightenment and engagée intellectualism, was making the rounds in New York City this week. Last night, he got center stage at a panel discussion at Columbia cosponsored by the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), which is essentially the French Anti-Defamation League. Topic: “Freedom of Expression: The Controversy.” According to the panel’s moderator, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Lévy was the distinguished guest because of his tireless work as a champion of free speech. In his remarks, though, Lévy—wearing dark shades and his trademark way-open-at-the-neck white dress shirt—demonstrated that his commitment to free speech might more accurately be described as “selective.”

On the one hand, he maintained his staunch defense of the Danish newspaper that published Islam-satirizing cartoons in 2005 (he even criticized Remnick for failing to republish the cartoons). On the other, he advocated for laws banning Holocaust denial, and spoke out against French women wearing burqas, which, he said, constitute “a political message” rather than a religious choice.

The other French panelist, Philippe Schmidt—a lawyer who, like Lévy, is affiliated with LICRA—took these arguments even further, proposing that Internet speech be regulated by some kind of supranational body. When a Columbia law professor on the panel pointed out that U.S. participation in such a body would breach the First Amendment, Schmidt replied (in earnest, it seemed), “You can change the First Amendment.” This strange moment only underscored what had already become clear: of the five panelists, including Remnick, the Americans argued for limited restrictions on speech, while the Frenchmen argued for limited restrictions on speech unless the speaker was a Holocaust denier or a religious Muslim.

Lévy, who personifies grandiosity, is easy to make fun of (“my friend Salman Rushdie” came up repeatedly). But the chauvinism of his ideas is no joke. No one asked directly whether he and Schmidt advocated different free speech standards for Muslims than for others, though Remnick cleverly wondered whether Schmidt thought Israel should have prosecuted Jewish extremists who had directed hate speech toward Yitzhak Rabin before the Israeli prime minister’s assassination (cornered, Schmidt said yes). But in his closing remarks, Lévy asserted that, at least at this point in history, Islam is unique among the monotheistic religions in its susceptibility to extremism. “Mainstream” Judaism, he argued, is fundamentally anti-fundamentalist. Lévy’s refusal to acknowledge the significance of Jewish (and Christian) fundamentalism is shared by many on both sides of the Atlantic. But his insistence on couching his biases in a grandiloquent commitment to Enlightenment values is—to engage in a bit of chauvinism—very French.

Print Email

You can make money with this blog but what about a system that lets you make money without even having a website? You don’t need to build websites, pay for clicks, write articles or any of those other tedious and costly tactics. This is not your usual ‘guru’ software that you see all over the internet. The guy that made it is not even an Internet Guru at all. What this software actually does is something that you have never seen before. And I guarantee you’ll understand the genius of it within 30 seconds. If you are tired of slaving your life away looking for the next big thing and spending 10 or more hours a day trying to play by the search engine rules, you really need to check this out ->

64. Wow! This can be one particular of the most helpful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Magnificent. I am also an expert in this topic so I can understand your hard work.

18. Hello there, You have done a great job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this web site.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

A French Intellectual’s French Views of Islam


More on Tablet:

The Merchant of Vegas, Onstage in London

By Tal Kra-Oz — Shakespeare’s prickly classic gets a timely update in new production