Remembering Srebrenica 25 years on 1995-2020

I first posted this blog following my visits to Bosnia in 2014.

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 According to the Bosnia and Herzegovina tourist board, Bosnia “is one of the last undiscovered regions of the southern Alps. Vast tracks of wild and untouched nature make it an ideal holiday destination for adventurers and nature lovers alike. The central Dinaric Alps are a hikers and walkers paradise. Enchanted by both Mediterranean and Alpine climates, the range of diverse landscapes will stun and amaze you”.

Tourist boards have a habit of inflating reality in a bid to encourage visitors to their part of the world. On this occasion I can say the description is very much understated. The country is stunning. Everywhere you turn you see mountains, trees and lush greenery – hard to comprehend how a land of such exquisite geography could have experienced such gruesome horrors only 25 years ago. In Europe. A short three hours flight from London.

But that is the reality of Bosnia. Those of us of a certain age will never forget the scenes unfolding on our TV scenes as the worst genocide since World War II unfolded before our very eyes. And we sat, helpless, unable to protect the innocent men and boys being slaughtered, the estimated 20-50,000 girls and women being raped and families being torn apart and displaced in a war that would be a reminder of how ineffective we are as a human race. A genocide that took place in a region despite it being declared a safe haven by the United Nations. Over 8372 slaughtered in the fields, farms, school buildings, and warehouses in Srebrenica. Sons torn away from their mothers arms, fathers and sons separated, boys watching their school friends being gunned down whilst trying to escape – these are images that many who survived the atrocity still see every time they close they eyes. But the hardest thing for the women to bear is the burden they carry of not knowing what really happened to their husband, son, father, brother, uncle and nephew. For many, their remains have never been found. Many remains though unearthed are still to be identified. Those that are found and reunited can finally be given a funeral by their loved ones and can be put them to rest. Many families may have only a few bones to bury, but they still fulfil what they see as their religious obligation – to have a proper Muslim funeral, and return the remains of their loved one to their Maker, with dignity.

It was a real priveledge for me to be part of a delegation to visit Bosnia twice as part of the Lessons from Srebrenica visits organised by Remembering Srebrenica in 2014. An opportunity to see and learn first hand about not just the atrocities that unfolded there 25 years ago, but witness the devastation that was left behind and how the Bosnians are still coming to terms with it. As someone who has worked in equality and diversity and hate crime initiatives for most of my life it is very hard to comprehend how such hate can exist in anyone to the extent they want to see the elimination of an entire race.

Lessons from Srebrenica remains a very important initiative for everyone, but particularly our youth. They need to see first hand what happens when hate goes unchecked – how far and how quickly things escalate. Allport’s scale (1954) demonstrates this very clearly when it outlines how this progression takes place. What might initially start as harmless fun, making jokes or derogatory comments about another group, negative stereotypes can very quickly escalate to active avoidance of them, discriminating against them in, for example, access to opportunities, goods and services, to physical attacks (hate crimes), lynchings, burning of property, to the final act of genocide and attempting to ethnic cleanse an entire group of people. Think Holocaust. Think Rwanda. Think Bosnia.

How often have we said “never again”? How many more times must it be said? Until as a human race we begin to recognise that it is human beings, just like you and me who have committed these atrocities and it will be ordinary people like you and me who will commit them again, we will continue to witness these horrific senseless acts of brutality across the world, again and again.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Burke)

When we say never again this time let us mean it.

You can find out more about Lessons from Srebrenica at http://srebrenica.org.uk/

 

This photograph of the beautiful landscape was taken as we approached Sarajevo. Hard to believe the horrors this land has seen.
This photograph of the beautiful landscape was taken as we approached Sarajevo. Hard to believe the horrors this land has seen.
Photographs by Tarik Samarah, a Bosnian photographer who compiled the project "Srebrenica - genocide at the heart of Europe"
Photographs by Tarik Samarah, a Bosnian photographer who compiled the project “Srebrenica – genocide at the heart of Europe”

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The grave of Alija Izetbegović, who in 1990 became the first Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The grave of Alija Izetbegović, who in 1990 became the first Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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The delegation at dinner with the British Ambassador to Bosnia Edward Ferguson
The delegation at dinner with the British Ambassador to Bosnia Edward Ferguson

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It transpired His Excellency had lived in Pakistan for a short while and still had a favourite Urdu song!
It transpired His Excellency had lived in Pakistan for a short while and still had a favourite Urdu song!
On the road to Tuzla where we visited the Podrinje Identification Project which included both the forensic facility and the forensic DNA facility)
On the road to Tuzla where we visited the Podrinje Identification Project which included both the forensic facility and the forensic DNA facility)
It didn't seem to matter where we went and where we looked. There were cemeteries everywhere
It didn’t seem to matter where we went and where we looked. There were cemeteries everywhere
The overwhelming smell of death was everywhere. So sad to see how remains of our fellow humans who once walked and talked like us, are now stored,  until such a time they can be reunited with their loved ones.
The overwhelming smell of death was everywhere. So sad to see how remains of our fellow humans who once walked and talked like us, are now stored, until such a time they can be reunited with their loved ones.
The remains of one individual going through the process of being identified. The task made even  harder because, in the effort to hide their crimes, the Serbs moved bodies from mass graves and bones of one individual have been found across multiple sites.
The remains of one individual going through the process of being identified. The task made even harder because, in the effort to hide their crimes, the Serbs moved bodies from mass graves and bones of one individual have been found across multiple sites.
The International Commission on Missing Persons is funded from 25 countries
The International Commission on Missing Persons is funded from 25 countries

