Friday, July 25, 2008

Jimmy Carter and Radovan Karadzic, Revisited

In his widely published Op-Ed Serb Leader's Arrest Sparks Memories* Richard Holbrooke recounts his one and only meeting with Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. It was a tense encounter, and his brief account is worth reading. What most interested me was this revelation:

" Karadzic was silent at the start of our meeting. Then, when he heard our demand that the siege of Sarajevo be lifted immediately, he exploded. Rising from the table, the American-educated Karadzic raged in passable English about the "humiliations" his people were suffering. I reminded Milosevic that he had promised that this sort of harangue would not occur. Karadzic responded emotionally that he would call former President Carter, with whom he said he was in touch, and started to leave the table."

Ever since I initially posted my critique of Jimmy Carter's self-serving and disingenuous version of his involvement with Karadzic, it has been my intention both to edit and improve my original piece, and to look for other criticisms of his actions in Bosnia and further proof that he was, indeed, in the Bosnian Serb nationalist's corner. While Karadzic's tantrum is hardly a smoking gun, it can most certainly be viewed as circumstantial evidence. Even if we concede that Karadzic was bluffing, there must have been something to have triggered that outburst.

*I realize it may be too much to ask, but I wish he had been referred to as something other than "Serb Leader"; that's too much legitimacy for my taste.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Russian Foreign Ministry Needs Better Maps

Today, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the Karadzic arrest is an internal Serbian matter. Considering that ALL of the indictments against Karadzic concern events in Bosnia, which--despite the best efforts of Greater Serb nationalists--is not part of Serbia, this is a very strange position to take.

Of course, I know why the Russian Government is saying such a thing, I just wonder if they have even bothered working out the tortured logic it would take to justify this assertion.

Karadzic Arrested

I assume that just about anyone reading this blog already knows the big news. There are many reports on the arrest, and as to be expected Shaina at Bosnia Vault has already collected a good number of them here; I encourage you to go to her site for some of the initial coverage.

Here is a story from today with slightly more information, as well as a recent photo--indeed, I would never have recognized the man myself.

As a postscript, we should note that it was the Serbian government which ultimately arrested him. Hopefully, this is a sign that Tadic is still committed to turning his back on the nationalist past. The Balkans will be a better place for all when Serbia joins the rest of Europe.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sobering Editorial on The Hague Tribunal

I don't have time at the moment to write any sort of consideration of the issues and questions this Op-Ed from Sunday's Washington Post raises, but I thought I should get it posted while it is still current:

"Perfect Villains, Flawed Tribunal" by Dejan Anastasijevic

I confess that I don't know much about Anastasijevic, but he seems to be person of integrity and courage. If he is correct and the tribunal has indeed failed in Bosnia, then it is imperitive that the international community salvage some good from this process and learn hard lessons for the benefit of the future. Considering that the recent--and positive, I would like to think although now I have my doubts--indictment of Sudan's thuggish President was the impetus for this editorial, time is not a luxury we should indulge in.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Human Smoke": The Troubling Pacifism of Nicholson Baker

In March of 2008, Simon & Schuster published a new work of nonfiction by critically acclaimed author Nicholson Baker. The book is titled Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, and it seeks to be nothing less than a pacifist revision of World War II history. As a work of responsible scholarship and serious historical inquiry, it fails miserably; as a work of polemic, it manages to be simultaneously tedious and infuriating.

As for the general tone, the construction of the text, and the tone of the prose, this review from the New York Times, or this one from the New York Sun. Both short reviews are worth reading for the quick summary of this loathsome book.

As noted in the cited reviews, the book consists of hundreds of short, clipped snippets of prose, often only a sentence or two in length and very rarely exceeding one page in length. Almost every single one of these paragraph "snapshots" includes the date, usually in the form of the mind-numbingly repeated format "It was [Month XX, 19XX]." I suppose this device was intended to give the book a sonorous, sobering tone of creeping death and destruction being brought on by the foolish and bloodthirsty actions of the leaders of the world, but especially Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Adolf Hitler, apparently, was mostly reacting to British and American provocation. The Imperial Japanese, for that matter, seemed to have been dragged into a war they wanted no part of. Baker's selective ability to take certain incidents and completely strip them of any context before presenting them to the reader would make Diana Johnstone proud if she were to ever read this book.

One of the most breathtakingly offensive aspects of this book, which NY Sun reporter Adam Kirsch comments on, is his willingness to take Axis leaders at their word while consistently highlighting every inconsistency and public lie Churchill and Roosevelt he seems to have come across in his "research". This is no exaggeration. Baker very rarely allows an overtly editorial tone to creep into his narrative (like Johnstone, he prefers to frame his warped narrative in a tone of faux objectivity); typical of the rare occasions when he does is this passage from page 214:

"An hour after the broadcast of Hitler's final appeal to reason, one of the BBC's German-language newsmen, Sefton Delmer, transmitted an unofficial response for German listeners: "Let me tell you what we here in Britain think of this appeal of yours to what you are pleased to call our reason and common sense," Delmer said in German. "Herr Fuhrer and Reichskanzler, we hurl it right back at you, right in your evil-smelling teeth."

