May 19, 2011


An Indefensible Defense: French intellectuals’ despicable response to Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest. (David Rieff, May 18, 2011, New Republic)

In his weekly column in Le Point, Lévy asked “how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most New York hotels of sending a ‘cleaning brigade’ of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.” For his part, Daniel wrote in an editorial for his magazine that the fate meted out to DSK, as Strauss-Kahn is generally referred to in the French press, has made him think that, “We [French] and the Americans do not belong to the same civilization,” and demanded to know—shades of my guerrilla friend in South Sudan—why “the supposed victim was treated as worthy and beyond any suspicion?”

As for Badinter, he insisted that by organizing a “perp walk,” in which a handcuffed Strauss-Kahn was paraded before the cameras before being taken to central booking, the New York City Police department had orchestrated DSK’s “mediatic putting to death.” To remember that this was the kind of rhetoric Badinter used in his campaign to abolish the death penalty is to vindicate Marx’s famous observation that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Badinter did not go so far as to claim DSK’s accuser was lying, even if his claims, like those of Lévy, Daniel, and others, that Strauss-Kahn was likely innocent allowed no other conclusion—the only question, really was whether she was lying on her own or was part of a conspiracy. But Badinter did denounce any privileging of the woman’s testimony, even though, by the time he wrote his editorial, it had been leaked that she had picked DSK out of an NYPD lineup. Nonetheless, Badinter persisted in calling for what he called “equality of weapons [between] the accuser and the man presumed to be innocent [sic].”

And where these French master thinkers went, the press swiftly followed. A journalist from one of France’s main radio stations who witnessed Strauss-Kahn’s arraignment reported that, before he had been brought before the judge, there had been a procession of “blacks and Latinos accused of all sorts of petty crimes, above all selling drugs.” The American judicial system was denounced for taking the claims of his alleged victim more seriously than his denials, but the reporter certainly did not accord the same presumption of innocence to the “blacks and Latinos” in question, instead waxing indignant that DSK had not been allowed to jump the queue and been arraigned ahead of this riff-raff. At least, the journalist did not go so far as Bernard-Henri Lévy, who wrote, “I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering [DSK] to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.” [...]

[T]hose in France who have risen to DSK’s defense have also repeated over and over again how important Strauss-Kahn has been and all the good and important deeds and crucial roles he has played, above all as head of the IMF, where, as Lévy put it, “Europe, not to say the world … is indebted to him for contributing … to avoiding the worst.” But this is either a non-sequitur—a rapist can do lots of good things in other arenas of his life—or it is a claim that, because DSK is a valuable person, he is entitled to special treatment. In my view, of course, this second claim is the subtext of all the storm and fury in Paris over how Strauss-Kahn has been treated. To which one can only say that one hopes French intellectuals enjoy a system that permits them to claim such privileges for their caste. A

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Posted by at May 19, 2011 2:46 PM

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