[Members of the Seventh Muslim Brigade on parade in Zenica, Bosnia, in 1996 - BBC]
While the opponents of intervention have been eager to remind us of the war in Iraq, they rather not be reminded of the war that took place in Bosnia. In many ways, Bosnia may be the most striking and relevant comparison to what has been happening in Syria. Not only because of the shared aspirations of its people, the genocide that they suffered from and the heroic resistance they offered against it. Perhaps even more so because of what didn’t occur. NATO intervened in Bosnia, this allowed for a political solution to be reached that ended the war. But the most notable difference lies in the way the world perceived and reported about the war compared to Syria today. It’s hard to conceive a more strikingly similar case to which reactions have been so extremely different.
The genocide in Bosnia, also known as the Bosnian “civil war”, took place between 1992 and 1995 and was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia which itself came in the aftermath of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. What took place in the small country of 4.4 million people went into the history books as a war between Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, resulting in acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. More than 35 thousand civilians were killed during the war, over 25 thousand of them were Muslim. At least 60 thousand soldiers were killed as well, and almost half of them were Muslim.
Croats and Serbs have always been divided by region, religion and politics, but their Serbo-Croatian language and ethnic roots are essentially the same. Bosnia, being situated between Croatia and Serbia, was no different with the exception that it has had a tradition of great religious diversity. Bosnia was a country of religious minorities in which Muslims had come to form the largest one among them. Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics lived mixed throughout Bosnia, as majorities in some areas and as minorities in others. Having lived this way for centuries, the nationalist revival that would begin to take shape a decade before Yugoslavia’s break-up would impact Bosnia the most and Bosnia’s aspirations for freedom would be crushed in the most gruesome ways.
Many in the Catholic and Orthodox majority areas no longer identified themselves as Yugoslav or even as primarily Bosnian, but as Croats and Serbs respectively, seeing themselves as a part of the population of their “homelands” of Croatia and Serbia more than “the other” in Bosnia. Hence they were known as Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs, rather than Catholic or Orthodox Bosnians. Muslims had no ethnic identity other than being Bosnian [or Yugoslav], and were therefore called Bosniaks. The nationalist trend that swept away Croatia and Serbia, as well as their coreligionists in their respective majority regions in Bosnia, did not find resonance among Muslim Bosniaks. For them, the pluralistic society they have traditionally been part of continued to be the norm. Many if not most of the Orthodox and Catholics inside Muslim majority or heavily mixed city areas continued to see themselves as being part of this same religiously diverse society at the heart of Bosnia as well, but they were minorities among their nationalist coreligionists elsewhere.
Bosnian Genocide, 1992: On 31 March 1992, Serbian paramilitary group, led by Zeljko Raznjatovic (ARKAN), slaughtered hundreds of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians – women, children, and elderly men – in the town of Bijeljina in northeastern Bosnia, near the border with Serbia.
Following the Croatian and Slovenian secession from a more and more nationalist Serbian Yugoslavia headed by Serbian Pres. Slobodan Milosevic, and the wars resulting from it, pluralistic Bosnia, under the leadership of Pres. Alija Izetbegovic, also seceded and declared its independence after an extremely favorable referendum. Bosnian Croat nationalists already prepared to secede from Bosnia, while Bosnian Serb nationalists wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia. Right after Bosnia’s proclamation of independence, the Bosnian Serbs under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic declared themselves to be the “Republika Srpska” and, with the help of what remained of the Yugoslav army, waged war against the Muslims in order to carve out a Serbian state inside Bosnia.
For nearly four years, they ethnically cleansed the territory that was or came to be under their control from its non-Serb population through massacres, mass displacement and mass imprisonment. They took control of 70% of Bosnia and displaced nearly 2 million people. They also imposed the longest siege in the history of modern warfare on Bosnia’s capital of Sarajevo, whose Mosques, Churches, residential areas, marketplaces were indiscriminately bombed and shelled with missiles, tanks, mortars and artillery on a daily basis. Even queues in front of bakeries and pharmacies were not spared, while snipers murdered anyone that dared walking on the streets. These attacks targeted the entire city and didn’t discriminate between Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic. “We were all under siege in Sarajevo” was the spirit of its population. Many of the victims who were registered as “Bosnian Serb” in fact died as a result of Bosnian Serb shelling into Muslim majority areas.
