Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Christ Killer, Kremlin, Contagion" by Michael Sells

The other essay from the collection The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy by Michael Sells which explicitly addresses the Bosniak Muslims is by Michael Sells, author of The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia, which I have previously considered in this blog.

At the beginning of this essay, Sells recounts the massacre of Srebrenica, and the sordid history of ethnic cleansing which led up to it, and asks the obvious question--why did the international community, knowing what it knew, stand by and do nothing? One reason, he posits, is the widespread acceptance of the myth of historical inevitability. He writes:

"...there is an interior logic to such madness. That interior logic begins with the myth of age-old antagonisms: Muslims and Christians inBosnia have been killing one another for centuries we are told. It is not only that there have been tragic conflicts in the past in Bosnia but that the root of those conflicts are inscribed into the fabric of the culture: the conflict is inevitable, and it would be a form of cultural imperialism for anyone to interfere with it. Serb and Croat militants turned this myth of age-old antagonisms into an ideology to motivate and justify their attempt to create religiously pure and homogenous Orthodox Serb and Croat Catholic states. A wider circle of writers from outside the Balkans, writing for a different audience, have advanced their own version of essential Balkan incompatibilities."

The first several pages of this essay cover the influence of The Mountain Wreath and other nationalist mythology in contemporary Serb nationalist discourse; this material would essentially be a rehash of my review of his book so I won't dwell on his excellent summary.

When he then goes on to discuss the anti-Islamic writings of Giselle Litmann, alias Bat Ye'or, and Jacques Ellul, who have essentially collaborated in the development of a particular strand of explicitly Christian anti-Islamic thought, one which proposes that Islam has at all times and all places one unchanging nature, and a violent and oppressive one at that. While Christianity allegedly can and has changed over the centuries, Islam cannot, and furthermore it is a totalitarian system which maintains sway over all its believers. Islam is incapable of peaceful coexistence or compromise. The presence of Muslims automatically means the presence of Islam, and Islam is always and everywhere a sworn foe of Christianity, Judaism, and Western cultural and political values.

While neither "expert" seems to have explicitly called for genocidal violence against Muslims, it would be expecting too much for others not to draw the obvious conclusions from such extremist rhetoric. Yet their simplistic, implacably contentious analyses have managed to obtain a certain level of visibility and legitimacy; we can thank Bernard Lewis for bringing Bat Ye'or the wider audience she had previously lacked.

The final Western "expert" on Islam Sells considers is Robert Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History, the book that famously convinced President Bill Clinton that turning his back on the Muslims of Bosnia was a sound foreign policy decision. I have only read excerpts from the book, so I was a little surprised to discover how much of this highly-praised and oft-quoted text is focused on the smells and alleged poor hygiene of Muslims in the former Ottoman Empire. It is one thing to declare that Islam is to blame for the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe (who knew?), but quite another to dismiss the entire region as an irredeemable pigsty full of surly, untrustworthy people who, well, smell bad. Of course, Kaplan might have spent so much time on the appearance and odor of places like Pristina since, like Bernard Lewis, he seemingly couldn't be bothered actually talking to any of the millions of Muslims he derides. Clearly, I need to read this book more comprehensively.

Sells concludes his essay with a discussion of the different variations of prejudiced, based on the essay "The Anatomy of Prejudice" by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, which defines three different character types:

"The obsessional type is characterized by an ideology of filth and cleansing...The hysterical type is charactered by fear of impotence and castration...the narcissistic type is typified by sexism, homophobia, and the constricted societies they reflect and help construct."

All of the texts Sells has discussed fit each of the above characteristics; the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Serb nationalists and their Western enablers is naked bigotry of the basest kind, even when dressed up in the progressive language of "incompatible cultures" such as when the allegedly anti-feminist nature of Balkan Islam was used as a justification for a war in which the gang rape of Muslim women was a premeditated tactic of terror.

