Die ihr meine Brüder seid,
Arme Menschen nah und ferne,
Die ihr im Bezirk der Sterne
Tröstung träumet eurem Leid,
Die ihr wortelos gefaltet
In die blass gestirnte Nacht
Schmale Dulderhände haltet,
Die ihr leidet, die ihr wacht,
Arme, irrende Gemeinde,
Schiffer ohne Stern und Glück –
Fremde, dennoch mir Vereinte,
Gebt mir meinen Gruss zurück.
Hermann Hesse, 1902
I have looked up quite a few translations of this poem into English. I have found none which would carry the same powerful emotional language this poem possesses in its native version. It is one of my timeless favorites since more than 45 years. Its subtle meaning makes me deciding to use it for this obituary.
Last year saw the untimely death of James Le Mesurier. November 11, he was found dead on a street in Istanbul. A link in German language: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/james-le-mesurier-fragen-und-antworten-zum-tod-des-weisshelme-gruenders-a-1296105.html. A link in English language: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/13/james-le-mesurier-obituary.
Like many, including closest friends of mine, I was devastated learning about his death. I met James during my time as the Police Commissioner of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, in 2002.
I worked closely with him. We shared a strong desire to contribute to ending the conflict there, working against the cycle of violence which still was a part of the reality back then, and for years ahead.
Beyond work, I got to know James as a compassionate human being, a humble person, never making himself important, always being part of a team. I lost contact to him after I left Kosovo, in 2004.
Around 2013, James co-founded the White Helmets, together with AKUT, a Turkish disaster relief organisation. Today, there may be around 3000 White Helmets. Please watch the trailer of the award winning 2017 Netflix documentary about them: White Helmets. If you are interested in the full movie, head over to Netflix. But even if you just watch the trailer, it will already give you a sense of the incredible humanitarian work in which James engaged. I am working in the German Foreign Office. I am proud to say that my government is supporting the work of the White Helmets by political and financial means, and that we were shocked and saddened by his untimely death.
Much speculation sat around the circumstances of his passing away. I won’t engage in this. What I do note, however, is that James and his colleagues were subject to harassment and hate, because of their humanitarian engagement. When coming across evidence of chemical warfare against civilians, this evidence and video documentation was used in an investigation conducted by the United Nations. Governments in Damascus and Moscow subsequently launched a propaganda campaign including allegations that the video documentation was faked, and that the organisation would have ties to terrorist groups. According to Der Spiegel (see link above), the Syrian president threatened the White Helmets with comparing their fate with that of every terrorist: Either they lay down their weapons, or they will be liquidated. Which weapons was he talking about? Shovels, being used to rescue victims from the rubble, in the name of humanity? Bare hands?
James must be remembered as one example of how a person decides to stand up for values, and then taking action. Discrediting adversaries is one thing. Refusing accountability for attacks against the own population (link is an example of a UN investigative report following an attack with chemical weapons in Syria) and threatening those who help survivors to rescue other survivors belongs to the darkest chapters of inhumanity.
I miss James dearly.