The Bosnian Muslims and the minorities among them were united in their purpose and as a people, but stood defenseless against the advancing Bosnian Serb war machine. The Bosnian Serb Army, led by Gen. Ratko Mladic, had the Yugoslav Army at their disposal, while the Muslims had to rely on local civilian militias at first and later mass defections from the Yugoslav Army. As they formed the Bosnian Army, which consisted as much as a fourth or even a third of non-Muslims, they were very poorly armed compared to the aggressor. A weapons embargo prevented them from being able to receive weapons from other countries, and so they had to rely on what they captured from battles and depots along with what they could manufacture themselves. A Bosnian made documentary about their war of liberation gives a particularly good insight into the Bosnian Army:
A documentary on how the Bosnian people defending themselves from aggressors on all sides, during the 1992-1995 war. Despite being ill-equipped because of the U.N, normal Bosnians came together to fight together and help each other. 3 years later, they won, and the sovereign nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina exists in the heart of Europe.
After some months into the war, the international community became involved in Bosnia through NATO and the UN. Aside of the detrimental weapons embargo, a no-fly zone was imposed, peacekeepers were sent, humanitarian safe zones established and humanitarian aid reached Sarajevo’s airport. What started out as a mostly monitoring mission, gradually changed into one of enforcement and a more aggressive role for NATO as a result of the failure to stop the Bosnian Serb advance. By 1994, air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets were taking place and confrontations increased. None of this, however, sufficed to halt the genocide. Things started to change after the massacre took place that Bosnia is remembered for:
A Cry from the Grave tells the story of the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which the Bosnian Serb army killed an estimated 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. It follows hour by hour the story of the killings.
Not only was the U.N. present, they were armed and in charge of the Srebrenica “safe zone” and responsible for the tens of thousands Muslim refugees who fled the territories under Bosnian Serb control. It meant nothing as they were taken on, taken over and expelled. And nothing is more telling than the meeting between Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic and the Dutch-bat Com. Col. Thom Karremans:
This footage gives an impression of how tyrants present themselves to others, in this case the U.N. on the ground, while an insight into the dynamic that takes place between their “political” and “military” counterparts can be gained from Mladic’ “War Cabinet Meetings” with Karadzic:
Which one of them is ultimately responsible for the massacre at Srebrenica and the remaining genocide, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity that took place in Bosnia, neither of them eventually got away with it. Although already involved, NATO’s intervention came to take a far more serious turn in the aftermath of Srebenica. It turned out to be the beginning of the end of a war in which so many innocents had been massacred. The last straw came only a month later with the second Markale massacre, where 38 people were killed as a result of another mortar attack on the marketplace in Sarajevo. The first happened more than a year before and killed 68 people. However, things had now changed:
For over four years following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the onset of war, first in Croatia and then in Bosnia, the United States refused to take the lead in trying to end the violence and conflict. While many have written eloquently and passionately to explain Washington’s—and the West’s—failure to stop the ethnic cleansing, the concentration camps, and the massacres of hundreds of thousands of civilians, few have examined why, in the summer of 1995, the United States finally did take on a leadership role to end the war in Bosnia. – Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended, By Ivo H. Daalder
It wasn’t at all pretty. No person can be happy about his country being bombarded, however, the people of Sarajevo welcomed it because they had been suffering from a brutal and murderous siege on their capital city for years, surrounded as it was by Bosnian Serb forces and already bombarded on a daily basis. Operation “Deliberate Force” lasted for a month and targeted hundreds of Bosnian Serb positions, forcing them into retreat and to concede to the political solution that was reached at Dayton and which ended the war. The genocide was stopped and Bosnia gained its freedom and independence, but it also lost a significant part of the country to the Bosnian Serbs whose Republika Srbska continues to exist today. Karadzic and Mladic were made to disappear, only turn up again years later at the Hague where they are currently being tried for their crimes. A limited number of U.N. peacekeeping forces continue to have a presence in Bosnia today.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO WHAT IS TAKING PLACE IN SYRIA?
The Syrian revolution began as a part of the wider Arab spring which primarily took place in impoverished Arab republics whose dictatorial regimes were similar to the dictatorships that used to rule Eastern Europe. Two decades after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, things had changed quite a bit in the Arab world. However, the core of the regimes and their ruthless ways did not. Much like the people in Eastern Europe two decades before, Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Libyans massively took it to the streets. It was different in Syria. The Assad regime and even most of the Syrians saw themselves in a different light and somewhat immune even to what had been going on around them. It took much violence on the part of the Assad regime, for the Syrian people to massively rise up. The break-up of Yugoslavia and war in Bosnia in particular proved to become the bloodiest of all Eastern European revolutions; and this was no different for Syria compared to the rest of the Arab spring countries.
