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Analysis

Genocide In Bosnia: A Warning To Muslims In The West [Long Read]

The genocide against Bosnian Muslims took place within recent memory and a mere 2 hour flight away from the UK. Although such horrors seem a world away from the relative security enjoyed by most Muslims in countries like Britain we need to ask whether their story is a warning that Muslim minorities cannot afford to ignore…

A woman mourns at a mass funeral for newly identified victims of the genocide at Srebrenica
The Omarksa concentration camp, 1992

Barely more than 20 years ago in the heart of Europe, we witnessed mass murder, expulsion and systematic rape committed against tens of thousands of innocent victims – simply because they were Muslims.

A whole network of concentration camps was used to imprison, torture and kill Muslims as part of the genocide in Bosnia. Hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes. Rape centres were set up where tens of thousands of Muslim women were imprisoned and repeatedly raped by soldiers. In Srebrenica during just 5 days of July 1995 more than 8000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by the Serb army, murdered and dumped in mass graves.

The campaign of extermination against the Muslims in Bosnia extended to every trace of Muslim religion and culture. Serb militias dynamited mosques in areas they occupied and the Serbian army specifically targeted sites of cultural importance to Muslims such as the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo – burning more than 5000 ancient manuscripts. The perpetrators of this genocide sought to extinguish even the memory of Muslim life in Bosnia.

These Muslims were white Europeans, just like their non-Muslim neighbours. They spoke the same language as their non-Muslim neighbours. They wore the same clothes and led the same lifestyle. Yet they became the victims of a horrific genocide while the world stood by and watched.



How could all this have happened in a society where Muslims and non-Muslims had lived peacefully together for centuries?

The reality is that genocide doesn’t happen suddenly. There are stages which lay the foundations for such extreme crimes, stages at which genocide can be prevented. The gradual process by which a society can descend to the depths of mass murder has been analysed into 8 stages by academics studying the history of genocide. These steps may sometimes overlap but what is clear is that there is a pattern of events which leads toward such crimes against humanity, and that pattern is the same whether it is happening in Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia or any other society.

The 8 Stages of Genocide:

Classification

Symbolisation

Dehumanisation

Organisation

Polarisation

Preparation

Extermination

Denial

Let’s look at the first 3 stages – classification, symbolisation and dehumanisation. First the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them‘ is created in people’s minds. ‘They’ are different to ‘us’. Differences get picked on, and common ground is deliberately ignored.

Secondly this other group is singled out and identified with symbols – in the case of Muslims these could be parts of the traditional Muslim dress code, like the hijab or the beard.

And thirdly the phenomenon of ‘dehumanisation’ – the other group is painted as inferior, their lives are not valued in the same way, ultimately they are seen as less than human. This doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a slow drip-drip-drip of a process.

These first steps involve nothing more than words – but they pave the way for denying all rights and freedoms, and ultimately for killing the people who have been labelled in this way. These steps are an essential part of the process of genocide because it becomes acceptable to commit crimes against those who are not seen as fellow human beings, but as a terrible threat that must be eliminated.

In Bosnia, as in all modern day genocides, the media played a huge role in these first stages of the genocide, alongside the rhetoric of politicians and public figures. But what is truly frightening is that when we examine the Islamophobic ideas that were used to support and justify genocide in Bosnia these ideas are shockingly similar to the way that Muslims are being talked about now, here in the UK, and across Europe and the West…

The Serb leader, Slobodan Milosovic – later charged with genocide – first started to stoke the flames of hatred against the Muslims by calling upon the history of a famous Serbian battle against a Muslim army, just as the far-right in Britain often use the imagery of the Crusades.

“Prince Lazar’s battle six hundred years before was a battle to defend Europe, and Serbia is still today a bastion of European culture and religion.” (Slobodan Milosovic, 1989)

A meme used by the far-right group English Defence League.
Yes, they did misspell “defending”.

Muslims in the UK are often portrayed as an invading force threatening British culture and values, just as Bosnian Muslims were painted as ‘Turks’, foreign and threatening to European civilisation – despite being a fully integrated community that had coexisted with Christians in Bosnia for centuries.