That's no typo, and nothing in the text up to this point suggests any irony on Baker's part--Hitler was the one making the appeal to reason; by this point in the book, it should be noted, Baker has fully rounded out his portrait of Churchill as a racist, bloodthirsty monster indifferent to human suffering. Such a bastard, he wouldn't even listen to reason--from Hitler.

Another recurring theme in the book--"theme" giving Baker a little too much credit for this muddled mess of incident and contemporary reportage divorced from historical context or analysis--is the suggestion that the Holocaust was the unfortunate result of Allied stubbornness. The refusal of Allied and neutral nations to accept Jewish refugees is a well-documented historical fact, and rightly a source of shame for the United States and many other nations. And there is no doubt that the food shortages resulting from the British blockade weighed more heavily on Jews and other "undesirables" than on German civilians. But Baker is not content with such obvious observations--as the book progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that he blames the Allies for the Holocaust, since they wouldn't take the Jews, and the blockade made the Nazi plan of deportation to Palestine or Madagascar impossible. The "final solution," as it turns out, was the only option the Nazis had for ridding Europe of Jews once the Allies didn't give them anywhere to send them.

Logistically, of course, this is idiotic--there were several million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe at the time, far too many for any sort of emergency evacuation and relocation efforts. Morally, this is appalling. Baker, by focusing purely on the evolution of Nazi treatment of the Jews from ghettos and slave labor to comprehensive annihilation, has accepted the logic of Nazi racism. Much like apologists for Serb nationalists in Bosnia, Baker treats the Nazis as being purely reactive, simply guided by outside stimuli. Sure, they killed millions of Jews, Baker concedes, but the Allies knew how the Nazi leadership viewed them; the Holocaust is here presented as an inevitable outcome not of Nazi propaganda and state power, not of the ideology of genocide developed over the course of more than a decade by a totalitarian state, but by callous Allied war-mongering.

The examples of Baker's moral relativism-gone-amok are legion. I marked many examples in the text, but now that I have finished this book I realize it would be unfair of me to inflict the dreary monotony of this book on my readers. While his horrific attempts to blame the Allies for the Holocaust will rightly most outrage readers, there are other aspects of the book which should raise eyebrows. Baker is obsessed with the carnage and military ineffectiveness of the strategic bombing tactics of the war, but rather than conclude that the strategy itself was flawed and a massive, tragic mistake by the Allies, he uses the horrors of a particular strategy and a particular technology as a blanket indictment of all war. There is no suggestion in the book that different tactics or different weaponry would meet with any more authorial approval.

I read this book because I knew it was a pacifist revision of the standard narrative of World War II--a necessary war, it must be remembered. Baker holds the Allies responsible for most of the deaths in that war because they refused to negotiate with Hitler after the fall of France and because they refused to cooperate with his efforts to removed the Jews from Europe. The Japanese leadership gets treated with even kinder treatment; one would never know that the war in China was a war of aggression by the Japanese military, or that the Japanese Empire had imperial designs on much of Southeast Asia from reading this book. One does learn that the civilian deaths at Pearl Harbor were caused by misfiring American anti-aircraft shells; I shudder to think what point Baker feels the inclusion of this detail makes. Being an interventionist and a believer that pacifism is, as a political and ideological belief, fundamentally immoral, I wanted to see how Baker would spin events like the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking. The answers were troubling, and validate my convictions that pacifism in the real world is simply not a moral or responsible position.

What makes this book especially relevant to this blog, however, is how similar Baker's methods are to Balkan revisionists, particularly Diana Johnstone. Like her, Baker begins his narrative of particular events at certain moments without giving prior context, so that Japanese defensiveness is reported without noting that Japan was trying to consolidate its military gains in Manchuria. He presents incidents and conversations completely devoid of context or nuance. He accepts the words of Nazi leaders at face value while insinuating the basest and darkest of motives to the Allied leaders, just as Johnstone is willing to believe reports from Serb state media while dismissing firsthand accounts of rape from ordinary women. And like her, he presents the argument that the inclusive, secular, democratic values of our civilization are simply not worth fighting for.

