Earlier this month, popular ‘progressive’ news website The Intercept published an article entitled “From El Paso to Sarajevo: How White Nationalists Are Inspired by the Bosnia Genocide”, written by journalist and staff writer Murtaza Hussain. The piece argued that many of the perpetrators behind mass shootings and domestic terrorism in the West — from the convicted far right extremist behind the 2011 Norway attacks to the suspect charged in the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand — were influenced by ethnic cleansing committed by Serbs against Bosnian Muslims during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
Hussain uses a one-sided and Western-centric account of the inter-ethnic conflict in the Balkans to assess the Islamophobia burgeoning in Europe and the United States today. His analogy employs the same misreading used by NATO to facilitate the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia and justify its illegal military intervention and war crimes against Serbia. It is an irresponsible variety of yellow journalism that should be ruthlessly critiqued whenever it appears, especially at a news organization which purports to be “fearless, adversarial journalism that holds the powerful accountable.” It also does nothing to help address the growing foundations of fascism by diverting attention away from its real origins.
Hussain begins by accurately noting that the Australian-born suspect behind the massacre at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand, Brenton Tarrant, during his live-stream video prior to the carnage, played the song “Remove Kabab” (Serbia Strong”), an upbeat patriotic tune that pays tribute to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić. Removed from the context of the Yugoslav Wars, the Serbian folk song and its accompanying wartime propaganda video were rediscovered by Western right-wing fanatics like Tarrant when it became a popular internet meme among the online fringe as an anthem for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in reaction to the influx of refugees from the European migrant crisis. The infamous convicted terrorist behind the July 2011 mass shooting and car bombing in Norway, Anders Breivik, also expressed affinity for the Serbs in his epic manifesto and was cited as an influence by Tarrant. However, despite the article title the author provides no evidence whatsoever to support the implication that the El Paso shooter, 21-year old Patrick Crusius, was in any way motivated by the Balkan conflict.
Brenton Tarrant also wrote the names of several historical Serbian military figures who fought against the Ottoman Empire in previous centuries in Cyrillic on his semi-automatic rifle used to carry out the slaughter. Curiously, he also wrote ‘Skanderbeg’, a legendary national hero of Albania who as a medieval military commander, defected from the Ottoman Turks and prevented their expansion toward western Europe in the 15th century. Despite his historical legacy of rescuing ‘Christendom’ from an Islamic empire to which Tarrant was likely referring, Skanderbeg holds varying significance to different peoples and for the predominantly Muslim Albanians he is viewed as a source of national pride and identity.
During WWII when Albania was under the Axis Powers sphere of influence, it was Muslim volunteers who formed the nucleus of the 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian), whose foremost victims were Christian Orthodox Serbs, in addition to Jews and Roma. In the Yugoslav Wars, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), de-listed terrorist group backed by NATO which fought against Serbia, sought to establish the modern equivalent of the ethnically pure ‘Greater Albania’ as envisioned by Benito Mussolini during WWII in the Kosovo protectorate. So if the Australian-born gunman was incited by Balkan history, it is because he was as confused and unknowledgeable about the complex subject as Hussain, given that he also wrote the number 14 on his firearm in reference to “the 14 words” from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Before falsifying the history of the Yugoslav Wars, Hussain does correctly observe that:
The Balkans are often condescendingly stereotyped as a backward region stuck in the grip of old prejudices. In reality, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims had lived together as compatriots in the former Yugoslavia for a long time before violent demagogues came to power; it took years of effort during the late 1980s and early 1990s for ultranationalist leaders to drum up the level of fear and hatred necessary for war to start.
Unfortunately, the author does not bother to investigate why they had successfully lived together in harmony as southern slavs for decades (under socialism), nor how such leaders took power and incited the different ethnicities into warring with each other as the country disintegrated, as if everything occurred in a vacuum. Following WWII, partisan leader Josip Broz Tito had indeed united the various Yugoslav peoples in congruity under a popular motto that the country consisted of ‘six republics, five nationalities, four languages, three religions, two alphabets — but one Yugoslav.’ Even the most fervent critics of socialism admit the republic was a relative success as it enjoyed freedom from being undermined by economic embargo as a neutral ‘non-aligned’ country during the Cold War after relations soured between Stalin and Tito and it became a strategic buffer between the West and the Soviets.
Following Tito’s death in 1980, a series of austerity programs sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were put into effect and much like a recent study concluded regarding Weimar Germany in the 1930s, the gutting of the welfare system and the social fabric led to a resurgence of right-wing nationalism in the Balkans. Yugoslavia went through the same neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ as Chile the decade prior when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger sent the CIA to “make the economy scream” to prevent Salvador Allende from taking power, as well as post-Soviet Russia which the author’s The Intercept colleague Naomi Klein described so thoroughly in The Shock Doctrine. Yet for Hussain, the driving force in Yugoslavia’s downfall was bigotry itself, somehow isolated from the disaster capitalism forced upon it.