Much like the heart of Bosnia, the Syrian people were pluralistic and sought nothing but freedom from the tyrannical clutches of the Assad regime. Although the conditions in Syria were far worse than they were in Bosnia before the war, the Syrians did not outright seek to overthrow the regime and rule themselves. While Bosnia made a political decision to become independent which was responded to with war and genocide, Syrians were forced into it when their mere demands for reforms and dignity were met with bullets and artillery. The result, however, was the same: peaceful, pluralistic and democratic aspirations were violently crushed by a power hungry tyranny. The Bosnian Serbs together with Serbian Yugoslavia couldn’t seek to rule all of Bosnia, simply because of Croatia and the Bosnian Croats. However, they sought to rule as much as they could, namely the majority of the country including its capital Sarajevo.
Bosnian Genocide, 1992: Serbian paramilitaries known as Arkan’s Tigers desecrate Mosque in the northeastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina on 31 March 1993, the first day of the Bosnian war. Serbian troops slaughtered hundreds of Bosniak men, women, children and elderly during the attack on Bijeljina.
Assad continues to claim the whole of Syria, even though he has in practice given up on more than half in terms of actually retaking it anytime soon. But because the Assad family came to power through the rise of their own Alawite minority upon which it has fundamentally relied throughout the military and security apparatus for its power, a separate state in the Alawite homeland along the coast remains to be the final resort when all else fails. The Bosnian Serbs were openly racist and hostile towards the “other” inside Bosnia and sought a separation from them the minute that Bosnia seceded, while Assad has tried to hide his xenophobia.
Considering that the Assad regime has no religion or ideology other than its own survival and the cult of the Assad family, it does in fact not represent any Alawite form of nationalism that is comparable to what Mladic and Karadzic had in mind. However, because of the fundamental reliance upon this minority, such nationalism has become very real within it. Though asleep, it may have been very real before as well. It certainly was during the 80′s. In Bosnia it had become a monster that continues to exist today without Mladic or Karadzic playing any role other than that of legendary heroes in the public’s mind, and it’s likely to remain a monster in Syria whether Assad is completely forced out of power or not.
A more powerful monster is what lies behind it. In Bosnia, this was the Serbian nationalism of Serbian lead Yugoslavia under Milosevic. They and the Bosnian Serbs were one, their aim was to establish a Greater Serbia. Iran, on the other hand, considers Syria to be a province inside of its Khomeinist empire. Such Khomenism is essentially a form of Shia nationalism, and great effort has been made in Syria over the past decade to convince local Alawites and other sects that find their origin in Shi`ism of it, while selling it to the Sunni and other non-Shia populations through all sorts of religious and political rhetoric.
Selling it to the Muslims did not happen so much in Bosnia, but there were certainly attempts at it and Bosnians from a Muslim background who came to consider themselves to be Serbs do exist. Clearly the implications were much more extreme. Normally, the Bosnian Muslims were considered to be the descendants of Turks which inspired Karadzic to openly advocate for all Muslims to leave for Turkey or face extermination. But there was also the notion that many Bosnian Muslims, particularly those who were the furthest from their religion, rather descended from Orthodox Serbs who were forced to convert to Islam. The famous film maker Emir Kusturica is a prime example. For many different reasons, in Syria it did succeed and continues to result in a significant minority of Sunni Muslims remaining loyal to the Assad regime.
Because of the apparent sectarian divisions, both conflicts have been termed as a “civil war” by some. Though it has been perceived as an ethnic war by the Bosnian Serbs and at least used in a sectarian way by the Assad regime, this approach was limited to the aggressors. The Sunni Muslims of Bosnia and Syria alike did not have such an outlook. They didn’t see themselves as being separated from everyone else, but were instead inclusive of others regardless of differences in religion or ethnicity. Their aspirations were pluralistic, and that is why among the minorities they lived side by side with for centuries there were those who joined them in their cause. In Syria, under extremely difficult circumstances, many Christian, Alawite and other minority youth joined the protests calling for freedom and the fall of the Assad tyranny. Lesser numbers defected from the army but, together with civilians, did find their way into the Free Syrian Army and even local resistance units that identified by their sect. Just as little known yet far more massive was the number of non-Muslims in the Bosnian Army, even in its leadership.
