Dan­ger­ous lies that spread from Auschwitz to Sre­brenica

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Oliver Kamm

THE WORDS “I was wrong” rarely ap­pear un­der jour­nal­ists’ by­lines. But in the Ob­server this week, John Simp­son, the veteran BBC cor­re­spon­dent, ac­knowl­edged that he had been mis­taken about a li­bel trial aris­ing from the Bos­nian war. The 20th an­niver­sary of the most de­struc­tive con­flict in post­war Europe fell this month. In a coun­try the size of Scot­land, al­most 100,000 Bos­ni­ans were killed and two mil­lion were dis­placed. Be­cause all sides suf­fered, ob­servers ar­gued that cul­pa­bil­ity was shared and that its cause was a resur­gence of an­cient eth­nic ha­treds among Serbs, Croats and Mus­lims. That was a fate­ful mis­read­ing. The war was a pre­ventable hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe that was com­pounded by the stance of Western gov­ern­ments.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity lay over­whelm­ingly with the Bos­nian Serbs. Their lead­ers, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, sought to carve out an eth­ni­cally pure ter­ri­tory in a de­ranged, racist scheme for a “Greater Ser­bia”. Their tar­get was the le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment of a multi-eth­nic state. Their Sven­gali was a thug­gish bu­reau­crat and bal­lotrig­ger, Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic.

The crimes of which Karadzic and Mladic now stand ac­cused at The Hague are a cat­a­logue of bar­barism: mass mur­der, eth­nic ex­pul­sion and rape. These in­clude the siege of Sarajevo, which killed more than 10,000, and the geno­cide of 8,000 Mus­lim men and boys at Sre­brenica.

None of this ought to have sur­prised Western pol­i­cy­mak­ers, who main­tained an arms em­bargo that froze in place the mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity of Serb forces. Some brave jour­nal­ists had un­cov­ered ap­palling depre­da­tions early in the con­flict. The Guardian’s Ed Vul­liamy and ITN ’s Penny Mar­shall and Ian Wil­liams ex­posed in­hu­man con­di­tions at the Serb-run con­cen­tra­tion camp at Trnopolje in north­ern Bos­nia. For their pains, they were ac­cused of fab­ri­cat­ing their ev­i­dence.

Hence the li­bel trial, at the High Court in 2000. ITN suc­cess­fully sued LM, a small mag­a­zine. A ros­ter of me­dia fig­ures came to LM’S aid, claim­ing a threat to free speech. Simp­son was one. But in a re­view this week of Vul­liamy’s fine new book, The War is Dead: Long Live the War, he wrote: “Vul­liamy’s ac­count of what hap­pened in the camp is com­pletely unan­swer­able.”

You can say that again. Yet while LM went out of busi­ness un­der the costs of its calum­nious lies, sev­eral of its staff have since at­tained me­dia promi­nence. Mick Hume, its ed­i­tor, was for some years a Times colum­nist.

Dur­ing the war, prom­i­nent Jews did their best to urge a change in Western pol­icy. In a speech at the Holo­caust Mu­seum in Washington, Elie Wiesel turned to Pres­i­dent Clin­ton and im­plored him to pro­tect Bos­nian civil­ians. Af­ter the rev­e­la­tion of the Serb camps, three Amer­i­can Jewish groups lob­bied for “ev­ery nec­es­sary step, in­clud­ing the use of force” to stop the atroc­i­ties. It was not their fault that their words went un­heeded.

Jews have a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in help­ing to en­sure that the hu­man costs of what fol­lowed are ac­cu­rately re­counted. The facts of the geno­ci­dal as­sault on Bos­nia’s Mus­lims are so hor­rific that a cot­tage in­dus­try of de­nial has since grown up. You will find web­sites claim­ing that the num­ber of vic­tims of the Sre­brenica mas­sacre has been ex­ag­ger­ated, and that those who died were killed in combat. This ma­te­rial is not just the equiv­a­lent of Holo­caust de­nial, but the same fraud­u­lent ar­gu­ment. It should be recog­nised and named for what it is: geno­cide de­nial

Vul­liamy cites two far-left polemi­cists; Ed­ward Her­man and David Peter­son. Their con­temptible vol­ume, The Pol­i­tics of Geno­cide, claims that Western me­dia swal­low a pro­pa­ganda line about Sre­brenica and Rwanda. It has a fore­word by Noam Chom­sky and an en­dorse­ment by John Pil­ger.

Such ar­gu­ments have an echo on the na­tivist Right, in­clud­ing some who in­sin­u­ate them­selves as friends of Is­rael. The Jerusalem Post pub­lished a piece in Fe­bru­ary by one Srdja Trifkovic claim­ing that US recog­ni­tion of Kosovo was an ad­vance for ji­hadism. It did not men­tion that Trifkovic has de­scribed Sre­brenica as “a myth based on a lie”, the num­ber of whose vic­tims “re­main[s] un­known and mis­rep­re­sented”.

To para­phrase the late Christopher Hitchens: it’s im­pos­si­ble to eat enough in or­der to vomit enough on read­ing such ma­te­rial. The Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions of Bos­nia and Kosovo bear as much re­la­tion to al-qaeda as the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury does to the snake-han­dling sects of Ap­palachia. Milo­se­vic’s vic­tims should be re­mem­bered. The truth about their fate should be de­fended.

Oliver Kamm is a leader writer for The Times

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.