In his memoirs of the Bosnian war, Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden – which took over the EU presidency on 1 July – has this to say about the Srebrenica massacre:
‘In five days of massacres, Mladic had arranged for the methodical execution of more than three thousand men who had stayed behind and become prisoners of war. And probably more than four thousand people had lost their lives in a week of brutal ambushes and fighting in the forests, by the roadside and in the valleys between Srebrenica and the Tuzla district, as the column was trying to reach safety.’ (Carl Bildt, Peace Journey: The struggle for peace in Bosnia, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1998, p. 66 – all subsequent page references are to Bildt’s book).
The Srebrenica massacre, an act of genocide against the civilian population of Srebrenica that claimed the lives of approximately eight thousand victims, including at least five hundred children under the age of eighteen, has therefore been reduced by Bildt to ‘more than three thousand’, all of them ‘prisoners of war’, while four thousand of the victims are portrayed as battlefield deaths. This would be equivalent to claiming that only two and a quarter million Jewish ‘prisoners of war’ had perished in the Holocaust, while the rest of the six million had been killed in battle.
This was not a casual slip on Bildt’s part. At the time of the Srebrenica massacre, Bildt was the EU’s special envoy to the former Yugoslavia. His massive downplaying of the Serb genocide reflects the EU policy of the time, which was to collaborate with Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and with Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb extremists, and to appease their expansionism. Unlike the US, the EU states staunchly supported the international arms embargo against Bosnia, which prevented the country from defending itself from Serb aggression.
In his memoirs, Bildt’s chapter on July 1995, the month when the Srebrenica massacre occurred, is entitled ‘Success and failure: July 1995′. He believes that when describing his record as EU peace mediator in Bosnia for the period of the Srebrenica massacre, the word ‘success’ should appropriately be put before the word ‘failure’. Some might feel that using the word ‘success’ in relation to EU policy that presided over a genocidal massacre of eight thousand people was just a wee bit inappropriate. But not Bildt, who seems quite proud of his record.
Following the Serb conquest of Srebrenica, Bildt records how he attempted in London on 21 July 1995 to dissuade the Western states from intervening militarily to defend a second Bosnian enclave that was being threatened with a similar fate:
‘[British foreign secretary Malcolm] Rifkind was a little taken aback when I started his day by saying that Gorazde was scarcely threatened, and even if this was the case, I did not believe it could be defended by air strikes. We had to focus on getting the political process going. If we left London with a bombing strategy but without a political strategy, we would almost certainly be faced with even more acts of war and suffering. But sooner or later, we would be forced to return to the political track in any case. Bombing strategies were all very well, but we should not bomb our political opportunities to smithereens.’ (p. 67).
When Serb forces based in Serb-occupied Croatia (so-called ‘Krajina’) attacked the Bihac enclave in north-western Bosnia that same month, threatening to overrun it and enact another massacre on the model of Srebrenica, Croatia – which had signed a military agreement with Bosnia on the 22nd for the defence of Bihac – responded in August with a full-scale military offensive (‘Operation Storm’) against the Krajina area. According to his memoirs, Bildt made no effort whatsoever to deter the Serb attack on Bihac – which he barely acknowledges even occurred – but instead attempted to halt the Croatian counter-offensive. As Bildt records,
‘My public statement was clear: The Croatian offensive against areas inhabited by Serbs must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. This attack is occurring after negotiations have commenced, and when the Serbs are clearly willing to make substantial concessions on both economic and political matters. This will cast a long shadow over Croatia for many years to come. The shelling of the civilian population which is now being reported is particularly serious. It should be recalled that Martic, the ‘president of Krajina’, was charged with war crimes after the Serb rocket attack on Zagreb in May. It is difficult to see any difference between this and the bombardment of Knin, for which President Tudjman must be held responsible.‘ (p. 75).
