The Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik appears very interested in the Balkans. A lot of space in his ponderous 1,518-page ‘manifesto’ is devoted to discussing Balkan themes. This is not limited merely to praising Radovan Karadzic (‘for his efforts to rid Serbia of Islam he will always be remembered as an honourable Crusader and a European war hero’), supporting the past Serb ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Albanians, condemning Kosovo’s independence and demanding that all Bosniaks and Muslim Albanians be deported from Europe (while the Muslim Turkish populations of Cyprus and western Anatolia are to be deported to central Anatolia). It involves also lengthy ruminations on hundreds of years of Ottoman and Turkish history, in which Breivik demonises all aspects of the Ottoman heritage.
Some commentators have argued that this psychopathic mass-murderer represents such an exceptional case that his actual beliefs are irrelevant to understanding his actions. According to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, ‘The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics.’ As a rule, Jenkins is absolutely wrong about everything, and this is no exception. Breivik represents the exemplar of an extremely dangerous trend in Western and European politics, and his interest in the Balkans – or rather, in his own mythologised narrative of Balkan history – flows naturally from this.
Breivik’s actions are exceptional, but his views are not. His views on Islam and on immigration are in some important respects typical of the right-wing Islamophobic current, some of whose prominent members and groups he cites or sympathises with in his manifesto: Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Srdja Trifkovic, Mark Steyn, the English Defence League (EDL) and others. He sees immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, coupled with liberal multiculturalism and political correctness, as a mortal threat to European or Western society. Such views are often justified by their holders as being ‘pro-Western’, whereby ‘the West’ is counterposed to ‘Islam’, as if the two were binary opposites. In reality, the very opposite is true: modern European civilisation was built upon foundations that were Islamic as well as Christian, Jewish, pagan and others. The Enlightenment gave rise to a Europe in which the sectarian religious animosities that characterised the pre-Enlightenment age could be transcended; modern Western liberal and secular values are founded upon the principle of religious toleration.
Far from being ‘pro-Western’; our contemporary right-wing Islamophobes, in seeking to rekindle the religious divide between Christians and Muslims that characterised pre-Enlightenment Europe, reject Western values in favour of pre-Western values. During their successful Vienna War of 1683-1699 against the Ottoman Empire, Austrian Habsburg forces slaughtered, plundered, expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity the Muslim population of the Hungarian and Croatian territories they reconquered, which were forcibly de-Islamised; the Austrians burned the Ottoman Bosnian city of Sarajevo to the ground. The subsequent Ottoman Bosnian victory over Habsburg forces in the Battle of Banja Luka of 1737 saved the Bosnian Muslims from their destruction as a people that an Austrian conquest of Bosnia would have involved. Yet when the Austrian Habsburgs did finally succeed in occupying Sarajevo and Bosnia in 1878, they protected the Muslim population and respected the Islamic religion. Europe, in the interval, had experienced the Enlightenment. It is the pre-Enlightenment Europe to which today’s right-wing Islamophobes look back nostalgically; something symbolised in the name of the anti-Islamic hate-blog, ‘Gates of Vienna’, named after the Ottoman siege of Vienna of 1683 and cited approvingly by Breivik. Hence Breivik’s own obsessive demonising of the Ottoman ‘other’ and its history, all the way back to the Middle Ages.
The right-wing Islamophobes are the mirror-image of the Islamists they claim to oppose. Nineteenth-century opponents of liberal secular values frequently became anti-Semites, seeing the Jews, as they did, as the beneficiaries of these values, to which the Jews owed their emancipation. Today’s Muslim opponents of the Enlightenment have inherited Christian anti-Semitism, whereas the Christian reactionaries have transferred their animosity to a different – Muslim – minority. Apologists blame individuals like Breivik and groups like the EDL and British National Party (BNP) on supposedly ‘objective’ problems of aggressive Islam and immigration that mainstream politicians are supposedly failing to tackle. Just as apologists for Islamism blame it on supposed ‘root causes’ to be found in US imperialism or the behaviour of Israel. Just as earlier apologists for anti-Semitism blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews. The Islamophobes point to Muslim support for Islamic extremism as their anti-Semitic predecessors once pointed to Jewish support for communism. As their Islamist counterparts point to Jewish support for Zionism. And so on.
Such chauvinistic ideologies are not caused by the minority or foreign groups that they target. Undeniably, popular anti-Semitism before World War II tended to be strongest in countries with large, visible Jewish populations, like Poland and Romania, just as popular Islamophobia today is often strongest in West European cities that have experienced large-scale Muslim immigration, but this does not mean that the victims of the bigotry are to blame. Muslim immigration does not automatically give rise to Islamophobia, any more than Zionism automatically gives rise to Muslim anti-Semitism, or ‘US imperialism’ gives rise to Islamist terrorism. Right-wing Islamophobia, Islamism, anti-immigrant racism and modern anti-Semitism are all, in their different ways, expressions of a more general reaction against, and rejection of, modernity and what it implies.
Interestingly, Breivik, who apparently never had a proper girlfriend and lived with his mother until he was thirty, shares Islamism’s extreme misogyny and gender insecurity. His manifesto rails against the ‘feminisation of European culture’ and the supposed emasculation of the contemporary European male, complaining that Muslim immigrants are systematically raping white European women, but that ‘As a Western man, I would be tempted to say that Western women have to some extent brought this upon themselves. They have been waging an ideological, psychological and economic war against European men for several generations now, believing that this would make you “free”… Western women have been subjected to systematic Marxist indoctrination meant to turn you into a weapon of mass destruction against your own civilisation, a strategy that has been remarkably successful.’ But of course, not all Islamophobes are straightforwardly conservative; some oppose Muslims and Islam on the grounds that the latter are sexist and homophobic. Such syntheses of liberalism and illiberalism are nothing new; European fascism and its sympathisers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s had their liberal roots and tendencies too, however paradoxical that might sound (readers are recommended to read Julian Jackson’s excellent France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, that describes the synthesis of liberal, conservative Catholic and radical right-wing currents that found expression in the 1940s Vichy regime in France).
What our contemporary Islamophobes share – conservatives and ‘liberals’ alike – is conformism, xenophobia, fear of change, hostility to diversity, paranoia about minorities and a longing for the order and certainties of a lost, idealised ‘golden age’ that, in some cases, may not even be very long ago. In the Nordic countries, home of the Jante Law, where an apparently model liberalism frequently masks extreme conformism and insularity, where foreign guests and immigrants usually find it very difficult to fit in (in a way that they don’t in London or New York, for example), and where virulent anti-immigration parties such as the Danish People’s Party and Sweden Democrats have enjoyed success at the polls, this takes its own particular form. Far from needing to be shielded from greater diversity, my feeling is that the Nordic world would benefit from more of it; that even if Norway has no pressing economic reason to join the EU, immersion and participation in the common European project would benefit it culturally and spiritually. But for all that, the sickness that created Breivik is a European and global sickness, not just a Nordic sickness.
This brings us back to the Balkans, a region that resembles the Nordic world in the extent of its often stultifying insularity. For all that Serbia appeared to pursue its own sonderweg during the late 1980s and 1990s, at another level, the Serbian nationalist right and anti-democratic left were exemplars and pioneers of what became an all-European anti-immigrant and Islamophobic trend. Serbian nationalist and Communist hardliners railed against the restrictions supposedly placed on Serbia by membership of a multinational community – the Yugoslav federation. They railed against high Muslim and Albanian birth-rates that were resulting in the Serbs being ‘out-bred’, while lamenting the lower birth-rate among Serbs as symptomatic of national decline. They railed against the supposed mass immigration of ethnic Albanians from Albania into Kosovo; against the supposed Kosovo Albanian cultural ‘otherness’ and refusal to assimilate; against Kosovo Albanians allegedly raping Serb women while the authorities stood idly by. They lamented the supposed corruption and decline of their national culture while indulging in medievalist escapism. All these themes have now been taken up by nationalists in other European countries. For example, in Breivik’s words, ‘The Muslims in Bosnian Serbia; the so called Bosniaks and Albanians had waged deliberate demographic warfare (indirect genocide) against Serbs for decades. This type of warfare is one of the most destructive forms of Jihad and is quite similar to what we are experiencing now in Western Europe.’
Andrew Gilligan, writing in the Telegraph, has claimed that the danger posed by far-right (i.e. white, Christian) terrorists like Breivik is simply not on the same order of magnitude as that posed by al-Qaeda: ‘Over the last 10 years, nationalist terrorists, even counting Breivik, have killed about 200 Westerners; al-Qaeda has killed about 4,000… The white Right should not be ignored by the security authorities – but it would be dangerous to divert our attention from the real threat.’ But this is wrong: tens of thousands of Muslims were killed by white Christians in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya in the 1990s. Breivik has praised the killers, both Radovan Karadzic and Vladimir Putin; the numbers of their victims in Europe dwarf those of al Qaeda.
The danger is that Breivik is the harbinger of a trend. Extremism and chauvinism among the majority will always ultimately be more dangerous than extremism and chauvinism among minorities. Right-wing populists such as Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen may not themselves incite violence, and cannot be equated with a killer like Breivik. But the climate of intolerance they are promoting threatens to give rise to many more Breiviks. The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
The justice or injustice of a cause may in large part be measured by the ethics displayed by those who uphold it. The ongoing campaign to whitewash the former regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic and to justify their genocidal crimes against the Bosniaks is about as unworthy a cause as it is possible to imagine; consequently, the people who wage it do so in the most dishonest and malicious manner possible. Their campaign is fundamentally an expression of hatred – for Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians, anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and others who opposed the genocide. So their tactics are of the most hateful kind, involving systematic character assassination and racist and anti-Semitic abuse of those who speak about the genocide and the ideology that gave rise to it.
‘The Jews have had a disproportionate impact’
Most recently, a libellous and racist hate-campaign has been waged by the genocide-deniers - above all, Islamophobic far-right elements in North America - against members of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC), which among other things, campaigns against Bosnia genocide-denial. This campaign has accelerated following the decision last month of the Canadian authorities to deny entry into Canada of Srdja Trifkovic, a man who regularly engages in hate-speech against Islam and Muslims. Trifkovic had been invited by a Serbian students’ organisation at the University of British Columbia to give a speech at one of their meetings, but was barred from Canada because he had been an official of the wartime regime of ‘Republika Srpska’, hence ‘for being a proscribed senior official in the service of a government that, in the opinion of the minister, engages or has engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide, a war crime or a crime against humanity within the meaning of subsections 6 (3) to (5) of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.’