A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, on April 6, 1992. The Serbs were shooting from the roof of a hotel at a peace demonstration of some of 30,000 people as fighting between Bosnian and Serb fighters escalated in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Both the Bosnian Army and the Free Syrian army emerged out of defections and civilian militias which came in response to the aggression that the population faced. Both had very limited access to arms while facing a fully equipped army, and both were prevented from gaining better access because of a weapons embargo imposed by the international community. The Bosnian Army, however, was much more united and organized while it had a political leader in Alija Izetbegovic. Syria’s National Coalition, on the other hand, controls very little while the FSA’s Commander in Chief Gen. Salim Idris is stuck between their barely functioning Supreme Military Council and local military councils that by now may represent little more than half of the armed forces on the ground. A lack of control among brigades and battalions that joined the military councils has also allowed for corruption and thuggery to infiltrate and tarnish the FSA’s reputation.
Most of the other half of the armed forces that are not part of the military councils are dominated by various Islamic movements which have been growing apart from the FSA and became a large force of their own. On top of that, many foreign and some local extremists fighting under Al-Qaeda’s quasi-representatives having been running amok and caused much damage to the revolution. The Bosnian Army solved much of these problems by creating Islamic brigades to fight under its command [see the top-photo of the Seventh Muslim Brigade] and tried to register and integrate as many incoming foreigners as possible into them. With thousands of foreign fighters coming into Bosnia, many of them as extreme as they are today, this was a very serious challenge for the Bosnian Army. Consider this rare report from the Sky News archives:
Had it not been so old, it could have been mistaken for a report coming out of Syria today. Both in Syria as in Bosnia, the foreigners brought with them beheadings and added to the torture and executions of war prisoners, not to mention the deaths of countless civilians. Two of the Saudis among the hijackers of 9-11, a decade later, turned out to be veterans of the Bosnian war. One of the Jihadi anthems heard throughout the world ["sanakhudu" which, interestingly enough since Assad's Fatwa of Jihad against the Syrian people was released, was also heard on Syrian state TV] was first sung by a Kuwaiti fighter in Bosnia.
Al-Qaeda did exist in the early 90′s, and though it could not reach Bosnia as an organization, its ideology was widespread among Jihadis around the world. Considering that the Muslims of Bosnia were facing genocide, many from across the globe were attracted to the war. This is what happened in Syria as well, but this time it came with a strong organisation behind it while the poorly organised Syrians didn’t know how to deal with this phenomenon. Jabhat al-Nusra introduced itself in Syria through the kind of bombings that free Syrians weren’t even capable of, not to mention unwilling to commit, and today the entire Iraqi “Islamic State” moved in. In Bosnia, the crimes that took place could not be prevented but the foreigners were prevented from becoming a power of its own and worse, yet another enemy on the battle field. As bad as it was in Bosnia, it could have turned out much worse had they been left to themselves; although not all of them were comfortable to join the Bosnians. This one actually did, his story appears in the Sky News report:
Of course, foreign extremists were not responsible for all of the civilian deaths on the side of their enemies, neither in Bosnia nor in Syria. Aside of local extremists and common criminals, average Bosnians and Syrians alike were themselves sufficiently capable of inflicting suffering upon innocent people as hatred and xenophobia are not exclusively ideological traits. Madness and the longing for revenge are things that average people have to deal with when faced with unimaginable suffering and injustice, and not always successfully. Being confronted with these horrors changes people, and some will put these changes to practice in yet another horrible way.
In the above Sky News report, it was a regular battalion of Bosnian Army that is desecrating the church. This didn’t even happen in Syria until very recently in Raqqa, where such desecration was committed by none other than the most extreme Qaedist faction in Syria namely the previously mentioned “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham”. Extremist ideology becomes an increasing factor when it’s constantly imported into a conflict and as it feeds from the misery and chaos in which it settles. But so does extremism of any other sort. The worst of such massacres in Bosnia at the hands of locals and foreigners took place in Bosnian Croat villages such as Bistrica, Grabovica and Uzdol where dozens of innocents lost their lives in each. Some of the Bosnians were tried and convicted for their roles at the Hague, none of the foreigners were. Yet they stood accused of several massacres, in so much that it lead to U.N. complaining to Izetbegovic about them.
