Monday, 9 June 2014

Victimisers as Victims

Mehdi Hasan and the "New Jews"

The Jewish Museum in Brussels, Begium, where four people,
including an Israeli couple, were murdered on 24 May.
On the 29th of May, Mehdi Hasan published another piece about Islamophobia at the Huffington Post. It came in the wake of alarming gains made by far-right parties in the European elections. As acknowledged by its author, it also came in the wake of a shooting at a Jewish Museum in Brussels in which an Israeli couple and a Belgian woman were shot dead. A fourth victim, critically injured during the shooting, succumbed to his injuries as I was drafting this post.

The only suspect in the shooting, an Islamist jihadi and French national named Mehdi Nemmouche, was not identified and arrested until the day after the publication of Hasan's article. However, similarities to the shooting carried out by Mohammed Merah at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 were already apparent, as was the attack's probable anti-Semitic intent.

Nevertheless, Mehdi Hasan thought that now would be good time to say this:
In some respects, Muslims are the new Jews of Europe. The vile shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on 24 May, in which three people were killed, might make this statement sound odd. Anti-Jewish attacks are indeed on the rise in Europe, which is deplorable and depressing, but thankfully anti-Semitism is now taboo in mainstream political discourse in a way in which Islamophobia isn't. These days, most anti-Semitic attacks are carried out by second-generation Arabs and are linked to anger over Israeli policies.
For whatever it's worth, I do not believe that Mehdi Hasan is himself an Islamist. By which I mean that I have seen no evidence that he wishes his own freedom to be subject to the demands of State-imposed Islamic Law of any kind. That said, he displays a disturbing readiness to endorse Islamist arguments and talking points, the chief function of which is to re-describe the victimisers as victims.

Hasan's reference to the "Jews of Europe" is historically imprecise, but the phrase most immediately evokes the Nuremberg Laws, concentration camps, and gas chambers. In light of Nemmouche's arrest, and the revelation that he is probably a member of the al Qaeda splinter group ISIS, this sounds not merely "odd", but deranged. The qualifier offered by Hasan - that Muslims only resemble the Jews of Europe "in some respects" - is being asked to do more work than history or common sense will allow. The respects in which Muslims living in European democracies today are plainly not like the Jews of pre-war Germany so vastly outweigh the similarities that they invalidate the comparison.

But the real function of this risible meme is not to draw a historically literate comparison but rather to circulate the idea that Muslims have now replaced Jews at the top of a perceived hierarchy of suffering. For if Muslims are the "new Jews", then the Jews' own claim to this perversely coveted title must have, by definition, expired. To use the words "but thankfully anti-Semitism", a mere five days after an anti-Semitic multiple murder, strikes me as unwise. To do so as the basis from which to argue that Muslims have a superior claim to victimhood strikes me as political, a feeling confirmed by Hasan's next observation that attacks on Jews no longer come from the nationalist far-right but from "second generation Arabs and are linked to anger over Israeli policies".

I'm afraid I'm unable to see why being targeted by the Islamist assassins of al Qaeda is an improvement on being targeted by the nationalist far-right. And what exactly is the nature of this mysterious "link" by which Hasan connects the continuing occupation of the West Bank to the murder of two Israeli tourists in Belgium, who - for all Hasan knows - may have hated the Netanyahu government?

