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Geniuses of Humanity

Denis Mukwege (Georges Gobet / AFP / Getty)

“Denis Mukwege is one of the most honored men in the world,” I wrote in 2016. He is even more honored today, having been announced as a co-winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Back to the piece I was quoting: “In 2013, he received the French Legion of Honor. The next year, he received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament. The next year, he received an honorary doctorate from Harvard. Yet, in a sense, the work he does is thankless. It must rank near the worst work in the world, impossible to repay. And saintly to do.”

That is for sure. Here’s a little more from that piece:

Mukwege is a doctor in the country that calls itself “the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (Informally, people say “Congo.”) He treats victims of rape, often of gang rape. A gynecologist, he tries to heal them physically and mentally. The second task is harder, but the first is hard enough. His patients range from infants to the elderly.

Congo is one of those countries described as “war-torn.” For years, it has been known as “the rape capital of the world.” Rape is a weapon of war, maybe the foremost weapon. It is systemic, even normal. Boys are trained to rape as child soldiers. The normality of rape has been transferred into the civilian world. In Congo, boys and men rape, and girls and women are raped. That’s the way it is.

I have interviewed a fair number of people over the years. But Mukwege stands out. I will never forget sitting with him. I ended my piece, “Every now and then, you sense that you have met a great man. I certainly think this, on leaving Denis Mukwege. Later, I think of a phrase that Churchill applied to Dr. Schweitzer: ‘a genius of humanity.’”

Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1952. I quote Churchill in my history of the prize. He had a gift for phrasemaking, didn’t he? He called General Marshall, another Nobel peace laureate, “the organizer of victory.”

I’m glad that Denis Mukwege has won a share of the 2018 peace prize. But, as I said before, you really can’t repay a man for the work Mukwege has done, which involves a mental torment that few of us can imagine.

The other winner of this year’s prize is Nadia Murad: a Yazidi woman, a former sex slave of ISIS, and now a human-rights activist. Talk about torment, mental and physical. Earlier this year, I interviewed Omar Mohammed, the chronicler of the occupation by ISIS of Mosul, Iraq. The beasts of ISIS inflicted grotesque cruelty on one and all. But Mohammed had a special shudder for what was done to the Yazidis. He closed his eyes, when talking with me, and said it was simply unspeakable.

I wrote a bit about this last year, having interviewed Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament. (Go here.)

So, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize is designed as a statement against sexual violence. Will it do any good? I doubt it will curb any sexual violence, but to honor those who work against it is a good itself.

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