I currently teach an online course on Comparative World Religions to mostly 18-19 year old Americans. I asked them at the beginning of the course to tell me what they hoped to get out of the class and one of the most memorable answers was something along the lines of, “why are Muslims so angry at the West and so violent?”
For people whose conscious lives evolved post 9-11, this might seem like an obvious question. We in America have somehow learned to blame the major wars of the 20th century on something called “ideology” (as opposed to religion). We just conveniently ignore Europe from the 15-19th century.
In the wake of 9-11, many of the loudest voices in American culture were portraying the new struggle to be an essentially religious one. It was the war of Islam.
A war against who? The West. Progress. Freedom.
Some may have painted it as a war of Islam against Christianity, but I never heard that message. It was just Islam against Us (Us being the US of A and our “cultural satellite states”). When France questioned the Us vs Islam message, one American Congressman proposed we rename our French Fries, “Freedom Fries.”
Oh yes, that’ll show ’em.
In any case, that’s the world a lot of 16-22ish year olds have taken to be “the way it is.” (I can’t talk too much. Born in 1980, I remember idolising Ronald Reagan as a child.)
But we cannot forget that a massacre occurred 17 years ago today, when some 8000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serb forces in current-day Boznia-Herzegovina. MSNBC has very good coverage of today’s remembrance, at which over 500 newly identified victims were reburied.
The annual ritual was as heartbreaking as ever.
Izabela Hasanovic, 27, spent the last minutes crying over one of the coffins before it was lowered into the ground.
“My father, my father is here,” she sobbed. “I cannot believe that my father is in this coffin. I cannot accept it!”
Another woman dropped on her knees next to a coffin, pressing her lips against the green cloth covering the wood.
“It’s your sister kissing you. It’s me,” she whispered to the coffin, caressing it with both hands until others lowered it.
It’s so easy to become disconnected from the past, even the relatively recent past. Just as it is so easy to become disconnected from people from a different religion, or in a part of the world that is seemingly so far away from us. But these days nothing is really that far from us. And the more we see the basic humanity of every person around us, the more we realize that, whatever their religion, they’re not really that different either. One of the touching aspects of the story was the presence of of a Rabbi:
…Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue in New York, who came to attend the funeral in solidarity with the victim’s families, told The Associated Press that Bosnian witnesses should simply continue testifying and keeping a record.
Schneier said he knows from dealing with Holocaust deniers that “to the advocates of a revisionist history, you cannot even present the facts, because they will not accept them.”
The rabbi urged the world to stand up in the face of injustice, “hear the cry of the oppressed and to respond. ”
“Silence on the part of the international community … only strengthens the perpetrators,” he said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama issued a statement honoring the memory of the “8,000 innocent men and boys” who were massacred in Srebrenica 17 years ago.
“The name Srebrenica will forever be associated with some of the darkest acts of the 20th century,” Obama said.
I should note that one of my housemates is a Syrian woman whose whole life has been turned upside down by the fighting there. She cannot go home. She fears for her family. She fears for her ability to stay in England as a student when her mind obviously cannot be on her studies. It’s no doubt naive and foolish, but I do sometimes wish that somehow a magical battalion of American or NATO warplanes could swoop in and destroy the tanks and artillery positions and helicopters that are destroying civilian communities day after day.
I can appreciate testifying. I can appreciate keeping record. But the most difficult thing, at times, is for ‘outsiders’ to take action. In fact, the Bosnian war perhaps represents a teaching opportunity, as, after the massacres commemorated today, as US-led force began massive military bombardments of Serbian positions together with Muslims, supplied with weapons from the greater Muslim world, to push back the (predominantly Christian) Serbian forces. From the below History Place article (note that the Croats were mostly Catholic):
On August 30, 1995, effective military intervention finally began as the U.S. led a massive NATO bombing campaign in response to the killings at Srebrenica, targeting Serbian artillery positions throughout Bosnia. The bombardment continued into October. Serb forces also lost ground to Bosnian Muslims who had received arms shipments from the Islamic world. As a result, half of Bosnia was eventually retaken by Muslim-Croat troops.
Faced with the heavy NATO bombardment and a string of ground losses to the Muslim-Croat alliance, Serb leader Milosevic was now ready to talk peace…
So as we remember those who died, we can’t help think of those who are under siege today as we sit in comfort…
Some background describing the situation back in 1992: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-bosnia-crisis-serbs-croats-and-muslims-who-hates-who-and-why-tony-barber-in-zagreb-traces-the-ancient-roots-of-a-culture-clash-that-has-shattered-what-was-yugoslavia-into-warring-pieces-1539305.html
And an excellent “History Place” overview of the whole conflict: http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/bosnia.htm