Europe’s stain

By Mowahid Hussain Shah

Among the recurring European themes of the post 9/11 era are lectures telling Muslims how to behave. It has become fashionable to lecture. Netherlands has been at the forefront of the lecturing spree.

On July 11 at Johannesburg, when Netherlands was playing Spain for the World Cup Soccer title, thousands of miles away in eastern Bosnia, on the same day, was being marked the 15th anniversary of the genocidal massacre of over 8,000 Muslims by Serb soldiers in the Muslim town of Srebrenica.

The 1995 Srebrenica slaughter was the largest mass murder, as well as the first legally established case of genocide, in Europe since World War II. Significantly, it occurred in a place which had been designated by the UN Security Council as a “safe area which should be free from any armed attack or other hostile act”, under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force. The Security Council directed that Srebrenica be protected using “the necessary measures, including the use of force.” A Dutch battalion operating under the auspices of the UN was assigned the responsibility for protecting Srebrenica and its inhabitants. Rather than safeguarding Srebrenica, the Dutch guardians, under pressure from Serbian forces, fled or stood by while their charges were butchered. The sense of angry humiliation left in the aftermath of the Srebrenica slaughter, and the Western indifference to it, was a key catalyst inflaming radicalism in Europe and beyond.

Srebrenica is not highlighted in the Muslim world because the Muslim elites neither have the pride, nor the drive to do so. And it is equally not highlighted in the Western world, where there is little incentive to illuminate facets of Western “civilisation” which have caused devastation to the lives of Muslim victims, when the constant commotion is about “Islamic” terrorism.

Today, xenophobic politicians in Holland and elsewhere in Europe – under the cover of freedom of expression – indulge in targeted vilification of the Muslim world without examining their own sorry performance. One politician in particular, Geert Wilders, showed his disdain when he wrote and commissioned the making of an unnecessarily provocative and insulting documentary called Fitna, in 2008, with full knowledge that Holland’s bigoted political climate and weak Muslim community would permit Wilders to get away with his attacks. Earlier, a Dutch movie-maker, Theo van Gogh (great-grandson of the brother of the legendary Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh) made a movie which outraged the Dutch Muslim community and led to his being slain on November 2, 2004, in early morning on a public street, by an enraged Dutch-Moroccan.

Seventy years ago, when Holland and much of Europe crumbled before the German blitzkrieg, the Nazis swiftly discovered how quickly many locals became eager collaborators and informers, turning on their own fellow Jewish citizens and neighbours. The famous diary of the 14-year-old girl Anne Frank was written in hiding in Amsterdam and starkly details the atmosphere of terror and treachery.

In Indonesia – where I spent a part of my boyhood – I heard plenty of stories of how the Dutch colonial rulers fled when the Japanese invaded Indonesia in early 1942. After atom bombs pulverised Japan in 1945, the Dutch re-surfaced to regain their colonial control of the mineral rich Indonesia, but then, the Sukarno-led nationalist movement thwarted it.

Obama has termed the massacre at Srebrenica “a stain on our collective consciousness.” Holland will surely bounce back from the temporary setback of its World Cup Soccer Final loss, but the much bigger loss is the stain to its national honour incurred at Srebrenica which may prove more lasting.

The writer is a barrister and a senior political analyst.

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