Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swiss Ban on Minarets

Swiss Vote to Ban New Minarets

This story is largely just another illustration of the ways in which unease about the growth of Islam within Europe is affecting the political debate over there, and the degree to which far-right parties might be able to harness such unease for electoral gain.

It's worth noting, however, that the vast majority of Swiss Muslims are Europeans--Bosniaks, Albanians, and Turks. And many of them fled to Switzerland from the former Yugoslavia during the war, as refugees. How bitterly ironic that they fled from tormentors who were determined to rid that part of Europe of its Islamic past and culture, and who destroyed hundreds of mosques and minarets as part of that campaign of cultural annihilation. And now, these European Muslims are being implicitly told yet again that they are not truly part of Europe.

It is disturbing that the largely secular and non-militant Muslim minority in what has always been known as a religiously tolerant democracy could be the target of such discriminatory actions.

Perhaps Karadzic, Plavsic, Cosic, and the others were right--maybe there is no room in Europe for Muslims. Even those Muslims who have been European all along.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bosnia Vs. Portugal, Leg 2

A spot in the World Cup is on the line as Portugal brings it's 1-0 first-leg lead to Zenica for the final game of the home-and-home aggregate tie:

Bosnia-Herzegovina v Portugal

Sorry I did not post the results of the first leg; I was out of town Saturday (at a soccer tournament, appropriately enough) without internet access.

Portugal will be without Cristiano Ronaldo, and possibly without Deco and Bruno Alves; Bosnia without Emir Spahic, Elver Rahimic and Samir Muratovic. This could be a test of which team has more quality on the bench. Or it could be a test of how well Portugal deals with what is by all accounts a sub-standard pitch.

This is a tough match for me, as my son adores Portugal and would scoff at me for cheering against them; that said--best of luck to Bosnia. No country could use an appearance at the World Cup more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [11]

Chapter 11: Something Must Be Done

An interesting meditation on the influence TV coverage has on government policy; too much, according to Bell, and he believes that governments should control policy in serious issues like war. "But, in Bosnia, they left it to us."

Bell witnessed firsthand how the Bosnian government, the Bosnian Serb republic, and the Croatian forces all tried to use the media to their advantage; he notes how often Radovan Karadzic responded to what he perceived as unfair coverage. All sides in the conflict understood that in the modern age, the satellite dish was a weapon.


I apologize for letting this review drag on so long. I will pick up the pace after this weekend.

Monday, November 09, 2009

"Dangerous Games" by Margaret MacMillan

Author and historian Margaret MacMillan's latest book, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History is a short and readable polemic arguing that History--used properly and fairly--has an important role to play in society and culture. MacMillan assumes very little here--she is willing to back the debate up to fundamental questions along the lines of "What is History for?" and "Is the study of History worth the effort?"

I don't agree with all of her opinions--I supported the Iraq invasion, for example--but there is much here to agree with and take heart from. More to the point for this blog, MacMillan may not have actively supported military intervention in Bosnia, but she certainly sees the rationale. The former Yugoslavia comes up with some frequency throughout the book, and it's quite obvious that MacMillan's understanding of the situation was grounded in reality.

Which would be of only marginal interest except for the primary reason she was able to understand the root causes of the war and to identify the correct perpetrators of the ethnic violence unleashed against the people of Yugoslavia. Chapter Five (the chapters are more like related essays, making selective reading no obstacle to fully appreciating each separate piece), entitled "History and Nationalism", should be required reading for anyone who wishes to discuss the "ancient tribal hatreds" of the Balkans, or indeed anyone who wishes to pontificate on historic claims to land in the region, or to the centrality of Kosovo to "Serbdom," and so forth.

MacMillan understands--as far too few observers and pundits and self-appointed experts--that national identities are artificial constructs, and that generally they are a product of the modern age. The connections between modern national identities and earlier tribal, ethnic, religious, or linguistic identities are, of course, not created from whole cloth; those connections exist, but they are only the foundation of a deliberately created national identity, which always relies on a grand narrative which is part history and part nation-building mythology.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course, as long as we do not allow the claims of less self-aware nationalists to replace sober history with a wholesale acceptance of national mythologies, especially when one nation's myths come at the expense of their neighbors own right to self-determination.

Comparing MacMillans sensible, even-handed, and (to repeat myself) sober illustration of the nation-building function of national mythologies to the tendency of Balkan revisionists and apologists for Serb nationalism to accept such myths as that of the Battle of Kosovo Polje at face value is almost unfair, as if one were comparing an essay on Western Christmas traditions to a child's letter to Santa Claus.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Society for Threatened Peoples International Open Letter to Noam Chomsky and Amnesty International

To Noam Chomsky and Amnesty International (AI)
On the occasion of the Annual Amnesty International Lecture being given today,
Friday, in Belfast

Göttingen/Belfast, 30 October 2009

You are a genocide denier, Professor Chomsky!