[I had personally written to Professor Stephen J. Toope, President of UBC, urging him to prevent Trifkovic from giving his talk. While I respect the right of genocide deniers to engage in genocide denial, I draw the line at allowing inciters of hatred against ethnic or religious groups to speak at universities, as I consider this an infringement on the rights of staff and students at the universities in question to work and study free from the fear of persecution or harassment. However, it was the Canadian authorities, not the UBC, that ultimately prevented Trifkovic from speaking.]
Supporters of Trifkovic responded to their setback with a campaign of personal defamation directed against members of the IRGC. The anti-Muslim hate-site ‘Gates of Vienna’ denounced the IRGC as ‘Jew-haters’, though without being able to quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by any of its members. This smear was a repeat of one levelled by Trifkovic himself against Professor Emir Ramic, the IRGC’s chairman, on the website of an extreme right-wing organisation, ‘The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, run by former Canadian ambassador James Bissett. Trifkovic accused Ramic of being a ’Jew-hating jihadist’ - again, without being able to produce a single piece of evidence that Ramic was either anti-Semitic, or that he supported jihad [since the articles in question are extremely libellous, I'm not going to link to them].
The basis for the accusation was the claim that Ramic was a member of the editorial board of a Bosnian journal called ‘Korak‘, that has published some viciously anti-Israel articles. The articles in question were, indeed, viciously anti-Israel. But Ramic is not a member of the editorial board of the journal in question, so the accusation is totally false. The second basis for the accusation is that Korak‘s editor, Asaf Dzanic, is a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. Yet, as anyone can see from the IRGC’s website, its board of directors is very large and diverse, numbering over 120, and includes several eminent Jewish members, including the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Most of these members, including Dzanic, are in the capacity of an ‘International Team of Experts’. The website also carries a powerful defence of the IRGC from the smears of Trifkovic and the ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, written by the Israeli writer Marjan Hajnal – also a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. The smearing of the entire institute as ‘Jew-hating’ and its director as ‘jihadi’ is, therefore, a desperate clutching at straws on the part of the Srebrenica deniers.
The ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’ has also accused Ramic and the IRGC of ‘Holocaust denial’. Again, not a single piece of evidence was produced to substantiate this very serious charge. In fact, the charge of ‘Holocaust denial’ was made after the IRGC had weeks earlier published, and prominently displayed on its website, an article marking Holocaust Memorial Day and paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, which made clear ‘The Holocaust of World War ll was the despicable, systematic process of torturing and murdering nearly six million European Jews, by German Nazis. Approximately two-thirds of nine million European Jews were murdered throughout that particular Holocaust.’
The irony of such smears is all the greater in that Trifkovic himself, unlike Ramic, is on record as having made anti-Semitic statements. Trifkovic has stated:
‘To claim that the traditional Right is “anti-Jewish” is to imply that it is gripped by an irrational prejudice. Such accusation is untrue and unfair.
It is true, however, that the traditional Right is inevitably antipathetic to certain modes of thought and feeling, to a peculiar Weltanschauung and the resulting forms of public and intra-communal discourse, which are quite properly perceived as specifically Jewish.
Historically, Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on the Jews’ racial uniqueness — emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism and on its view of Christians as idolaters — has ensured that a Jew steeped in his own tradition could not view traditional European or American conservatism with sympathy. His tradition was a form of elaborate survival mechanism based on the zero-sum view of a world divided into “us” and “them.” The Gentile was “the Other” ab initio and for ever.
In addition, since the late 1800’s the Jews have had a disproportionate impact on a host of intellectual trends and political movements which have fundamentally altered the civilization of Europe and its overseas offspring in a manner deeply detrimental to the family, nation, culture, racial solidarity, social coherence, tradition, morality and faith. Spontaneously or deliberately, those ideas and movements — Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc. — have eroded “the West” to the point where its demographic and cultural survival is uncertain. The erosion is continuing, allegedly in the name of propositional principles and universal values, and it is pursued with escalating ferocity.’
‘Even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses’
The extreme right-wing and viciously racist and Islamophobic American commenter Julia Gorin has apologised for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism in the following manner:
‘While virgin eyes (mainstream readers and anyone not experienced in sorting out the intricacies and boundaries of what is and isn’t OK to say about Jews) will read the paragraphs as “anti-Semitic,” the views expressed aren’t unlike what I and any number of other Jewish conservatives have written in an effort to tame the Jewish predisposition toward cynicism about, and dismantling of, the traditional values of, yes, white-established societies… It’s not reading that would be palatable to the mainstream, but conservative readers — including Jewish conservatives — are known to have a slightly higher tolerance for truth, even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses.’
Thus, Trifkovic and Gorin have no problem with anti-Semitism, but do have a problem with those, like Ramic and the IRGC, that oppose Srebrenica genocide denial. Gorin’s apologia for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism was made in the course of an article denying the genocide at Srebrenica. Again, unlike Ramic, Gorin is an unabashed anti-Albanian, anti-Croat and anti-Bosniak racist. Commenting on a recent obituary of the Croatian journalist Chris Cviic, a long-standing resident of the UK and recipient of the OBE, which stated ‘He is survived by his widow, Celia, and a son and a daughter’, Gorin commented ‘Yayyyy! More little Ustashas running rampant in the West.’ In response to a story in the British rag-sheet The Daily Star about the alleged activities of Kosovo Albanian immigrants in the UK, entitled ‘Kosovan squatters stole my loo’, Gorin commented ‘Ah, the Albanian specialty: invading someone’s home and stripping it bare. (See Kosovo, Serbia.) Then they get to do it again at the UK government’s expense. What the hell are they going to do with the toilet? Do they even know what it’s for?’ Racists like Gorin typify the Srebrenica deniers. Another Srebrenica genocide denier, Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com, has also made racist statements about Albanians, describing them as ‘medieval barbarians‘.
Srebrenica denial and anti-Semitism frequently go hand in hand. The anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and associate of Julian Assange who goes by the name of ‘Israel Shamir’ is a Srebrenica denier and has written ‘Many war atrocity stories are just stories – from Srebrenica to Kosovo “killing fields”, from Saddam Hussein’s WMD to Belgian babies on German bayonets of the WWI, from Kuwait’s incubator to anti-communist inventions of the Black Book.’ Shamir was one of a group of Srebrenica deniers, including Edward S. Herman and Diana Johnstone, who wrote an open letter to the Serbian parliament calling on them not to recognise the Srebrenica massacre.
‘This self-serving Jew’
Srebrenica genocide denial tends to go hand-in-hand with the denial of the genocidal crimes carried out by Serbian Nazi quislings and collaborators during World War II. When the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes waged their war for a Great Serbia in the 1990s, a major element in their propaganda was the equation of the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas (Croatian fascists) of World War II. The reality was that the Serb, Croat and Bosniak nations during World War II were all divided between anti-fascists and quislings or collaborators. Thus, the Nazi-quisling camp included Croat Ustashas, Serb Nedicites and Ljoticites and Muslim soldiers of the SS Handzar Division, while the anti-fascist Yugoslav Partisans comprised Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. But the Great Serbian nationalists of the 1990s waged a hate-campaign against Croats and Bosniaks, seeking to equate the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas.
One man who saw through this propaganda early on was the Jewish American medical doctor Philip J. Cohen. As Philip told me when I met him back in the mid-1990s in the US, he approached the Bosnian genocide as a Jew who knew the history of the Holocaust and the failure of the world to prevent it, and felt strongly that something similar should not be allowed to happen again. He was not in the slightest bit taken in by the Serb-nationalist campaign to equate all Croats and Bosniaks with the Ustashas, and responded to it by researching and writing the book Serbia’s Secret War. This book traced the history of anti-Semitism in Serbia and the role of Serbian quislings and collaborators in the Holocaust. It therefore demolished the myth that in the former Yugoslavia, it had only been Croats and Bosniaks who had produced quislings, or engaged in anti-Jewish actions. And although Cohen was not a professional historian or academic, the book is very good.
Needless to say, Cohen does not in any way deny the crimes of the Croatian Ustashas against Jews, Serbs or others. But his exposure of the crimes of Serbian quislings against Jews in World War II led to his being the subject of an anti-Semitic denunciation by a Serb nationalist writer called Vasilije Todorovic, who published an open letter in 1996 claiming (falsely) that ‘Cohen, this self-serving Jew, has even managed to condone the killing of 60,000 Jews in WW II, by the very Croatians from whom he receives his major support. I believe you Jews call this, Chutzpah!’ And ‘How astonishing that for 46 years the Roman Church and its Vatican failed to recognize Israel. Now this upstart Jew, Philip Cohen, defends their actions.’ Todorovic extended his attack on Cohen into a general diatribe against Jews: ‘There are no Spielberg movies made about these brave Serbian families who saved Jews. At the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Serbs were totally ignored as the Museum honored a Roman Catholic woman for saving the lives of 6 Jews.’ Furthermore, ‘Cohen omits the documents that reveal that Jews also joined the Ustasha and the Partisans and murdered numerous loyalists Serbs. In Cohen’s personal secret war against the Serbs, no mention is made that many of the Croatian Nazi officers had Jewish wives.’ And so on.
Todorovic’s article was written fifteen years ago, but the attacks on Cohen for having the temerity to write of the activities of Serbian Nazi quislings have continued. Two years ago, the amateur Serbian-American historian Carl Savich attempted to smear Cohen by claiming that he hadn’t even written his own book:
‘Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war.’
Savich claimed that Serbia’s Secret War had actually been written by a Croatian historian called Ljubica Stefan. He offered not a shred of evidence for his allegations.
I can personally testify that Cohen is the author of Serbia’s Secret War. At the time he was writing it, I met him at a seminar at Yale University, where I was studying at the time, and he asked me to assist him in working on the manuscript to his book. Consequently, I read his manuscript, made comments on it, then stayed with him at his home for two or three days and helped him work through some of the documents he had yet to analyse. Although Philip did not read Serbo-Croat himself, he told me he had benefited from a lot of assistance, in translating documents, from the Croatian writer Anto Knezevic. Having spoken with him at length and seen his library and archive, I know for a fact that Savich’s allegations are complete fabrications.