Baker would have had the Allies make peace with Hitler; this way, he argues, the Jews would have been spared the Holocaust. But he has nothing to say of allowing a regime which would be capable of killing millions of people for the crime of being Jewish to reap the rewards for its conquests and violence. Like Jimmy Carter, Baker, seems to believe that being able to convince the bullies to stop shooting just for a little while, so that some of their victims have time to crawl away, is the best that we can do. Like Johnstone, Baker sees the hypocrisies of our own leaders more clearly than he does the gross moral failings of our enemies. Or perhaps I should not say "our." Perhaps the fact that Nicholson Baker, Diana Johnstone, and I all live "in" the West is merely incidental.

The subtitle of "Human Smoke" is, as noted above, "The Beginning of World War II, the End of Civilization." On one level, this is merely absurd--civilization survived the end of World War II and in many ways is better off today. In 1939, most of the "Third World" was still in colonial bondage; today, nearly all of the former colonial world has achieved independence. And so on; yet, the absurdity of this pretentious subtitle is the least of it. I wonder what sort of "civilization" Baker thinks we would have had the Allies made peace and fascism had been allowed to rule over much of Europe and its population of several million Jews. If Nicholson Baker cares so damn much about "civilization" it would behoove him to at least define it since he does not care to see anyone take up arms to defend it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America website

My recent post On "Islamophobia" prompted a brief but interesting exchange of comments on the issue of criticism of religion and belief.

In light of that hardly-resolved issue, it is worth examining the website of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America to see what sort of information, viewpoints, and materials this particular American-based, tax-exempt organization is making available.

Well, in the "Archived News" section, there is a story dated July 10 on the "St. Elijah 31st Annual Summer Day Camp". And what is the theme for this years' camp? Why, "KOSOVO IS SERBIA" of course! Here is the synopsis of the events that week:

Each day began with morning prayers, followed by a history lesson on an era of Kosovo’s history:

Monday: Land of faith and tradition: Why Kosovo is important to us

Tuesday: 1389 ~ The Battle of Kosovo

Wednesday: Turkish Occupation, Independent Serbia, and Yugoslavia

Thursday: Yugoslavia breaks up, NATO bombs, the UN takes over

Friday: The Battle of Kosovo movie

In order to enhance each lesson, special activities were planned. The older campers rehearsed and performed a play The Battle of Kosovo (thanks to St. Luke in Washington, D.C. for providing the script and costumes). Mim Bizic shared her personal experiences in Kosovo and presented each camper with several gifts that helped to truly demonstrate the spirit of Kosovo. And of course, the camp t-shirts had the Maiden of Kosovo on them. We even incorporated the Kosovo theme into our “Serbian Survivor” game. Our teams were named for famous Serbian Orthodox monasteries or churches in Kosovo, each with a flag designed and made by the team to show a little of that church’s history and importance. The knowledge challenge questions were all about Kosovo, as we attempted to tie the daily lessons into a practical use – winning a prize!

No word on which kids got stuck playing the Turks. Or whether anyone bothered dressing up as any of the non-Serbs who fought on the Christian side; I'm quite certain that this recreation was scrupulous in its historical accuracy and even-handed presentation of events.

I have to say, in some ways I'm a little jealous--I was raised in a religious home, and I went to both Bible school and Church camp every summer, but not once were we allowed--encouraged, even!--to dress up in military costumes and play army! I wonder how much time these kids spent singing "Kumbaya"?

If sending your kids to a week of fetishistic indoctrination isn't quite enough, the Diocese although has a wealth of books available through the online Bookstore, where the interested and the devout can find such titles as The Orthodox Study Bible
, The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, Introduction to the Serbian Orthodox Church History
, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, and Patristic Theology. Oh, and if reading church history and works of theology gets a little dull, you can always spice it up with titles like Media Lies and the Conquest of Kosovo, Media Cleansing. Dirty Reporting. Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia (by well-known Srebrenica-denier Peter Brock), and my personal favorite, Ratko Mladic--Tragic Hero, the long-awaited English-language biography by Milo Yelesiyevich.

I have said this about Islamists who sanction murder in the name of jihad, I have said it about creationists who want to stifle the teaching of science in public schools, and I'll say it about these sanctimonious, myth-peddling blowhards--believe what you will, but don't expect the slightest bit of deference or respect for your "beliefs" if they don't hold up to rational inquiry or moral scrutiny.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Worthy Blog--Cafe Turco

One of the comments on the July 14 post at Srebrenica Genocide Blog was from a certain Sarah Franco, who had modestly requested "Please do not publish this comment, otherwise it may look like I am using this blog to promote my own." Fortunately, Daniel ignored her request and published her comment anyway, because her blog deserves to be promoted:

Cafe Turco.

Ms. Franco participated in the 13th anniversary memorial trip to Srebrenica, so her viewpoint and observations are particularly welcome. Considering the depressing news out of Republika Srpska recently, it is refreshing to discover another comrade in the fight for justice and truth.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Republika Srpska Police Protect Serbs From Floral Assault

There have been some troubling signs lately that Dodik is a genuine menace to peace and reconciliation in Bosnia, but the latest news--that over 100 Bosniak women were barred from laying flowers at a warehouse in Srebrenica--suggests that he has decided that the international community and the High Commissioner will allow him to keep pushing his luck.