In other words, the same Bildt who had made no such threat against the leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs when they were attacking Srebrenica, nor when they attacked Bihac, was now threatening the Croatian president with a war-crimes indictment for launching a counter-offensive against the Serb forces; a counter-offensive made, moreover, on the basis of an agreement with Bosnia-Hercegovina’s legitimate government for the purposes of defending part of its population from conquest and genocide. Bildt described the Serb-occupied areas of Croatia – defined as ’occupied’ by the UN General Assembly – as ‘areas inhabited by Serbs’, forgetting that these areas had had a substantial Croat population before being ethnically cleansed by the Serb forces in 1991. He found it ‘difficult to see any difference’ between the Krajina Serb extremists’ wholly gratuitous act of civilian terrorism against Zagreb’s civilians in May 1995 and the legitimate Croatian government’s bombardment of Knin, made in the course of a military offensive against the same Serb extremists who were using Croatia’s territory to attack the territory of a neighbouring state, with the likely aim of perpetrating an act of genocide.
We can compare the way in which Bildt attempted to halt the Croatian offensive against Krajina with the way he had responded to the previous month’s Serb offensive against Srebrenica:
‘I had no way of knowing who was responsible for what was happening around Srebrenica, but it was hard to imagine that Milosevic, at any rate, was unable to influence the course of events. Before going to Geneva that afternoon, I therefore sent a clear letter of warning to Milosevic. There was a clear risk, I wrote, that our talks would be completely overshadowed by what was happening around Srebrenica. The entire situation could take a turn for the worse. If the enclave were attacked and overrun, this would be a very serious provocation which might well lead to an escalation of hostilities throughout much of Bosnia. I thus urged him to do everything in his power to prevent this.’ (p. 56).
So whereas Bildt threatened Tudjman with a war-crimes indictment – a threat he was wholly unauthorised to make – he threatened Milosevic with the possibility that ‘our talks would be completely overshadowed’ !
Bildt goes on to describe how, at the time of Operation Storm, he told the press:
‘I said it was regrettable that the attack meant that Croatia had chosen war, not peace, and said that I assumed that The Hague Tribunal would examine the question of the shellfire against Knin sooner or later, in the same way that it had considered the question of responsibility for the missile attacks on Zagreb.’ (p. 77).
Bildt did not accuse the Serb leaders who had just conquered Srebrenica and Zepa, and who were now trying to conquer Bihac, of ‘choosing war, not peace’; nor did he threaten them with indictment for war crimes. Rather, his threats were directed solely against Croatia. He ends his chapter on the Croatian offensive against Krajina with the following complaint:
‘For me, the conclusion from Srebrenica was not that we should blind ourselves to atrocities committed by others, but that we had to react strongly and clearly against all atrocities. In November 1995, The Hague Tribunal indicted Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic for war crimes committed in and around Srebrenica. However, as this book goes to print, the Tribunal has so far not considered anyone responsible for the massive and brutal ethnic cleansing of the Krajinas in August 1995.’ (p. 80)
Bildt, in pointing out that the Hague Tribunal indicted Karadzic and Mladic over Srebrenica, omits to mention that he did not call for such indictments at the time, in contrast to his call for an indictment against Tudjman over Operation Storm – and this despite his claim that his ’conclusion from Srebrenica’ was that ‘we had to react strongly and clearly against all atrocities’. He does not complain that ‘as this book goes to print’, neither Milosevic or anyone else from Serbia’s leadership had been indicted for conquering and ethnically cleansing the Krajina region of Croatia in the first place.
Bildt was, in other words, an arch-appeaser, who actively opposed every attempt to resist the Serb forces militarily, whether by the international community or by Croatia. He denies over half the Srebrenica massacre, and describes its child and other civilian victims as having been ‘prisoners of war’. He describes the month in which the Srebrenica massacre occurred as a month of ‘success and failure’. Following the fall of Srebrenica, he attempted to block NATO air-strikes to defend Gorazde. He tried to deter the Croatian offensive against Krajina by threatening Tudjman, but made no equivalent threat to deter the Serb assault on Srebrenica. He called for Tudjman to be indicted for war-crimes, but not for Karadzic, Mladic or Milosevic to be indicted. He complained in 1998 that Tudjman had not been indicted, but he did not complain that Milosevic had not been indicted.