In their co-authored book, Myths, Illusions and Peace, the former Middle East negotiator and analyst Dennis Ross and the journalist David Makovsky describe this kind of "linkage" argument as "the mother of all myths" about the Middle East. Having examined the ways in which Arab governments have instrumentalised the conflict in Palestine as a means of pursuing their own political and geopolitical agendas, Makovsky and Ross turn to the matter of terrorism:
[The linkage idea] has also been used as an explanation for terrorism. By anchoring political violence to grievance, terrorist perpetrators sought not only to justify their actions, but to neutralise those who would oppose them.
The authors remind us that, in his earliest fatwas, Osama bin Laden displayed scant interest in the Palestinian conflict. He was instead preoccupied with forcing the removal of "crusader" (ie: American) soldiers from sacred Saudi Arabian soil, with toppling the illegitimate Saudi monarchy, and with re-establishing the Holy Islamic Caliphate under a particularly austere and cruel reading of Sharia Law. But...
. . . after 9/11, bin Laden discovered the utility of the Palestinian issue. Suddenly, he began more openly trying to tie his actions to the cause of the Palestinians. In one videotaped message after 9/11, he declared, "Neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine."
As Ross and Makovsky point out, if this ex post facto rationale for the premeditated murder of almost 3000 people is to be believed, it must be reconciled with the knowledge that the 9/11 atrocity was being planned as talks to resolve the conflict in the Middle East were ongoing. Besides which, al Qaeda's broader revolutionary agenda includes a non-negotiable rejection of a Jewish State on Muslim land in any form. It defies plausibility that, had a conflict-ending agreement been signed at Camp David in July 2000, the mission would have been called off. Nonetheless, the idea persists that the conflict in Palestine is responsible, at least in part, for Islamist terror directed at diaspora Jews.

It remains to be seen whether or not Mehdi Nemmouche, the alleged Brussels assassin, decides to invoke the suffering of Palestine in his own defence. But during the siege following the shootings in Toulouse and Montauban in 2012, the assailant Muhamad Merah, also a self-described member of al Qaeda, let it be known that he had shot 3 Jewish children and a rabbi dead in order to avenge "Palestinian children".

The French Party of the Indigenous of the Republic [PIR] (about which I have written previously) responded by releasing a statement, which read in part:
We also feel anger and bitterness at the act of a young man claiming to support the cause of Palestinians and Afghanis. His act distorts the goals of these just causes, muddies the message and reinforces the side he claims to oppose . . . However, it would be wrong to believe that Mohamed Merah’s vengeful fantasies came out of nowhere. The terrible violence that he displayed this week was fed for years by the cold reason of the murderous wars being led by major powers in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere with the support of the Israeli state. How could we not predict that all this would lead one day to violent actions in which Jewish French people, constantly linked by French propaganda to Zionism, would be the target? . . . How could the possibility of the growing Islamophobia expressed ad nauseam, and becoming a major electoral refrain this year, moving some members of violent sects to action be ignored? Such a political-ideological context could not be ignored.
Mehdi Hasan would, I think, struggle to disagree with any part of this sophistical attempt to reclothe a murderer of Jewish children in the rags of political martyrdom. After all, the same two mitigating elements deployed by Hasan post-Brussels are present and correct here: injustice in Palestine and Islamophobia at home.

Unexamined "root cause" arguments for Islamic terror are highly expedient to Islamists who target civilians - they provide a comprehensible explanation for apparently arbitrary acts of savagery; they help disguise Islamism's supremacist agenda beneath a counter-narrative in which Islamists cast themselves as history's most abject victims; and they shift the focus - and ideally the blame - from the assassins themselves onto the policies to which they object.

And they are, of course, also highly convenient to mainstream commentators like Mehdi Hasan, and the broadsheet Left's perverse Noam Chomsky tendency, since they add ballast to their own anti-war arguments. But what makes "root causism" dangerous is that it encourages the idea that democracies are to blame for the political violence committed against their citizens, and that foreign and domestic policy must therefore be altered to meet terrorist demands. This is what's also known as appeasement.

Mehdi Hasan's defenders will object most strenuously (they always do) that he has spoken out about what he called the "dirty little secret" of Muslim anti-Semitism, and that he received considerable abuse from his co-religionists in general, and Islamists in particular, for his trouble.

