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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Posted: November 2, 2010 03:32 PM

SOS Sakineh

What's Your Reaction:

This Tuesday, November 2nd, the news came through the Iranian networks and then the international press agencies: the execution of Sakineh could be carried out in short time. So I am speaking again. Raising the alarm once again. Following is the transcript of two conversations with French journalists. The first is Laure Hache, who works at the online site of the magazine Elle. The second is Arthur Nazaret, and he interviewed me for the Journal du dimanche. The horror of the situation, the monstrosity of this execution that has been announced but that we may have, once more, put off is such that it seems to me these two texts may equally concern my American readers.

Bernard-Henri Lévy


If They Were to Commit the Irreparable

The International Committee Against Stoning has just alerted the international community as to the possible execution of Sakineh tomorrow in Iran. What is your reaction to this announcement?

I don't dare believe it. I can't believe it. This woman has done nothing. She is guilty of nothing. Her legal file, everyone knows it, is empty or full of trumped-up charges. Her execution would be just a means for the Iranian authorities to flip the bird at the West, to prove their own power. And that is inconceivable. I cannot conceive of it.

Apart from that, it seems that Sakineh's second attorney, Houtan Khian, and her son Sajjad (both of whom were fighting to save Sakineh) may have been tortured in prison. You were in contact with them yourself, do you have any other news of what has happened to them? Are you worried about them too?

I read, especially, this disgusting article on the ultra-conservative Iranian site Raja News, telling of Sajjad's supposed "confession". To treat a kid like this, to humiliate a son that way, one who has committed no crime either, except to defend the innocence of his mother, force him to declare, for example, that he was manipulated by his mother's lawyer, who was only thinking of the publicity he would gain and of using Sakineh's cause to flee to the West, all of that is absolutely repulsive. The text is there. We had it translated and published on line on La Règle du Jeu's site. Your readers can read it. We haven't seen the likes of such rhetorical ignominy since the Stalinist and post-Stalinist trials.

You have been campaigning for several weeks to save Sakineh. What are your feelings today?

A feeling of disgust. Of rage. But also of incredulity. I cannot imagine, I repeat, that Iran could go to the end of the end of barbarity in a case as sensitive as that of Sakineh. The campaign has been too strong. The reaction of anger and disgust would be immediate and, I believe, unanimous. But at the same time, we don't know. I am afraid. I know I shall not sleep tomorrow night, I'll wait. I know that there will be many of us the world over who will spend the coming night waiting in thoughtful silence, or in prayer, if we know how to pray, in anger, again, in apprehension and in hope. For I hope with all my heart, yes, I hope that the terrible news we receive will be a false alarm, a means of testing us, and that the Iranian authorities will understand, finally, the appeal the world is addressing to them.

Despite the powerful national and international campaign you have initiated, the Iranian regime has not backed off, and Sakineh's execution seems inevitable. Are you launching an appeal once again today?

Inevitable, I repeat, I refuse to believe it. Well yes, we must do all in the few hours that remain to obtain, at least, a new stay of execution. I have contacted President Sarkozy. The friends of the Free Sakineh Committee, in Canada and in the United States, are in contact with the American Department of State. The Italian press, which was first to issue the news of this possible execution, last night, through the Ansa agency, has been heading into the wind, and apparently the Italian government has been contemplating new kinds of pressure. I know that the Pope was informed last night. Barroso as well. And others. At this stage, you know; there are two solutions. Either we will finally be heard. The hundreds of thousands of men and women we have all, together, with ELLE, with Libération, and with others, contributed to mobilizing will eventually shake the Iranians' resolve. Or else--

Or else?

Or else Sakineh is executed. Tomorrow at dawn, the executioners will come to get her in the death row section of Tabriz prison and take her into a little courtyard where other women have gone before her, to be stoned or hung. And so we must think of something else. We must find the appropriate ripost to what will seem like a challenge not only to the West, but to the world. For my part, I can see only one thing. It is the quasi-ultimate arm, but I don't see any other. We must, unfortunately, launch a new campaign. The first will have failed, and so we must launch a second one. But this will be a campaign suggesting, this time, breaking off diplomatic relations with a State that, by this act, will have placed itself outside the community of nations. Frankly, I do not see any other solution. I cannot imagine the head of State, the diplomat who could, if, God forbid, it should come to that, look Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sakineh's executioner, in the face.