Some things never change. On behalf of Sweden’s EU presidency, Bildt has claimed that ‘Serbia is fully cooperating with the Hague Tribunal’. He pledged that ‘Sweden would take a pragmatic stand on the Kosovo issue, taking into account the fact that several EU member-states had not recognized the independence of Kosovo.’ Also: ‘We want to liberalize the visa regime with Serbia, but not Kosovo, as a dialogue on visa liberalization is being conducted with Serbia, not Kosovo’.
In other words, Bildt is saying that the policy of Sweden’s EU presidency will be: ‘Stuff Mladic’s Bosniak victims. Stuff the relatives of the people killed by him at Srebrenica, who still want him brought to justice. Stuff Kosovo and its people. I’m going to go on appeasing Belgrade, just as I did in 1995.’
No doubt, with Sweden at the helm of the EU, we can look forward to another glorious episode in the illustrious history of this heroic institution.
Update: Owen Beith has pointed out to me that Bildt’s Srebrenica revisionism is actually worse than I originally indicated: not only has he reduced the number of Srebrenica massacre victims to ‘more than three thousand’, but he describes them all as having been ‘prisoners of war’; i.e. captured soldiers. In fact, the Srebrenica massacre was perpetrated against the Bosniak civilian population in general, not simply against captured soldiers, and those killed included at least five hundred children under the age of eighteen. This post has been updated accordingly.
Update no 2.: Daniel of the Srebrenica Genocide Blog has posted a refutation of Bildt’s Srebrenica revisionism in full, which I strongly recommend reading.
This is a guest post by Dusty Dragicevic
Given what happened in Bosnia during the war, how it was widely reported on throughout its duration and how the history of Bosnia became a hot topic of debate and discussion, one wonders how a so-called respectable news agency like the BBC can still get it so excruciatingly wrong.
Browsing through the BBC News website, I came across an article which reported on the reburial of almost 500 Bosniak Srebrenica massacre victims who have recently been identified through forensic and DNA analysis. The (un-named) journalist, who wrote this article, dropped a clanger right in the final passage of the text. The anonymous journalist writes:
‘The Bosniak people, most of whom are Muslims, first settled in Bosnia in the Middle Ages’
The fact that this remark was thrown in at the end of the article is mind boggling. How the BBC, being the respected news organisation that it prides itself on being, can display such historical ignorance towards Bosnia and towards the Bosniak people is beyond comprehension. Those who even know the most minimal amount about Bosnia’s history know that the Muslim population of Bosnia is indigenous to the country and comprises a Slavic people, just like Slovenes, Macedonians, Croats & Serbs.
Such a comment could be expected to cross the teeth of any representative of the Serbian Radical Party or any other Serbian mainstream nationalist political party for that matter, that treats the Muslim population of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia (Sandzak) & Kosova as an alien presence. An uninformed reader might draw conclusions, from such a comment, that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a xenophobic act carried out by an indigenous Serbian population against a Muslim invader, rather than a planned political program of genocide engineered by a government in the capital city of a neighbouring country, which it was.
Any journalist would only have to reach for a copy of Noel Malcolm’s book Bosnia: A Short History, or even the Encyclopedia Britannica, for basic facts on Bosnia’s Muslim heritage. One would think that the BBC would have an abundance of information on Bosnia-Hercegovina given that two of their journalists, Allan Little & Laura Silber, published the definitive book Death of Yugoslavia. The fact that the BBC can write a comment like that today as a fact, when it is incorrect and mirrors Serbian hate-propaganda from the 1990s, is disappointing.
Marko Attila Hoare comments: To state, in an article about the Srebrenica massacre, that ’The Bosniak people, most of whom are Muslims, first settled in Bosnia in the Middle Ages’, would be equivalent to stating, in an article about the 7 July 2005 terrorist bombings in Britain, that ‘The English people, most of whom are Christians, first settled in England in the Middle Ages’. That is, it is both factually untrue and an inane non sequitur. The Bosniak people is descended from a mixture of the pre-Slavic population of the region; from the Slavs who settled there during the early Middle Ages; and from others who have settled there over the centuries since. Although the arrival of the Slavs in the early Middle Ages resulted in the Slavicisation of the language spoken by the population of what is today Bosnia-Hercegovina, this language inherited many words and place-names from the pre-Slavic, Illyro-Roman period. Modern genetic research emphasises the heterogeneous origins of the Balkan peoples, and the fact that there is no ready correlation between language spoken and genetic background. Thus, in genetic terms, the non-Slavic-speaking populations of Albania and Greece are more genetically Slavic than the populations of Slavic-speaking Bulgaria and Macedonia.