Indeed he has, and indeed he did. And returning to his 2012 article on the subject today, it should be noted that some of the language he used to describe the problem remains striking and emphatic:
It is sheer hypocrisy for Muslims to complain of Islamophobia in every nook and cranny of British public life, to denounce the newspapers for running Muslim-baiting headlines, and yet ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard.
Upon publication, Hasan's courage in addressing this taboo topic was applauded by many unaccustomed to agreeing with him (including me). However, what's odd about the piece on reflection is the absence of analysis. Having publicly identified the problem and listed a handful of anecdotal examples, Hasan neglects to explore it:
The truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected members of the British Muslim community, both young and old. No, the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict hasn’t helped matters. But this goes beyond the Middle East. How else to explain why British Pakistanis are so often the most ardent advocates of anti-Semitic conspiracies, even though there are so few Jews living in Pakistan?
It is interesting to note that in 2014 Hasan argues that European anti-Semitism is largely the product of "Arab anger at Israeli policies". But in his piece about Muslim anti-Semitism a year earlier he had argued that the Middle East was a subordinate factor - something that "hasn't helped" but which does not, by itself, explain the conspiratorial Jew hatred which he tells us is "rampant" in Muslim communities. He was closer to the truth the first time around. But as for "how else" to account for this poisonous phenomenon, no answer if forthcoming. Having opened his inquiry, Hasan abruptly abandons it when its conclusions threaten to become toxic.

One of the difficulties faced by Hasan and the 'anti-Imperialist' Left in combatting Islamist propagandising on terrorism and Israel is that their anti-Westernism and anti-Zionism predispose them to agree with most of it. And, having become comfortable endorsing Islamist narratives regarding foreign policy and the Middle East, they find themselves more at ease defending their new allies in the increasingly bitter disputes over multiculturalism, and what has become known as "non-violent extremism".

Hasan's lamentable response to the row between the Home Office and the Department of Education suggests it is enough to discredit the 'conveyor belt' theory of radicalisation in order to discredit the government's focus on non-violent extremism. Surely, it ought to go without saying that those who advocate the murder of apostates, gays, and Jews, the subjection of women and non-Muslims, and the restoration of medieval hudud punishments present a threat to the welfare of others, irrespective of whether or not they have foresworn terrorism as a means of achieving these regressive goals.

But when Islamist organisations seeking to impose their beliefs on secular space and discourse meet with resistance from liberals and secularists of all kinds, it is by the Islamists' side that Mehdi Hasan tends to stand in solidarity:
Social media has emboldened an army of online Islamophobes; in the real world, mosques have been firebombed and politicians line up to condemn Muslim terrorism/clothing/meat/ seating arrangements.
Hasan's juxtaposition of arson committed by criminals with the condemnation of Islamist terrorism by elected politicians is simply bizarre. Would he prefer it if Muslim terrorism were not condemned? Or would he just like to see it tempered by a bit more Western penitence and moral equivocation? And does he really believe that attempts to introduce gender apartheid and discriminatory dress codes into free societies are of no consequence or concern - matters to be euphemised as false quarrels over "clothing" and "seating arrangements"?

It seems to me that there's a struggle going on within Islam to which Hasan has been paying insufficient attention. It is one in which embattled reformers could use his solidarity and support. For such people, the spread of religious veiling and gender apartheid are neither benign nor desirable phenomena, but sinister developments to be resisted in the name of secularism, female autonomy and gender equality.

But those Muslims mobilising against Islamism tend not to benefit from Hasan's sympathy. Time after time, most recently during the row over the Jesus and Mo cartoon fiasco, when multicultural controversy erupts, he has reflexively lined up with the reactionary tendency, recycled their mitigating excuses, and rehearsed their diversionary arguments from victimhood.

Perhaps the most galling of these offered in his Huffington Post piece, and one characteristic of the bad faith that informs Hasan's writing on these matters, is his closing invocation of the massacre of over 8000 Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. Hasan wonders aloud if his fears regarding the current climate of Islamophobia are the result of paranoia, before answering his own question as follows:
If only. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys were lined up and shot in the heart of Europe. It was the worst genocide on the continent since the Second World War and was made possible by a far-right campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation. I wish I could believe the mantra of "never again". But these European election results fill me with dread. 
If the Srebrenica genocide typified the Muslim experience in Western Europe, then Hasan's fears would be irrefutable. But it doesn't. On the contrary, not only did NATO (eventually) intervene to halt Serbian-backed VRS atrocities, it deployed 60,000 troops to implement the Dayton Accords, provide humanitarian aid and begin reconstruction. Four years later NATO intervened in the Balkans again, this time to protect the Muslim population of Kosovo and, following the subsequent downfall of the Milosovic regime, it extradited Serbia's former leadership and brought it before the ICTY in the Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