Sells concludes his essay with this powerful passage:

"When, after the Srebrenica massacre, NATO finally intervented, what it found was something less romantic than embattled Christian soldiers under perennial attack from the perennial enemy Islam. Behind the mask of civilizational clash, evil empire, and Muslim contamination it found the common tragedy of human history: victims who, contrary to expectations, had done nothing to deserve their fate and had threatened nobody. And perpetrators building their identity through a vain attempt to reject an other who was, in fact, a part of themselves."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"The Nationalist Serbian Intellectuals and Islam: Defining and Eliminating a Muslim Community" by Norman Cigar

One of the two essays from the book The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy that explicitly addresses the plight of the Bosniak Muslims. Cigar is also the author of the essential work Genocide in Bosnia: The Policy of Ethnic Cleansing and comes to the subject with a wealth of knowledge and a clear perspective.

The gist of Cigar's essay is most likely familiar to most readers of this blog, as the influence of Serbian intellectuals and writers like Cosic, Draskovic, Karadzic, Raskovic, Plavsic, and many others is well-known to even a casual student of the last Balkan wars. Here (in line with the theme of the book), Cigar focuses on the demonization of Islam and ethnic Muslims by Serb nationalists; the opening sentences of his essay:

"Recent events in Bosnia-Herzegovina provide significant material for a case study on the impact that external images of Islam can have on Muslims as a community and as individuals. Perhaps there was no more striking aspect in this process of creating images than the role that Serb intellectuals played as they exercised their craft of developing and disseminating knowledge and engaged in political activity."

Cigar goes on to show that Serb nationalist intellectuals were consistent in creating an "in-group/out-group" mentality regarding the Serbs versus the "others." What is of note in the context of this book is how Serbs tried to play to outside (particularly Western) sensibilities by playing off stereotypes about and fears of Muslims and Islam. What is also striking is how ridiculously crude and irrational much of this "intellectual" rhetoric was. Consider this quote from writer Dragos Kalajic, speaking of the allegedly "unmanly" nature of the (allegedly "Serb") converts to Islam after the Ottoman conquest:

" is appropriate to point out that effeminacy and symbolic or actual homosexuality are not the only means by which to escape from a manly nature that is threatened with violence, terror, or death. The Serbian experience shows that there are many other ways of avoiding duty and responsibility stemming from too onerous a fate, which history has imposed on the Serbs. Historically, the first and easiest path of avoidance from unavoidable fate was actually opened up by the Ottoman occupation...[and] drove many Serbs along the road to treachery"

This is, of course, a load of nonsense, but it's the sort of nonsense that people like Diana Johnstone and Julia Gorin take very seriously. To say nothing of the quote from Radovan Karadzic wherein he tries to distinguish which Muslims could still be converted to Orthodoxy--apparently, religious conversion is a matter of genetics:

"When it is a question of the Serbs of the Islamic faith, there was always a great divide that determined whether they were to be more Muslim or more Serb. Those in whom the religious element predominated, and orientation toward Islam's fundamentals, were lost forever to the Serbian nation."

It goes on, but even that short quote is enough to make the obvious parallels to the Nazi efforts to determine which people in the occupied East had sufficiently "Aryan" characteristics; Cigar rightly notes that in this day and age nationalist extremists know better than to express their beliefs in explicitly racist terms, but there is really no other way to interpret Karadzic's gibberish about collective memories and achieving "that level of development to become Serbs while also having the Islamic past of their families." These are the words of a man described with no little warmth by the 39th President of the United States as I noted last fall.