“The Muslims want for the second time to create a Turkish Bosnia, with Sharia law and other norms that are unacceptable in modern times.” (Department of Information in Belgrade, Serbia, January 1993)

Muslims represent “an element in our lives that are hard to integrate, and which will be difficult to integrate into any western civilization”. (Zoran Djindic, later the Serbian prime minister, 1994)

The Spectator magazine warns of a Muslim takeover of Europe while the Express routinely fuels Islamophobia

During the period of the genocide a major part of the propaganda on the Serbian state-run mass media was portraying Muslims as a violent threat by spreading “exaggerated and false messages of ethnically based attacks against the Serb people.” Today fear of violent Muslims is fuelled by inflammatory reporting and commentary on terrorism, such as the false claim by The Sun newspaper that 1 in 5 British Muslims support so-called “jihadi” groups like ISIS.

Another element in the propaganda used on Serb Radio at the time of the genocide in Bosnia was accusations that Muslim men were plotting to steal Serb women, supposedly for their “harems”. In the UK today the actions of criminals are being used to associate all Muslim men with rape and paedophilia, with headlines about ‘Muslim grooming gangs’. These stories of Muslim men preying on white girls are repeatedly exploited by the far-right to stir up fear and hatred against Muslims.

Whether the issue is grooming gangs, or ISIS, or halal meat, or the niqab… we nearly always hear the same dominant narrative (expressed with varying degrees of subtlety) – Muslims are threatening our way of life. It is easy to recognise this as the same basic narrative that was peddled by the Serbian propaganda: Muslims are different and foreign, backward and violent, they do not share our enlightened values and they pose a threat to our way of life… a threat which must be tackled.

Studies have documented how the rise in Islamophobia in countries like the US and UK is not principally a popular reaction against acts of terrorism committed by Muslims, or a simple response to cultural difference – it is purposely manufactured for political motives, just as it was by Serbian nationalists. And as a result, increasingly opinion polls show that Islam is seen as a threat to society:

If we look again at the 8 stages of genocide, the next step after dehumanisation is organisation. Once ‘us’ and ‘them’ have been defined, and ‘they’ are shown to be bad for ‘us’, people naturally organise a response to this perceived threat. These groups might be backed by the state, or not; they might be organised centrally, or they might be local mobs.

For example in Bosnia in the build-up to outright genocide Serb militia groups began to be set up, trained and armed. And in England today we see groups such as the EDL organising anti-Muslim riots up and down the country with Muslims beaten up for venturing onto the street, and Muslim businesses targeted and smashed up. The rise of far-right groups focusing their hate specifically on Muslims has been accompanied by soaring levels of hate crime, especially against Muslim women, and widespread attacks on mosques. One of the most horrific examples of violent Islamophobia was the murder of Mohammed Saleem, an 82 year-old grandfather stabbed to death on his way home from the mosque in an attack intended to ignite a race war – an attempt that was continued through a bombing campaign against mosques.

But the process of organising against a minority group isn’t just something that happens on the level of street violence. In the years leading up to the genocide, Serb nationalists managed to manoeuvre themselves into influential positions within politics and media. While on a political level in the UK we have seen parties like the BNP and UKIP turning their focus against Muslims, and we witness hate-mongering in a ‘respectable’ guise as think-tanks like the Henry Jackson Society push an Islamophobic agenda aiming to influence government policy.

Of course the increasing power and organisation of Islamophobes in countries like the UK does not represent a conscious drive toward ‘ethnic cleansing’ by anyone other than the most extreme of the far-right. But when Britain’s biggest selling newspaper asks readers, “What will we do about The Muslim Problem?”, it is reasonable to argue that we cannot be too complacent about the future…

After organisation the fifth step on the road to genocide is polarisation. At this point, negative labelling of the ‘others’ is mainstream. Influential members of the media and of political systems drive a wedge between the targeted group and the rest of society by making the ‘others’ seem to be fundamentally opposed to ‘us’. Policies and laws begin to be put in place that treat the ‘others’ differently from the rest of ‘us‘. And on the flip side, the voices of moderation defending the targeted group are side-lined or silenced.