‘Other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population’
Savich is not a real historian and has no qualifications in history other than a Master’s degree, so it may not be surprising that his treatment of historical fact is less than professional. But he is also himself ready to engage in anti-Semitic writing. Here is a comment he wrote on the history of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia:
‘One consequence of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia was that Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities were flooded with over 9,500 bureaucrats and administrators and commercial and trade interests. Many of these were Ashkenazi Jews. Austrian Jews sought to benefit from the annexation and occupation of Bosnia. Racism and bigotry are based in self-interest. The racist attack against Orthodox Serbs by the Jew Freundlich can be explained in this way. His moral outrage is selective and self-interested. Austrian Jews would gain economic advantages by the Austrian occupation of Bosnia. Remarkaby, Roy Gutman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Sontag, James Rubin, and other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population, i.e, professing a disingenuous concern for the human rights of the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, at the same time ignoring the genocide and repression of the Palestinian population by the zealous Zionist nationalist government in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which were being illegaly settled by Jewish settlers. There was little concern for the human rights of the Palestinians, Kurds, or Basques. There is a dictum: Follow the money trail. Self-interest goes a long way in explaining the bias. Thus, under Austrian occupation, there were thousands of occupation administrators and bureaucrats, many of whom were Jewish.’
Savich is himself an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime that ran German-occupied Serbia, claiming that it had ‘no choice in the matter of its collaboration’, that it was no different from the Judenraete in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, and that it played no role in running concentration camps. All these claims are false.
Savich’s smear, of course, targeted not only Cohen, but also Ljubica Stefan. Stefan is listed among the ‘Righteous among Nations’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a Croatian who protected Jews during the Holocaust. This is what Savich has to say about her (again, without producing any evidence whatsoever):
‘Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian, someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.’
So Savich, who has no academic qualifications beyond a Master’s degree and who is an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime, accuses Stefan, who was a tenured professor at a Belgrade faculty and who actually protected Jews during the Holocaust, of being a ‘pseudo-historian’ guilty of ‘historical revisionism.
‘Agent of imperialism’
Anti-fascist Serbs, as much as non-Serbs, can become victims of racism when they oppose the activities of the Serbian extreme-right. The Serbian human-rights activist Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a frequent victim of physical harassment and defamation at the hands of Serbian fascist thugs and their rag-sheets, is periodically denounced by them as a ‘lesbian’. But she has also been denounced for supposedly not being of pure Serbian racial stock. Thus, an anonymous Srebrenica genocide denier – whose genocide denial subsequently led to him being banned by the proprietor of Modernity Blog – challenged my description of her as ‘Serbian’ in the following terms: ‘Serbian, eh? Funny thing is, Sonja Biserko keeps her biographical details well hidden. A wiki page lists her as Croatian, whereas a poster on some forum claims that: her brother was a member of Croatian troops, so called “Zbor narodne garde” and was killed in fight with Krajina Serbs.‘
The anonymous creep in question challenged me to confirm or deny the truth of his rumours. This sort of malicious gossip always puts us in a difficult position, as however unlikely it is that such rumours are true, we cannot formally deny them unless we know for certainty that they are false. Readers may recall the rumour that former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim, so we have to assume that it is false, particularly given the seriousness of the charge. But I cannot say for absolute certainty that it is untrue.
However, having now researched the matter, I can say for absolute, 100% certainty that Biserko’s brother was not a member of the Croatian armed forces, and was not killed in combat with Serb forces. He was not even present in Croatia during the war. As for the claim that Sonja is ‘Croatian’ rather than Serbian; since she is a Serbian citizen, was born in Belgrade and since her father was an ethnic Serb, the smear entirely rests on the fact that her mother is an ethnic Croat. The suggestion being that any Serb whose background isn’t 100% ethnically pure is ‘not really’ Serb at all.
The idea that someone’s patriotism can be called into question on the basis of their ‘alien’ ethnic background has been a favourite of the far right since the Dreyfus Affair. In reailty, people from ethnically non-Serb or mixed backgrounds, including ethnic Croats and Bosniaks, have often become hardline Serb nationalists, or supported the Milosevic regime – examples are Emir Kusturica, Jovan Zametica, Franko Simatovic and Mihalj Kertes. The Serbian fascist leader Vojislav Seselj was frequently accused of being an ethnic Croat, on the grounds that ‘Seselj’ is a Croat surname – he was pathetically reduced to obtaining a certificate from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (for which he allegedly paid a small sum in deutschmarks) to ‘prove’ he was ‘genuinely’ Serb.
As a footnote, the smear against Sonja was posted on the ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ malicious-gossip site, about which I have recently written, and is entirely characteristic of the sort of material that is posted there. Biserko’s smearer was actively encouraged to post malicious rumours about me as well by the blog’s proprietor, the Guardian columnist and Credit Suisse stockbroker Daniel Davies (interestingly, Credit Suisse is the same company for which the late Richard Holbrooke worked). Evidence suggests that Davies may not be entirely neutral in former-Yugoslav matters; he has spoken of his friendship with the blogger Splintered Sunrise, a sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party; and of Christopher Deliso, author of a viciously Islamophobic propaganda tract about Balkan Muslims significantly entitled The coming Balkan caliphate (which I have dissected), which itself draws heavily on the ‘work’ of Srebrenica genocide deniers, in particular Darko Trifunovic, but also Nebojsa Malic. Davies has also stated that during the war in the former Yugoslavia, ‘I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for the Serbian Republic (though not the Bosnian Serbs)’.
Davies’s friend Splintered Sunrise has himself described Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’ in a comment on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (the comments are no longer visible online, but I possess the print-out). A further example of demonisation and character assassination that is entirely characteristic.
Hat tip: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
The myth that Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia and Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels were victims of hostile Western intervention, indeed of a veritable Western imperialist conspiracy, is a bit like the idea that God exists – it really does rest on faith over reason. Ageing Western left-wing extremists who spent their entire lives believing that the Communist dictatorships of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. represented some sort of advance on liberal capitalism, were unwilling to jettison this shibboleth just because Communism collapsed ignominiously across Eastern Europe from 1989. They emotionally needed to believe that even the decaying remnant of this ancien regime represented by Milosevic’s dictatorship must have been the object of Western imperialist hostility in the 1990s, and their tribal loyalties moved them to solidarise with it in the face of all the evidence of its murderous nature. The solidarity was then perversely extended to Karadzic’s ideologically right-wing, anti-Communist Bosnian Serb rebels.
One of the clearest pieces of evidence that the Western alliance was not hostile to Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels, however, was the fact that three and a half years of Western intervention in the Bosnian war culminated in a peace settlement that was remarkably favourable to them: not only were they granted a virtual state, through the recognition of their self-proclaimed ‘Republika Srpska’, with its own government, parliament, army, etc., but they were awarded 49% of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that Serbs constituted only 31% of Bosnia’s population at the time the war began in 1992. Meanwhile, the supposed ‘imperialist clients’, the Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims, had their Bosnian republic virtually dissolved and broken into two entities, with the Muslims and Croats, who comprised 60% of Bosnia’s population in 1992, receiving only 51% of the territory.
Can you imagine the US treating one of its real allies this way ? Granting 49% of Israel to the Palestinians or 49% of Colombia to FARC ?
The percentages are problematic not only for the myth of Western hostility to Karadzic’s Serb nationalists, but also to those believing in the justice of the Serb nationalist cause in Bosnia. To square this circle, the latter have traditionally claimed that the Serb-nationalist conquest of so much Bosnian land is not really a conquest at all, since Bosnian Serbs ‘already owned’ 65% (or 60%, or 56%, or whatever) of Bosnian private land.
The first problem with this argument is that private ownership of land is not the same as state ownership of territory, nor should it be. In a hypothetical country whose population was made up 90% of poor black peasants and 10% of rich white landowners, but in which the white minority owned 99% of the privately owned land and the black majority only 1%, nobody would seriously argue that the whites had the right to their own state comprising 99% of the country’s territory.
Nor is the area of a country’s territory the same as the area of its privately owned land, since part of the land of any country – particularly a Communist-ruled country like Bosnia – will be owned communally or by the state.
Nor does private ownership imply military control; if in another hypothetical country the native population owned 100% of the privately owned land but the country was heavily occupied by a colonial power, it would not follow that the native population ‘controlled’ the land.
The second problem with the argument that the majority of Bosnia’s land was owned by Serbs is that the figure itself is a myth – whether it is given as 65%, or 60%, or 56% or whatever. No evidence was ever produced to show that Serbs really did own more than half of Bosnia’s land.
David N. Gibbs, in First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009) has this to say on the matter:
‘It is clear that Serb forces were on the offensive during much of the war, and they conquered large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the extent of Serb aggression was once again exaggerated. Newspaper articles repeatedly noted that Serbs controlled some 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that they constituted only 31% the [sic] total population… There was an insinuation that the Serbs must have conquered most of the 70 percent. Why, the reader might wonder, should the Serbs control so much land if they account for less than one-third of the population ? What such reports omitted was that the Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions. The Dutch government’s investigation estimates that ethnic Serbs controlled 56 percent of Bosnia’s land prior to the war. During the 1992-1995 period, Serbs extended their control of Bosnia’s land area by approximately 14 percent above the amount of land that Serbs had held before the war. Clearly this 14 percent was gained through military conquest – but the extent of this conquest was nowhere near the levels implied in press reports. Such distortions appeared not only in newspaper articles, but also in US government reports.‘ (p. 124)
This argument allows Gibbs to claim that the various Western peace plans which awarded over 40% of Bosnian territory to the Serb rebels, even though Serbs comprised only 31% of Bosnia’s pre-war population, were actually unfavourable to the Serbs:
‘In fact, the Vance-Owen Plan was not especially favourable toward the Serbs, and for the most part it did not reward ethnic cleansing. The 43% that the Serbs were to receive under the plan was considerably less than the land area controlled by Serbs prior to the onset of the fighting. Critics of the plan ignored the fact that the Serbs had always controlled most of the land in Bosnia – since they were disproportionately agricultural – even before the war. When the war began in 1992, the Serbs owned or controlled some 56% of the total land, a proportion above what they were allocated by the Vance-Owen Plan.’ (p. 144)
Gibbs’s claim is already meaningless, since he doesn’t appear to know whether he is referring to ‘ownership’ or to ‘control’ of land by the Serbs – and as we have seen, the two are not the same and cannot be conflated.
