Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [4]

Chapter 2: Is Ethnic Violence Ever Justified?

And then the wheels come off...

As in Chapter 1, there are five "pro" essays ('Yes: Ethnic Violence is Justified') and five "con" essays('No: Ethnic Conflict is Not Justified'); these are rather stark choices and the criteria seems rather open-ended. Considering that the essays in Chapter 1 wrestled with some fairly nuanced concepts, the reader cannot help but be disappointed by the crudeness of this rhetorical framework. The mere inclusion of an essay within the "pro" or "anti" section will be an editorial statement of sorts; what choices did the editors make?

Well, the very first essay gets us off to a depressing start: "Ethnic Warfare in the Former Yugoslavia Protects Serbs" by Momcilo Selic, an essay which manages to cover quite a few of the typical justifications trotted out by the fascist apologists--a smattering of history, a studied ignorance of Belgrade's role in fueling and harnessing the violence and instability in the region, frequent noting of the "Muslimness" of the Bosniaks and the obligatory the-Croats-were-fascist-in-World-War-Two "context," and so forth. It's what one would expect from an essay with such a dubious title, and it does not fail to deliver.

The next essay? "Bosnian Muslims Have the Right to Use Violence" by Muhamed Sacirbey. Yes, it has already come to this--both Selic and Sacirbey are essentially arguing self-defense as "ethnic violence," and the fact that the editors include these two essays together without editorial judgment or explanatory commentary is a powerful "commentary" itself. The reader must decide for him or herself who to believe here; most likely, the editors prefer us to believe neither. This is a masterpiece of "both sides were at fault" argument without explicitly saying so.

The company Selic and Sacirbey are keeping makes it difficult to conclude otherwise--"Violence Against Israel Is Justified to Free Palestine" by a member of Hamas; "Violence by the Irish Republican Army Is Justified" by an anonymous member of the Provo IRA; and finally "Violence Is Justified to Protect the Purity of the White Race" by some white supremacist neo-Nazi scumbag. The final word from the "pro" camp is by an avowedly racist anti-Semite who rants against the "Zionist Occupational Government" and white men who commit "race treason." This, the editors seem to feel, is the rhetorical level that Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations fits in with.

This is all the more maddening when one reads the title of the first essay in the "con" section: "Serbs Have Committed Heinous War Crimes" by Lawrence S. Eagleburger. This is somehow an argument against...what, exactly? Is Eagleburger asserting something Sacirbey did not?

And the next essay is "Mass Rapes Committed by Serbs Are War Crimes" which, again, hardly seems to be "about" anything unless one wishes to state, for the record, that the mass rape of women because of their ethnicity is wrong. Not a brave, or particularly controversial, stance.

It is impossible to untangle the editorial decisions guiding this chapter; unless, as I stated, one sadly concludes that the editors both bemoaned the violence engulfing Bosnia at the time of publication, and steadfastly refused to see through the cloud of "ethnic conflict" they failed to adequately define or analyze.


Anonymous said...

Do I understand this right? The compiler thinks there's a possibility that there might conceivably be an argument that mass rape is justified in the context of ethnic conflict? That's the only explanation for needing to include an article on the war crime status of the Serb mass rapes in a Chapter on "Is Ethnic Violence Ever Justified?"


Kirk Johnson said...

Owen, that's not what Eagleburger is asserting. Essentially, he's saying that the war carried out by Serb nationalists was illegitimate, immoral, what have you because of the war crimes (mass rape, in his example) committed. I sincerely regret that my half-baked review (I'm not at my best lately, I admit) didn't make that clear.

But...the confusion over this is a testament to how incoherent this entire section is. Why are the defensive actions of the Bosnian government "ethnic violence"? And if one accepts that the Serb nationalists are committing mass rape, then why is armed action by the Bosnian government "ethnic violence"? Is it because it would be in response to "ethnic violence", or is it "ethnic violence" because it would presumably be aimed at another ethnic group? Or because ethnic Muslims made up the majority of pro-Bosnian forces at that time?

It's a very poorly constructed rhetorical framework.

Anonymous said...

No, Kirk, it's not your fault. I wasn't criticising Eagleburger's article, I was criticising the editors' decision to include it on one side of the argument "is ethnic violence ever justified".

What I was getting at was that by including a text on "Mass Rapes Committed by Serbs Are War Crimes" the editors are implying that it's possible to challenge the thesis implicit in Eagleburger's title, ie justify mass rape as a legitimate weapon of war.

That's not possible, so this is the wrong place for Eagleburger's text.