Qari Asim, MBE
Qari Asim is on the regional leadership board of Remembering Srebrenica charity and deputy chair of cross-government Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. He can be reached at @QariAsim
This week marks the 24th anniversary of Srebrenica genocide. The theme for 2019 Srebrenica Memorial Week is ‘Bridging the Divide: Confronting Hate’; it invites us all to focus on shared common values and to build bridges between communities in post-Brexit Britain.
The Bosnian conflict between 1992-1995 resulted in the deaths of 100,00 to 130,000 people. The four year campaign lead to forced deportation, torture, mass murder and systematic sexual violence by Bosnian Serb forces in service of their goal to create a “Greater Serbia”.
The brutal and systematic massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica-Potočari symbolises the horrors committed against Bosnians. On 11 July 1995, more than 8,000 men and boys were massacred at the doorsteps of Europe because of their faith and belief.
I have visited Srebrenica many a times and have felt that death still haunts Srebrenica. Genocide is something inexpressible, and incomprehensible. Fresh graves continue to be dug at the memorial cemetery, and in some cases existing graves are re-opened many a times as and when partial remains of bodies of those massacred are found. The family members have not been able to find a closure to their arduous trauma.
I have met many mothers of Srebrenica and have heard their powerful and heart-wrenching testimonies whilst sitting in the middle of 8,372 graves- Srebrenica Genocide Memorial. Meeting with the Mothers of Srebrenica left me with revulsion, alarm, sorrow, grief, shame and incomprehension. Many of the relatives of the victims still continue to search for the truth for their loved ones, and an acknowledgement that their family members were systematically killed, raped or made to flee from their homes.
The ethnic cleansing of Bosnians may have happened 24 years ago but it is a stain in European history, and the criminal acts of murderers still continue to stir hatred against Muslims. In New Zealand, the perpetrator of the Christchurch terror attacks who brutally murdered 50 Muslims was listening to a Serbian nationalist song which glorified Radovan Karadžić.
When the Second World War ended we said ‘never again’ would we allow ethnic cleansing and the systematic persecution of a people. But we’ve said ‘never again’ too many times and have stood by and watched atrocities like the Srebrenica genocide play out.
The potential genocide of Uighurs that is unfolding in China is an example at hand. There are reports of ‘concentration camps’ where over a million Uighur and other Muslim ethnic minorities are forcibly detained. People are being brainwashed into forgetting their culture, religion and identities. Former detainees, however, have given accounts claiming to have been tortured during interrogation at the camps, being separated from their families, and forced to consume pork and alcohol while inside. Yet, the international community, by and large, remains silent in challenging the systematic campaign against freedom of religion and belief of Uighurs.
The UK’s Srebrenica Memorial Week reminds us of the consequences of standing by and allowing hatred to fester. This week will see hundreds of acts of commemoration taking place around the country and people pledging to stand together against all forms of hatred. On Friday, hundreds and thousands of British Muslims will honour the victims of Srebrenica massacre in mosques. As an Imam, I wrote the Friday Sermon which will be delivered at mosques across the country. The sermon offers a unique opportunity to honour the precious lives brutally snatched away in Srebrenica. But it also highlights that genocide does not happen overnight. Genocide is the ultimate expression of hatred and violence against a group of people. It begins when hatred, intolerance and xenophobia are left unchallenged or are exploited for political gain.
The genocide of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and Herzegovina is a reminder to every one of us about what humans are capable of doing to other humans when hatred, religious intolerance and ultra-nationalism prevail.
The fact that genocide happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was seemingly an integrated society, is a stark reminder that it can happen anywhere unless we learn to respect and appreciate our differences. With increasing levels of Islamophobia, we must challenge the normalisation of hatred towards Muslims. While Britain has done better than most European countries at promoting integration, social cohesion is at risk from politicians exploiting divisions in post-Brexit Britain. We must be constantly vigilant against all forms of racism and xenophobia and never think that they can be tolerated in any form.
No faith community is immune from persecution. The report commissioned by the Foreign Office to examine the extent and nature of Christian persecution , released this week, states that acts of violence and other intimidation against Christians are becoming more widespread. Anti-semitism continues to be on the rise in Europe.
There is strong evidence that anti-Muslim prejudice is more widespread than prejudice against most other minority groups in Britain today. The State of Media Reporting about Islam and Muslims report released this week, states that 59% of all articles associated Muslims with negative behaviour. Such negative portrayal of Muslims is then exploited by extreme far right to spread hatred towards Muslims. It has therefore never been so important for people to be empowered to confront hatred in their communities and to build bridges that help create a stronger, better and more cohesive society.