As Dusty says, for a BBC report to single out – inaccurately – the Muslim population of Bosnia as having ‘settled’ in the area during the Middle Ages is highly unfortunate.
Nebojsa Malic, the increasingly bitter and paranoid Balkans affairs columnist at Antiwar.com, has a post on his blog, accusing me of having written an anonymous ‘character assassination’ of him, which was published by Palluxo [see below]. Why exactly he considers the article in question a ‘character assassination’ is unclear, since he does not seem to dispute almost any of the points it makes. For example, the article accuses Malic of being a denier of the Srebrenica genocide, which is something to which he readily admits. The article lists various factual errors that Malic has made in his writings about Srebrenica; Malic does not attempt to challenge any part of this refutation. And so on.
For the record, I did not write the article in question. If I had wanted to write an article exposing Malic’s genocide-denial and poor grasp of history, I would have done so under my own name, after which Palluxo or anyone else would have been free to republish it.
Having said that, I must confess that I have recently been tempted to write a post about Malic, after reading this absolute gem that he penned a couple of months ago, about the Skull Tower of Nis. I strongly recommend reading the whole post, but for those who understandably can’t be bothered, Malic begins:
If there was just one thing I could show someone seeking to understand the Serbs, I would take them to a hill northeast of Niš (Ниш), and show them the Skull Tower.
Though Serbian medieval statehood was mortally wounded in the battle of Kosovo (1389), its last embers were smothered in 1459, as the conquering Ottoman Turks swept into Europe again following their conquest of Constantinople. For the next three centuries, Serbs lived under the Ottoman yoke. Some converted to save their lives and property. Some sough refuge in remote areas, or the Austrian and Hungarian borderlands. Others trudged on, bowed but not broken, all the while hoping for freedom.
And he concludes:
Today, their own government tells the Serbs they should value comfort over freedom, material goods over dignity, pleasure over honor. In just the last twenty years, over a million Serbs have been forced from their homes and dispossessed. First forced into Communist-imposed borders, Serbia itself is now being partitioned anew, as its province of Kosovo was occupied by NATO in 1999 and declared an “independent” Albanian state in 2008. The very real suffering of Serbs in Ottoman times, during two German occupations in the 20th century, and in the wars of the 1990s, is routinely dismissed or minimized, even as Serbs are accused of committing wholly fabricated “genocides” against their neighbors, who somehow always happened to serve the conquering outsiders.
The Skull Tower is not just a reminder of the steep but necessary price of freedom. It is also a monument to the brutality of the supposedly “tolerant” and “multicultural” Ottoman Empire, and the horrific institution of devşirme that produced psychopaths like Hurshid Ahmed Pasha.
Those who seek to conquer the Serbs ought to take a long, hard look at this monument. The Turks once believed their dominion would last forever. But in 1815 another uprising began. By 1830, Serbia was an autonomous principality. In 1878 it was recognized as independent. And in 1912, the Ottoman Empire was chased out of the Balkans at long last.
So long as a people value freedom, they can either prevail or perish, but can never be conquered.
For anyone with an appreciation for the comic side of Serb nationalism, it really doesn’t get any better than this. To criticise this masterpiece would be - as Punch said in relation to P.G. Wodehouse – like taking a spade to a souffle, and I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to be accused of being anti-Serb; for all I know, there may be Croats who get equally dewy-eyed when writing about the statue of Ban Jelacic in Zagreb’s central square, and Britons who get that way when writing about Nelson’s Column (‘If there was just one thing I could show someone seeking to understand the British, I would take them to a square in the middle of London, and show them Nelson’s Column. Or possibly the London Dungeon.’).
