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."


Srebrenica Genocide said...

Off topic, but equally important:

Yesterday, UN Court Acquitted Naser Oric of War Crimes Against Serbs, here is a link with extended coverage:

Anonymous said...

The 'natural phenomenon' of ethnic cleansing, which Biljana Plavsic has so openly and unhesitatingly advocated throughout the war and to this day, is rooted in her conception of the Muslims as a 'genetically deformed' element.

Although it was her conception of the biological supremacy of the Serb race and nation which led Biljana Plavsic to encourage ethnic cleansing and on that basis commit mass crimes in B-H, it is equally significant to indicate the national and political model that inspired her in this respect. From the very beginning of the war Plavsic was already invoking Dragoljub-Draza Mihailovic, leader during World War II of the Serb(ian) nationalists better known as Chetniks and a proven collaborator of the German occupiers. 'He fought for the unification of all Serbs within a single Serb state, the borders of which were to run from Djevdjelija [on the Macedonian- Greek border] to Karlobag [two thirds of the way up the Croatian coast]... Uncle Draza intended to cleanse the future united Serb lands of all enemies of Serbdom and Orthodoxy, as well as of anti-national elements.' (Srbija, 3 September 1992)

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