I last interviewed Bernard-Henri Lévy, a.k.a. BHL, in January 2021. A few weeks before, I had been invited to a New York preview of his documentary The Will to See. This series of reports and stories the author/filmmaker had recorded during the pandemic sent me to a place of unease, sadness, and awakening. While the most privileged among us were weathering confinement, experiencing remote working, and sharing photographs of empty streets and sudden blue skies, despair, fear, and threats of conflicts were growing in places we were suddenly ignoring. During the pandemic, BHL warned in major newspapers, magazines, a book, and The Will to See about the imminent war Putin would launch against Ukraine. He also showed us a face of barbarism no one really noticed. 

From 2020 to 2023, the world has gone through a devastative pandemic, a conflict decided by a member of the United Nations Security Council, subsequent economic inflation impacting the lives of billions, the October 7th atrocious terrorist attack of Hamas in Israel, and Israel’s military and defensive response, creating immense suffering among civilians we barely know and questioning throughout the world. 

Can we put on the same level, even if only in the same enumeration, economic inflation or pandemic, on the one hand – and these two wars, on the other, unleashed by Putin and Hamas?” BHL wrote me when I mentioned the dismal beginning of the 2020s. “What is comparable are these two wars,” he added. “Because both have the same target. Ukraine and Israel. But, through Ukraine and Israel, the United States, Europe, and the values they stand for are also targeted. In other words, the liberal, democratic alternative to the barbarism of Putin and Hamas.”

Since Putin launched his war against Ukraine, BHL has directed three documentary films to report on the fight. His perspective, interviews, and eye need to be seen and shared. Why? Because we need to see, understand, and possibly act. If there is little most of us can do, we can express our need to understand and vote. In North America, Americans and Mexicans will elect their new president next November in the United States and in Mexico in June. These elections will impact the fate of these wars and beyond, the world’s security, and priorities.

Why should we “all” bear responsibility for this war?” BHL replied. “Ukraine is in no way responsible. Nor is Europe. Nor is the United States. Putin is responsible. He’s the only one responsible. We must be careful not to dilute this clear and precise responsibility with generous and vague formulas.” 

Could there be peace in sight? What would be the conditions for a restored and lasting peace in Ukraine? Is it even possible?
BHL: Yes, if Putin is defeated. No draw. No ceasefire or armistice. Defeated. Driven to capitulation. I do not know if that is possible in the short term. It may be if we agree to finally give the Ukrainians the weapons they need. But I do know that any shaky peace, any half-peace, anything that might indicate that Putin has won even a half-victory, would only encourage him to restart his war in six days, six weeks, six months. 

In a few weeks, it will be two years since Vladimir Putin reawakened the wars of the 20th century, which we thought had been definitively forgotten in the past. Beyond Ukraine, the risk of this conflict flaring up is real, isn’t it?
BHL: This is what happened in Israel. Hamas would never have attacked Israel, or to be more precise, the sponsors of Hamas—Iran, Qatar, and, in a way, Russia—would never have given their approval to the terrorist operation of October 7 if Putin had not, 18 months earlier, set the example. So, yes, the war against Ukraine was a test. Yes, it was the start of what you call a conflagration. And it is probably not over yet…

Since we will be at the United Nations with you on December 6, it is impossible not to think about other conflicts and threats.
Above all, it is impossible not to think about the terrible failure of the United Nations in Ukraine. So many resolutions remain pious wishes… So many deliberations were blocked by the legal absurdity, the nonsense, of the Russian veto in the Security Council… And, with Israel, a small, lonely country, very much in the minority on the international scene, Mr. Gutteres overplays his condemnation… It is a shame!

Have we de facto entered wars that concern the whole of humanity?
All wars concern the whole of humanity. Absolutely all of them. I have spent my life shouting this because it wasn’t easy when I was reporting or making films about what I called forgotten wars. Now, with Ukraine or Israel, it is more noticeable.

What can we, who live far from the fighting, do together to contribute to peace?
BHL: Break out of our bubble. Break down the wall of indifference. And here in the United States, ward off the specter of isolationism, which is part of the American DNA but which can only lead to the growth of desert, chaos, and war. To contribute to peace, we must start by taking war seriously. And taking it seriously means dissuading criminals from engaging in it by threat and, therefore, by force. 

On October 7th, Hamas launched an unspeakable terrorist attack in Israel, and Israel immediately launched a war in retaliation against this movement reminiscent of the Lernaean Hydra. Can we be optimistic and dream of a situation where Palestinians and Israelis can finally live side by side, free, entrepreneurial, and without daily fear for their safety?
BHL: I have dreamed of this all my life. I have defended all the peace plans drawn up over the last 50 years by the various American and Israeli administrations. So, of course, I still dream of it. But I have to admit: Hamas has seriously complicated the situation. How do you respond today to those Israelis who say: “68% of West Bankers are in favor of Hamas and see it as a breeding ground for heroes; we’re not going to give them a state that they’re going to turn into a new Gaza overnight?”

Many Palestinian civilians, many children, are today the collateral victims of the conflict that the State of Israel is waging against the Hamas terrorists? At a recent Reuters conference in New York, the United Nations Secretary-General questioned the consequences of the Israeli government’s strategy. “There are violations by Hamas when they have human shields. But when one looks at the number of civilians that were killed with the military operations, there is something that is clearly wrong.” Isn’t there another way? 
BHL: There might be. But I would like the United Nations Secretary-General to tell us what it is. Or at least give us an indication, a clue. For now, I note that all those who find the Israeli response disproportionate—absolutely all of them, without exception—say nothing about what a proportionate, appropriate, just response might be. I hear criticism everywhere. But nowhere, any solutions or proposals. 

When you announced the imminence of Putin’s attack on Ukraine in your book and film, The Will to See, you told the tragic story of Jumai Victor, the Nigerian Christian woman who was first tortured and had both arms amputated, and later murdered by the Fulanis, an Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria, who had massacred her husband and children with machetes. Barbarism was not born on October 7; you’ve often written about it.
BHL: Yes, and it all adds up. There is, indeed, an International of the Worst. Of barbarism. Or, simply, of crime. And in this International, all the players talk to each other, respond to each other, help each other, or have the same sponsors. I demonstrated this in The Empire and the Five Kings (a book published in 2019).

In the end, is seeing your film an activist act?
BHL: I do not know. I hope so. In any case, I’m expecting a lot from this premiere at the United Nations. I know some of the countries in the “Global South” well. I have shared their hopes. Supported their wars of independence. I have personal relationships with some of their ambassadors who will be present this evening. I cannot imagine them committing the historical error of having torn themselves away from the clutches of European colonialism to throw themselves into the paws of today’s imperialisms—Russian, Arab, Chinese, Turkish, or Iranian.

I’m thinking of Romain Gary’s last novel, The Kites, a story of optimism and hope. The author of La Promise at Dawn and Roots of Heaven, the Jewish boy from Vilnius who fought alongside General de Gaulle in the Second World War, writes: “The inhumanity of it is what makes Nazism so horrible—that’s what people always say. Sure. But there’s no denying the obvious: part of being human is the inhumanity of it. As long as we refuse to admit that inhumanity is completely human, we’ll just be telling ourselves pious lies.” Do we all carry this part of inhumanity within us? Are we doomed to failure?
BHL: No. I do not feel that part of inhumanity in myself. Nor in you. Nor in all those magnificent Ukrainians I have been filming for months, who are my brothers in heart and soul.



New York: December 6th at the United Nations with special appearance by Bernard-Henri Lévy
New York: December 8th
Washington D.C.: December 9th with special appearance by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Los Angeles: December 10th with special appearance by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Philadelphia: December 11th
Seattle: December 11th
Chicago: December 18th
(Click here or See below link for all screenings and tickets)

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