In both Syria and Bosnia, foreign fighters took part on all sides. In Syria, the number of Hezbollah fighters, Iranian Republican Guards, Shi`a Jihadis from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and other places, along with mercenaries from Russia and the Ukraine as well as neo-Nazis from Greece and Poland that have been fighting on the side of Assad has been larger than that of the foreigners fighting against him. In Bosnia, the Khomeinists stood on the side of the Muslims and may have sent in fighters along with arms shipments. Neo-Nazis flocked into the country to side with the Bosnian Croats and had sided with the Croatians before in their war of secession from Yugoslavia.
The third party in the Bosnian war, namely the nationalist Bosnian Croats who were supported by Croatia, were after their own [short lived] state of Herzeg-Bosnia not much different from their Serbian counterparts. And like them, they waged a genocidal campaign against the non-Croat population of the area inside of Bosnia that they controlled at the time in the so-called Croat-Bosniak war. This ended with a cease fire that grew into an alliance and the Washington accords of 1994 leading to the establishment of the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina. It changed the course of the war against the Bosnian Serbs.
In Syria, the Kurds make up the third party. Their majority region is currently governed by the PYD and the KNC, and protected by their armed wing that is the YPG. Although many consider them to be nothing but the Syrian branch of the PKK that operates in Turkey and Iraq and whose military wing, the HPG, has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. and others for obvious reasons, they’re guilty of little compared to the nationalist Bosnian Croats as well as Croatia proper who acted in the same genocidal way as their Serbian counterparts with whom they at first sought to cooperate, plotting against the Bosnian Muslims in order to divide Bosnia between themselves.
In Syria, this “PKK” stands accused of collaborating with the regime in return for the autonomy of the Kurdish region and is in the midst of battles and on the bring of an all out war against local FSA military councils, Islamic brigades and the various Al-Qaeda factions which have taken the lead. Whatever the truth of that, this would be a defensive war on mostly Kurdish majority territory, quite different from that of the Bosnian Croat aggressors.
‘You know, we have so many times said that we want to live together in Bosnia – and we are being killed because we want to live together. You see, we Bosnians are defending your principles – your principles in Europe. We are defending the principles of the United Nations and its Secretary-General – and he is the one who is breaking these principles. I ask you, is there anything left of humanity in the hearts of these people in the West? Is there anything left of justice or humanism? Because humanism is buried here in Bosnia . . . I don’t know who is going to resurrect it.’
‘We have suffered two punishments, you know. On the one hand, Serbian nationalism – Serbian fascism – is trying to eliminate us, to force us into an exodus. This is our first punishment. Our second punishment comes from the Western community, from the European Community, who gave us some hopes that they would help us, the victims. We believed them and they betrayed us . . . They don’t want to help us and they don’t even want us to help ourselves. It is illogical. It is immoral – it is a crime to hold captives and to say to them ‘we don’t want to lift the arms embargo against you because if we do that, there will be more killing.’ The killing is happening every day.’ – 1993. Sarajevo. Mustafa Ceric, Mufti of Bosnia
As Bosnia’s desperation echo’s into 2013, so much worse has it become in Syria with so much less being done to help. Complaints about foreign extremists deafen the ears of those who continue to suffer, while their desperate cries for help go by unheard. In Syria, there are no humanitarian corridors. There is no airport for aid to be delivered to. There are also no safe zones, although Srebrenica proved how little such zones mean in the face of genocidal tyrants. But they’re not there, neither are the peacekeepers, armed or unarmed, nor have there been any air strikes. A no-fly zone in Syria may have lead to Assad’s end by now, though it would not have stopped his genocidal campaign until that point. However, it would have prevented the tens of thousands of deaths and many more injuries, not to mention the extent of the destruction in so many places in such a short time. In Bosnia, a limited amount of arms came through Iran as they have been coming through Saudi and Qatar today, but without making much of a difference. A finally lifted weapons embargo in Syria led to little more than broken promises. There is no sight of even building up towards an intervention that eventually ended the war in Bosnia, and it doesn’t look like this is going to change any time soon. Chemical weapons are the topic, not genocide.
[Gen. Ratko Mladic, before and after]
Mladic was not worried about crossing any lines when he attacked a U.N. safe zone and engaged Dutch-bat in battle, shaming them and showing them the door with a bottle of wine on their way out. Karadzic apparently didn’t worry either when he, after NATO’s escalation against them, continued to stand as the head of a state whose army continued to massacre the people of Sarajevo and elsewhere, and continued to proclaim a “holy” war against his “own” people in Bosnia. But neither of them got away with it, and today they are being tried for their crimes at the Hague. Should Assad worry about such a future? There is little reason for it, when he or his brother Maher crossed the “red line” nothing followed other than for their murderous toys to be taken away, hopefully at least, and at some point. If there is any rationale behind crossing such lines beyond simply the inherent carelessness and ruthlessness that characterizes tyrants, then clearly it was perfectly rational compared to the acts of Mladic and Karadzic. So what if the U.N. was there and caught him red handed, for in his own words, the U.N. is just a game to be played.