Still, I do find Malic’s abandonment of any lingering pretense at a libertarian anti-war philosophy, and retreat into outright romantic-nationalist narcissism and historical-mythological escapism, truly bizarre.
As for who really wrote the Palluxo article - Nebojsa could always adopt the traditional strategy of blaming it on the Vatican. Or possibly the Germans.
Update: Just in case anyone reading Malic’s post about the Skull Tower still does not appreciate the full extent of his intellectual and philosophical sophistication, I’d recommend the following post, in which he cites the blogger Vox Day‘s observation that ‘ far too many people go mad with tiny and insignificant bits of power over others to believe that anyone should be trusted with great amounts of it.’
Malic comments: ‘Don’t believe him? Watch The Return of the King, or better yet, read The Lord of the Rings yourself. If that doesn’t demonstrate beyond any doubt that a desire for power drives everyone to evil, nothing Vox or any other libertarian (myself included) can say will probably register.’
Hat tip: Doug Muir of A Fistful of Euros.
Update 2: Since the publication of this article, the Palluxo website has closed down; Palluxo’s article about Malic is however still available at the Srebrenica Genocide Blog, to which my article now links.
I recently criticised Harry’s Place over its comments moderation policy. The occasion was a post by David T of Harry’s Place, defending the latter from an attack on it by Lindsey German of ‘Stop the War Coalition’. German described Harry’s Place as ‘a disgusting kind of blog which is very very much against Muslims’. David responded that ‘it is highly defamatory to those of us who run Harry’s Place to claim that we are “against Muslims”. That is a pretty outrageous lie.’ He went on to define Harry’s Place’s position as follows: ‘It is true that Harry’s Place has been highly critical of named Islamist and jihadist groups and their extreme Left enablers. We have, however, always been strongly supportive of the rights of all people, irrespective of their ethnicity, culture and religion.’
I posted the following comment in response to David’s post:
German’s accusation is totally unjustified, and you have every right to resent it. She – like many extremists on both sides – can’t tell the difference between being anti-Islamist and being anti-Muslim. HP’s regular posters are invariably enlightened and distinguish carefully between the two.
Having said that, the comments boxes here are frequently flooded by extremely nasty bigots who really do hate all Muslims. Their visceral expressions of chauvinistic hatred all too frequently seem to become the dominant theme in any discussion here. And to be honest, I think you’re far, far too reticent about tackling them. It allows people like German and Will Rubbish to claim you secretly agree with them.
Bob Pitt of Islamophobia Watch, a long-standing opponent of Harry’s Place who takes an almost diametrically opposed position on matters relating to Islamism, then quoted my criticism and commented on it at some length.
Before I respond to Pitt specifically, I should say a few words about the matter that is at issue here.
I consider Harry’s Place’s regular bloggers to be friends and comrades. In particular, I feel that David T and I are engaged in essentially parallel enterprises. As those familiar with my work know, I am a historian specialising on the former Yugoslavia who has devoted considerable effort to exposing and refuting the propaganda and disinformation put about by the supporters of Serb fascism and the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic. In particular, I have tackled the edifice of lies about the former-Yugoslav conflict erected by left-wing authors in the West who support or apologise for Serb fascism: their denial of Serb atrocities; their attempts to blame the war on various ‘Western imperialist’ conspiracies; their demonisation of the victims and opponents of Serb fascism, including its Serb victims and opponents; etc.
Similarly, David is an expert on Islamic extremism and in particular on its British exponents and apologists, and he has devoted considerable effort to exposing and refuting their propaganda and disinformation. He has tackled the edifice of lies about Islamism, Islamist terrorism and repressive regimes in Muslim countries erected by their left-wing, ‘anti-imperialist’ apologists in the West. Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes both the Serb fascists that I tackle and the Islamic fascists that David and Harry’s Place tackle is that they both have well established networks of Western, particularly Western left-wing, apologists and supporters. In fact, the two groups often share the same such apologists and supporters – groups such as Britain’s Socialist Workers Party, to which Lindsey German belongs; or Ramsey Clark’s International Action Centre in the US.
