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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Posted: October 5, 2009 06:45 PM

On the Polanski Affair

What's Your Reaction?

Sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl is obviously a serious crime.

And being an artistic genius never constituted, for any crime, an attenuating circumstance.

Having said that, and considering the wave of madness currently sweeping the country, we should also remember the following:

1. The "illegal sexual intercourse" that Roman Polanski acknowledged he was guilty of 32 years ago is not, for all that, the deadly crime, even crime against humanity, that the avengers hot on his heels have been denouncing for the past 10 days. Yes, it is a crime. But there are degrees in the scale of crimes. And it is an insult to good sense, an assault on reason, a door left open to all kinds of confusion, to muddle everything, to try to make everyone believe that a rape is a crime of the same nature as, for example, the one his wife Sharon Tate was a victim of, eviscerated several years earlier, to risk, in other words, because that's what we're really talking about, seeing Polanski join Charles Manson in the penitentiary where, starting January 1, 2010, he will have the possibility of parole.

2. This affair is all the more senseless as the principal complainant has chosen to forgive, to turn the page and, if possible, to forget. Leave me alone, she begs every time the Justice Spectacle, or just simply the Spectacle, shines its spotlights on this part of her past! Leave me alone and, while we're at it, forget this man that I, his victim, think has paid enough! But no. Defenders of victims' rights are there knowing better than the victim what she wants and what she feels. We are dealing with people who would step over the victims rather than let go of their prey and renounce the drunken desire to punish. It is shameful.

3. When the victim withdraws her complaint, isn't it up to society, that is to say the judge, to pursue the matter? Yes, without a doubt. From a strict judicial point of view, it is indeed the right of society. But this will be neither the first nor the last time that the strict judicial perspective misses the demands of compassion as well as those of intelligence. And just as I have never abstained from pointing out, in the Law of this America that I love, customs or punishments, found in every legal system, that distort the pure democratic idea, likewise there is no reason not to say it: arresting a man today about whom it was decided a long time ago, after 42 days in prison, that he wasn't a pedophile, tracking him like a terrorist, and extraditing him like a former Nazi is perhaps right according to the law, but not according to justice.

4. Would it be, like we're hearing everywhere, that his celebrity was giving Mr. Polanski refuge? No, of course not. I have spent my life trying to pull minuscule lives, nameless and faceless victims, from obscurity -- and I would have exactly the same views if Mr. Polanski weren't Mr. Polanski. Except... Except I precisely wouldn't have to maintain them. Because he wouldn't have been arrested. His dossier would have been buried for years. And there wouldn't have been any prosecutor, on the eve of an election (because many American judges are elected by the people like mayors and sheriffs), to arrange this high-profile arrest. Celebrity is not protecting Roman Polanski; it is doing him a disservice. Far from Roman Polanski hiding behind his name, it is his name that is drawing attention to him. And if there is a double standard in this affair, it is making Polanski, not an ordinary defendant, but a symbol -- and his eventual appearance a politico-media "grand bazaar" more than a fair trial.

5. The root of the matter lies in the whiff of popular justice that masks everything and transforms the commentators, the bloggers, the citizens, into so many judges sworn in on the great tribunal of Opinion -- some weighing the crime, others the punishment; we have even seen one of the virtuous, apparently an expert in chemical castration, propose for this new Dutroux (sic) a definitive treatment... Strange sort of outrage in those who don't find fault when it's a truly powerful person who acts like a child predator in front of our faces (ah, Mr. Berlusconi's escapades) but who become implacable when it's a seemingly powerful person who, like Polanski, has no other weapon but his talent... Singular kind of moralists who take an evil pleasure in replaying over and over the details of this sordid affair in order then to throw the first stone...

This lynching is a disturbance of the public order more serious than Roman Polanski remaining free.

This tenacity on the part of the gossips, and this desire to see the head of an artist on a pike, are the very essence of immorality.

Either one of two things, Your Honors. Either Polanski was this monster -- and we shouldn't have given him either an Oscar or a César; we needed to boycott his films; we needed to turn him in to the authorities every time he vacationed with his family at his home in Switzerland. Or you have never found fault, ever, with his announced appearances on the red carpets of every world festival; you feel as I do the formidable hypocrisy of this prosecutor, craving recognition, who woke up one morning to deliver him like a trophy to the public condemnation of the white-hot anger of voters -- and we must, like his victim, plead that he finally be left in peace.

Translated from French by Sara Phenix.