Humanitarianism as aPolitics of Life
o their existence.
Humanitarian intervention is a biopolitics insoar as it setsup and manages reugee camps, establishes protected corridors in order to gainaccess to war casualties, develops statistical tools to measure malnutrition, andmakes use o communication media to bear witness to injustice in the world. Buthumanitarian intervention is also a politics o lie, as I suggest to phrase it, in thatit takes as its object the saving o individuals, which presupposes not only riskingothers but also making a selection o which existences it is possible or legitimateto save (e.g., by selecting AIDS patients to be given antiretroviral drugs or lack o resources, or deciding whether to provide assistance to people who have par-ticipated in massacres). And humanitarian intervention is also a politics o lie inthat it takes as its object the deense o causes, which presupposes not only leavingother causes aside but also producing public representations o the human beingsto be deended (e.g., by showing them as victims rather than combatants and bydisplaying their condition in terms o suering rather than the geopolitical situa-tion). What sort o lie is implicitly or explicitly taken into account in the politicalwork o humanitarian intervention? This is the question that interests me.In the rst part, I dierentiate lives to be saved and lives to be risked as a un-damental distinction between the mere physical and the undamentally politicaldimensions o lie, that based on the possibility o the subject to decide about it.This is what underlies the debate in MSF on whether or not to stay in Baghdad. Inthe second part, I discuss saving and risking the lives o others as a basic opposi-tion between humanitarian and military politics o intervention in a supposedlyclear separation o victims and enemies. This is what is meant by MSF teammembers who expose their own lives and the soldiers who expose the civil popu-lations’ lives. In the third part, I blur these lines by introducing a series o con-crete situations unveiling more complex realities o the politics o lie, revealingthe aporia o risk taking, discriminating expatriates and nationals, and displacinglines rom biological to biographical existences. This is what is implied by thenal ailure o MSF’s mission in Baghdad with the abduction o its members andthe departure rom Iraq. The three congurations have a common moral back-ground in which the sacred, as Walter Benjamin puts it, resides no longer in man
1. On the distinction between politics o lie and biopolitics, see Didier Fassin, “La biopolitiquen’est pas une politique de la vie” (“Biopolitics Is Not a Politics o Lie”),
Sociologies et sociétés
38(2006): 35 – 48.
For Michel Foucault, biopolitics correspond to the technologies dening, studying,counting, controlling, and, more generally, “normalizing” populations. See Michel Foucault,
The History o Sexuality: An Introduction
(New York: Vintage Books, 1990).