He is often a vexing and exceptional leader. No. 1 on France's hit parade of political popularity, an iconoclastic and intermittent minister, Bernard Kouchner was first celebrated for fishing out the boat people who fled Communist Vietnam and for bearing sacks of rice on his ministerial shoulder in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Nelson Mandela once whispered to him, "Thanks for intervening in matters that don't concern you."
Since 1968, in Biafra facing extermination and famine, he has revolutionized humanitarian assistance. He went to provide medical attention; he ended up bearing witness, becoming a spokesman for the voiceless. He swore to banish forever the kind of error made by the Red Cross from 1940 to 1944, when it distributed packages but remained silent over the crime of the death camps, where his grandparents perished. He co-founded Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, and then Médecins du Monde. These are organizations that break the silence and strip mass assassination of its mantle of darkness.
His is an individual engagement based on a personal obstinacy. "I ran to Biafra," he has said, "because I was too young for Guernica, Auschwitz, Oradour and Sétif." He wants to exorcise the great butcheries of humanity. A man of fire, a warrior of peace, Kouchner invented "the duty of international meddling." He favors interventionpeaceful if possible, military if necessaryto stop massacres and those who commit them. In the name of human rights, he approved the U.S. intervention in Iraq: "The No. 1 weapon of mass destruction is Saddam Hussein," he said. He lost loved ones in the attack against U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. He deplores the blunders of the Americans, but rejects the I-told-you-sos of the so-called peace camp.
No pacifist consensus. Forget pleasant sentiments. This humanitarian breaks taboos and reveals matters that render us sleepless. Faced with the globalized inhumanity that is burning the 21st century, Kouchner is introducing a new humanism without geographical or political borders. He does it not to open the gates of paradise, but to bolt the gates of hell.
Glucksmann is a philosopher and politcal essayist
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