And it did all this over the objections of people like Hasan, whose absolute opposition to the use of Western power requires him to watch the slaughter of even his co-religionists - whether in the Balkans or the Levant - with equanimity. As he remarked in an unpardonably sanctimonious article at the height of the Ukraine crisis:
It is “illegal and illegitimate” for Russia to try to detach Crimea from Ukraine by means of a dodgy referendum, Hague says. Indeed, it is. But was it any less illegal or illegitimate for the west to detach Kosovo from Serbia in 1999 with a 78-day Nato bombing campaign?
A very silly analogy indeed. But notice that once again the victimiser, in this case Serbian nationalism, is recast as victim in the service of anti-Western polemic. Hasan damns the West for its complicity in the mass-murder of over 8000 Muslims on European soil, and then damns it again for preventing a possible re-run of this atrocity in another part of the Balkans just four years later. (Needless to say, he also compares Putin's annexation of Crimea to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, another analogy that could do with further thought.)

Hasan's bitter denunciations of the country in which he lives and for which he affects to feel such pride ("My seven-year-old daughter is counting down the days until she can watch England play in the World Cup" he offers), betray a childish and self-pitying ingratitude.

Contemporary Britain, for all its faults and imperfections, has been good to Mehdi Hasan. It has offered him the opportunity of a world-class education (he's an Oxford graduate) and a successful career as an influential journalist, broadcaster and opinion-former, and it has affording him complete freedom of conscience as a Shia Muslim to believe, profess and worship, something he would not be afforded in many Muslim majority countries. Not only that, but in spite of his constant bleating about 'Islamophobia', polite society has been exceedingly forgiving of his own bigotry, freely expressed when he thought no-one who would mind was listening.

If it is true, as Saif Rahman reported on a recent blogpost, that Hasan has recently been on a trip to America financed by the Islamist front organisation CAIR, then it may be that the "joke" he reports telling his American wife about fleeing Europe's terrifying racism for the States is in fact a signal of his intention to do just that. I'm speculating, of course, but an intelligent and eloquent dissembler like Hasan would prove extremely valuable to CAIR. And I have no doubt they have highly agreeable things to say on the subjects of Israel, American foreign policy, and the desirability of using the term 'Islamophobia' as promiscuously as possible. Were CAIR to offer Hasan a position, and were he to accept, then my assumption at the top of this post that he is not an Islamist would start to look very unsafe indeed.

But there exists another possibility, although I'm dubious about how much faith or patience it deserves. This is that Mehdi Hasan starts to appreciate the scale of the danger posed by Islamism: a homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, chauvinistic, misanthropic, conspiratorial, millenarian, expansionist and totalitarian ideology, of which there is no known 'moderate' strain. What separates al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri from an ostensible democrat like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, or an imam like Yusuf al Qaradawi from an apparently urbane academic like Tariq Ramadan, is not a matter of substance but one of mere strategy. The oppression of millions across the Muslim world already subject to Islamism's punishing rule and pitiless violence cannot simply be waved away with a reference to Palestine or Iraq.

It is not just Islamism that benefits from the excuse-making of people like Mehdi Hasan; when centrists and Leftists fail to confront the threat Islamists present, the xenophobic right and far-right are only too happy to step into the breach. The surge in support for nationalist parties in the European elections, eager to capitalise on fear of and hostility to Islamist designs, is extremely concerning. Reactionary and provincial nationalists are no kind of solution to anything. Armed with their own demagogic and self-pitying grievance agenda, they pose a threat, not just to Muslims, but to everyone.

The answer is not to appease Islamist grassroots activism and violence, or to seek refuge in tribal apologetics or to proceed on the suicidal assumption that the enemy of one's enemy is one's friend. It is to organise against, expose, and marginalise all intolerant, identitarian and totalitarian politics, irrespective of whether its provenance is Islamic or European.