As only an empire denialist could overlook, Hussain makes no mention of the “encouragement of racism” on the part of U.S. imperialism, beginning with the coercive diplomacy of the 1991 Foreign Operations Appropriation Act which instigated the separatist movements by providing aid exclusively to the republics that seceded and declared independence at the exclusion of the Yugoslav government. After the bill was passed by congress at the behest of the George H.W. Bush administration, only the federation of Serbia and Montenegro remained under the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. According to a declassified memorandum, the CIA had already been anticipating this collapse for several years.
Suddenly, much of the population consisting of the many different ethnic communities of the Balkans found themselves trapped within various newly formed ethno-nation states overnight that were not their own. They then began establishing proto-states within these new republics, spurring violent conflicts and territorial disputes resulting in ethnic cleansing (on all sides) across the country. Yugoslavia did not implode simply because of its own internal contradictions, but was the subject of exploitation by a more powerful outside actor seeking to economically and militarily dominate the Caspian Sea region in order to gain access to its crude oil and natural gas resources.
Serbian nationalism only saw a resurgence within Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina once Serbs became hostages under new hostile regimes, when we were told by the NATO acolytes in corporate media that it was Belgrade who were the real nationalists even though most Serbians still identified as Yugoslavs and generally wished to preserve the federation being partitioned. In fact, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague posthumously concluded that the late Serbian and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, who died mysteriously while in custody on trial in the Netherlands, was not responsible for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war. When Radovan Karadžić was convicted by the ICTY, it was determined the Bosnian Serbs acted on their own accord and were frequently at variance with Belgrade on the execution of the war:
Based on the evidence before the Chamber regarding the diverging interests that emerged between the Bosnian Serb and Serbian leaderships during the conflict and in particular, Milošević’s repeated criticism and disapproval of the policies and decisions made by the Accused and the Bosnian Serb leadership, the Chamber is not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence presented in this case to find that Slobodan Milošević agreed with the common plan.
Serbs certainly committed their share of war crimes, but why do Western journalists dare not speak of the thousands of Serbs ethnically cleansed in Croatia from the self-proclaimed quasi-state of Krajina? Or the mass deportations of Serbs from Kosovo in the years since? The innocent heroes and stigmatized villains were pre-selected and to do so would be actual “fearless, adversarial journalism.” Many of the war crimes committed by Muslims against Serbs and Croats in the Yugoslav Wars were by foreign mujahideen volunteers whose ranks even consisted of two of the future 9/11 hijackers — the Saudi nationals Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — who allegedly seized American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into The Pentagon. Their barbaric acts included beheadings of Serb victims that were likely inspired by the Ustaše who did the same in WWII.
Hussain repeatedly refers to what took place in Bosnia as a “genocide”, citing the dubious Srebrenica massacre in July 1995. While it is certain that a horrific war crime took place in the town, to use such a politicized term is a slanted parroting of the NATO interventionist narrative. Virtually all of the victims were Bosniak Muslim men and boys as the Bosnian Serbs had specifically evacuated women and children from the enclave and the disputed, highly inflated quantity of Bosniak victims were mostly likely a combination of fatalities from the battle for the town and retaliatory summary executions by Bosnian Serbs once they besieged the territory. Prior to the incident, Srebrenica had been under the protection of the UN peacekeeping forces which Bosnian Muslim warlord Naser Orić had used to shield his militias following their routine attacks on neighboring Serb villages whose losses also numbered in the thousands. UN General Phillipe Morillon testified that the Srebrenica massacre was motivated by retribution for the war crimes committed by Orić:
JUDGE ROBINSON: Are you saying, then, General, that what happened in 1995 was a direct reaction to what Naser Orić did to the Serbs two years before?
THE WITNESS: Yes. Yes, Your Honour. I am convinced of that. This doesn’t mean to pardon or diminish the responsibility of the people who committed that crime, but I am convinced of that, yes.
If there were deliberate killings of large groups based on their ethnonationality on all sides, then what occurred was part of a civil war, not “genocide.” Noam Chomsky observed that while NATO based its intervention on the g-word, one of its member states in Turkey was carrying out far worse atrocities against Kurds and that to use the term was an insult to the victims of the Nazis in the region’s past. Who were the principal victims of the Ustaše and the Nazi puppet regime of the Independent State of Croatia during WWII? Serbs. It is also incredible that for a journalist so fixated on neo-fascism, Hussain did not find it significant that Bosnia and Herzegovina President Alija Izetbegović had been a literal member of the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS “Handschar” (1st Croatian) in his youth during WWII when Bosnia was under the Ustaše and did three years in prison under Tito for his offense.