This process of driving society apart was symbolised in Bosnia by the bombing of the Mostar bridge, physically dividing the Muslim community from the rest of the city. During this period any Serbs or Croats that spoke up for or tried to defend their Muslim neighbours were singled out as traitors.  

It is with this same goal of polarisation that in 2011 the anti-Muslim extremist Anders Braevik attacked a summer camp run by Norway’s Labour Party, which he hated for being pro-immigration and in favour of multiculturalism.

However polarisation does not always occur in a dramatic and violent way. Many people have argued persuasively that in the UK the government’s Prevent policy and focus on ‘non-violent extremism’ institutionalises suspicion of Muslims and applies glaring double standards. At the same time, draconian new anti-terror laws – overwhelmingly applied to Muslims – undermine the basic rights that are afforded to others in the legal system.

And while non-Muslims who are sympathetic to the Muslim community are denounced and ridiculed as ‘Islamophiles’ by right-wing commentators, the forces of polarisation are epitomised by the way that converting to Islam is portrayed:  at best something very weird – something someone would only do because of some deficiency in themselves – or at worst an act of outright treachery. Again the parallels are clear when we also look at statements from Bosnia in the build-up to the genocide.

“It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam.” (Bosnian Serb President Biljana Pavsic)

“What sort of woman freely converts to a religion which supports the oppression, torment and murder of thousands of Christians, homosexuals and spirited women, worldwide, every year? The sort of woman who writes love letters to a serial killer.”    (Julie Burchill writing about the conversion of Lauren Booth , The Independent)

Once society has been polarised and driven to extremes the final three steps on the path to genocide are preparation, extermination and lastly denial.

Preparation can happen in many ways: snatching away property rights; being herded into ghettoes; restricting the right to marriage or having children. The next step is obvious: the genocide itself. The massacres. The murder. The so-called “extermination”. But this is not the final step.

Denial – there was no genocide. Or, it wasn’t a genocide, it was an equal conflict. Or, it wasn’t us killing them, they were killing each other. Evidence can be destroyed. Witnesses are intimidated. The narrative of events is distorted. In the case of Bosnia we often see it portrayed as simply a civil war rather than acts of deliberate calculated extermination against the Muslim population. And we can observe a worrying alliance between Serb nationalist extremists and Islamophobes across the West, with Bosnian Serb genocide deniers being courted by the Trump White House.

So, could atrocities such as those inflicted on Muslims in Bosnia ever happen in America or Britain, or in other Western countries?

Despite the rising fear and hatred directed against Muslims across the West, genocide seems unthinkable to most… Despite the fact that history has proved that under certain circumstances otherwise ordinary people have gone on to participate in persecution and atrocities many of us feel our societies are somehow immune… Despite the fact that just two decades since the horrors of Bosnia we are witnessing another horrific genocide against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Islamophobia is seldom really seen as a deadly threat. Surely we could never find ourselves facing the same fate as our Muslim brothers and sisters in Bosnia, who once lived peaceful lives alongside their non-Muslim neighbours?

We live in uncertain times, where world events increasingly defy prediction. We face instability with factors such as economic upheavals and the looming climate crisis. It is therefore important to note that it was out of the political and economic chaos following the collapse of Communism in Europe that the conditions for genocide arose in Bosnia and Muslims were tortured, raped and murdered by their former neighbours.

Milton Friedman famously summed up how shock events can create the conditions for the seemingly impossible to become the seemingly inevitable: “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” In light of this observation it is worth taking a serious look at some of the ideas about Muslims that are ‘lying around’:

“There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say the Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan … Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community“ (Martin Amis, award-winning author, in an interview published in The Times)

“Muslims are a threat to our way of life” (Sunday Telegraph)

“Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today” (Professor Richard Dawkins)

“Islam is the problem.” (Boris Johnson, politician and journalist)

“conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board” (Douglas Murray, think-tank director and political commentator)

“We need a final solution.” (Katie Hopkins, radio presenter)

One thing is for certain in these uncertain times – we can’t afford to watch passively as Islamophobia continues to rise, waiting to see just how bad things can get in our lifetime – or our children’s lifetimes.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK), is a grass roots civil liberties pressure group, setup in 2001 to encourage civil engagement within the Muslim community at all levels in the UK. Our main objective is to pro-actively work to expose and counter the sinister and toxic anti Muslim narrative that is common in mainstream politics and media.