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The processes used it trying to identify remains are staggering
The processes used in trying to identify the remains are staggering

 

 

Next stop Srebrenica with a tour of the Potocari Memorial and Battery Factory
Next stop Srebrenica with a tour of the Potocari Memorial and Battery Factory

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Mothers of Srebrenica
Mothers of Srebrenica

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The battery factory where the men and women were separated before the men were taken off to be slaughtered
The battery factory where the men and women were separated before the men were taken off to be slaughtered

 

Inside the factory, a space widely recognised from the photograph showing 600 coffins  of victims awaiting burial
Inside the factory, a space widely recognised from the photograph showing 600 coffins of victims awaiting burial

 

At the Residence of the Grand Mufti of Bosnia
At the Residence of the Grand Mufti of Bosnia

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The Church, the Synagogue and the Mosque all within a short space of each other in the old town of Sarajevo

IMG_5638This photograph of the beautiful landscape was taken on the approach into SarajevoIMG_5625

 

 

And finally an opportunity to have a look at the sights and sounds of the city before our flight back home

 

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A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell's explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell explosions during the Siege of Sarajevo, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city. Throughout the city, these spots mark where one or more deaths took place as a result of mortar attacks.
A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell’s explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell explosions during the Siege of Sarajevo, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city. Throughout the city, these spots mark where one or more deaths took place as a result of mortar attacks.
"In 1914, war started in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 1991 it started again".  This stones marks the spot where Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the start of World War 1
“In 1914, war started in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 1991 it started again”. This stones marks the spot where Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the start of World War 1Re

When The Sun Doesn’t Shine on Muslims

Dear Mr Gallagher

What sort of odious creatures are you employing at The Sun in the guise of professional journalist?

Are these people for real? Is this the only way they can find of ‘making it’ in a world where fame is judged by the number of friends on Facebook, followers on twitter or the number of retweets that you get?

Whatever their reasons, it is becoming more and more evident, that we are living in a world that is far too accepting of hatred towards Muslims,  whether that comes in the form of abuse whilst travelling on the buses or from within our media. We are living in a world that once upon a time judged our ‘Britishness’ by which cricket team we supported, but as Baroness Warsi put it, has progressed to one where  Islamophobia had passed the dinner-table test and become socially acceptable in the UK.

Forget the fact that Muslim women work in every walk of life from teachers, barristers, doctors, dentists and politicians. It would appear that whilst a Muslim woman can be Chair of the Conservative party, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf can win British Bake Off and go on to bake a cake for Her Majesty The Queens 90th birthday party, a Muslim man can become Mayor of London. But Heaven forbid a Muslim woman wearing a scarf should be seen on mainstream television reporting on a terrorist atrocity without some hate fuelled tirade by a petty-minded bigot. And I use the word bigot very carefully after having been reminded a few times recently that ‘Muslims aren’t a race’. Muslims do however constitute the second largest world religion and in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 must not be discriminated  against because of belonging to a particular religion or holding a particular philosophical belief.

However that is exactly what The Sun and your highly professional reporters appear to do on a regular basis. Why has this not been challenged?  Why has this been allowed to continue – both by yourself as Editor in Chief, from your reporter Kelvin MacKenzie and us as British Muslims?  Are OFCOM, the communications regulator, not able to see that there is something grossly wrong in the blatant messages certain media outlets are trying to put out there? The appalling language designed to divide communities, promote pure hatred and I believe incite physical and verbal abuse of Muslims has left me and many people disgusted and yes, fearful. Not only for our own safety but for that of our children, our families and our friends. The implication that there is no such thing as a good Muslim, that no Muslim should ever report on a terrorist attack or anything that is even remotely ‘Muslim related’ shows the pure stupidity and mindset of not only the people writing these things but the audience it is aimed at. So should a man never report on a rape attack on a woman? Should a white man never report on an incident of domestic violence by a white man? Or a person who is overweight not present a report on obesity? Was it ‘appropriate’ for a Muslim woman in a scarf to report on the Nice attack? Damn right it was because guess what. Fatima Manji is a highly skilled professional journalist working for Channel 4 and has absolutely nothing to do with a man who allegedly  has a history of violence , domestic abuse , petty criminality and a religious affiliation that is highly questionable. She had nothing to do with the attack any more than I or the 1.6 billion peaceful, law abiding Muslims across the world did. It is not Channel 4 that hosts unprofessional journalists – I think we all know where they are currently residing. And Fatima Manji is the epitome of a professional British Muslim, let’s not forget that tiny fact in all this. Reporting of this nature is not only irresponsible it is contemptible and it is dangerous. So dangerous that it should be investigated by OFCOM and the police as it fuels the growing tide of far right extremism, it not only condones but promotes hatred and quite simply glorifies prejudice, division and racism. Should you be in any doubt at the rising levels of far right extremism currently facing our country, I suggest you take a look at Tell Mama’s most recent report ‘The Geography of Anti-Muslim Hate’ (http://tellmamauk.org/geography-anti-muslim-hatred-2015-tell-mama-annual-report/ ). Or just ask a Muslim woman next time you get to meet one.

People like yourself in positions of great authority have a duty to society around you to report responsibly and use your powers to create cohesive societies, not create more division. We should all be responsible for creating communities where the most vulnerable feel safe and secure. History has taught us the harsh realities of what happens when a group of people are targeted and turned into pariahs by their friends and neighbours. We have seen the destruction in Nazi Germany, Srebrenica and Rwanda.  I hope you and your journalists at The Sun reflect on their words and the actions that they could potentially lead to.

Kind regards

Hifsa

 

 

 

 

 

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