Dear Professor Chomsky,
Dear Friends of Amnesty International,

Once again you find yourself invited to appear in a public forum, this time in Belfast. In the past, Belfast was a city with a long-standing reputation for discrimination against the Catholic population, but today those of us who are familiar with the city’s past history of conflict, crime and disorder are pleased and relieved that the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland have finally emerged from a long dark tunnel.

The focus of our human rights organisation’s work is the support that we give to minority groups who have been the victims of genocide and dispossession. The two guiding principles inspiring us are that firstly we work with the people "Von denen keiner spricht" - the people no-one talks about, and secondly we are "Auf keinem Auge blind" - never turning a blind eye. We believe that "persecution, extermination and expulsion, the establishment of concentration camps and rape camps are always and everywhere crimes, now just as they were in the past. Irrespective of which government is responsible and on which continent and in which country those crimes are being perpetrated. The legacy bequeathed to us by all the victims of yesterday is an obligation to come to the assistance of the victims of today".

You, Professor Chomsky, choose to ignore those precepts. You call genocide genocide when it suits your ideological purposes. Who could condone the murkier aspects of American foreign policy or fail to condemn the way that policy has supported and encouraged crimes against humanity? But you express your criticism of the crimes of the recent past in a perverse way, that makes genocide the almost exclusive prerogative of organisations with close links to the US. It is only then that you consider it to be genocide. And it is only your political/ideological friends who are apparently incapable of committing genocide.

That was the situation in Cambodia. While the international press was reporting how the genocide of the Khmer Rouge had eliminated one in every three or four of
that country‘s inhabitants, you were laying the blame for those crimes at the door of
the US. That was shameful and in any reasonable person stirred memories of
Holocaust denial elsewhere in the world.
In the same way you have denied the genocide perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serb forces who killed not only Bosnian Muslims but along with them Bosnian Serbs and Croats as well who had chosen to remain alongside them, in the besieged city of Sarajevo for example.

To deny the fact of genocide in Bosnia is absurd, particularly when both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague and the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, have had no hesitation in confirming that that genocide was perpetrated in Bosnia, above all at Srebrenica.

For the benefit of the apparently unpolitical and ideologically uncommitted Friends of Amnesty International we are prepared once again to provide a summary of the facts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we should like to remind you of them, too, Professor Chomsky, in your denial of genocide:

1. 200,000 civilians interned in over one hundred concentration, detention and rape camps.
2. Many thousands of internees murdered in concentration camps including Omarska, Manjača, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Luka Brčko, Sušica and Foča.
3. Members of the non-Serb political and intellectual elites systematically arrested and eliminated.
4. Approximately 2.2 million Bosnians displaced, exiled and scattered to the four corners of the globe.
5. Many thousands of unrecorded deaths still missing from the official statistics, including children, the elderly and sick and wounded refugees.
6. 500,000 Bosnians in five UN so-called “safe areas” (Tuzla, Goražde, Srebrenica, Žepa, and Bihać) and other, fallen, enclaves such as Cerska besieged, starved, sniped at, shelled and many of them killed over a period of as long as four years in some cases.
7. A four year-long artillery bombardment of the sixth UN safe area, the city of Sarajevo, killing approximately 11,000, including 1500 children.
8. Massacres and mass executions in many towns and municipalities in northern, western and eastern Bosnia (the Posavina, the Prijedor area and the Podrinje).
9. Hundreds of villages and urban areas systematically destroyed.
10. The entire heritage of Islamic religious and cultural monuments, including 1189 mosques and madrassas, destroyed, and extensive destruction of Catholic religious monuments including as many as 500 churches and religious houses.
11. Remains of approximately 15,000 missing victims still to be found, exhumed and identified.
12. 284 UN soldiers taken hostage and used as human shields.
13. Over 20 thousand Bosnian Muslim women raped, in rape camps and elsewhere.
14. 8376 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica murdered and their bodies concealed in mass graves.

The history of Kosovo is familiar to people who know Southeastern Europe: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was annexed to the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes (1918). Following the original occupation and then again in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s Yugoslavian and Serbian governments expelled the Albanians to Turkey where well over one million people of Albanian origin live today. After the gradual dismantling of Kosovo's autonomy, proclaimed too late by Tito, Slobodan Milosevic's army and militia killed some 10,000 Albanians and forced half the population – roughly one million people - to flee. The NATO military intervention, some specific aspects of which must certainly be condemned, halted the killing and expulsions.
Someone like yourself, Professor Chomsky, who on various occasions has shown himself unwilling to acknowledge genocide and goes so far as to deny it forfeits all credibility. That is why we question your moral integrity and call on you to stand up before the public in Belfast and apologise for those hurtful comments of yours concerning the Cambodian, Bosnian and Kosovar victims of genocide.

Yours sincerely,

Tilman Zülch
President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI)