The Islamic State rose to power so quickly because the Arab world falsely believed it had escaped the influence of the Nazis, France’s leading philosopher has claimed.
Bernard-Henri Levy, whose documentary about Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers battling Isil will soon be screened in Britain, said he believed the jihadist threat was “the last pearl to be released from the Nazi oyster.”
“We are facing a world wave that started early in the early twentieth century, arriving at its peak now,” said the so-called “warrior-philosopher,” who visited the frontlines of northern Iraq during filming.
He described the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) as “a wave of radical Islam, which is a sort of fascism that is an Arab version of the Nazi revolution. »
In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Levy also called for Kurdistan to be recognised as an independent state given the full support of British, French and American forces.
And he urged coalition forces to break what he called the “prestige” of Isil – as he insisted that the group is a “paper tiger” which is skilled at spreading fear and hatred, but utterly inadequate at warfare.
The Peshmerga – who played a key role in the fight against Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War – are currently locked in a battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
“The Kurds are our only boots on the ground,” he said, “fewer boots there could mean more blood here in Europe.
“They have to be supported with more determination.”
Mr Levy said the Arab world “repressed” its fascist elements in the wake of the Second World War and acted as if it had been unaffected by the Nazi ideology.
“Nazism was a world revolution in Europe, with a form of it in America and Japan. It was worldwide,” he said.
“The difference between the Arabic world and rest of the world was that in 1945, the rest of the world knew what happened, there was an awareness of Nazism and the need to eradicate it.”
“The only place where that work was not done – because the phenomenon was supposed not to have taken place – was the Arabic world.”
He compared its denial of the problem to the way his own country reacted to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
“In France, it was thought that the Chernobyl clouds stopped at the border. In the same way, Nazism was thought to have stopped at the border of the Arab world. It was supposed not to have existed.”
His film, named after the Kurdish fighting force, presents its soldiers as the antidote to the Islamic State – a moderate, open-minded people devoted to state building, in stark contrast with the extremists’ reign of terror in the Middle East.
“They are patriots but not nationalists, no commander I spoke to said he wanted anything like a grand Kurdistan with a holy hill.”
One key scene in Mr Levy’s film shows how Peshmerga forces have no issue with recruiting female soldiers – in fact, he explains, they are an advantage in psychological warfare as jihadists cannot bear the idea of being killed by women.
Nor do they refer to fallen comrades as “martyrs” because of the allusion to radical Islamism, the film points out.
And whereas Peshmerga soldiers displayed “great bravery” in combat, Mr Levy said his experience near the frontline led him to realise that Isil employs “cowardly, disorganised” military tactics.
“They are good terrorists but bad fighters. Courageous when they have to behead a poor hostage on his knees, but not brave when they have to face a real army like Peshmerga.”
Mr Levy also said he was struck by the fact that many of those who travel to Syria to join Isil come from middle class backgrounds, such as Westminster University-educated Jihadi John.
“Many of those who enter [Isil] are coming from very fine family backgrounds,” he said, but warned of viewing Islamic radicalisation as a bourgeois problem.
“If it were merely a question of being a bad sociological situation, then democracies know how to deal with it, » he said.
“But this is far more complex. When we try to face up to a really frightening solution, it is human to look for a simple explanation which makes the problem easily solvable.
« Peshmerga » is supported by the Hexagon Society, a group for British and French intellectuals.
The film was added as a late entry to this year’s Cannes film festival, with one reviewer describing it as « an intellectually gripping tribute » to Kurdish fighters battling Isil.
It will be screened in London on July 11 at the Royal Geographical Society.