Bernard-Henri Lévy
Interview by Claire Hache, 2 November 2010


An Appeal to Nicolas Sarkozy


We have learned from your laregledujeu.org site that Sakineh's execution may take place as soon as tomorrow. What is your reaction?

Prudence, of course, first of all. For, like all information that comes out of Iran and, in particular, all that concerns Sakineh's ordeal, the news is not completely verifiable. The Iranians are playing with our nerves. Perhaps they are testing us so as to anticipate the intensity of our reactions should they carry out this act. Perhaps they're even behaving like all hostage-takers--and Sakineh is a hostage of sorts--trying to raise the stakes with plans for this or that future political bargain in view. But at the same time, our sources are reliable. Since the beginning of this affair, the International Committee Against Stoning, based in London and in Frankfurt, has never been proven wrong. And so I believe one must take the threat seriously, very seriously. The reasoning, from that point on, was very simple. Last night, as soon as we learned of this letter of the High Court of Tehran to the Chamber of application of sentences at Tabriz prison, demanding that the execution be speeded up, and as soon as we then confirmed the information with Armine Arefi and our Iranian contacts at La Règle du Jeu, we said to ourselves, «It's better to alert public opinion right away, better to do too much than not enough; if, God forbid, the worst should happen, we would regret not having raised our voices soon enough nor loudly enough for the rest of our lives."

How does one qualify this execution, should it actually happen?

Without a doubt, as a crime of State. A crime against humanity, perhaps, for, through this innocent woman, all the women of Iran and all those who, outside Iran, might become, like her, the prey of Islamic fanaticism are targeted. And this is, of course, a message addressed not exactly to the West, but to all those, westerners or not, who believe in democracy, liberty and equality between men and women. This message is, "your freedom, we don't give a damn about it, and here's what we're doing to your equality; yes, we are barbarians--but proud, very proud, to be such barbarians. A word to the wise is sufficient."

What can one do, besides pray?

Reply. Do not give up or disarm. And, when one is France, that is to say a great country that enjoys a seat as a permanent member of the Security Council, use this symbolic weight in favour of this living symbol Sakineh has become. In late August, Nicolas Sarkozy uttered words for which, regardless of the importance of my political disagreements with him, I shall always be grateful. As you recall, he said that the fate of this woman was France's "responsibility". Well, he must repeat those words and make it clear to the opposing camp that these are words that ripened and were long weighed, with power and morality in the balance.

In the last few hours, have you been in contact with him?

Indirectly, yes. I know he takes this threat seriously. And he takes seriously as well his own commitment at the end of last summer. If you would like my opinion, at the time we are speaking, French diplomacy is not inactive.

What do you plan to do in the coming hours?

Talk. Talk some more. Talk in particular to my friends in the American press who, with the time difference, are just learning the news we have been living with since this morning. With your permission, in fact, I will try to have this conversation we're having published by the Huffington Post, in New York. Every voice counts. Every minute that passes is like a moment of a fatal countdown. And we must all do everything to make the Iranians understand that, if they really decide to carry out this act, the emotion, hence the repercussions, will be immense and of global magnitude. After that, we'll see. One must, if not pray, at least be vigilant, and wait until tomorrow morning.

If the irreparable were to be committed, what would you do? What would you demand?

I told your colleagues on French public radio at this morning. If the irreparable should be committed, we must consider the authors of this crime definitively not to be associated with and draw all the resultant moral, political, and diplomatic conclusions. For myself, I would immediately begin thinking about a second campaign. All the energy I will have put, for months, into defending Sakineh I would use to try to convince people that no leader of a civilized nation can deal, face to face, with Ahmadinejad. I would think, in other terms, and I weigh my words, of a campaign advocating the rupture of diplomatic relations with Iran. But, I repeat, we're not there yet. For the moment, I am hoping. Oh yes, I'm hoping so much that, realizing the price such an infamous deed would cost them, the masters of Tehran will, for once, come around to the voice of understandable interests and, thus to the voice of wisdom. Let us wait.

-Bernard-Henri Lévy, interviewed by Arthur Nazaret, 2 November 2010