Cigar's analysis is keen, but it is difficult to do this essay full credit without all the quotes he includes; the above passages are typical, but hardly exhaust the range of crackpot theorizing, pseudo-science, mytho-romantic pontificating, and sheer psychopathic lunacy on display here. Cigar convincingly demonstrates that among Serbia's intellectual elite there was a strong tendency to portray Islam as a corrosive, and thoroughly evil force which fully defines all followers of that faith; Muslims are at all places and all times defined primarily if not exclusively as members of a vicious, violent, and implacably anti-Western (and anti-Serb) movement. No wonder Samuel Huntington was so popular among them.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Said, Trumpbour, and others on Huntington and Lewis

In order to take the time to do justice to the arguments gathered against the Huntington/Lewis "Clash of Civilizations" thesis in the volume The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy edited by Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells, I would first need to spend a considerable amount of time considering the questionable thesis that Huntington and others have laid out. While that might take me quite far afield from Bosnia, I don't think it would be at all irrevelant to some of the larger topics this blog hopefully touches on from time to time.

Much of the debate on the Balkan wars was framed in just such false dialectics--indeed, Huntington's book was publicly embraced by Franjo Tudjman and at least some Serbian nationalists. In the hands of such theorists seeking to fit events into predetermined grand narratives, the Bosnian war was removed entirely from its specific, local context (which was, more often than not, distorted beyond recognition at any rate through the lens of "ancient hatreds") and interpreted purely as yet another enactment of a largner, ongoing 'struggle' or 'clash.' Reductive theorists like Huntington allow Western elites to justify a dispassionate, removed approach to atrocity situations because the tragic particulars of a genocide in Bosnia or Rwanda or Sudan, while painful to watch, are little more than the inevitable symptoms of a global conflict. And Huntington and his ilk tend to regard the victims of Bosnia, for example, as being on the 'wrong side' of that greater war.

If I someday find the time, I will most certainly consider a more extended consideration of, at the very least, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Huntington. In the meantime, it was important to acknowledge the larger debate Qureshi and Sells' book represents before going on to review to the two or three essays which are more explicitly concerned with Bosnia.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bosnia as a Battlefield of the "Clash of Civilizations"

I am currently browsing through some of the essays in The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy edited by Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells. The book is a multi-faceted rebuttal to the collective body of voices pushing some variation of Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilization" thesis, including V.S. Naipaul and of course Bernard Lewis.

The influence of this strain of political/cultural thought on Western responses (and non-responses) to the Bosnian crisis has certainly not been overlooked, but it certainly merits continued attention. Earlier Serb and Croat nationalist claims about the "Islamic menace" coming from Bosnia and Kosova certainly did not fall on deaf ears, but after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 Balkan revisionists and Serb nationalist apologists seem to have sensed that the audience for such rhetoric has broadened. Therefore, those of us who wish to defend the historical record cannot afford to ignore the "Islam versus the West" theorists, no matter how much we might wish to dismiss such gross simplifications as irrelevant to the struggles of the largely secular Bosniak and Kosovar Albanian populations.

A couple of the essays in this book--one by Michael Sells; the other by Norman Cigar--deal specifically with the Muslims of Bosnia, and I will consider them in some detail; first, however, I will briefly consider some of the other essays, some of which touch on issues in the former Yugoslavia, and all of contribute to the larger discussion which Sells and Cigar are participating in.

I apologize for my infrequent (and abbreviated) posting as of late; I will make a sincere effort to be more consistent and prompt in my consideration of this book.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Michael Totten Reports from the Balkans

Many thanks to Anthony (an online friend whose blog The Catholic Libertarian is worth reading) for bringing this to my attention:

Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal

On June 10 he published Part II of a story on his visit to the Balkans. Good reporting and some great photography.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Breaking news: Serbia arrests war crimes indictee Zupljanin

From the Southeast Europe Times

Hopefully more news will become available soon. In the meantime, here's to hoping that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are having a miserable, nerve-racking day.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [11]


After noting that a great number of Serbs wanted no part of the "Greater Serbia" project, that a significant number of prominent individuals as well as large numbers of citizens in the streets and the voting booths stood up against the political/military/religious/academic elites and their military, police, and paramilitary forces, Anzulovic regretfully notes the democratic and liberal deficiencies of the opposition leaders--and this book was published before Kostunica showed his true colors. The future for a free, stable, peaceful and democratic Serbia is grim as long as nationalist tensions in Bosnia, the Kosova issue, and international ambivalence towards the region persist. He makes a strong and convincing plea for a better "realist" foreign policy than the narrow, selfish, and short-term goals of traditional realpolitik advocated by the craven Henry Kissinger among others.