Be that as it may, his source for the assertion that ‘the Serbs owned or controlled some 56% of the total land’ in Bosnia before the war is the 2002 report on the Srebrenica massacre of the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD), commissioned by the Dutch government. In Gibbs’s words, ‘The report states: “Prior to the 1992 conflict, 56% of Bosnian territory was in Serb hands.”.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 269)
It is certainly true that the NIOD report claims the following:
‘Prior to the 1992 conflict, 56 per cent of Bosnian territory was in Serb hands, although they constituted no more than 31 per cent of the population‘ (Part I, Chapter 3, Section, 2, p. 189).
Unfortunately, however, the NIOD report is, as regards historical background, a sloppy, unscholarly source. The NIOD report’s source for this claim is the book by Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup, The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Ethnic Conflict and International Intervention (M.E. Sharp, New York and London, 1999, p. 28). Yet the NIOD report has cited Burg and Shoup falsely. What they actually claimed was the following:
‘If the cadastral opstina [municipality] was used as the unit to measure population distribution, about 56 percent of the area of Bosnia-Herzegovina could be said to have been inhabited by Serbs before the conflict began – a figure that should not be confused with the claim of the Bosnian Serbs that they “owned” 64% of the land. (This claim, even if true, can only refer to privately owned land.’
The claim by Burg and Shoup that 56% of Bosnia was ‘inhabited by Serbs’ is vague (what does it mean that 56% of Bosnia was ‘inhabited’ by Serbs ? Is a municipality in which Serbs comprise a small minority still considered to be ‘inhabited’ by Serbs, or must they constitute a majority ? How many Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs also inhabited the 56% of the territory that was ‘inhabited by Serbs’ ? And how is ’56% of Bosnia’ defined ? Does it mean that municipalities with a Serb majority comprised 56% of Bosnian territory ? Was the city of Sarajevo, with its large Serb population but larger Muslim population, defined as ‘inhabited by Serbs’ ? Are uninhabited mountains located within Serb-majority municipalities included in the 56% or in the 44% ? etc. etc.).
Leaving that aside, Burg and Shoup specifically state that ‘inhabited by’ does not mean ‘ownership of’; nor do they claim that it meant ‘controlled by’. The NIOD report has changed the meaning of Shoup’s and Burg’s statement from ’56% of Bosnia’s territory was inhabited by Serbs’ to ’56% of Bosnia’s territory was in Serb hands’. Not bothering to check NIOD’s source, Gibbs has then used the NIOD report to claim that ’56% of Bosnian land was owned or controlled by the Serbs’.
In other words, Gibbs’s confused and meaningless claim is based upon the NIOD report’s miscitation of Shoup’s and Burg’s already unclear claim – even though the original claim, however unclear it might be, very specifically does not mean what Gibbs claims it means. And he uses this essentially manufactured ‘fact’ to claim that successive Western peace-plans were unfavourable to the Serbs, since they awarded them less than the 56% of Bosnia they had supposedly originally ‘owned or controlled’ !
But are there any real figures concerning Bosnian land that can help us establish the truth ? One source whose reliability, we hope, will not be called into question, is the Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia, whose second edition was published in Yugoslavia during the 1980s. The entry for Bosnia-Hercegovina, which we cite here in the English edition of its published offprint (The Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Jugoslavenski leksikografski zavod, Zagreb, 1983), has this to say:
‘The total area of B-H [Bosnia-Hercegovina] is 5,113,000 ha, which is 20% of the total area of Yugoslavia. Agricultural areas include 2,573,000 ha, that is more than a half of the area of B-H (50.3%), or less than 1/5 (17.9%) of all the agricultural area of Yugoslavia.’ (p. 137). Furthermore, ‘private holdings even now occupy almost all of the arable land (94.9%)’… (p. 139).
So according to this official source, private agricultural land holdings in Bosnia comprised just under half the total territory of Bosnia, and agricultural land as a whole comprised barely more than half.
Furthermore, according to a book published by the Republican Office of Statistics of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1976, the majority of the rural population of Bosnia-Hercegovina at the time was non-Serb. Specifically, in 1971, the village population of Bosnia-Hercegovina was 45.5% Serb and 53.7% Muslim and Croat (Ejub Sijercic, Migracije stanovnistva Bosne i Hercegovine, Republicki zavod za statistiku SRBiH, Sarajevo, 1976, p. 52).
Gibbs’s claim that ‘Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions’ and that ‘the Serbs had always controlled most of the land in Bosnia – since they were disproportionately rural’ is therefore false. His deduction, based on this falsehood, that Western peace-plans that awarded over 40% of Bosnia to the Serb rebels were actually unfavourable to them, can therefore be exposed as an attempt to fabricate Serb victimhood at Western hands.
I shall be adding to this critique of Gibbs in future.
Update: See Srebrenica Genocide Blog on Radovan Karadzic’s use of a misleading ‘ethnic map’ of Bosnia.
[This is the second part of my four-part refutation of David N. Gibbs's book 'First Do No Harm'. In Part 1, I expose his attempts to blame the Bosniak victims for the bloodshed in the Srebrenica region. In this second part, I refute his response to me. In Part 3, I refute his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia. In Part 4, I refute his attempt to blame Germany for the break-up of Yugoslavia.]
David N. Gibbs has responded to my post of 6 December (‘The bizarre world of genocide denial’), in which I take him to task for his book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), in which he denies the Srebrenica genocide and regurgitates the old denialist narrative about the break-up of Yugoslavia, despite his own lack of any expertise in the field, inability to read Serbo-Croat and unwillingness to engage with the existing scholarly literature on the subject.
‘In undertaking these attacks, however, Hoare has omitted important information, which readers have a right to know: That the book presented an extended critique of Hoare’s own publications on this topic, and so he is not a disinterested party. To be specific, my book criticized Hoare’s work for shoddy scholarship, which included mischaracterizing the ethnic makeup of the Yugoslav National Army (p. 252), omitting information that the US sabotaged Bosnian peace talks (262), providing an inaccurate account of testimonies before the Hague tribunal (274), and neglecting evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in Bosnia (280). I understand Hoare’s anger that I have criticized his work, but he really should let readers know when he has a vested interest in a book that he is reviewing.’
I shall deal shortly with the specific points Gibbs raises, but let us first make this clear: it is wholly untrue that Gibbs’s book has ‘presented an extended critique’ of my own publications. Anyone reading Gibbs’s book without examining carefully the endnotes would not even notice that I had been criticised at all: my name does not appear in the text itself, nor in the index. Gibbs has four trivial quibbles with me, buried in his endnotes. Gibbs does not, as he now claims, accuse me in his book of ‘shoddy scholarship’, and has made this accusation only in his subsequent reply to me. I cannot help but suspect that he has only decided I am guilty of ‘shoddy scholarship’ after reading my critique of his book.
If my own mum, dad, best friend, girlfriend or granny had reviewed my work, and come up with nothing more substantial than Gibbs’s four quibbles, I’d feel I was getting off lightly and that they were being too soft on me. If all four of his quibbles were entirely justified, I hardly think they would mark me down as a ‘shoddy scholar’.
However, not one of them is justified. Let us look at them each in turn:
1) I wrote ‘At the start of the war, in 1991, the two most senior JNA [Yugoslav People's Army] officers, Federal Secretary of People’s Defence Veljko Kadijevic and JNA Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic, were a Croatian Serb and a Bosnian Serb respectively (though Kadijevic had a Croat mother). They ensured the JNA would act as Serbia’s army in the wars against Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.’ (The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Saqi, London, 2007, p. 349)
Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare provides the following misleading statement [above quote]. Hoare neglects to mention Kadijevic’s deputy, Admiral Brovet, who was a Slovene, nor does he mention the JNA Air Force commander, General Jurjevic, who was a Croat.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 83)
Gibbs is right that I did not mention that Kadijevic’s deputy was a Slovene or that the JNA air force commander was a Croat, but it is unclear what point he thinks he is making. My statement was entirely accurate; Gibbs is not challenging the accuracy of my statement; and the additional information he supplies does not invalidate my statement in any way. I also did not mention – and Gibbs did not mention either – that Adzic’s deputy Zivota Panic was also a Serb. And that consequently, at the start of the war in 1991, the four top posts in the JNA were held by two Serbs, one non-Serb, and one half-Serb (who had a Croat mother but who sided with Milosevic and Serbia in the war against Croatia).
Another fact that is relevant here is that in 1990 the JNA officer corps was – irrespective of the presence in it of individuals like Brovet and Jurjevic – a Serb-dominated body. James Gow writes in his 1992 study of the JNA that ‘Sixty per cent of officers were Serb; a further 5.4 per cent were “Yugoslavs” and likely to be Serbs; and 6.2 per cent Montenegrins. These all shared a perspective of Yugoslavia that coincided in many ways with that of the neo-Communist Serbian leadership’ (James Gow, Legitimacy and the Military: The Yugoslav Crisis, Pinter Publishers, London, 1992, p. 142).
I can only assume that by mentioning that the deputy secretary of defence and the air force commander in 1991 were non-Serbs, Gibbs is trying to obscure the fact of the Serb domination of the JNA. If so, it is an extremely feeble attempt.
2) I wrote that ‘during negotiations at Lisbon on 18 March 1992… Izetbegovic was pressurised by representatives of the EU to agree to the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat national entity, though he subsequently repudiated the agreement.’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 376)
Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare misleadingly implies that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative; but Hoare neglects to mention the US role in encouraging Izetbegovic’s decision.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 264).
As readers can see for themselves from what I wrote, I did not imply ‘that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative’, as Gibbs claims. I merely noted that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement, which he did. Gibbs is not disputing the accuracy of my statement. He is claiming that by stating a fact that he himself accepts as accurate, I am being ‘misleading’.
The subtext of Gibbs’s accusation that I am being ‘misleading’ is that I did not specifically endorse the thesis, which he subsequently repeats in his own book, that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on the prompting of the US, and specifically of the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmermann. Yet this thesis is at best - at best – unproven and controversial. To cut a long story short, the rumour that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on Zimmermann’s prompting appears to have originated with an article in The New York Times written a year and a half later, in August 1993, by the journalist David Binder. Binder was highly sympathetic to the Serb-nationalist side in the war – readers are invited to read his grovelling 1994 interview with Ratko Mladic. Nevertheless, Binder does not actually say that Zimmermann told Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement, merely that he asked Izetbegovic why he had signed the agreement if he didn’t like it, and that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement after his conversation with Zimmermann. In his memoirs, Zimmermann does not deny asking Izetbegovic why he had signed an agreement he did not like, but nevertheless claims he urged Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement: ‘Drawing on my instructions to support whatever could be worked out between the European Community and the three Bosnian parties, I encouraged Izetbegovic to stick by what he’d agreed to.’ (Warren Zimmermann, Origins of a Catastrophe, Times Books, New York, p. 190).
