Reflections on the Karadzic verdict

Reflections on the Karadzic verdict

On March 25, I watched the verdict of the United Nations tribunal on Radovan Karadzic, the leader of Bosnian Serbian forces in during the 1992-1995 war. The man was found guilty of 10 major crimes, including “genocide” and crimes against humanity. He mastered the massacre of ‘‘every able-bodied male’’ in the town of Srebrenica in 1995, along with the killings of tens of thousands of people in Sarajevo and elsewhere. Hence, he was given a sentence of 40 years in prison. 

In my view, Karadzic certainly deserved that sentence — and in fact much more. I am aware that European law rules out the death penalty, but I personally am for it in crimes against humanity. The Nazis were rightly given death penalties at the Nuremberg Trials, and that is what my consciousness decrees for all mass murderers — from Radovan Karadzic to, hopefully, Bashar al-Assad and “Caliph” Al Baghdadi. 

I had learnt the name “Radovan Karadzic” sometime in the year 1992, when I was a college student. The war in former Yugoslavia had broken out, and had spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I, like many other Turks, had suddenly realized that in the Balkans we had fellow Muslims. Moreover, Serbian fascists were killing them by calling them “Turks!” 

Today, some Bosnian Muslims blame Turkey for not having helped sufficiently or early enough to Bosnia at the time. But, undoubtedly many Turks, including myself, were sad and angry, moved and motivated, and were trying to help. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina initiated, in fact, a sort of “neo-Ottoman awakening,” whose impact would include the rise of Turkish political Islam. 

The Bosniaks were targeted by Serbian paramilitary — also called “Chetniks” —for merely their religion. Serbs are Orthodox Christians, and that religious divide, along with the related history, is the only thing that separates them from the Muslim Bosnians and the Catholic Croats.  

In other words, if you think that Christianity is a religion of love and peace, you could be technically right, but you would also be challenged by the reality of the Balkans during the time of Karadzic. It was a genocide unleashed on a Muslim people under the sign of the cross. The Serbian Orthodox Church shamelessly blessed the forces of Karadzic and his fellow monsters, including his boss in Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Senior bishops traveled in the war zones of Croatia and Bosnia to “support our troops,” and prayed for the Serbian forces shelling Sarajevo.

“Our church itself has generated nationalism,” once observed Mirko Djordjevic, a liberal Serbian scholar. “The church [even] believed Milosevic was the Messiah who had come to smile on all Serbs.” (See the New York Times story dated July 4, 1999, “Church of Milosevic’s Rise Now Sends Mixed Message.”)

I am reminding my readers of these things not to create or perpetrate bias, but to highlight how religion can be a lethal force when it is mixed with zealotry produced by nationalism, paranoia, greed, and especially a lust for historic revenge. All this happened in the Balkans in the 1990s, when the Serbian Orthodox Church blessed the genocide on Bosniak Muslims. It is happens elsewhere in the world, when Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists synthesize their sense of the sacred with the sense of hatred toward the others. 

The world will be a better place when religious and political leaders try to reach out to the different communities, to establish dialogue and peace, rather than demonizing them. And when they begin to demonize people, we should ring the alarm bells, for we know where that road takes us. It is the road of Hitler and Karadzic. It is the road of the jihadists who want to terrorize the West by bombing its capitals. Or it is the road of the Western populists, who want to expel all Muslims and “carpet-bomb” the Middle East. We should not follow them in the hatred they intentionally create and cynically exploit.