  1. The same article was published in last week's New Statesman. I too was taken aback by it, though I found it quite difficult to put my finger upon exactly why. I suppose the quote about the shootings at the Jewish museum, so easily passed over by Hasan n(or so it seems), was what disturbed me. I also noted the apparent glee with which he quoted Haaretz (for no very obvious reason in terms of the main point of his article), stating: "Some of the far-right parties in Belgium, such as Vlaams Belang, have actually tried to transform their image and hide their anti-Semitic legacy, professing to be friendly to Jews and supportive of Israel."

    So what, exactly? Most far-right parties and individuals remain implacably anti-Semitic and hostile to Israel. Some even express admiration for Islamism. But Mehdi can't resist a little swipe at Israel.

  2. Oh yes, I nearly forgot: Saif Rahman does a good take-down of Mehdi, 'The Great Pretender', here:

  3. Murtaza Hussain9 June 2014 at 14:14

    It’s unfortunate you decided to end your piece by diving directly into the fever swamps of the American far-right by characterizing CAIR as some kind of institutional Al-Qaeda cell and conflating Tariq Ramadan with Ayman Al-Zawahiri but I feel the rest of it is at least worthy of a response.

    While you’re remiss to ignore the fact that there are some similarities between the pre-war hysteria and fear that existed around Jewish communities (including their being a dissembling, supremacist fifth column with plots of imposing atavistic laws on the rest of society) - I agree that when you unpack the circumstances there are material differences. Muslims are not a few steps away from being led to the gas chambers as its stands in Europe today and the comparison right now is certainly overrought.

    Having said that the amount of mutual recrimination, fear and paranoia that often exists between Muslim communities and the broader societies they exist within is still potentially dangerous; particularly in the event of a future economic collapse similar to that which occurred in Europe in the pre-war years. All this negative tension can be actualized one day when the circumstances are right. When people get used to talking and thinking about a particular minority group a certain way it can end badly. To put it another way, Muslims may not be pre-1939 Jews in Europe right now but they’re arguably skating on thin ice; partly due to reasons of their own manufacture and partly not.

    Your quote:

    “I'm afraid I'm unable to see why being targeted by the Islamist assassins of al Qaeda is an improvement on being targeted by the nationalist far-right.”

    Indeed it is little difference to the unfortunate people who are killed (inna lilahi wa inna illahi rajioon) in attacks by vile Al Qaeda terrorists, but there is a slight qualitative difference that unlike the nationalist far-right there’s precisely zero chance that such groups could get elected to power in the country and take control of the violent capabilities of the state. So it is something of an “improvement” in the sense that the danger of mass, state-led repression is nil for Jewish communities, but decidedly not nil for Muslim communities – even if based on present circumstances you’d say its still remote.

    “Nonetheless, the idea persists that the conflict in Palestine is responsible, at least in part, for Islamist terror directed at diaspora Jews.”

    Sorry but there has been a long history of such terrorism (as well as terrorism going the other way) which far predates the events of September 11th. Osama bin Laden was clearly an opportunist who saw the Palestinian cause as a means to further his own quixotic ambitions but there is a huge corpus of other examples one could readily bring up to rebut your claims here. Of course until recent decades such terrorism was perpetrated by leftist groups and not Islamists, but I think you’d agree that’s hardly “an improvement”.

  4. Murtaza Hussain9 June 2014 at 14:15

    Quote re: Bosnia “And it did all this over the objections of people like Hasan,”

    So “people like Hasan” but not “Hasan”. This is a nice rhetorical sleight of hand here, attributing views to him he’s never expressed based on what you think he’d feel. I have views similar to Mehdi and am deeply skeptical of most military intervention, but to me it was clear that this particular one was justified and warranted. Using your logic to infer my beliefs to prove a point (as you’ve done to Mehdi) you’d wrongly attribute me as an opponent and lambast me for my callousness and – most objectionably - my supposed ingratitude to the magnanimous country which has generously decided to rescue me from the Land of Mordor. Needless to say that’s a ridiculous and disingenuous tactic, and as an aside I’ve noticed you have a bad habit of conflating interventions where there is already a war going on (Mali, Libya, Rwanda, Bosnia) with those where there is no such war (Iraq, potentially Iran if many had their way). There is a massive qualitative difference between the two: intervening to stop bloodshed in a situation which has already delved into chaos is not the same as initiating bloodshed and plunging a country into chaos in order to achieve some archaic foreign policy objective.