That is, in essence, the basis for the thesis propounded by Gibbs and others – that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on American prompting. The sources Gibbs (First Do No Harm, p. 110) then cites in its support are the following:
a) Robert M. Hayden’s book, Blueprint for a House Divided: The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1999), p. 100. This is a reference falsely cited by Gibbs, as Hayden merely notes that the Muslims and Croats repudiated the agreement, without attributing it to US prompting.
b) The aforementioned Binder article.
c) The opinion of George Kenney, a man who in September 2004 wrote to Milosevic to tell him that ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments.’
d) The opinion of James Bissett, a defence witness for Milosevic at his trial in The Hague, who complained that ‘he felt Milosevic had been unfairly painted as an instigator of the crisis when in fact he had worked tirelessly to keep Yugoslavia united’, and accused Milosevic’s trial of being ‘a Stalinist show-trial’ (mysteriously, Bissett’s support for Milosevic is never mentioned by Gibbs, even though he is one of Gibbs’s most oft-cited sources !)
e) The Dutch government’s NIOD report on Srebrenica. Although it is true that this source claims (based on the aforementioned Binder article) that the US opposed the Lisbon agreement, it does not – contrary to what Gibbs implies – claim that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on US prompting. What it says is this: ‘According to others Izetbegovic withdrew his acceptance on the urging of the American ambassador in Belgrade, Warren Zimmermann. It is not unimaginable that the American government did indeed tell Izetbegovic that he could achieve more by sticking to the principle of an integral Bosnia-Hercegovina that was about to be recognized.’
f) The testimony of Cutileiro himself, who wrote in December 1995 that ‘Izetbegovic and his aides were encouraged to scupper that deal [from Lisbon] by well meaning outsiders.’ Gibbs notes that ‘this was probably a polite reference to US activities’. I agree with Gibbs on this point, that Cutileiro probably was referring to the Americans – still, note his use of the word ‘probably’.
g) The testimony of Britain’s Lord Carrington, who claimed later that the ‘American administration made it quite clear that the proposals of Cutileiro… were unacceptable’ and ‘The Americans actually sent them [the Bosnians] a telegram telling them not to agree’. Neither quotation actually states that the Americans prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement after he had already signed it. Indeed, the wording of the second quotation rather suggests that the telegram in question was sent before Izetbegovic signed the agreement (advising him not to agree), not after he had done so (advising him to repudiate something to which he had already agreed). In any case, the claim that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement on the basis of a telegram from the US contradicts the claim that he repudiated the agreement on the basis of a face-to-face meeting with Zimmermann.
So, that is the evidence for Gibbs’s case that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on US prompting – it can most charitably be described as inconclusive. Gibbs, however, simply states that Zimmermann ‘encouraged Izetbegovic to reject the peace plan’ (p. 110), as if it were a definite fact. He puts the evidence for his case in the actual text of his book (p. 110), but buries the evidence against it – Zimmermann’s denial – in his endnotes (p. 264).
(NB A skeptic might simply dismiss Zimmermann’s testimony on the grounds that he is an interested party, but this is not something that Gibbs can do, because he treats Zimmermann’s testimony as gospel truth whenever it supports his own argument, e.g. on pages 84 and 96 of his book).
I remain unconvinced by the case against Zimmermann. I am ready to accept that Cutileiro probably sincerely believes that the US prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement. I am ready to accept that Carrington may have sincerely believed the same thing – if that is indeed what his quotes were claiming, which isn’t clear. I am ready to accept that these two (unlike Bissett and Kenney) are witnesses whose opinions count for something. However, I very much doubt that Zimmermann would have lied about urging Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement. Readers may disagree.
But I challenge anyone to say, hand on heart, that Gibbs is right to accuse me of being ‘misleading’ because I mentioned Izetbegovic’s repudiation of the Lisbon agreement without specifically endorsing his unproven thesis. I would rather suggest that it is Gibbs who is being misleading, for a) presenting the opinions of Bissett and Kenney as evidence, without telling his readers of their support for Milosevic; b) failing to inform his readers of Binder’s pro-Serb-nationalist bias; c) burying Zimmermann’s testimony, that contradicts his thesis, in the endnotes of his book; and d) falsely claiming that Hayden and the NIOD report support his thesis about the repudiation of the Lisbon agreement, when they don’t.
3) I wrote of the UK’s David Owen, that ‘he refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague, though he appeared as a court witness to speak favourably of Milosevic’s contribution to the peace process’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 379).
Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare criticizes Owen because he “refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague”. See Hoare, The History of Bosnia [above reference]. In fact, the ICTY Web site lists Owen as a prosecution witness.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 274).
4) I wrote ‘Insofar as it cannot be excluded that al-Qa’ida ever had a presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is hardly exceptional by European standards; as the international community’s High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch pointed out in November 2001, “after all, the organisation had a base in Hamburg”.’ (How Bosnia Armed, London, Saqi, 2004, p. 133)
I also wrote ‘The 11 September attack inevitably provided a golden opportunity for enemies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, above all from the ranks of the Serb nationalists and right-wing and left-wing fundamentalists in the West, to equate the Izetbegovic regime and the Bosnian Army with the fanatic Islamists of al-Qa’ida. This version of events upholds the popular stereotype of bin Laden as a master villain on the model of James Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, at the head of an organisation similar to ‘SPECTRE’ with tentacles all over the world, one of which was allegedly linked to the Izetbegovic regime, a second to the Kosovo Liberation Army and a third to the ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army in Macedonia… The “Bosnia – bin Laden” conspiracy theory belongs to this category of the farcical’ (How Bosnia Armed, pp. 134-135).
Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare is dismissive about the possibility of an Al Qaeda role in Bosnia; he refers to the “Bosnia-Bin Laden” conspiracy theory” which “belongs in this category of the farcical.” Hoare, How Bosnia Armed (London: Saqi Books and Bosnia [sic] Institute, 2004), 134, 135. In fact, Holbrooke has since confirmed the Al Qaeda role in Bosnia.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 280).
As the above quotations from my book make clear, I explicitly did not deny that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia; I did, however, deny that Izetbegovic’s regime was linked to Al Qa’ida. This was the “Bosnia – bin Laden conspiracy theory” to which I was referring, as Gibbs is well aware. All three of the books he uses to ‘prove’ the uncontested fact that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia are books that I have reviewed in detail. Of the first of these, Evan Kohlmann’s Al Qaida’s Jihad in Europe (Berg, Oxford and New York, 2004), I had this to say back in 2005: ‘In fact, it is as eloquent a refutation as one could hope to read of the idea that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian Muslims were in any way ideological fellow travellers of Al-Qaida, or its partners in terrorist activity.’ The other two books are propaganda tracts of the First Do No Harm variety, that I have refuted point-by-point.
On the basis of the above, I feel justified in saying that Gibbs’s claims to have undertaken an ‘extended critique’ of my work, and to have exposed my ‘shoddy scholarship’, are mere wishful thinking. But what about the rest of his reply to me ? Let us consider his points in turn.
I) Gibbs’s whitewashing of Serb atrocities in East Bosnia
As readers may recall, in my initial critique of Gibbs, this was the specific charge that I made:
‘For the time being, I mention him [Gibbs] because he practices the old denialist trick in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, of describing the military actions of the Bosnian military commander in the Srebrenica region, Naser Oric – involving attacks on Serb villages around Srebrenica and atrocities against Serb civilians – while neglecting to mention the incomparably larger-scale Serbian offensives that preceded Oric’s actions, and to which the latter were a response.’
Gibbs’s response is that he wrote the following: ‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun… The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities, especially those perpetrated by Serb forces against Muslim civilians. The widespread practice of ethnic cleansing was often associated with the killing of noncombatants, and also the raping of women and girls.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).
Gibbs’s self-quotation is misleading, because he has actually conflated two paragraphs from two different sub-chapters, joining them with an ellipsis where they are, in his book, actually separated by a sub-chapter heading (‘The Politics of Atrocities’). His paragraph beginning ‘The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities…’ represents his general evaluation of the war as a whole, rather than anything relating specifically to the start of the war in north-east Bosnia in 1992.
Thus, the only statement in his book that he can even remotely pretend represents an acknowledgement that Serb atrocities against Muslims in East Bosnia preceded Muslim atrocities against Serbs in the same region, is the following:
‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).
The first problem here is that he refers only to ‘northeast Bosnia’, and Srebrenica is not really in northeast Bosnia – it would be a bit like claiming that Birmingham is in ‘northwestern England’. Even if one is charitable to Gibbs’s vagueness about Bosnian geography, and assumes his reference to the start of fighting in ‘northeast Bosnia’ encompasses territory as far south as Srebrenica, he is nevertheless referring only to the ‘expelling [of] most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’. No reference to mass murder of civilians, rapes, torture, concentration camps or, indeed, any actual bodily harm to Muslim civilians in the course of this offensive.
Gibbs does not explicitly mention the Srebrenica region until thirty-one pages and several sub-chapters later, and when he does, this is how he presents it:
‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [Oric] reigned by terror;… he could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollections he didn’t even look for an excuse. It was simply a statement: One can’t be bothered with prisoners.“‘ (First Do No Harm, pp. 153-154).
So the Srebrenica region is introduced to the reader in a manner that implies it is the Muslims, rather than the Serb forces, who initiated the violence (‘created a degree of hatred’ there). Whereas Gibbs refers to Serb forces in northeast Bosnia merely ‘expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’ – without any reference to killing, rape or torture, and without any reference to atrocities against Muslims in the Srebrenica region – he refers to Muslim forces in the Srebrenica region in terms of ‘massacring all the [Serb] inhabitants’; ‘reigned by terror’, ‘could not allow himself to take prisoners’. And let us remember here that he is speaking this way about Srebrenica – the site of an act of genocide by Serbs against Muslims; a genocide that two different international courts have recognised but which Gibbs explicitly denies (‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ First Do No Harm, p. 281)
Having blamed the Muslims for initiating the killing in the Srebrenica region in the first place, Gibbs then goes on to accuse them of precipitating the Srebrenica massacre itself in 1995: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995.’ (Gibbs, p. 160) Thus, he not only explicitly denies the genocide, but blames the genocidal crime on the victims.
