As we struggle to come to terms with the implications of last week's bombs in London, it is worth reflecting on some of the lessons offered by the example of Srebrenica, where thousands will gather today to mark the 10th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.
It may sound stretched to compare two such different outrages, one that took place only days ago in our vast capital and another, which occurred a decade ago, in a small town in Bosnia.
But the points of reference are illuminating and, to a degree, comforting. Firstly, at a time of growing paranoia about fundamentalist Islam, the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre reminds us that victims of terrorist outrages in Europe can as easily be Muslims as well as Christians or Jews.
And secondly, it needs to be recalled that the victims in both cases suffered at the hands of a similar ideology. We may not know for sure who planted the bombs in London but it seems likely the perpetrators were motivated by blind religious hatred of a civilisation they regard as corrupt, evil and so inimical to their own values that those who inhabit it deserve pain or death.
The men of Srebrenica lost their lives to much the same ideology. We know a fair amount about their killers' minds, thanks to the work of the international criminal court in The Hague, although the two executioners-in-chief, General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, remain disgracefully at liberty. We know from their underlings, however, that their fanatical hatred of Muslims, which robbed their victims, in their eyes, of all claim to be treated as human beings, had its roots in perverted religion.
Those who massacred boys as young as 16 in Srebrenica acted in some cases with the blessing of Christian priests who egged on the killers in the belief that they were honouring God by paying off centuries-old scores. Mladic notably described his Bosnian victims quite incorrectly as "Turks" (as if that in itself warranted their death), insisting on the day of the conquest of Srebrenica that his army had just avenged Christian Serbia's defeat by an invading Turkish army in 1389.
Srebrenica offers us other food for thought, too. The aim of those who brought terror to Bosnia in the 1990s was not to separate people. They believed that shedding innocent blood would ensure that future coexistence between peoples of different faiths would be impossible. To that extent, the killings were not the frenzied slaughter of some contemporaneous accounts but a methodically executed task with a precise goal.
Yet, they failed. It is an astonishing fact that the slaughter of some 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica has not prevented a few thousand from returning to live in the town, side by side with their killers in some cases. Their neighbours are often either unrepentant, or simply in a state of denial about what befell Srebrenica's Muslims in 1995. There is, in other words, no happy ending here.
But the fact that Muslims and Serbs live with each other in Srebrenica at all, after everything that happened in the town, is in itself heartening. It offers hope that some light can emerge from even the darkest situations.
It is right that voices in Britain should raise fears of an anti-Muslim backlash after last week's bombs. That is surely part of what the terrorists intended. But as Londoners mourn their dead, we should draw inspiration from the response of the Bosnians to a deliberately inflicted tragedy. They have not allowed infinitely greater acts of terrorism to destroy the possibility of tolerance and coexistence between different faiths and cultures. Nor should we.Reuse content