Some Muslims have a tendency to look at events through rose-tinted spectacles. The Nato bombing campaign against Yugoslavia falls under this category. Legitimate concern for the plight of Muslim Kosovars has led to profuse thanking of the US and European governments for acting to ‘save’ the Kosovars. They are not being saved; the Kosovars are being ‘ethnically cleansed’ from their homeland by the Serbian war-machine. And everything Nato has done so far has escalated their genocide. Even western leaders admit as much.
Typical of Muslim response was the motorcade rally in Chicago in support of US action after Eid al-Adha prayers on March 28. Given US domestic political considerations, this may be a good public relations exercise, as the Serbs have been blowing hot and cold against Nato bombings, holding demonstrations in various cities around the world. In Toronto, the US consulate was even attacked with eggs, tomatoes, and Molotov cocktails. One has yet to hear these Serbian thugs being branded as terrorists. One can imagine the outcry if Muslims had perpetrated such acts of vandalism. The Serbs, of course, are the west’s Christian kith and kin.
The Nato operation against Yugoslavia ù Serbia in essence ù ought to be seen in its broader context. Europe is a patchwork of ethnic groupings scattered all over the continent. Even in such ‘stable’ democracies as Britain, irredentist tendencies by the Scots and Welsh are barely contained. Devolution is the new buzzword to delay, for as long as possible, the break-up of Great Britain. Elsewhere too ù Belgium, Spain, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Macedonia and further afield in Ukraine ù large minorities exist in uneasy relationships with dominant majorities.
Yugoslavia’s slide into anarchy after the demise of communism and disintegration of the Soviet Union was inevitable. Slobodan Milosevic, Hitler’s true successor in Europe, did much to hasten this process. A polyglot of ethnic groupings, Yugoslavia had existed as a buffer between western Europe and the Soviet Union. As long as the fiction of the cold war remained fashionable, this artificial State survived. With US-Soviet rivalry over, Yugoslavia’s usefulness evaporated, at least from the west’s point of view.
Slovenia and Macedonia were allowed to separate without much bloodshed, Catholic Croatia was punished for its war-time alliance with the nazis, but it was in Muslim Bosnia-Hercegovina that Serbian fascism was given a free hand. Not since the second world war had Europe witnessed such bloodletting. Death camps once again appeared in the heart of Europe. The west’s complicity in genocide was confirmed by the arms embargo imposed on Bosnia, preventing it from defending itself, and in letting the Serbian war criminals go scot-free.
In fact, this was not only in line with Europe’s grim record, it had actually been predicted by some Muslim observers. During the Rushdie controversy in the UK, British Muslims were shocked by the hatred for Islam which was revealed below Europe’s civilized veneer. A genuine fear for the future safety of Muslims in Europe arose. It was partly this which led the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui to propose the establishment of of Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. A major part of this body’s objective was to make the British Muslim community strong enough and self-sufficient enough to defend itself against Islamophic attacks on whatever scale.
The possible scale of such attacks was also realized; when Dr Shabbir Akhtar, another British Muslim champion during the Rushdie crisis, said that if gas chambers are ever built in Europe again, they would be for Muslims, not Jews, he clearly foresaw what has since happened in Bosnia. At the time, his comment was greeted with derision. Few would laugh now.
The fact that European states remain unwilling to support Muslim peoples and help them defend themselves from this anti-Muslim hatred indicates tacit approval of the genocides being perpetrated on Muslims. Nato’s current campaign is aimed at preventing Kosova from becoming independent. This much has been made clear to them through the Rambouillet agreement which the Kosovars were forced to sign on March 18. Even though it favoured the Serbs by maintaining the fiction that Kosova belongs to Serbia, the latter rejected it.
Why is the west so keen to prevent Kosova’s independence? Two reasons stand out in particular. First, the Kosovars are overwhelmingly Muslim. Despite their propaganda about tolerance, democracy and other nonsense, the Europeans are extremely intolerant of Muslims in their midst. The plight of Kosova should be a sharp reminder to those Muslims who failed to see the lessons of Bosnia.
Second, the west’s long-term strategy is that the post cold-war configuration in Europe can only be rearranged when it suits their convenience. The separation of the Czechs from Slovaks demonstrates this point. Kosova may yet become independent but the price its people are being asked to pay is horrendous. What Nato is trying to ensure is that if it becomes independent, it will be so traumatized that other ethnic groups with separatist tendencies will think long and hard whether it is worth it.
The Balkan drama has other lessons for Muslims. Europe is the birthplace of fascism, as it is of other destructive political tendencies. With communism as a rival, such tendencies were kept in check. Since the demise of communism, the demons have been unleashed once again. Milosevic is not the only criminal, although he may be the most visible one.
During the genocide in Bosnia, the west was quite happy to deal with Milosevic. Richard Hobrooke, the ‘tough-talking’ US envoy, tells us that he had refused to shake hands with general Ratko Mladic, Serbia’s general in charge of the genocidal campaign in Bosnia. But he had no qualms about embracing Milosevic; nor did the other western leaders who have now declared him a murderer. In fact, on March 23, Holbrooke made one last desperate trip to Belgrade to huddle with Milosevic and plead with him to save Nato’s face. Nor is Milosevic alone in his criminal disregard for Muslim lives. There are plenty of anti-Muslim fascists in Europeùin France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. European Muslims need to be aware of Erurope’s potential for genocide, and to be prepared if and when that potential is realised in their country.
Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1999