    Like I said I’m not going to indulge the CAIR arguments or the Ramadan-Erdogan-Zawahiri nexus, frankly I think that’s beneath you, but I will say that Mehdi has a lot of credibility when he calls out anti-Semitism and other social ills within the Muslim community. As a counterpoint Maajid Nawaz, while very intelligent and often very right, sadly suffers from some Julian Assange-like megalomania and arrogance which alienates even people (like I think Mehdi) who would generally otherwise side with him. It’s not a genuine way to effect change if that is what one sincerely wants; attempting to utterly destroy everyone whose politics or beliefs exhibit the slightest variance from your own. While certain people deserve to be called out its possible to go too far and become a truly illiberal “liberal”.


    1. "CAIR arguments or the Ramadan-Erdogan-Zawahiri nexus"

      The FBI won't talk to CAIR on intelligence specifically because of their extremist ties and efforts to prevent terrorism investigations. And yes, Ramadan has the same end-goals as Al-Qaeda (beginning with implementing sharia law - by definition Islamic supremacism) but he does not want to use violence towards those goals.

      So care to elaborate on why 'its beneath Jacob?'

  5. The Srebrenica numbers are cooked and false. They are counting soldiers who died throughout the whole war. For instance when Bosnian Muslim military records have shown the ones they claimed died during the fall were reported as dying months or years earlier, the Muslims simply disavow their own records to manufacture the false number.

    In Srebrenica the Bosnian Muslims had an ENTIRE BRIGADE - the 28th Brigade led by Commander Naser Oric (who is still alive and well living in Tuzla) - and it was ordered off their positions and to walk out of Srebrenica the DAY BEFORE THE FALL.

    Despite that the Brigade was much larger than the Serbian forces around, despite that they were well-armed and entrenched, they were ordered out by their brigade commanders and the UN.

    It was an arranged fall. Most of the army and men arrived in Tuzla on foot a week later - some of the army were sent to other fronts. Any that died on those other fronts would be claimed as a victim of the fall and their remains brought to Srebrenica and buried with big hype, propaganda and fanfare.

    Plus virtually all the Srebrenica dead have turned out to be soldiers, so not civilians, not women and children at all!

    Further, the Srebrenica brigade had carried out a scorched-earth campaign on all the surrounding Serbian villages for years. In a huge radius around Srebrenica, homes had been burnt down and the people killed or chased away by the 28th brigade.

    Commander Naser Oric was even showing video tapes in January 1994 (middle of the war) to foreign reporters visiting in Srebrenica. The videos showed SCENE AFTER SCENE of dead Serbs and Naser Oric grinned as he described how they were killed: by explosives, cold weapons, etc.

    They weren't innocent and the Bosnian Muslims had the largest infantry within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not to mention that Croatia had 40,000 troops fighting in BiH for the whole war - Croatia was not threatened with sanctions nor bombed despite that its army was in Bosnia destroying villages and infrastructure and running torture camps for Serbs (but also for Muslims in a smaller number of cases - especially during the Muslim-Croat war phase of the Bosnian war).

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. You don't seem to understand that this sort of ragbag of the usual quarter-truths and misinformation is past its sell-by date. It doesn't work and it's worse, it's conterproductive - Serbs who were genuine victims get ignored and disbelieved because they're lumped in with the propagandists and the war criminal defense teams.

      I can't be bothered wading through the gutter of your lies again, so I'll only deal with a few of your allegations:

      1. "Further, the Srebrenica brigade had carried out a scorched-earth campaign on all the surrounding Serbian villages for years. In a huge radius around Srebrenica, homes had been burnt down and the people killed or chased away by the 28th brigade."