Why did the UN peacekeepers fail to protect Srebrenica? It is an important question considering it brought the real turning point in the war. Not long after, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force against Ratko Mladić’s forces resulting in the Bosnian Serbs capitulating to a return to negotiations in the Dayton Accord later that year. The former mayor of Srebrenica, Hakija Meholjić, claimed the town was deliberately sacrificed as part of a ‘red line’ agreement between Izetbegović and U.S. President Bill Clinton in a ‘false flag’ to prompt the NATO intervention, as shown in a 2008 Wikileaks Cable:
Meholjic suggested that Bosniak leaders “sold” Srebrenica to the RS (and abetted genocide) when “key members of the international community started saying publicly that enclaves cannot survive.” (Note: Oric, who left Srebrenica in 1993, was not asked to defend it in 1995; ever since there have been accusations that the then Bosnian leadership deliberately allowed the enclave to fall.
Hussain truly loses any remaining “progressive” credibility when he goes on to praise the Otpor! political organization which organized protests that led to the ouster of “dictator” Milošević (actually thrice democratically-elected) in 2000 following the three month NATO bombing campaign the previous year which left Serbia with the highest cancer rate in Europe from the use of depleted uranium ammunition, “justified” by the same lopsided argument made in the article. Otpor! was portrayed as a bona fide, grassroots movement while behind the scenes it was the recipient of millions of dollars from the US government through “soft power” NGOs and CIA-fronts like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and George Soros’ Open Society Institute, financed by the non-profit industrial complex or what author Arundhati Roy has called the “NGO-ization of resistance.” The success of Otpor! became the formula for Western regime change operations via indistinguishable “pro-democracy” Color Revolutions throughout Eastern Europe in the ensuing decade. Documentary filmmaker Boris Maligurski’s The Weight of Chains series is an excellent overview of the history of Yugoslavia and its first two installments are highly recommended, while the trailer for the forthcoming third film was just released.
Perhaps the reason Hussain unquestioningly heaps praise upon Otpor! is the enormous undisclosed conflict of interest on the part of The Intercept’s ownership in billionaire entrepreneur and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who established the site’s parent organization First Look Media. In The CIA as Organized Crime, journalist and author Douglas Valentine explains how Omidyar’
Hussain also eagerly mentions that “Russian volunteers” participated in the killings at Srebrenica, omitting the equal number of Greek militiamen. This is another instance of thinly veiled Russophobia and the assignment of guilt towards Moscow for the rise of the far right in the West. Its intention is to include Russia within The Clash of Civilizations narrative which is itself a hypothesis for ‘remaking the world order’ through a division and conquering of Eurasia. Hussain does so by isolating the Yugoslav Wars from its context and weaponizing the region‘s history so as to deflect fault for the Islamophobia in the Anglosphere. However, Samuel P. Huntington excluded the Christian Orthodox nations of Russia and Serbia from his “core civilizations” and rather considered them ‘torn countries’ among the major civilizations. In Brenton Tarrant’s mind he may have been elevating the Yugoslav Wars through his act of terrorism, when all he accomplished was provide ammunition for the Western yellow press to further slander the Serbian victims of U.S. imperialism and drag their name through the mud for something they had nothing to do with.
As for the mass shooting in El Paso, the author should try directing the blame closer to home. One can’t help but be reminded of the brilliant observation made by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (before he became a shill for the Democratic Party) who made a connection between the Columbine High School shooting and its occurrence in the midst of the unilateral “humanitarian intervention” in Yugoslavia on the day the U.S. dropped the most amount of bombs in the Kosovo campaign which he further examined in his film Bowling For Columbine. President Clinton had to give two press conferences the morning of April 20th, 1999 — one addressing the Columbine massacre and another giving an explanation for the NATO killing of civilians in Serbia.
American society is suffering from a severely disconnected collective psyche when it fails to make a connection between mass shootings domestically and its endless wars abroad, the real catalyst for the Islamophobic reaction to the refugee crisis. U.S. gun culture is a product of the Cold War which conditioned a mass psychology of fear and liberals shedding crocodile tears who think gun control legislation is somehow a solution to the problem when it would only put a small band-aid on a much deeper wound are unwilling to explore the real roots of the issue. It’s true the U.S. is the only country that suffers from routine mass shootings like in El Paso and Dayton, but the U.S. is also the only country with 800+ military bases in more than 80 countries around the world while currently bombing 7 different nations. America is an insecure, terrified country that resolves everything with violence, at home and abroad, and until this connection is recognized, mass shootings like El Paso will likely continue just like our wars.