It is unfortunate that the author ends this excellent book with the following assertion:

"Modern myths that have inspired genocides are based on the Enlightenment idea that man is by nature good and able to solve all problems with the help of his intellect. This concept provides the basis for the glorification of particular persons, classes, races, or nations as saviors who will eliminate the evil from history. Therefore, it is of vital importance to recognize the validity of the religious concept of Original Sin, which teaches that the capacity for evil is present in every human being."

This could not be more wrong. Anzulovic is ignoring the role of the Serbian Church and it's anti-rational embrace of myth and national stereotypes reinforced with religious certainty. Indeed, "secular" nationalist extremism and fascist ideologies are also anti-rational universal myths themselves. It was clear through this entire book that Anuzlovic takes a kinder view towards institutional religion and faith than I do; he frequently takes pains to distinguish between the teachings of the Serbian Church and "real" or "authentic" Christian teachings. This disconnect between what he wishes to believe about faith and the anti-rational nature of the nationalist passions he sincerely opposes takes us into a larger debate which will wait for another discussion.

Despite this jarring, if not completely unexpected, stumble at the finish line, this is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [10]

[Ed. note: I'm in a hurry to finish this review and move on, and I'm rushed for time--I apologize for the brevity of this post, but hopefully by now I have managed to convey at least a hint of the breadth and depth of Anzulovic's analysis. --Kirk]


The Acceptance of Heavenly Serbia

A brief discussion of Western acceptance of the image of self-sacrificing, heroic, "heavenly" Serbia at face value.

Balkanization or Scandinavianization

Contrasts the conventional wisdom that "Balkanization" is inevitably a bad thing with the example of Scandinavia, where five nations were carved out of two, which resulted in a lessening of national tensions, and an increase in regional cooperation.

The Imaginary Bulwark

Longer section detailing longstanding support for the creation of, first, a Greater Serbia, and then a Serb-dominated southeast Balkan kingdom. Also detailed is how the Allies of World War I mistakenly believed that the new country would provide a bulwark against Germany, but the Yugoslav governments had good relations with Germany, even the Nazi regime.

Indifference Makes a Difference

The title says it all; a grim and familiar history of western indifference during the 1990s, when a firm stand by the Western world could have saved thousands of lives and made the prospects of a stable peace much better. As Anzulovic writes:

" does not prevent wars by assuring the potential aggressor that his victims would not receive any support."

Fig-Leaf Myths

Discussion of some of the justifications used by Westerners to justify the indifference of the previous section, including the tired canard that the people of the Balkans are simply consumed with violent passions and are immune to reason and the restraints of civilization. Robert Kaplan, Rebecca West, Lewis MacKenzie, and other familiar names make an appearance here.


I fully admit to not having done this material credit. I hope I encourage at least one person to read this book. In my next post, I will briefly summarize the Conclusion and give my own final thoughts on the book.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [9]


Fear Transformed into a Spider: Poisonous Best-Sellers

The line "fear transformed into a spider" comes from a mediocre poem by perhaps the most infamous mediocre poet of the former Yugoslavia, Radovan Karadzic. This lengthy section examines the blood-soaked, revenge-obsessed, violent works of fiction and poetry by a large segment of Serbia's contemporary men of letters.

Besides Karadzic, Vuk Draskovic makes an appearance, as does Dobrica Cosic, and Vojislav Lubarda; not to mention the large number of writers and academics (notably Nikola Koljevic) whose work may not have been noted for the same nationalist fervor and near-pornographic addiction to violence, but who nevertheless played an important role in the nationalist movement of the 1980s and 1990s.

