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Wednesday 18th May 2022

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Asma Shabir

14th July marked 20 years since the genocide and the slaughter of 8,372 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica; the most horrific genocide on European soil since the Holocaust. One, which Europe should never forget.

20 years ago, in my lifetime, in your lifetime, a few decades after the Holocaust, an “international community” with an apathetic United Nations, watching a televised genocide as 8372 men and boys were betrayed.   The Srebrenica Massacre was the time when humanity broke its promise to itself. After the Holocaust the world leaders swore ‘never again’, but decades later the silence of the international community and the horrific passivity of the UN, allowed the echoes of the Third Reich to come into tune.

This time, we knew. The world watched on with a conditioned indifference that was nurtured, at the time, by a political doctrine of ‘moral equivalence’. One, which didn’t make our ‘neutrality’, neutral, but complicit in the crime. An arms embargo was imposed on ‘all’ of those involved in the conflict which by default, or perhaps by virtue, made the Serbs the fourth largest military in Europe while the Bosnian resistance army was disproportionately matched. Was this the ‘level playing field’ the British diplomat, David Owen, was talking about?

We shamefully justified our inaction with talks of peace plans with Radovan Karadzic in the grand halls of London, Paris, and Geneva while nothing changed on the ground. Knowing full well the danger of appeasement after World War Two, we stood back whilst General Mladic was photographed toasting his deal with UN Colonel Karremans on the 11th July 1995.

Then when brother was separated from brother, wife from husband, mother from son, 8372 men and boys led to the slaughter, did the world push for a half-baked peace plan; one which ended the war, but not the battle for peace, for equivalence, for justice. Now 20 years later the Bosnian people are stuck in a historical, judicial, and economic limbo. While their sister states have been graciously enriched on the negotiating table post Dayton Accords – their accessions into the European Union being one.

But the most worrying situation is the struggle to keep the truth about the extent of the genocide across Bosnia, not just in Srebrenica, alive. There is widespread genocide denial around the globe about the events that happened between 1992 and 1995. The importance of this memorial is paramount; the danger of removing the Bosnian Genocide from historical memory would be devastating for future generations.

I remember Hasan Hasanovic, a survivor of ‘The Column’ that left for Tuzla, saying, “we didn’t think this would happen to us but it did and it can happen to you, too”.

It is absolutely crucial to keep Bosnia alive in our historical memory, as well as remembering the consequences of genocide. Now, in a time when British Muslims face challenges concerning their loyalty, identity, and citizenship, along with the growing debate around a possible repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998, it is crucial that we learn the lessons of Srebrenica as being a devastating end-point of ethnic and religious hatred. Together, we should as ‘critical friends’ engage with each other and shape a healthy discourse, which strengthens this historically multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation for the better; bringing an end to the ‘us and them’ glib terms used by politicians that seek to divide us.

The fight against genocide, against pogrom, against ethnic cleansing, is still on-going. From the Kurdish to the Shi’a peoples, to Burma, to Syria, to the persecuted minority communities in China, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, to the savagery unleashed by Daesh, we should all work towards a better world. Srebrenica, we should never forget.

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