iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Posted: October 27, 2009 06:34 PM

For Roman Polanski

What's Your Reaction?

Time is passing. And Roman Polanski is still in prison, goes to bed and wakes up in prison, sees his wife one hour a week in the visiting room of a prison -- all while his 11 and 16-year-old children, when they have the courage to go to school, have to confront the gaze of friends who have heard at home that the dad of the little Polanskis, the man everyone fluttered around vicariously via their children, the parent of a student that they were exhilarated to recognize on TV the night of the Césars, was ultimately a criminal, a rapist, a sodomite, a pedophile.

Since we're at this point, since time is passing and everyone seems to find nothing wrong with the situation, since Roman Polanski's supporters are losing faith and, sometimes, are even starting to doubt, since the pack of gossipers have even succeeded, it seems, in convincing the French minister of culture that he spoke too hastily, and under the influence of emotion, though he only did his duty, I want to say again, once more, why this affair is shameful.

It is shameful to throw a 76-year-old man into prison for unlawful sex committed 32 years ago.

It is shameful that, in countries where, like in Europe, you can bump off an old lady, torture your fellow man, mutilate him, and know that your crime, like all violent crimes, will be commuted after 10 or 15 years, everybody acts as if Polanski's crime should be immune to any possibility of commutation.

It is shameful to see the regulars of the global Café du Commerce, whose Pavlovian anti-Americanism never leaves them at a loss for words when lambasting America on any and everything, are suddenly silent, become gentle as lambs and, when it comes to Polanski, just repeat: "Ah, that's America... better not mess with American law... dura lex sed lex [the law is harsh, but it is the law]..."

It is shameful to hear a militant for human rights who, like the French activist Gisèle Halimi, has spent her life securing the release of people for more serious crimes than that for which we reproach the author of The Pianist, howl with the wolves: "A crime was committed; justice is the same for everyone; Polanski must be judged."

It is shameful to see the intellectuals, whose role should be to calm the frenzy and cool popular anger, ratchet up, like Michel Onfray in Libération, the moment when "the worst are full of passionate intensity" (Yeats) and to indulge, in the name of abused childhood, in the most obnoxious amalgams (why don't we hear these intellectuals denounce with equal ardor, the limitless outrage that is the martyrdom of child soldiers in Africa, or child slaves in Asia, or the hundreds of millions of children dead of hunger, according to the estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for the last...32 years?)

It is shameful to see Luc Besson rush to television, cloaked in ingenuous probity, inveigh against Polanski, like in the worst era of the McCarthyist witch hunts, and denounce his friend.

It is shameful to keep repeating, like some are doing, that justice should be "equal for all" while, if there is indeed an "inequality," if there is a double standard, it is to the detriment, not to the advantage, of Polanski. I've tested it. Last October 2, on the NPR show On the Point, I confronted Geraldine Ferraro's refrain, which she repeated ad nauseum: "Polanski has had a lovely life; now, he has to pay." I sent out a challenge to listeners: "Show me a case, a single one, of an anonymous person, guilty of the same crime, who was tracked down thirty years after the fact." To this day, no one has found a single one. And no one has found one precisely because you had to be Polanski, you had to be an artist renown over the globe for an elected prosecutor, soon to embark on an electoral campaign and starved for publicity, to resurrect the case from oblivion, to which, even in the United States, popular wisdom relegates the very old case files of non-recidivist delinquents.

It is strange -- shameful, and strange -- to see how the same people who, intoxicated by suspicion and seeing conspiracies everywhere, spend their time investigating the secret agendas of the States, but do not seem at all bothered by the timing that is, undoubtedly, extremely bizarre: a man who has a house in Switzerland; who has gone there for years now, every school break with his family; and who, all of a sudden, without any new element, returns to the nightmare that has been his lot in life.

Because it is shameful, finally, that we can't, when we talk about his life, evoke his childhood in the ghetto, the death of his mother in Auschwitz, the murder of his young spouse, eviscerated along with the young child she was carrying, without the prayers of the new popular justice crying, "Blackmail!': even for the most abominable serial killer, the prevailing "culture of excuse" jumps to scrutinize the difficult childhood , the broken family, the traumas -- but Roman Polanski would be the only person in the world under judicial jurisdiction not to have the right to any kind of attenuating circumstance...

It is the entirety of the affair, in truth, that is shameful.

It is the debate that is nauseating and from which we must abstain.

I hardly know Roman Polanski. But I know that all those who, from close and from afar, join in this lynching will soon wake up, horrified by what they have done, ashamed.

Translated from French by Sara Phenix.