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Monday, January 10, 2011

How much did/does Bosnia matter?

The more I read about the war in Bosnia, and specifically the ethnic cleansing against the Muslim population, the more I wonder how much that episode plays into the anti-west/anti-American sentiment many Muslim countries seem to share. Perhaps there is no connection, but the lack of effort on our part to protect Muslims in Bosnia seems counter to the effort to protect Muslims in Kuwait during the same time period.

"The Black Book of Bosnia" is an interesting, if decidedly one-sided read. However, it is illuminating to me because it draws much more distinct and morally strict picture about what happened in that war and contrasts that image with the rhetoric in this country, much of which I glossed over while I was in graduate school.

From page 194 of my copy:
We [the West] disarmed ourselves with our condescension, with our worship of revolution. Human nature did not change in 1910, as a modern writer said it did; or later. The spiritual needs of individuals take different historical forms, but they are not historical. And the spiritual traditions of groups are not the consequences of underdevelopment. For this reason, developments will not transform them. Technology puts new tools at the service of old hungers, that is all. Theocracy was established in Iran with the help of tape cassettes. The air defenses of the Bosnian Serbs have the blessing of the Eastern Church (And cyberspace is a sanctuary of unreason.) These are not archaisms or atavisms or anachronisms. They are the unsimple expressions of individuals and groups who are continuous and discontinuous with what preceded them. Those are the only kind of individuals and groups there are or have ever been. The past is part of the present and the present is part of the past. That is what moderns do not like to see. The ideology of modernity taught that the relationship between the present and the past is a relationship of contradiction; and so we are always startled.
This is an amazing paragraph that forces us post-modern/post-conflict folks to address how the rest of the world is dealing with their own emergence from dark political and economic times - it seems that individuals are not "reformed" by goodies alone, that they will continue to seek solace in religion, spirituality, and group-think even with the goodies.

The piece goes on:

Racial genocide, in the West, in this day and age? You better believe it. And not for the first time, if a day and an age is longer than fifty years. Almost as soon as the character of the war against the Bosnians was clear, comparisons to the war against the Jews were made. In anguish and in analysis, the Holocaust was remembered; and since genocide is not quantitatively measured, the remembrance was right. What has not been sufficiently remarked upon is the impact of the European genocide of the 1990s upon the world picture that was formed in the aftermath of the European genocide of the 1940s. We have been robbed, you might say, of our post-Holocaust innocence.

And this is where the author hits me in the gut:

Post-Holocaust innocence? Let me explain. The enormity of our century marked us with a vanity about darkness. We were the ones who saw, or we were the children of the ones who saw, an evil that would never come again. This belief in the uniqueness of the evil was a tribute to its magnitude (which, again, was not measured only quantitatively). A perverse kind of pride could be found in this experience of finality. "Never again," some us used to say about the radical, state-sponsored, tribe-happy evil that destroyed the Jews of Europe a generation ago.

Watching Bosnia, from my lucky but cheerless distance, I have understood the secret attraction of that slogan. It flattered us that we had hit bottom; and in this way it held out hte prospect of a re-illusionment. For the mind might accommodate such crimes, if it could be sure that they occurred only once; and sure, too, that their occurrence would be received as a warning. But now we know that the Holocaust was not received as a warning. It was received as a precedent. and so we are bereft of the certainty that the worst is over, which was a kind of optimism. For that part of the world we congratulate as "the West," the post-Auschwitz honeymoon is over. It is one of the consequences of the Serbian terror in Bosnia that we may never again say "never again."


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