In other words, David T and the Harry’s Place bloggers and I are anti-fascists engaged in essentially the same anti-fascist project. However, one of the ways in which our opponents try to discredit us is by smearing us, respectively, as ‘Islamophobic’ or as ‘anti-Serb’. Yet, such smears stand the truth on its head. The Harry’s Place bloggers devote a lot of time to writing in support of Muslim victims of oppression and injustice; and of progressive groups and individuals in Muslim countries. They frequently write posts directed against non-Muslim fascists and bigots, such as the white-racist BNP as well as Jewish and US Christian extremists. Similarly, I devote a lot of time on my blog, Greater Surbiton, to writing in support of Serb democrats and anti-fascists. I frequently write posts directed against Croat, Turkish, Greek, white British, Islamic and other fascists and bigots. Some opponents will nevertheless try to insinuate anti-Muslim/Serb bias on our part by asking, ‘Ah, but why do you concentrate so much on those particular groups of bad guys ? Why don’t you focus more on other groups of bad guys ?’ They should ask themselves why such huge edifices of lies have been constructed by left-wing apologists for both Islamic and Serb fascism that some of us have to spend so much time demolishing them.
To determine if someone is a principled opponent of Islamic/Serb fascism or an anti-Muslim/Serb bigot, you need to ask the following questions: Does the individual in question support Muslim/Serb anti-fascists and democrats, or do they equate all Muslims/Serbs with fascism ? Do they claim that Muslim/Serb fascism is simply the counterpart of the fascism produced by other groups, or do they claim that Muslims/Serbs have a unique propensity toward fascism ? In sum, are they attacking Muslim/Serb fascists because they are fascists, or because they are Muslims/Serbs ?
David T, Harry’s Place and I pass the test, and this is the point I made in my comment about Lindsey German, quoted above. To repeat, I wrote:
German’s accusation is totally unjustified, and you have every right to resent it. She – like many extremists on both sides – can’t tell the difference between being anti-Islamist and being anti-Muslim. HP’s regular posters are invariably enlightened and distinguish carefully between the two.
When he quoted me, Bob Pitt left out this, the first part of my comment, which refuted the charge that Harry’s Place is guilty of anti-Muslim bigotry. Had he included these sentences, my comment would have undermined the accusation that Harry’s Place has an anti-Muslim agenda.
The failure of Toube et al to subject these repeated outpourings of hatred to any sort of moderation is certainly a disgrace. But perhaps the more fundamental question Hoare should address is why these Muslim-hating bigots are drawn like flies to Toube’s site in the first place.
This, too, requires some comment.
Where I strongly disagree with David and with Harry’s Place is not over politics, but over the question of comments moderation policy. Harry’s Place, broadly speaking, has an open comments policy with very little moderation. The result is, as I pointed out, that ‘the comments boxes here are frequently flooded by extremely nasty bigots who really do hate all Muslims. Their visceral expressions of chauvinistic hatred all too frequently seem to become the dominant theme in any discussion here.’
The reason why, to use Pitt’s phrase, ‘these Muslim-hating bigots are drawn like flies to Toube’s site in the first place’, is not that Harry’s Place is sympathetic to them, but because they are taking advantage of a widely-read blog that posts on issues relating to Islam and Islamism, and that has an almost entirely open comments policy. The problem is not, therefore, with Harry’s Place’s politics, but with its comments moderation policy. But it is unfair to single out Harry’s Place in this regard, when this is a general problem intrinsic to blogs that have open comments policies. For example, plenty of extremely nasty, bigoted and abusive individuals – anti-Semites and others – turn up to comment on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site, without having their comments deleted. But it does not follow from this that The Guardian is anti-Semitic; merely that its comments moderation policy is too lax.
I believe that when faced with the problem of bigoted or abusive individuals flooding your blog, you should do one of two things: either simply delete their comments ruthlessly and restrict the discussion to civilised people, or systematically take them apart. Otherwise, you are essentially providing a forum in which such individuals can promote their hate-propaganda to a wide audience. However, the first of these options leaves you open to the charge of being undemocratic, while the second is extremely time consuming (Personally, I simply am not willing to devote the time that would be needed to respond to comments on my blog – blogging is an extremely time-consuming activity as it is – which is one of the reasons why I don’t have comments at all. I don’t mind if I am consequently accused of being undemocratic. But this is not an option for a much larger blog such as Harry’s Place, which is intended to be a discussion forum).