Also discussed: the odd, and rather creepy, near-fetish fixation on knives, and not just Draskovic's book "Noz" ("The Knife"). It is not enough, apparently, to focus on graphic descriptions of brutal violence, and to dwell on biased versions of the most horrible episodes in history; one must also write multi-page odes to one of the most intimate implements of killing mankind has ever created.

This section is rather lengthy, and well worth reading.

The Highlanders as Scapegoats

In this section, Anzuolovic makes short work of the frequent excuse made by some Serbs that the fighting in Yugoslavia was a product of the violent highlander culture and that the rest of the former Yugoslavia simply got sucked into their barbaric orgy of blood-lust.

Needless to say, Anzulovic shows that this simply isn't so; indeed, he makes it clear that the genocide of the 1990s was not a "bottom-up" expression of primitive tribal rage but a carefully cultivated campaign orchestrated by the political, military, intellectual, and religious elites of Serbia, who dragged the rest of their country--including the new haiduks, the turbo-folk loving urban gangsters--into a nightmare of their own creation.


This concludes my review of this chapter. I will look at the final chapter in my next post.

Civil Action Filed in Dutch Court Against Dutch Government


Please read this post at Daniel's excellent blog; I'm sure we'll all be watching this story closely.

Monday, June 02, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [8]


The Fear of Vanishing

Anzulovic begins this section with this important observation:

"The Serbs' aggressiveness inspired fear, which was a source of their aggressiveness. This fear reflected the insecurity of a people dominated by a foreign civilization for five centuries, who enjoyed their own full sovereign nation-state for only forty years between the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and the entry into the ill-fated Yugoslav union in 1918."

The Serb fear of being controlled by an "other", it must be remembered, is rooted in actual historical experience even if contemporary forms of this paranoia are often irrational. There is nothing more pathetic than a self-pitying bully, but Serb nationalist distrust of foreign control was not created out of whole cloth.

This section discusses reactions among Serb intellectuals and academics to such events as the downfall of Rankovic and the decentralization of the 1974 Constitution. Anzulovic notes that the "fear of Serbia's demise became a prominent theme of Serbian intellectual life in the 1980s." Acclaimed author Milorad Pavic repeatedly called for a pan-Orthodox alliance of "Byzantine" countries.

As the world becomes "smaller" through improved communications technologies and travel opportunities, people often fear losing their identities and cling to exaggerated differences between them and "others."

The Academy Memorandum

A brief discussion of the infamous 1986 "Memorandum" by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and of the role author and dissident Dobrica Cosic played in this intellectual validation of nationalist hysteria.

The Church Identifies the Devils

This section is a relatively extended consideration of the role the Serbian Orthodox Church has played in developing and disseminating the myths that drive and reinforce the worst aspects of Serbian nationalism. The anti-Catholic, anti-Western, and anti-Semitic nature of the church is discussed, as is its tendency to support autocratic rulers and accept sinister conspiracy theories. The Serbian Church often takes the lead in propagating the line that Serbia is and has been for five centuries the bulwark valiantly defending Europe from Islam, even as it disparages the non-Orthodox, non-Byzantine nature of the Europe Serbs allegedly are defending.

The traditional rejection of ecumenical dialog and cooperation by the Church has been articulated and defended by the most prominent theologians of the 20th Century church. The tendency of Serbian nationalists to hear nothing but their own complaints and to see nothing but their own grievances has been strongly reinforced by a national church which gives holy sanction to xenophobia, bigotry, and paranoia.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

"Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide" by Branimir Anzulovic [7]


Fictional Data and Real Hatreds

The previous chapter covered the revived Serbian Kingdom, and pre-Communist Yugoslavia. This chapter picks up the story from there, and begins with this paragraph:

"Yugoslavia would have been less susceptible to violent disintegration if, at the end of World War II, there had been a reconciliation between the nations and factions that had fought one another. All of them, and especially the two most guilty ones, Croats and Serbs, should have admitted the mistakes and crimes committed since they entered the Yugoslav union and taken the steps necessary to prevent another conflict in the future. The enormity of the crimes committed by various parties made such action urgent. The reconciliation of France and Germany was a good model, but it could not be followed because one basic condition was missing: freedom, including the very important freedom of information."