[Pres. Radovan Karadzic, before and after]
To Assad, his opponents are all terrorists and traitors who need to be exterminated even if that means destroying the entire country and its population along with it. The Syrian people are facing genocide. At the very least 100 thousand civilians have been massacred, being either indiscriminately or purposefully targeted. Mosques, churches, hospitals, queues in front of bakeries have been bombarded. Entire neighborhoods of cities have been flattened by SCUD missiles and air strikes, schools have been attacked with napalm and indeed chemical weapons. This kind of terror is what the people of Aleppo, Homs and Ghouta are very familiar with. A third of the country’s population has been displaced as a result of all this unimaginable violence. And where the fighter jets, missiles and barrel bombs didn’t go, Assad’s Shabbiha went to murder thousands of innocent men, women and children and make sure that the area was “cleansed” from any Sunni families.
The greatest difference between Bosnia and Syria has been the way in which the world responded to it, the only exception being Russia who has remained consistent. Russian FM Lavrov recently reminded us of how wrong the interventions in Yugoslavia were. Perhaps the Russians were right all along? In terms of their own interests and world view, they were. The Soviet Union’s last war in Afghanistan was with some of the same people that would later end up fighting the Serbs, Russia’s historical allies. Russia would also start the first Chechen war in 1994 and the second one that would include Dagestan in 1999, and here too some of those same people would come to play a role. By then, the U.S. had become involved as well through what took place in Kenya and Sudan, and after 9-11 the world at large became involved in the “war against terror.” And so today, in Syria, the main topics the world is concerned with besides chemical weapons are Al-Qaeda and “Islamic” extremism. Russia’s self-proclaimed fight all along.
It wasn’t the first time then, nor is it the last time now, that crimes are being committed in the name of resistance, religious or otherwise, and standing up for a defenseless population that comes under attack. But when it came to the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, it was only the Serbs, the Greeks and the Russians who found such ways to blame the victim. Iran supported Bosnia at the time, and the West was not yet at war with Al-Qaeda’s terrorism. Most of all, public opinion and those shaping it sympathized with the Bosnian Muslims, their multi-cultural society and Sarajevo as a city. Perhaps it was because of the Winter Olympics that were held there a few years before, or perhaps it was because it was where Archbishop Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serb which started WW1. Perhaps it was because of the opposition to the Orthodox Serbs, Eastern Europe and Russia. Perhaps Islamophobia hadn’t kicked in that badly yet. Perhaps people simply cared, but surely many of those same people don’t care any longer. Whatever the reason, it was a different world back then which somehow wasn’t concerned with the great “Islamic” extremist threat that now dominates the Syrian discourse. Blind for it at first, now it has blinded the world for the immense suffering of the Syrian people as they struggle for dignity and freedom.
Bosnia is not remembered by photo’s of Islamic armies or beheadings. Genocide is what the world remembers about Bosnia, footage from Sarajevo and starving Muslims in concentration camps. A just and long overdue intervention is how NATO’s involved has been characterized. And that how it should be remembered, despite of the wrongs that the victims and whoever joined their struggle are responsible for. Those who have struggled in a righteous and justified way do not deserve to be blamed for the crimes of others, for they are never content with them. They did not raise their arms out of evil, but out of necessity. Innocent victims of mass murder do not deserve to be called the result of “atrocities on both sides.” They do not deserve to carry the blame of any politicians or activists who may or may not have taken irresponsible risks, nor are those politicians or activists to be blamed for the injustice that followed. Victims of blackmail are victims, they do not become criminals for not giving in. To be blamed are the tyrants and mass murderers who inflict such suffering upon a people.
On top of all the horror and terror of the Assad regime and its allies, that the Syrian people now have to deal with the likes of Al-Qaeda cannot be denied. It is disastrous, an attempt to hijack the sacrifices of others and use them to further oppress the weak. It is opposed to the revolution, detrimental to it and most of Assad’s fundamental weapon. However, it is not new, it is not particular to Syria, and it can neither dwarf the great tyranny at hand nor can it undermine the cause of the revolution. It wasn’t much different in Bosnia, but people have changed for the worst in their world views.