      This is, at best, highly misleading. What actually happened is this; at the very beginning of the war in April 1992 the Drina Valley (eastern Bosnia) was attacked by the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army, ‘Special Units’ of the Serbian State Security Service and Ministry of Internal Affairs (in particular Arkan’s Tigers and Šešelj’s Chetniks), Serbian Territorial Defence forces, Serb paramilitary forces, and units of the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb) Ministry of Internal Affairs. The first municipality attacked was on Bijeljina on 1 April 1992 by ‘Special Units’ of the Serbian State Security Service (Arkan’s Tigers) and local Territorial Defence units, who quickly occupied the town and began a reign of terror against the non-Serb population, killings dozens and turning thousands into refugees within a few days. These offensives expanded with the attacks on Foča on 6 April, Višegrad on 7 April and Zvornik on 8 April. By late April these Serb offensives had conquered essentially the entire Drina Valley, except some small isolated enclaves. These offensives and takeovers, generally (except in the case of Foča) faced insignificant resistance and came hand in hand with a genocidal assault on the Bosniak population in the region, involving a campaign of widespread and systematic massacres, mass rapes and expulsions. This resulted in tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands ethnicly cleansed within 3 months (April-June 1992). More Bosniaks were actually massacred in the Drina valley in 1992 than in 1995 (the year of the Srebrenica massacre).

    3. The case of Srebrenica initially followed the same pattern as other eastern Bosnian towns; on 17 April 1992 the SDS (Serb nationalist party) demanded that the local Muslim police force surrender its weapons as a prelude to a takeover of the town and threatened the Bosniak population to “leave quietly or be killed”. The same day they took over the neighboring municipality of Bratunac and systematically exterminated and expelled the Bosniak population (massacring at least 400-600). Knowing that the Serbs were about to attack the town, the police (unusually) evacuated most of the local population into the surrounding hills, but some refused to leave or were too old or infirm to do so. The next day, on 18 April 1992 Serb paramilitaries attacked Srebrenica and took over the town, carrying out a massacre against the remaining population that had not fled and burning their houses. However, at the beginning of May 1992 Bosniak policemen who had fled into the woods counterattacked, killing the local Serb paramilitary leader, and were able to drive Serb paramilitaries out of Srebrenica and establish the town as a safe haven for refugees fleeing from the genocidal assault occurring against the Bosniak population across the wider Drina Valley. As a result, the town became flooded with refugees, who consisted over over 85% of the population and swelled the population to over 40,000. Serbian forces continued to besiege the enclave, systematically starving the population (leading to hundreds of deaths) and regularly attacked it with artillery and sniper attacks. Under pressure from the starving population, Bosnian army forces, largely drawn from the local MUP and a ragtag group of militias who had formed a ‘war presidency’, launched generally successful counter-attacks against villages in which the Bosnian Serb army was based. These actions primarily took place between June 1992 and March 1993. As a result of these raids, supplies of food were obtained, and weapons were acquired. At the same time, Bosniak defenders neutralized Serb military positions from which forces had shelled Srebrenica, holding it under siege. During most of these raids, groups of civilian refugees known as Torbari (Bag people) who raided food and other supplies followed the Bosnian defenders.

      Your twisted history omits mention of the beginning of the war in the Drina Valley and the genocidal attack on the Bosniak population that this involved, in order to portray the Serbs as innocent victims and to present Bosniak counter-attacks as being isolated acts of aggression coming out of the blue. The military actions of Oric’s forces against neighbouring militarized Serb villages were those of defenders of a beleaguered and besieged enclave whose inhabitants were threatened with starvation, massacre, rape, torture and expulsion already inflicted on other towns all over East Bosnia. That you lay such stress on Oric’s small-scale raids while wholly neglecting to mention the incomparably greater-in-scale Serb offensives and atrocities in the same region that preceded them is distortion of the most blatant kind; really the equivalent of writing about the Van Uprising without bothering to mention the Armenian Genocide, or the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising without mentioning the Holocaust.

    4. 2. "Commander Naser Oric was even showing video tapes in January 1994 (middle of the war) to foreign reporters visiting in Srebrenica. The videos showed SCENE AFTER SCENE of dead Serbs and Naser Oric grinned as he described how they were killed: by explosives, cold weapons, etc."