3 Comments

  1. To be fair i dont think what happened in serbia was as religion based as it was ethnic based. Remember that the Serbs were killing Albanians of all religions and Croats at the same time that they were killing Bosnians. The Serbian final goal was a Greater Serbia in the Balkans, with all other groups removed from the premises. The Serbs didn’t want a particular religion gone as much as they wanted any non-serbs to be removed. To make Yugoslavia’s civil war a muslim vs nonmuslim conflict is to hide the complicated relations between cultures there, and to downright ignore all the non muslims who the Serbs put to death. This was about Serbian supremacy, not Islamaphobia. We can still see similarities between the yugoslav war and current political climates, but it wasn’t the exact same issue.

  2. As a survivor of Bosnian genocide, this article is decent and true… however picture paints a thousand words,
    so take a look at screenshot of “mass graves map” located in Bosnia (note: map is old, new locations have been found). Notice that red dots are made in every place where Muslims lived that Serb military had any presence and interaction with. Forty seven members of my family where uncovered in some of these mass graves, grandfather being 78 years old … located in tree different mass graves due to excavation machines Serbs used while “relocating” some of the sites to hide their crimes. What worries me is that they are still doing it annually according to UN examiners. Also … this article is subjected to last phase of genocide (denial) on facebook as many Serbs are commenting and denying it.

    Here is a screenshot of MASS GRAVES MAP !
    http://prntscr.com/i0ho58

    I hope that this never happens again to anyone… but sadly it’s happening right now in Myanmar and Palestine.

  3. To all the haters in this world, if you want to know more about Islam read about Prophet Mohammad peace be upon Him and his household. Don’t depend everything on what you hear from people and especially media, because nothing’s easier than spreading out rumours. Yes I am a Muslim lady, but I have Christians friends, Jewish friends, Buddhist friends.. so we’re not anti-social and bullies… and Thank God we respect everyone because that’s what the Holy Quran tells us to do Here’s the story Mohammad PBUH is just a messenger not an inventor. Allah almighty sent Mohammad to make him introduce Islam to the people. Don’t insult Islam, normal Muslims like me don’t sit & talk to insult the other religions or the other people. This is wrong! Islam respects the other religions or EVEN people who don’t believe in anything.

    Islam is undefeatable! You cannot extinguish the Light of Almighty Allah! educate yourselves on Islam before it’s too late. You have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Step out of your comfort zone and ask yourself why is Islam always being demonized by the media. Why isn’t anything good being told about Islam? Do you honestly think you know all there is to Islam.? You’ll find your answers in Islam. The haters are mad because it is the fastest growing religion in the world. More women convert in Europe than men. Yet Islam oppresses women? Rather the opposite. Free yourself from the media and THINK for yourself.

    Islam will grow despite of strong opposition to Muslims in the west. Islam is not any new religion, Islam means to submit your will to one and true Lord, who is the Lord of the Thrones. Who sent Adam,Abraham,Ishmael,Isaac,Joanna,Lot,Joseph,Moses,Jesus and Muhammad( Peace and blessings of God be on them all),The Quran Honours Mary as the women chosen above women of all the nations and their is a chapter dedicated to her in Quran called chapter 19, Mary and Jesus(Peace be on him) was the mightiest messengers of God, he was born miraculously without any male intervention, he healed all the blind and sick by God’s Permission. And no Muslim is a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus Christ as the messenger of God, and Jesus is coming back to this world, and this is our emaan our faith.Jesus says in the Bible that” on that day many will come to me and say, “Lord have we not done mighty works in thy name, in thy name cast out devils. Jesus says” You evil people depart from me, I never knew you”.

    Islam is the fastest growing faith in Britain. Hundreds and thousands of Brits are reverting to Islam. By the middle of this century, over half of Brits would be Muslims.

    “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.” [G.B. Shaw, THE GENUINE ISLAM, Vol. 1, No. 81936.]
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

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