Not Two Cents

"I don't give two cents about Bosnia. Not two cents. The people there have brought on their own troubles." This statement by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was made on June 7, 1995. It marks the logical end of moral equalizing, the equating of the victim and the perpetrator and the devaluing of both.[56]

In theological terms, the moral and political equalizing was embodied in the statement by the Serb Church spokesman that "everyone in this war is guilty."[57] The ramifications of such a statement go beyond theological doctrines of original sin. The notion that everyone is guilty in the Bosnian conflict is a generalized statement that leads downslope to the conclusion that

Bosnian people are in some sense getting what they deserve. Indeed, the view that the victims of genocide deserve what they get is more often a subtext of the language of moral and political equalizing; only rarely does an influential columnist such as Thomas Friedman articulate the message directly. In the less restrained world of Internet newsgroups, posters often state a version of the slogan, "Let them keep on killing one another and the problem will solve itself," a statement that is a more honest version of the phrase popular among political commentators: "Contain the problem to Bosnia and let it burn itself out."

Albert Speer, the architect of much of Nazi Germany's industrial machine, spent twenty years in prison. In his memoirs, he stated that he never accepted responsibility for the evil he had caused despite the vast number of victims. Then he saw a photo of a family being taken to a death camp.

of suffering on an individual scale, he began to understand the evil of which he had

In Bosnia, witnesses to the violence have focused on individual cases in order to touch somehow a world that seemed not to wish to care. A reporter noted that after the second Sarajevo market massacre on August 28, 1995, a Bosnian child turned to her mother saying "Mommy, I've lost my hand," as her mother, herself grievously wounded, moaned "Where is my husband, I've lost my husband." After the Serb army shelling of a Sarajevo suburb in 1992, a reporter wrote of a young boy

found next to his dead mother, repeating, "Do you love me, Mommy?" After the Srebrenica shelling massacre of 1993, in which the Serb army opened fire on a group of Muslim civilians waiting to be evacuated by the United Nations, an official with the UN High Commission for Refugees told of a young girl who had half her face

Bosnian Omarska

Who was she? Refugee from Srebrenica after the safe haven was turned over to the Serb army in July 1995. AP/Wide World


Who was she? Refugee from Srebrenica after the safe haven was turned over to the Serb army in July 1995. AP/Wide World


blown away. He said that her suffering was so intense, he could do nothing but pray that she would die soon, which she did.[59]

In some cases, images that intimate rather than demonstrate have allowed people to see beyond the masks to what is at stake in Bosnia. A young woman from Srebrenica hanged herself after the enclave was turned over to the Serb army; a picture of her allowed U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had been using the language of Balkanist "ancient animosities" mythology to excuse the violence, to understand the human element of the genocide. Feinstein asked a series of questions about the young woman: What was her name, where was she from, what humiliations and depravations did she suffer, had she been raped, did she witness loved ones being killed? It was what the picture left unsaid that allowed the senator to look beyond the linguistic masks of "warring factions" and "guilt on all sides" to the reality that this young woman was most likely not warring, not guilty, not an ancient antagonist or hater, and that her act was "not the act of someone who had the ability to fight in self-defense."[60]

The violence in Bosnia was a religious genocide in several senses: the people destroyed were chosen on the basis of their religious identity; those carrying out the killings acted with the blessing and support of Christian church leaders; the violence was grounded in a religious mythology that characterized the targeted people as race traitors and the extermination of them as a sacred act; and the perpetrators of the violence were protected by a policy designed by the policy makers of a Western world that is culturally dominated by Christianity.

In the case of religious genocide, moral distinctions are particularly difficult to maintain; the basis of much moral thinking is to be found within religions, but in religiously motivated vio-

lence, religions are being manipulated to motivate and justify the evil. One response is to reform religions from within, in dialogue with other religions. Religious leaders of each tradition need to better understand and more clearly explain the full humanity of those who embrace other religions and the variety and richness within other traditions. Another response is to begin with a basic premise—that needless, willfully inflicted human suffering cannot and should not be explained away. The two responses may complement one another.

A counterreading to the manipulation of the Good Friday story by religious nationalists might be found in the refusal of "doubting Thomas" to accept the risen Jesus until he had put his hands into the wounds. There are those who will refuse to accept the suffering of their fellow human beings even if they were to put their hands into the wounds; in the case of Bosnia the doubters might include Western political leaders and a segment of the public.

The story of Thomas may be a story about how difficult it is to recognize the wounds of another and how such recognition is necessary in order to see the resurrected Jesus. The Bosnian Muslim has been the "other" for much of the Christian world. The genocide in Bosnia was grounded in a particular version of the Good Friday story; it remains to be seen whether other readings of that story will contribute to a decision to stop the genocide, and whether that decision will occur before it is too late.

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