Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, filmmaker and the author of more than 30 books. His forthcoming book, The Will to See: Dispatches From a World of Misery and Hope, will be published in October. This essay has been translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy.

On August 15, as night fell over Kabul, Ahmad Massoud, an Afghan of illustrious descent and leader of the National Resistance Front, announced to the world that he had not resigned himself to the worst.

Assisted by a few French friends, he used the only helicopter that had not fallen into the hands of the Taliban and took refuge in the Panjshir Valley, exactly as his father, the legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, had done two decades before.

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He invited all those who refused to relinquish the freedom, democratic values and gender equality they had gained over the past two decades, to join him in resisting the Taliban.

And he was so bold in his rallying call, that he said that “surrender” was not a word in his family’s “dictionary.”

The response of the Taliban was to launch an attack on the valley.

Deploying the stores of weapons to which they had acquired during and after the American debacle, and thus armed with overwhelming military superiority, the Taliban attacked Panjshir from the north and south.

Supported by Pakistani commandos, special forces and attack helicopters, they appear to have succeeded in overrunning, after fierce fighting during the night of September 5–6, parts of the last bastion of free Afghanistan.

Like others disgusted by Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s abandonment of a people who made the mistake of believing our promises, I spent these last days beset by a mixture of feelings.

Fear, first.

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Anxiety over the unknown fate of friends last seen (and filmed) a few short months ago.

Fahim Dashti, the brilliant journalist with whom I conceived a plan, 20 years ago, to produce a bilingual publication called Les Nouvelles de Kaboul (News from Kabul): He had survived the blast from the camera bomb that killed Ahmad Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001. How could it be that this man who had cheated death had now been torn to pieces by a Pakistani drone?

Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s vice president until the Taliban coup and now, by the letter of international law, its legitimate president: Is it true that he asked his bodyguard to put a bullet in his brain if he were to fall into the hands of an enemy drunk on vengeance and hate? And, if so, is he alive?

And what of Mr. Massoud, the angelic young lion who learned at King’s College in London to contemplate the stars and then returned to watch them, so bright and unsteady, so permanent and delicate, in the sky of his native Panjshir. Where is he now? What is he doing? I have spent these last few days persuading myself that the Taliban had not captured this intellectual with a glorious name and were not preparing him, as they did his father, for his last fight: Was he still in command of his army of shadows?

Then, uncertainty.

Is this defeat, the meaning of which I’m still struggling to grasp, a setback?

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A debacle?

One of those collapses from which it can take 50 years to recover, as the French know so well?

Or is it a tactical pullback to gain time?

A ceasefire for the purpose of seeking reinforcements?

Or is it another precedent that swirls in my head like a nightmare: that of Masada? A thousand resisters hole up in an impregnable mountain fortress. Eight thousand Roman ruffians wait below in the desert plain, occupying themselves with the destruction – stone by stone, road by road, house by house – of any chance of escape for the survivors of this Hebrew people torn apart, put to the sword, dragged through rivers of their own blood. And, in response, the tragic heroism of the besieged who, taking the law into their own hands and killing themselves, plunge into a long tunnel of misery, darkness, expectancy, tears and hope. Is this the accurate and proper precedent?

In Panjshir, might there be something similar to Masada?

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Was this lost fight a last stand?

I don’t think so. I maintain that the nobility, beauty and greatness of humanity belong, in this case, not to the conquerors but to the conquered. Not to the barbarians, but to Ahmad Massoud, whom I did not hesitate to praise last year in the presence of his commanders, saying that a young lion had emerged in Panjshir.

Lions can lose battles, but they remain lions – and this one will win!

And then, as I was finishing these sentences, swept up in the anxiety of the moment, a few hours after the declaration of the Taliban’s victory, came the renewed and eloquent call from the young Massoud for a “national uprising.” The story is always the same. Never will tanks and muscular shows of force be the messengers of humanity. Nowhere, from the trenches of defenceless Ukraine to the mountains of Kurdistan (surrounded like Panjshir, like Masada), will the tyrants triumph enduringly over the shaken, over people lost and forgotten – but valiant.

Of those who believe they have won, who fire their guns in the air and laugh about the bodies that litter the valleys, it must be said and repeated that they have neither the legitimacy of the temporarily defeated, nor the magnificence of the small band that the French writer, André Gide, said would alone save the world.

Afghanistan has lost some battles, but not the war. The people of horsemen can be momentarily found in the ditch where the fighters of Panjshir fell, but its flame has not been extinguished.

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Nor have we heard the last from Panjshir itself. The honour of Afghanistan lies now in the twisting gullies where the waters of one of the most beautiful rivers on earth mixes with the blood, the bodies and the mud of slain fighters – but there the seeds of rebirth are already sprouting.

The partisans of Panjshir are the women of Herat, Kabul and Kandahar who persist in defying the Taliban, the journalists who keep on reporting and the brave citizens who will not renounce their rights.

They are what is most mysterious about humankind, a mystery that no misfortune can quell.

They are that part of humanity, not damned but blessed, who lives on and is toughened in the crucible of shared ordeals. They are the rest of Afghanistan. They are our hope. The resistance begins.

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