      This is a reference to an article in the Toronto Star by Bill Schiller on 16 July 1995. The article can be read here (from pro-Milosevic site):

      Leaving aside the fact that nobody else has ever seen these videos, you will notice that nowhere does it mention the killing of civilians. Naser Oric was (quite rightly) attacking militarized Serb targets from which Srebrenica was being shelled, sniped and systematically starved. This is mentioned in the above article by Schiller.

      Of course, what is particularly ironic about this is that one of the major themes of Serbian propaganda is that the media vastly exaggerated or invented Serb atrocities. So when Ed Vulliamy or Maggie O'Kane talk about Serb concentration or rape camps, the above poster will claim it's all lies. Like all good Chomskyites, they view themselves as Wise Men with a unique gift for deciding which newspaper articles represent The Truth and which are simply Imperialist Propaganda. I do not share their genius in this field, so I can only guess how they do it, but it seems that any newspaper article that supports their line represents The Truth, while all those that do not support their line can be dismissed as Imperialist Propaganda; so media reports of Serb wrongdoing are simply propaganda, media reports of Muslim or Croat wrongdoing are to be accepted uncritically at face value.

      "They weren't innocent and the Bosnian Muslims had the largest infantry within Bosnia and Herzegovina."

      This is only true in the later stages of the war. Even then, the balance of military equipment was overwhelmingly skewed in the Serb's favour.

      1. On the Serbian genocidal attack on the Drina Valley at the beginning of the war, see Daniel Toljaga's admittedly partisan but still well sourced Prelude to the Srebrenica Genocide. See also Prosecutor vs Naser Oric (Case number IT-03-68-T) paragraphs 93-109. See also and on this specific argument often used by SDS apologists. Another useful account of these events are Chuck Sudetic Blood and Vengeance : One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia (New York, 1998) pp.99-134, 150-155. The most authoritative and thorough account of these events is Edina Becerevic, Na Drini Genocid (Sarajevo, 2009).

      2. For the details of Naser Oric's attacks, see Prosecutor vs Naser Oric (Case number IT-03-68-T). See also the above mentioned links, and Becerevic, Na Drini Genocid, p. 215. An interesting first hand account is also available in Sudetic Blood and Vengeance, pp. 156-159 and 161-164

  6. Great Article, well said

  7. An excellent analysis, which led me to glance over some of your other writings. Why the "unrepentant Jacobin" label? Your views strike me as those of an "unrepentant Burkean."

  8. Murtaza Hussain said:

    "As a counterpoint Maajid Nawaz, while very intelligent and often very right, sadly suffers from some Julian Assange-like megalomania and arrogance"


    Mehdi Hasan's arrogance and ego is so large it risks ripping open the space time continuum.

    Great article Jacobin!

  9. I'm quite dissapointed to see Mehdi Hasan fall to this level. I defended him even after his comments about 'kuffar' came to light, and from a lot of the crap he took from Richard Dawkins.

    The sort of "route-cause" arguments that Hasan and others use in regard to anti-Semitism, to justify and mitigate it, could just as easily be used in reference to Islamophobia, and indeed often are. It's pretty common to hear in discussions relating to Islamophobia in the West arguments like, "what about Saudi Arabia?". It's just the same sort of apologist sophistry.

    Mehdi Hasan's invocation of the Srebrenica massacre at the end of the article is truly appalling. Leaving aside the historical inaccuracy in trying to conflate the political currents in BiH at the time with Europe today, Mehdi Hasan is on record denouncing the intervention in Kosovo, which brought down Milosevic. Besides what you point out, Mehdi Hasan on twitter also denounced the campaign and came dangerously close to whitewashing Milosevic's atrocities against the Kosovar Albanians. It's the same sort of shameless hypocracy shown by Edward Said; he (righltly) denounced the West for its failure to intervene in Kosovo, but then denounced the intervention in Kosovo, even going as far as to describe Milosevic's atrocities in Kosovo as a "Sunday school picnic" compared to Turkish atrocities against the Kurds.

    I also note in his article about the Ukraine that he expressed no concern whatsoever about the fate of the (mostly Muslim) Crimean Tatars, who have been subject to violence and harassment by the Russian security forces.


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