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Blaming Bosnia for ‘alt-right’ and mass shootings is both ignorant and wrong

Blaming Bosnia for ‘alt-right’ and mass shootings is both ignorant and wrong
Drawing a line between the 1990s events in Bosnia and the recent mass shootings in New Zealand and the US is an inversion of facts on par with the original propaganda about that war, which has actually had disastrous consequences.

Yet that is precisely what Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept has done in a piece published over the weekend, playing the guilt-by-association game to find a common thread to Anders Breivik’s 2011 rampage, the Christchurch mosque shootings in March this year, and even the El Paso mass shooting in Texas last month. 

Hussain’s argument is that “white nationalists” in the West are inspired by the Bosnian Serbs and their “genocide” of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-1995 conflict. As proof of this, he points to Breivik’s statements, writings on the rifle of the New Zealand mosque shooter, and even the obsession of the El Paso attacker with birth rates. 

The rest of the article is a regurgitation of mainstream talking points about Bosnia, recycled endlessly since the 1990s – and applied since to justify intervention and death, from Iraq to Libya. This is perhaps not surprising, since Hussain has written about Bosnia in the same vein last year, and actually lamented the decline of US hegemony the year before, as pointed out by journalist Aaron Mate.

“You found one guy in New Zealand and one guy in Norway and you built a whole article out of this. I hope you enjoyed your Balkan summer vacation,” scoffed Lebanese journalist Rania Khalek, arguing that white nationalism and demographic fears are “a very American phenomenon” that long predates the creation or demise of Yugoslavia, which one does not have to search for in faraway places. 

“Most white nationalists have never heard of Bosnia's massacres any more than they heard of Rwanda, Cambodia, the Nakba, or Bangladesh,” Khalek tweeted. “And one guy in New Zealand is not a pattern of Serbia inspiring a global hate movement.”

Canadian human rights scholar Heidi Matthews also objected, arguing that Hussain “gets the history and law wrong,” as well as “participates in a long liberal tradition of privileging analysis of acts of atrocity over structural causes of war.”

In a twitter thread spanning two days, Matthews goes into specific legal, political and even semantic problems in Hussein’s article, but one line in particular seems apropos. 

“...the idea that today's alt-right actually understands the war in the former Yugoslavia is really puzzling. It could be that the public picks up on journalistic retellings of the conflict that emphasize atrocity over structure,” she tweeted.

Indeed, when one looks at the actual words of Breivik, or the symbolism used by the Christchurch shooter, it becomes abundantly clear that their entire knowledge of the Bosnian War was based on mainstream Western media reporting – which they believed entirely, but chose to have “sympathy for the devil” because of their contempt for their own media and hostility toward their own societies.

The picture painted by Western media was dire, indeed: they spoke of “genocide” as early as mid-1992, using misleading photos from refugee centers to present them as death camps, and reported on 300,000 Muslim dead by 1993 – to name but two examples. Genocide claims only shifted to the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica much later. When the official death count showed 98,000 dead on all sides, a decade after the war’s end, everyone pretended they had never reported otherwise.

Also on rt.com The Dayton miracle: Bosnia armistice, still alive at 20

It was this “shrill and unsubstantiated coverage” in the Western media that radicalized both the neoliberal and neoconservative elements in the West, as well as the jihadists in the Muslim world, all struggling to find a purpose after the end of the Cold War and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Irish journalist Brendan O’Neill argued in 2008.

“In Bosnia, both Western elements and radical Islamists became super-moralized, militarized, internationalized. As a result of their joint war against the ‘evil’ of the Serbs, they began to conceive of themselves as warriors for ‘good’ who did not have to play by the old rules of the international order,” wrote O’Neill.

Needless to say, this position remains unpopular with both groups. It is much easier to believe oneself the innocent victim, or a white-knighting savior, while the demonized and silenced Serbs remain the designated villain onto whom one can project all their problems – just as Hussain does here.

By Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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