II) Gibbs’s disregard of the existing scholarly literature on the Bosnian war.
Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare also claims that Gibbs “hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis.” He then lists five specific authors that I supposedly failed to cite (Michael Libal, Richard Caplan, Daniele Corversi, Brendan Simms, and Hoare himself). Wrong again. In fact I cited four of these authors, each several times, and also included them in the bibliography. Hoare’s own writings were cited in four separate endnotes. His claim that I have ignored these authors is thus baseless.’
Since, as Gibbs pointedly mentions, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, I assumed he would understand the concept of ‘engaging with the existing literature’, but I apparently assumed too much. So let me spell this out: to ‘engage with the existing literature’ involves addressing the theses of books that make a significant contribution to our understanding of the topic. Quibbling over a couple of trivial details in a book you disagree with, while ignoring its overall theses and principal arguments, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. Attaching a book to one of your endnotes in order to support a factual point, while ignoring the overall theses and argument of the book that contradict your own thesis, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. And citing a book in support of your argument, despite the fact that the book’s overall thesis actually refutes your own thesis, certainly does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’.
For example, Gibbs argues that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia and cites Michael Libal’s book Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991-1992 (Praeger, Westport, 1997) to show that the Germans felt ‘euphoria’ at the decision to withdraw the JNA from Slovenia (p. 94). Yet Libal’s book actually presents a documented refutation of the myth that Germany first encouraged Croatia to secede and then sought prematurely to recognise its independence – a refutation that Gibbs fails to address. Gibbs argues that Western policy was consistently anti-Serb, and cites Brendan Simms’s work Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (Penguin, London, 2001) to show that Lord Carrington blamed the Americans for undermining the Lisbon agreement - but he ignores Simms’s extensively documented thesis demonstrating that British policy was anything but anti-Serb, and actually sought to shield Serbia and the Bosnian Serb forces from hostile intervention. As noted already, Gibbs quibbles with me over whether David Owen was a witness for the court or for the prosecution, but ignores the evidence I present of Western collusion with the Serbian destruction of Bosnia, of which my critique of Owen was just one element. And Gibbs wholly ignores the central aspect of the break-up of Yugoslavia noted by Daniele Conversi, Laura Silber and Allan Little and others – that Serbia’s leaders actively promoted Serbia’s secession from Yugoslavia. The documentary proof of this last one is wholly irrefutable – which is probably why Gibbs wholly ignores it.
III) Gibbs’s reliance on Michel Chossudovsky
Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare implies that my book relies too heavily on the writings of University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky, someone that Hoare does not like. In reality I cited Chossudovsky exactly once (out of more than a thousand separate endnotes).’
This statement is emblematic of Gibbs’s deliberate deception of his readers. It may be true that he has only cited Chossudovsky once out of more than a thousand endnotes (I’m not going to plough through his thousand plus endnotes to check, so will happily take his word for it). But my criticism was not that Gibbs relied on Chossudovsky for his thesis on the former Yugoslavia. Rather, I pointed out that he borrowed Chossudovsky’s thesis for his own thesis on Rwanda, which naturally occupied a rather smaller place in Gibbs’s book. His discussion of Rwanda occupies less than two pages of his book (pp. 219-220) and is supported by only two endnotes and two sources (excluding Samantha Power’s book, which he cites only in order to dismiss as representing the ‘conventional wisdom’). Chossudovsky is his principal source for Rwanda, though he advises his reader to ‘see also’ an article by another author (First Do No Harm, pp. 307-308). So Chossudovsky’s article is rather more important for this aspect of Gibbs’s argument than his misleading statistic of ‘more than a thousand separate endnotes’ suggests.
IV) Gibbs’s dismissal of me as an authority on the topic under discussion
Gibbs writes: ‘As is typical of his writing, Hoare grandiosely overstates his own accomplishments and presents himself as a leading authority on the topic of my book; he is not. In reality, my book was a study of the international relations of the Yugoslav wars, a topic on which Hoare has no qualifications. He also lacks access to German-language sources, which are crucial to understanding the diplomacy of this period. And given Hoare’s numerous factual errors, the scholarly content of his work is thin.’
Whether I am a ‘leading authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book’ is for others to decide, but I hope readers will not consider me unduly boastful if I say simply that I am considerably more of an authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book than Gibbs himself is. Gibbs’s bibliography contains six of his own publications, yet not one concerns the former Yugoslavia. I presume, therefore, that he has never published a single article on the former Yugoslavia in an academic journal, and that First Do No Harm is his first publication on the topic. He does not read any of the former Yugoslav languages. Wherein then does his claim to expertise in the topic lie ?
Since Gibbs is apparently a ‘ tenured full professor’, I am going to take his slur sufficiently seriously to answer it at some length. I have had articles on the history of Yugoslavia and its successor states in the 1980s and 1990s published in numerous academic journals, including East European Politics and Societies, East European Quarterly, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European History Quarterly and Journal of Genocide Research; my articles on the earlier history of the former Yugoslavia have appeared in a whole lot more. I am the author of the entry for ‘Yugoslavia and its successor states’ in the Oxford University Press volume The Oxford Handbook of Fascism (2009) edited by Richard Bosworth, which covers the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes; and of the entry for ‘The War of Yugoslav Succession’ in the Cambridge University Press volume Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 (2010), edited by Sabrina Ramet. I am a member of the editorial boards of three different scholarly journals dealing with the former Yugoslavia, including a journal published by the Association for Political Science of Serbia. My books on the former Yugoslavia have been reviewed positively by leading scholarly journals including Slavic Review, Slavonic and East European Review, German History, European History Quarterly and Journal of Military History. To the best of my knowledge, I have never received a negative review in an academic journal – unlike Gibbs’s First Do No Harm, which was described by the Cambridge historian Dr Josip Glaurdic in a review in International Affairs (vol. 86, no. 2, March 2010, pp. 555-556) as containing ‘glaring omissions and distortions’. And I have been invited to speak about the history of (the former) Yugoslavia, including its recent history, at academic conferences and seminars across Europe and in the US.
Thus, when someone who has not published a single journal article on the former Yugoslavia claims that the scholarly content of my work is thin, and that I have no qualifications concerning the international relations of the former Yugoslavia, I’m inclined not to take him very seriously.
V) Gibbs’s description of me in terms of ‘the second coming of Joe McCarthy’
Gibbs’s paranoia and self-pity are indicated by his entitling of his response to me ‘The second coming of Joe McCarthy’ and his claim that ‘Dr. Hoare and his network of neocon friends at the Bosnian Institute and the Henry Jackson Society have designated themselves as the new Thought Police, while conducting their own little witch hunt.’ This really does take the biscuit - I exercise my democratic right to freedom of expression by criticising Gibbs and his book, and he becomes a victim of McCarthyite persecution ! Of the Thought Police, no less !! No doubt he thinks because of my blog post, he’ll be hauled up before the House Committee on Un-American Activities or be arrested by the security forces of a Central American junta, or something like that.
Gibbs may be a bit hazy about what McCarthyism actually involved; suffice it to say that if McCarthy had been a lowly academic who sat quietly at his desk writing articles exposing genocide-denial and poor scholarship on the Balkans, he would not have attained quite such notoriety. And though Gibbs appears not to have actually read George Orwell’s 1984, I can assure him that the original Thought Police would not have been considered very terrifying if they had confined their totalitarian activities to writing book reviews and blog posts. Much as I would like to gratify Gibbs’s radical-left craving to feel persecuted, I am afraid that nobody I have ever criticised has suffered anything much worse than, perhaps, being exposed as a bad scholar and/or a genocide-denier. And that, I believe, is the point of democracy: that if a poor scholar denies a genocide, one is free to criticise them for being a poor scholar and genocide-denier. If Gibbs cannot deal with that, he should go and live somewhere where he can spout his poison without anyone calling him to account. Somewhere like Cuba or North Korea.
Merry Christmas to all my readers !
Update 1: Gibbs has proven completely unable to respond to my refutation of his attack on me, linked to above. In the meantime, further responses to his genocide-denial have been published by Daniel Toljaga and by Chroniclinghate.
Update 2: Daniel Toljaga has posted Part II of his critique of Gibbs.
Update 3: Modernity Blog has very graciously apologised to me for publishing Gibbs’s attack on me.
Update 4: Modernity Blog has evaluated my exchange with Gibbs in his comments box. He concludes: ‘Professor Gibbs seems to have made a conscious choice not to address the criticism of his work in any significant way… So it seems to me that whilst Professor Gibbs was given a splendid opportunity to deal with the criticism of his work, he didn’t. Whilst he could have engaged with the issues in the Balkans, he found other matters more pressing. All in all, Professor Gibbs showed a failure to address the issues, not a sparkling performance as you might expect. A missed opportunity.’
When, back in the 1940s under the shadow of the Holocaust, Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’, then lobbied to have it recognised as a crime in international law, his aim was to prevent such crimes occurring in the future. Since then, there have been those who have attempted to use the concept of genocide, in the spirit of Lemkin, to agitate against the mass extermination of human beings. But there have also been those who have paradoxically attempted to use the concept of genocide to ensure that acts of mass extermination are allowed to take place. During the war in Bosnia, supporters of the genocidal project of Milosevic and Karadzic expended an enormous amount of energy trying to deny the reality of the mass killings – from arguing that the atrocities were being invented by the Western media, to redefining Serb concentration-camps as ‘detention centres’, to claiming that the Bosnians had carried out the atrocities against themselves. But one of their favourite tactics was to set up, then attack, the straw man that ‘the Bosnian genocide was the same as the Holocaust’. Since it was not the same as the Holocaust, they argued, it could not really have been genocide. And since it was not genocide, it wasn’t anything to get upset over.
Thus, it suits the deniers and supporters of genocidal acts to define ‘genocide’ as narrowly as possible. A genocide, such as occurred in Bosnia, can be measured against the benchmark of a ‘perfect’ genocide such as the Holocaust, and found wanting. They tend to define ‘genocide’ as something that has to involve the total physical extermination of an entire ethnic group. This, of course, is a much narrower definition than the one in international law, which defines genocide as an attempt to destroy a group ‘in whole or in part’. And as Adam Jones has pointed out in ‘Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction’ (Taylor and Francis, 2007), according to the international legal definition, genocide technically does not have to involve actually killing anyone at all.