The following story only briefly mentions this incident, focusing instead on the new, nationalist anthem and "national" symbols recently adopted by Dodik's quasi-state:

Muslims furious at anthem and symbols adopted by Bosnian Serbs

I have a copy of "Bosnia Daily" in .pdf format (no link, sorry) with slightly more information, including this tidbit:

Republika Srpska police yesterday
stopped relatives of victims of
the 1995 Srebrenica massacre
from visiting a site where more than
1,000 Bosniak men were shot by
Bosnian Serb troops. Police said the
presence of 100-odd women in the eastern
Bosnian village of Kravice posed a
security risk because local Serbs did not
want them there. Republika Srpska
Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said the
gathering was a "direct provocation".

That is the behavior of a regime which feels confident that the international community is ready to wash its hands of Bosnia and leave it to the locals. I cannot express how deeply I hope he is miscalculating.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Srebrenica Memorial Quilt at the Bosnian Embassy

I was able to attend a function at the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Washington, DC this evening. There was a photographic exhibition entitled "Srebrenica: Remembering for the Future" as well as a display of the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt.

I completely forgot to bring my camcorder, and I was twenty minutes late as well so I missed the introductions and much of the public speaking, but the photographs were moving and it was good to see the memorial quilt in person. Unfortunately, I noticed is that the quilt is not as big as I think it should be to make a strong impression. I will be making another donation this week; I would encourage those of you who haven't already donated to consider doing so--this worthy project cannot be alllowed to languish.

Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. Please set aside a quiet moment during the day to honor the victims.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

On "Islamophobia"

In a recent post at his blog Greater Surbiton, Dr. Marko Attila Hoare considers the question Is Islamophobia equivalent to racism or anti-Semitism? His focus is on the Balkans, but I believe that the reason why, as he puts it

"There is some resistance among liberal intellectuals to the term ‘Islamophobia’..."

has little to do with the region. While he does conclude that sentence by correctly noting that

" is assumed that Islam is a religion, therefore an ideology, and it is questioned if one can be prejudiced against an ideology."

the larger debate in the West over Islam and the unfortunately named (if necessary and worthwhile) "War on Terror" inevitably frames most any public discussion of Islam and its adherents.

I do not wish to make more of this than necessary since I do agree with Dr. Hoare's larger point, but at the risk of seeming callous or unsympathetic (and I would hope that after over two years of relatively steady work and advocacy on this blog I would be safe from such accusations), I am compelled to point out the unfortunate, reflexive use of the word "Islamophobia" by individuals who are less interested in fighting bigotry than in curbing or diverting useful, or even merely pointed, criticism of the practice of Islam in certain places, certain cultural or social practices within the Muslim world, and so on. I would not at all be surprised if some of the voices being raised in dismay at the current endorsement of sharia law in Great Britain were not met with indignant claims of bigotry against non-Western cultural practices and Islamophobia.

As a staunch secularist, I hesitate to endorse giving sanction and legitimacy to a word which, from a certain perspective, seems tailor-made for the purpose of stifling criticism of religious belief or of any religious institution. At the same time, I recognize and abhor the signs of genuine bigotry, hatred, and fear directed towards the Muslim world and individual Muslims wherever I encounter or learn of them. That there exists genuine bigotry against Muslims because they are Muslims seems irrefutable. Serb and Croat nationalists and their apologists wouldn't go to such great lengths to appeal to such sentiment if it didn't exist.

So is Islamophobia a better term than, say, "Muslimophobia"? It is somewhat less awkward, no doubt, but is it more fitting, since our concern should be with the existence of bigotry directed at individuals because of their religious affiliation rather than with the religion itself?

Ultimately, I would say yes. Muslims are not a race, an ethnic or national group (speaking globally, rather than in the narrower, pre-Bosniak Yugoslav context); they lack linguistic and culturally unity. The only thing which the 1.2 billion or so Muslims have in common is their religion (putting aside the great diversity of sects and schisms within Islam, and of course the varying degrees of personal piety). Islamophobia preaches hatred and intolerance towards the Muslims of the world because they are presumably all unquestioning followers of an implacably hostile and unwaveringly anti-Western/anti-Christian belief system. Islamophobia is premised on a crude, nuance-free, and deliberately confrontational misrepresentation of one of the largest religions on the planet. In order to justify the bigotry against members of a group who are only identifiable as followers of a belief system, it is necessary to both demonize that belief system and to believe that all adherents are unquestioning followers of said systems dictates and teachings.