BHL and the wheels of justice

I’ve been slow with blogging, even in the face of newsworthy happenings like the bin Laden killing, the massacre of the DMK in the state elections here, the arrest of the IMF chief for attempted rape. It has taken the self-styled “philosopher”, Bernard-Henri Lévy (previously a defender of the convicted paedophile Roman Polanski) to stir me to write again.

I generally have little admiration even for philosophers who actually philosophise — but if BHL is a philosopher, so am I. (I’m a doctor of philosophy, so there!) That apart, his defence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn turns out more to be an indirect slime — a series of insinuations — against his accuser, as well as a direct slime against a previous victim, Tristane Banon, who, he says, “pretends” and has “shut up for eight years”. (In fact she spoke about it before, on TV, but DSK’s name was bleeped out.)

Laila Lalami has an excellent riposte, as does Matt Welch, and no doubt many others. But let me address one particular point made by BHL here.

BHL says:

“I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.”

I would look on that differently. The US system of justice is apparently such that a recent immigrant from a developing country, a lowly member of the cleaning staff in a hotel, who is molested and nearly raped by a rich man (she didn’t know who he was, but she knew he stayed in a $3000/night suite), feels empowered to complain immediately to her employers, instead of dying quietly of shame. (She is in fact reportedly very upset — but she did not choose to keep quiet, in the name of a fallacious “honour” so commonly invoked in the developing world.) The hotel, who knew who DSK was, didn’t dissuade her from complaining, but called the police. Within hours, the police pulled him out of the first class cabin of a plane that was about to depart for France. And he is now being treated just as any other suspect would be, and has been remanded to the same prison where ordinary criminals in New York are sent.

If such a system of justice “troubles” Bernard-Henri Lévy, perhaps he should explain why. I am sure harassed women, all over the world, wish for such a system. Would action on such a complaint, against such a figure, have been so swift in Paris? Or anywhere else? What does BHL have to fear from such a system?

Leave a comment


  1. Gautam Menon

     /  May 19, 2011

    There’s something strange about French philosophers of this ilk in that they embrace the general but are conflicted about the particular, especially if it involves other French intellectuals who they don’t actually despise. Add to this a not-very-well suppressed anti-Americanism and you have statements like these from BHL as well as from Jack Lang.

    I think the tenor of the statements emanating from the French would have been very different if say George Bush was similarly caught, practically in flagrante delicto

  2. BHL is a philosopher in the same way Glenn Beck is a historian.

  3. suresh

     /  May 20, 2011

    I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.

    He doesn’t seem to know Anglo-American criminal law. It is up to the prosecution to show that the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The defendant’s job is actually simpler: it is not to show that s/he is innocent, but rather to demonstrate there is “reasonable doubt.” This is, after all, the basis on which O. J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his wife in the criminal case even when the evidence was fairly overwhelming. (Note that in a separate civil case, O. J. Simpson was held liable because the standard was a less stringent “preponderance of evidence.”)

    And, oh, you can’t just randomly accuse somebody. If you do so and are found out, you will pay heavily for it.

  4. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  May 22, 2011

    Suresh – yes, indeed he seems not to have done much research about law.

    Personally, if reports that DSK plans to claim consent are true, I think it looks bleak for him. If he gets away with such a plea, I will be disappointed by the American judicial system. If he claims that it never happened at all, he had better be very convincing.

    It is possible that he misinterpreted something she said/did as consent, i.e. he did not actually plan to rape her. But, if so, I would not cut him any slack for that.

  5. Archana

     /  June 6, 2011

    Excellent post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s