Nevertheless, even with their narrowest possible definition, the deniers have to recognise that at least a couple of cases of genocide have historically occurred. I recall having an exchange about Milosevic on the blog Crooked Timber with a notoriously unpleasant little Stalinist by the name of Louis Proyect, who assured me that the only cases of genocide that were universally acknowledged were the Holocaust, the Armenians and Rwanda. This was already inaccurate, of course, as the Armenian Genocide has been the object of a sustained campaign of denial by Turkish nationalists and their supporters. But it is true that Rwanda has tended to be spared. Back in December 1995, an article by Fiona Fox appeared in Living Marxism, the principal propaganda rag of Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s supporters in the UK, entitled ‘Massacring the truth in Rwanda’. Living Marxism had pioneered Bosnia genocide denial, and Fox attempted a similar form of denial over Rwanda, but this was something of a flash in the pan: Rwanda so far has simply not provoked such a large and active denialist lobby as Bosnia.
The primary reason that the denialists have been much more vocal over Bosnia than Rwanda was that the Bosnian genocide occupied a much larger place in the Western consciousness than the Rwandan genocide, and was a much more prominent foreign policy issue, and over a longer period of time. So far as left-wing deniers were concerned, a second important motive was their wish to minimise the crimes of a reconstituted Communist regime – Milosevic’s ruling party called itself ‘Socialist’. But let there be no illusions: the more widespread and vocal nature of Bosnian than of Rwandan genocide-denial has nothing to do with the fact that the scale of the mass killings in Rwanda was much greater than in Bosnia, or that the Rwandan genocide was much more absolutist in its exterminationist goals than the Bosnian genocide.
That this is so, is evidenced by the fact that two fools have now rushed in where wiser devils have feared to tread. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson were the founders of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre had taken place. Their efforts have appeared increasingly laughable, as in terms of forensic evidence, the fact and scale of Srebrenica are probably better documented than any other genocidal massacre in history. The cynicism and downright clownishness of their denialist antics are highlighted by the fact that they repeatedly highlighted the figure of roughly 100,000 Bosnian war-deaths, established by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre (RDC), as proof that earlier estimates of 200,000 Bosnian dead were part of an elaborate campaign of anti-Serb disinformation – while themselves repeating massively exaggerated figures for Serb war-dead that the RDC’s research had already discredited.
Herman’s and Peterson’s denial of the Rwanda Genocide has been dissected by Gerald Caplan (in two pieces) and by Adam Jones. I’m not going to regurgitate the admirable job that these two colleagues have done, but what is particularly striking is the amateurish, almost whimsical nature of the deniers’ arguments. Readers may recall the case of the Bosnia genocide denier Thomas Deichmann, who thought that he could disprove the eyewitness accounts by reporters of the Serb concentration-camp at Trnopolje because he noticed that the barbed wire in the picture of the camp was on the ‘wrong’ side of the fence poles, and as his wife pointed out, this wasn’t how fences were organised in their garden. Among the similar gems of stunning insight now produced by Herman and Peterson, which they feel refutes all the evidence for the genocide produced by genuine experts, historians, journalists and war-crimes investigators, we have the following:
Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its “genocidaires” at the same time. If ever a prima facie case existed for doubting the collective wisdom of “academics, human rights activists, [and] journalists” whose opinions the establishment respects, we find it here, with the alleged Hutu perpetrators routed and fleeing for their lives in neighboring countries, and the alleged Tutsi victims in complete control.
Jones points out that it wasn’t the Tutsi victims who defeated the genocidaires, but the Rwandan Patriotic Front invading from Uganda. Apart from that, the sloppiness of the deniers is indicated by their assumptions that the side that lost the civil war cannot be the one that carried out the genocide, and that the victorious side ‘ought to’ have carried out the most killing. We could ask what such an interpretative model would say about the battle for Srebrenica in 1995, when the victims’ side lost but still had its genocide denied, and its own killings of enemy civilians equated with the actual genocide, by Herman and Peterson. Or about World War II in Bosnia, when the Partisans, composed in large part of Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide, defeated the Ustasha perpetrators of the genocide.
Caplan describes Herman and Peterson as ‘two dedicated anti-imperialists [who] have sunk to the level of genocide deniers’. Yet it is a remarkable form of ‘anti-imperialism’ that feels no desire to condemn or expose Western collusion with either the Bosnian or the Rwandan genocides. Indeed, the well documented history of active French complicity in the Rwandan genocide is a particularly fruitful field for those who really do want to expose the crimes of ‘Western imperialism’.
Clearly, Herman and Peterson are anti-Americans before they are anti-imperialist. But it is even worse than that. For them, ‘anti-imperialism’ ultimately is genocide denial. Should any act of genocide be made known to the Western public, they see their job as ensuring that nothing is done to stop it while it is occurring, and as denying it after it has occurred – that is what ‘anti-imperialism’ is for them. Such are the depths to which these people have sunk.
Update: Peterson appears to have graduated from putting ‘massacre’ in inverted commas when speaking about Srebrenica, and ‘genocide’ in inverted commas’ when speaking about Rwanda, to putting ‘the Holocaust’ itself in inverted commas:
I find Jones’s comparison between the “holocaust” and events in Rwanda 1994 to be strangely revealing—but about Jones, not Rwanda. To me, it betrays an emotional, self-dramatizing, even defensive attachment to the “Holocaust in Rwanda”—that is, to a particular model for discussing events in Rwanda during 1994—that appears to overwhelm everything Jones thinks and writes about it. Indeed. ”The Genocide” in Rwanda stands out in Jones’s work (and in the work of many others) as a kind of fetishized, supra-historical entity in its own right.
A rather incoherent and highly abusive personal attack against me has been posted by Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’) on Harry’s Place. Lloyd claims – without providing any evidence and solely on the basis of conjecture – that my issues with him and with Harry’s Place amount to a personal vendetta. This is not true. I hope anyone reading the post below will understand the real issues involved.
A great struggle is brewing all over Europe and beyond. On the one side stands the liberal order and its defenders, representing the values of secularism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, pluralism and respect for human rights. On the other stands the forces of reaction, which itself is composed of two rival but essentially similar wings. Extremist Muslims (an unrepresentative minority among the Muslim communities of the democratic West) and certain fellow travellers on the extreme Left represent one wing of the anti-liberal reaction, and assault the liberal order under the banner of anti-Semitism (or ‘anti-Zionism’), anti-Westernism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism.
But it is the other wing that is the Western liberal order’s more dangerous enemy – if only because non-Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims, so there is a much larger constituency for this current of reaction to draw from. This current represents the white nativist reaction against the liberal order: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-EU, often anti-secular, but above all extremely nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the Western liberal world.
The new far-right is populist; it employs the language of the gutter and upholds the morality of the mob. Anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant prejudice are merely the means by which it seeks to attack the liberal order, but the real target is the liberal order itself. Borrowing from the lexicon of the radical left, it speaks in the name of the ‘people’ and the ‘working class’ – or more revealingly, of the ‘white working class’, whose values it claims to be defending from a decadent liberal elite. It presents anti-racism, religious tolerance and political correctness as elitist values, against which it asserts its own form of moral relativism: it champions racism and Islamophobia among the native white majority – sometimes termed euphemistically the ‘white working class’ – as expressions of a healthy aversion to liberal elites that allegedly are soft on Muslims and allegedly favour immigrants over natives. It repackages the far-right parties’ vulgar, racist voters as noble rebels against multiculturalism.
Into this equation we now bring the Eustonite or ‘Decent’ Left. This political current of leftists and liberals arose in opposition to the left-liberal mainstream’s betrayal of liberal values – a betrayal manifested variously in apologias for Islamist terrorism, sympathy for dictators and ethnic-cleansers and flirtation with anti-Semitism. There is a superficial confluence between the Decent Left and the new far right, in that both arose as critiques of the Western liberal mainstream. But these two critiques are opposites, for whereas the Decent Left criticises the liberal mainstream because it doesn’t uphold liberal values properly, the new far right attacks the liberal mainstream because it does uphold liberal values. The Decent Left wants a better, tougher liberalism; the new far right opposes liberalism altogether.
Nevertheless, the blog Harry’s Place provides a forum that brings the two currents of opposition to the left-liberal mainstream together. Harry’s Place bloggers are Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left-wingers, and focus in particular on exposing and opposing radical Islam and human rights abuses in the Islamic world (and elsewhere), and their Western left-wing apologists. However, the comments boxes of this blog attract members of both groups opposing the liberal mainstream: the Decent Left and the new far right. And although the two groups are in principle antithetical, there is a very real danger that this will be forgotten and that a synthesis will be formed, in which case Harry’s Place will have acted as incubator for a monster.
Apart from their common hostility to the liberal mainstream and to Islamists (or to Muslims in general, as the case may be), the Decent Left and the new far right have one other uniting factor: some members of both currents sometimes speak in the language of class, or champion the ‘working class’. But unlike for the traditional left, in this case the language of class is used not to uphold social justice, but on the contrary, to justify ignorance, vulgarity, racism and xenophobia among the white majority, now repackaged as the ‘white working class’. In a new manifestation of moral relativism, any objection to white racism or Islamophobia can be portrayed as elitist anti-working-class snobbery. Just as some will condemn as ‘Islamophobic’ any criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism or misogyny, so others will condemn as ‘elitist’ any criticism of white-working-class racism.
Harry’s Place is a blog in which comments have been posted and left undeleted by the moderators, calling for ships carrying illegal immigrants to Britain to be torpedoed, or equating ordinary Muslims with Nazis, or calling for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Leaving such comments undeleted may be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech, but I have come reluctantly to believe that one or two of the HP bloggers are somewhat unwilling to fall out with the far-right commenters who frequent the blog – and by ‘far right’ I don’t mean the actual BNP, but the Muslim-hating, immigrant-hating bigots who are one step away from it.
