...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Serbs & Palestinians

Adam over at Pomomusings has spent the last several weeks in Palestine as part of an Encounter team (not sure what organization they are affiliated with). He has blogged on his summer experience here. I posted on this about a month ago, and lamented the one-sidedness of his views. This trend has continued, which is readily apparent from a scanning of his blog - though I do recommend Meeting With a Zionist for a particularly good presentation of the bias.

Normally, this kind of unbalance raises my ire because it smacks of intellectual dishonesty. If one cannot even try to appreciate the other side of the story, to see both sides in tension with each other and neither as perfect, then I cannot help but feel such ignorance is either intentional or due to some actual defect in the other person's mind. What I've come to realize, though, is that I have done the same thing in my past. I have shaken off the stigma the world has attached to a group and replaced it with my own rosy gloss after getting to know "them." I did it with the Serbs.

While serving in Bosnia, my group operated entirely within the Serb Republic and though we met with Croats and Bosnian Muslaims as well, our main dealings were with Serbs. My interpreter was a Serb. The people who worked on our base were Serbs. The people who owned and worked at our favorite restaurants were Serbs. We were surrounded by Serbs and I fell in love with them as a people. Their plight in post-war Bosnia is horrific - little or no international aid goes to Serb areas while Croat/Muslim areas are thick with it; displaced Croats & Muslims are returning to Serb areas and kicking Serb squatters out of their homes, but many Serbs are still not able to return to their homes in the Federation. Serbs are consistently vilified in the international press, as evidenced by recently discovered tapes of some of the atrocities that were committed in Srebrenica by Serb forces.

And that's the thing: Serbs really did these things. Serbs really did siege Sarajevo, they really did murder thousands in Srebrenica and elsewhere, they really did start the war. But I had a hard time dealing with that because I could not reconcile the kind, welcoming people who surrounded me with those events. They did not fit. Undoubtedly, many of them did not actively participate in the war, never picking up a weapon or directly contributing to the violence in any way. However, many Serbs deny that atrocities occurred and turned (and continue to turn) a blind eye to any evidence. They are, in essence, Holocaust deniers. It was easy, though, to forget this fact, to forget that the people with whom I interacted every day largely regarded Mladic and Karadzic as falsely accused patriots if not outright heroes. It was easy to think of the people around me as innocent and that these horrible crimes had been committed by "other people" or people who weren't really Serb. The picture of the people I met everyday was too far removed from the butchery and barbarity that marked the Bosnian war. But no - they were Serbs and Serbs had committed these crimes. I cannot deny this. I cannot deny that many Serbs felt and continue to feel as if the war was justified and do not believe such things happened. I cannot deny the victims their pain, nor the Serbs their aggression.

I think, in a way, that I am a Serb at heart. I was there when I was young enough to be formed by the experience, to be formed by the people who defined it for me. Thankfully, though, I have not been dominated by it. I can look and see the beauty and dignity of the Serbian people, as well as the festering sore of ethnic hatred & conflict. I can see both the good and the bad, but it is a view only gained by time and doing the painful work of scrutinizing that which I love. I can only hope that Adam will be able to do the same for his experience with Palestinians, and that we as Americans, will be able to do it with our own country. In this time of war and terror, it is too easy by far to fall into the Serbian pattern of denying our own failings and trumpeting our virtues instead.


Anonymous said...

This is insightful and well written, and you make a vital point about where/how does America go from here. Consider doing some refining (you'd have to change the opening),and submitting this for publication.
I'm glad you can occasionally get your mind off all the other things you're dealing with. You're in my prayers, always. mcs

rev-ed said...

Good post and good insight. It's tough to see ourselves doing the very thing we can't stand. Thanks for your honesty.