I could not have said it better myself; this concise observation serves as an effective rebuttal to the "Tito was the only guy who could keep the hatreds in Yugoslavia in check" revisionists.

Much of this section is concerned with numbers--specifically, different estimates of the total number of Yugoslav war dead from World War II as well as the casualties for each individual national and ethnic group. The government, for years, continued to maintain the lie that 1.7 million Yugoslavs had perished in the war, a number that was based on shoddy demographics and which continued to be the official line long after independent analysis and study refuted this high number. In fact, the government itself had produced a comprehensive list of war victims (not including victims of the Partisans, since the list was for the West German government in regards to a reparations settlement) from 1964-1966; the total number was just below 600,000. Yet official history stuck with the obviously inflated 1.7 million figure.

Two independent Yugoslavs--Montenegrin Serb Bogoljub Kocovic in 1985, and Croat Vladimir Zerjavic in 1989--separately came up with nearly identical figures of just slightly over 1 million total war victims. The fact that Kocovic, the Serb, actually came up with lower subtotals for Serbs killed in Croatia than the Croat Zerjavic was just one testimony to the impartiality both these men brought to their work.

One would think that the discrepancy between their data and the long-accepted official total would have dampened the use of competing statistics by nationalist parties; sadly, the result was instead that propagandists and demagogues from all ethnic groups laid claim to large numbers of these 700,000 "uncounted" phantom dead. Such activities were carried out by all ethnic groups, mostly being published overseas; however, the domination of the Federal government by Serbia meant that Serb nationalist claims were able to be widely disseminated.

While Tito was aware that this situation was threatening to Yugoslavia's stability, he was simply unwilling to consider the one real solution--total freedom of information. His death in 1980 loosened controls over publication, but this mostly opened the doors to competing nationalist propaganda and outright lies--before long, Serb academics and intellectuals were claiming there were well over a million Serbs killed at Jasenovac alone (the real number of Serb victims was probably around 50,000). Other researchers have validated Kocovic and Zerjavic, to no avail.

Another myth of the post-World War II was the demonization of the Roman Catholic Church, which was outside of the control of the Belgrade regime; the campaign against Cardinal Stepinac is the most infamous aspect of this extensive effort, which began in the immediate postwar period and never really ended. False stories of Church complicity with, and support for, the Ustashe and the NDH were projected onto the Croats as a whole, even though only a tiny minority of Croats supported the quisling regime. Catholicism was being portrayed as an implacable enemy of Orthodoxy, and Croatians as fundamentally fascist and anti-Serb in orientation.

Other hatreds being nurtured in the postwar era:

"Belgrade propagandists avoided mentioning such facts as carefully as they hid the extent of the Serbs' collaboration with the Nazi, including their participation in the Holocaust. Instead, they directed particular effort at portraying the Serbs as traditional friends and protectors of the Jews."

[He then quotes Philip J. Cohen, author of Serbia's Secret War, on the subject; I will be reviewing this book in the very near future.]

"...ethnic Albanians were always a major target of defamation."

"The fear of the "Muslim Threat" was also used in the effort to mobilize Serbs in a nationalist front.."

And so on. Anzulovic wisely concludes this section with this depressing summary:

"The falsehoods spread by the Belgrade3 propaganda machine did not benefit anybody. The intention to obtain higher war reparation payments by means of inflated numbers of Yugoslav war victims failed; the tensions among various Yugoslav nationalities, caused by this and other lies, made life in the common state more difficult and contributed to its violent disintegration."

The Fear of Vanishing