I used to write guest posts for Harry’s Place, and I frequently tried to tackle the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigots who frequent its comments boxes, but I found myself repeatedly undermined by some of the regular HP groupies, and by one or two of the bloggers themselves. In the debate on a splendid guest post by Andrew Murphy concerning Greek neo-Nazis and their hostility to Muslims and immigrants, the greater number of comments were expressing sympathy for the neo-Nazis on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant basis. I struck out at the Nazi sympathisers, and in doing so earned my very own far-right stalker, in the form of a certain ‘Mettaculture’. This individual believes that immigrants add nothing to British culture; that they are in fact destroying British culture and working-class communities; and that bigotry is a proud part of our national heritage. In an earlier attack on me, he said that as someone called ‘Attila’, I should go back to Mongolia. He also objected to my use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ and to my talk of moderate Muslims. Apparently affronted by my vocal support for immigration and my assault on the anti-immigrant bigots on the thread about Greek neo-Nazis, he then proceeded to attack me whenever I appeared at Harry’s Place, posting increasingly vicious and vulgar strings of personal abuse about me – attacking my skin colour, class background, name, etc. – descending at times to threats of violence, libel action and contacting my employers.
The reason for this particular thug’s obsession with attacking me was, I believe, that I was trying to steer Harry’s Place away from the influence of the nativist-populist, ethno-chauvinist, anti-elitist champions of the ‘white working class’ - such as himself - and to break the embryonic alliance between elements of the Decent Left and the anti-immigration far right (Mettaculture himself is a product of this synthesis – a self-declared ‘socialist’ and ‘communitarian’ who doesn’t like immigration or Muslims).
However, the problem for me was not so much that I had attracted this particular stalker – I’ve had others, and it’s something you have to put up with if you tackle controversial subjects on the internet. The real problem was that certain HP bloggers, above all Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’), but also Andrew Ward (‘Wardytron’) would step in against me each and every time I tried to defend myself against him. Though Graham would never challenge any of Mettaculture’s threats and abuse, he would invariably present my efforts at self-defence as constituting an offence equivalent to the threats and abuse themselves – though I had never once initiated any of the exchanges with Mettaculture; never been the first to use strong language; never threatened him.
The final straw for me was when Harry’s Place deleted my response to one of Graham’s snide remarks, but left Graham’s remark standing. It was completely clear to me then that any further cooperation with Harry’s Place was impossible, as I was simply being prevented from commenting freely, or from defending myself.
Wardytron is someone who believes people who vote BNP are not racist, but merely expressing a righteous and justified opposition to political correctness, and that the solution to the BNP problem is to reduce immigration. Graham, meanwhile, is someone who regularly uses ‘middle class’ as a term of abuse to bully into submission anyone who disagrees with him (while claiming himself to be ‘working class’); he uses terms like ‘rancid little middle class dickheads’. He also has a particularly nasty line in personal abuse, and has called Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour ‘fat’ and Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch ‘ginger’. When Laurie Penny was called a ‘silly cow’ on an HP thread, and complained at this use of sexist language, another HP poster claimed that using terms like ‘silly cow’ was simply the way some working-class people spoke, and that Penny’s objection to the term was an expression of her middle-class inability to understand the English working-class. Graham agrees; he described her as a ‘silly little girl’ and a ‘rather stupid spoilt little girl’ (and as plenty more besides – see update), and has more recently claimed that ‘I don’t care about someone being called a silly cow – that was rather the argument – that it wasn’t any big insult in a working-class area but cultural imperialists wanted it to be one everywhere.’ So, another moral-relativist defence of the use of sexist language, on the grounds that it’s ‘working class’, and that to say otherwise is an expression of ‘cultural imperialism’ ! Some may find Graham’s new incarnation as an anti-imperialist rather amusing.
I recently called Graham to account for his frequent resort to personal abuse; he responds by claiming my ‘prime motivation is to defend the rights of the already privileged in society’. We can expect more of this kind of non sequitur in the future, from him and others like him. Any attempt to speak out in defence of immigrants and Muslims; to condemn racism and sexism among the white majority; or to uphold civilised values generally against the ethics of the lynch mob and the language of the gutter, will invariably be painted as an expression of elitism. We had better prepare ourselves.
Update: I have managed to locate the texts of the two HP comments threads about Penny (‘Penny Shares’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’), and it appears that Graham is right on one point: he did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’. These are some of the things he did say about her:
‘Oh well looks like a silly little girl demanded the right not to be called a silly little girl, stamped her feet a bit and ended up looking more like a silly little girl than ever.’
‘I’d be less disposed to sneer not at someone’s class but rather at the idiots that turned up in vast numbers to defend this rather stupid spoilt little girl when they realised how ridiculous her article was…’
‘Speaking personally, I would never call Judy or Amie a “silly cow” (however silly they may get) because they have both earned my respect. I feel no such problem with calling someone that I have never seen before such a name.’
[In response to the following comment: 'As is Marcus, the sole basis of whose argument seems to be “it’s alright to call people silly cows round my way, so quit complaining”. It’s the pub misogynist line. We’re close to “only having a laugh love” and then on to “stuck up bitch”.']
‘This is all a bit silly but even to get the analogy to hold water you would have to concede that “the pub misogynist” would only be behaving that way because a silly little middle class girl flounced into the bar and called him a racist.’
‘This Penny is also an absolute out and out racist.’
‘Couldn’t she have asked daddy to buy her a newspaper to edit ?’
‘Spoilt little girl seems to me to be a simple description which does exactly what it says on the tin.’
‘I will criticise this spoilt little girl in any way I want.’
So, yes, Graham, I stand corrected: I concede your point that you did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’, and apologise for suggesting that you did and for any hurt and distress that my unwarranted accusation may have caused you (though I can’t help noticing that you didn’t exactly volunteer to make clear what you did say about her; if you had done so, the misunderstanding might have been cleared up a bit sooner).
HP has rather hastily closed the comments on Graham’s post, so I cannot say any of this there.
The text of my original post has been updated accordingly.
Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.
Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.
I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.
In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.
However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.
Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.
My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.
Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.
I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.
I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*
This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.
For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.
Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.
There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.
In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers, or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.
By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.
*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .
I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.
I posted the following comment yesterday at Harry’s Place:
As someone who has written posts in defence of HP on more than one occasion, and who stood up for you when you were driven off the internet by a libel threat, I don’t think I can be accused of political or personal hostility to you. But the more familiar I become with this blog, the more distasteful I find the atmosphere here and the more questionable I find your ethics.
For me, the turning point was having threats repeatedly posted against me by Mettaculture: he threatened me physically; threatened me with a libel suit; threatened to contact my employers. He also attacked me for the colour of my skin, and tried to intimidate me with graphic descriptions of anal sex, having previously tried to bully me into silence with references to my class background and foreign name. Not to mention all the vicious personal abuse (‘whore’, ‘douchebag’, etc.).
I’m not intimidated by this; Mettaculture’s kind is a dime a dozen, and I’ve had my share of such creatures attempting to intimidate me. But it does constitute harassment; it has nothing to do with ‘freedom of speech’. Not only does HP not condemn such behaviour, it encourages it, providing a forum in which every little anonymous internet psycho or stalker can engage in such activities. When I tried to defend myself by outing Mettaculture, I found that I was the one whom HP censored.
Horrified as I am by the fact that someone like Mettaculture can be tolerated here, I am even more horrified by the kids’ glove treatment that Ken ‘The Exile’ Bell receives. A man whose blog is a veritable misogynistic hate-fest is pampered by HP. Bell calls Oliver Kamm a ‘cockroach’, and when I complain about this, David T defends this as just one of Bell’s endearing little character foibles. David subsequently writes a whole post inviting people to make fun of Oliver’s name. Bell turns up and says the most disgusting things imaginable about Oliver’s mother – how he trained her to give blow-jobs and to swallow his semen. Bell’s behaviour is then defended by Wardytron – another HP blogger – again, as further evidence of his endearing eccentricity. Another great day for HP.
Then there’s Morgoth – a man who, on at least two occasions here at HP, called for the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from the West Bank, without being rebuked, let alone banned. Morgoth calls for Conor Foley to be beaten up, and Conor’s wife is reduced to tears reading his comment. HP actually has the cheek to complain that Conor is unreasonable for being upset about this. Of course, your anger is never directed at any one of your revolting, anonymous little groupies, but only at the people who have the temerity to complain about their behaviour.
I even found myself sympathising with Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour when he was repeatedly under attack here for being overweight. And sometimes for having a ‘funny’ accent as well, if I recall. I can’t stand Seymour, but I find it beyond belief that someone should be attacked on the basis of their physical appearance like that – no matter who they are. No doubt the people who did so all looked like Johnny Depp, but their pictures aren’t on the internet and they’re mostly anonymous, so we just don’t know, do we ?
Now Laurie Penny is under assault from a whole pack of attack-dogs for being a 23-year old middle-class woman. Her attempts to defend herself from the sexist insults are rejected on the grounds that sexist insults are simply what working-class people use to express themselves, something that she’s supposedly too middle-class to understand. Yeah, right ! ‘Moral relativism’ is the term that springs to mind.
Racism, misogyny, incitement to violence – all can be overlooked when a member of your sad little circle of groupies is the guilty party. But God forbid that anyone should hold you accountable for what appears in the comment boxes of your own website, or that anyone interfere with the right of freaks and psychos to defame and abuse whomever they want while cowering behind anonymity.
They make a desert, and they call it peace.
They make a cesspool, and they call it ‘freedom of speech’.
Here are examples of the sort of thing ‘Mettaculture’ has been directing at me:
‘We are all racist’s [sic] according to the pasty white boy. He know’s [sic] you see, being a spolit middle class narcissistic solipsistic pasty white brat.’
‘No I am really fucked off and am out of here. I am out of here for my Turkish lesson where I hope to learn the correct conjugations of fuck, fuck my ass, suck it etc. Then I go to dinner with a new beau, he’s Anatolian and very dark and speaks a funny language only if you are a moron or are scandelighted by saying it. When he is sliding his very dark dick into my ass at my recently learned Turkish encouragement, i shall think of your pasty smug face and your prim white ass and what it is evidently missing. Now clutch your pearls in horror why don’t you.’
Here is what Ken Bell wrote about Kamm’s mother:
‘It’s the way I am, Gimlet. A nice gentle bloke who explains things patiently. Many years ago – probably before you were born – there was this bird named Anthea who used to polish my knob. I learned patience with her, and believe you me I needed every ounce of it: teaching her that blow is just a figure of speech was not easy. Still we got there in the end and she learned to swallow every drop.’
Update: Flesh is Grass makes a number of intelligent points on this matter.
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.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left