26 years ago genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys took place at the doorsteps of Europe. The brutal and systematic killing of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica symbolises the horrors committed against Bosnians during the conflict between 1992-1995. Forced deportation, torture and mass murder by Bosnian Serb forces took place in a bid to create a “Greater Serbia” – a policy known as ethnic cleansing.
An entire generation disappeared 26 years ago because of their faith and identity. Two million people were displaced by the massacres that happened in Bosnia.
The theme for 2021 memorial is ‘Rebuilding Lives’. Genocide is something inexpressible, and incomprehensible. Fresh graves continue to be dug at the memorial cemetery, and in some cases existing graves are re-opened many a times as and when partial remains of bodies are found. The families have not been able to find a closure to their trauma. Many families still continue to search for the truth, and an acknowledgement that a genocide took place in Europe.
I have visited Srebrenica many a times and have felt that death still haunts Srebrenica. But I have also been profoundly inspired how survivors have rebuilt their lives by dealing, on the one hand, with the trauma of losing loved ones and their livelihood, while on the other, living with the reality that the perpetrators of the genocide have not been held to account. The denial of the genocide still continues.
Bosnian genocide denial is also a common theme among the extreme far right in Europe. In Christchurch New Zealand, the terrorist who brutally murdered 50 Muslims a couple of years ago had been listening to a Serbian nationalist song which glorified one of the architects of Srebrenica genocide, Radovan Karadžić.
The ethnic cleansing of Bosnians may have happened 26 years ago but the criminal acts of murderers still continue to stir hatred against Muslims. After the horrendous Holocaust, we said ‘never again’. The world has said ‘never again’ too many times and has stood by and watched genocides play out. Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War could have been stopped if the world had taken a timely and decisive action.
The process of rebuilding lives for those who have experienced hatred and discrimination is one which all of us must play an active part in. standing up against hatred, doing something, no matter how small, really can make a difference. Doing nothing to stop injustices or persecution is not be an option for humanity.
The potential genocide of Rohigyas and the systematic terrorising of Uighurs are examples at hand. There are reports of ‘concentration camps’ where over a million Uyghur and other ethnic minorities are forcibly detained in China. The world must not fail them,as it did 26 years ago.
Time and again we have learnt a genocide does not start with mass murder. It begins when hatred, intolerance and xenophobia are left unchallenged. The genocide of Muslims in Srebrenica is a reminder to every one of us about what humans are capable of doing to other humans when hatred, religious intolerance and extreme nationalism prevail.
The fact that genocide happened in Bosnia, which was seemingly an integrated society, is a stark reminder that it can happen anywhere unless we learn to respect and appreciate our differences. With increasing levels of Islamophobia driving belief in myths about Muslims, we must challenge the normalisation of prejudice and the normalisation of hostility towards Muslims. In post-Brexit Britain, we must remain vigilant against all forms of racism, bigotry and xenophobia.
Remembering Srebrenica memorial week provides us with an opportunity to reflect in our personal, professional and corporate lives to show that those who raise a voice against prejudice, hatred of the other and racism, those who stand up and unite against hatred can make a difference. we must stand up against hatred and prejudice in the hope we don’t experience an atrocity like the genocide of Bosnian Muslims on European soil again.
It has never been so important for people to be empowered to confront hatred in their communities and to build bridges that help create a stronger, better and more cohesive society.
Imam Qari Asim