I believe that, given the scale of Harry’s Place, its bloggers – who need to work and eat – can’t reasonably be expected to spend their lives fighting with the bigots, over and over again. But I believe that the need to prevent bigots and malicious individuals in general from hijacking a blog and using it to promote hatred against an ethnic or religious minority should outweigh any abstract belief in the principle of open comments.
The purpose of a discussion on a political blog such as Harry’s Place should be to enlighten and inform its participants and readers. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained from anti-fascists and bigots slugging it out, again and again, over the question of ‘are all Muslims evil ?’ A minimum of common values needs to be held by participants in a discussion for the discussion to be meaningful. I believe there is no point in talking to people who do not support rights for, or who are hostile to, entire categories of people – as defined by ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. I would favour excluding such people from discussions at Harry’s Place.
(NB Anti-Muslim bigotry is NOT to be confused with criticising Islam as a religion or opposing special privileges for Muslims, both of which are entirely legitimate. The boundaries may not always be clear, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try to draw them).
I would also absolutely ban vulgar or abusive comments or those that defame individuals. As things stand, open comments policies – combined with the sense of impunity resulting from the cult of blogging anonymity – are gradually turning public discussion into a sewer.
Having said all this, I understand not just the Harry’s Place support for the principle of open comments, but also what Harry’s Place is reacting against. Harry’s Place is reacting against a left-liberal culture that seeks to apologise for, and stifle criticism of, Muslim fascism and reaction; that justifies Islamist terrorism as a somehow understandable response of Muslims to ‘Western imperialism’ or ‘Zionism’; that solidarises with repressive Muslim regimes in Iran and elsewhere on an anti-imperialist basis, rather than with their progressive domestic opponents; that seeks to restrict freedom of speech in order to suppress criticism of Islam that might ’offend’ Muslims. It is reacting against liberal moral relativists who seek to stifle protests in the West at sexism, misogyny and homophobia among Muslims on the grounds that such protest is ‘racist’. It is reacting against a creeping anti-Semitism that masquerades as ‘anti-Zionism’.
Harry’s Place has broken the left-liberal taboo about criticising Muslim fascism and bigotry. It is in this context of taboo-breaking that it has, in my opinion, opened the door too wide, and provided a forum in which not only can Muslim fascism and bigotry be scrutinised and condemned, but anti-Muslim bigots can turn up and spew hatred against Muslims in general.
There is no point in criticising Harry’s Place unless you recognise that this taboo needed to be broken. Unfortunately, Islamophobia Watch devotes a lot of effort to precisely the sort of moral-relativist exercises that Harry’s Place is legitimately reacting against: repeated, uncritical defences of the anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi combined with wholly hostile polemics against genuine progressives and human-rights activists from the Muslim world or Muslim backgrounds, such as Maryam Namazie, Irshad Manji, Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Al-Qaradawi’s and his supporters’ statements about Jews are broadly equivalent to the statements about Muslims made by the anti-Muslim commenters at Harry’s Place that are here under discussion (Some might say: ‘Oh, but we don’t really hate Jews/Muslims; we’re just criticising Zionism/Islam ! And that’s an ideology, isn’t it ?! So it’s ok to attack Zionism/Islam as viciously as possible…’ – yeah, right…). There is a big difference between merely allowing anonymous bigots to post comments on your blog without challenging them, and actually writing whole posts in uncritical defence of a prominent bigot.
Harry’s Place is, in large part, a response to the rise of Islamic fascism and left-liberal appeasement of it. It does some things wrong. But there is no point criticising the form that the solution takes if you yourself constantly contribute to the problem.
Neil Clark describes the Henry Jackson Society, of which I am European Neighbourhood Section Director, as ‘the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, an organisation founded at Peterhouse College Cambridge in 2005 and named after a warmongering US Senator who opposed détente with the Soviet Union.’
It’s not called ‘Peterhouse College’, dear boy; it’s just plain ‘Peterhouse’.
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