July 11 – 22 marks the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. An event in our history that is often less spoken about.
Srebrenica took the lives of more than 8,000 Muslims and is seen by many as the worst atrocity on European soil since WWII. Forced deportation, torture, mass murder and systematic violence by Bosnian Serb forces in their goal to create a “Greater Serbia”.
I urge people to remember that no faith community is immune from persecution. In its 2018 Human Rights and Democracy report, the FCO stated that denial of the right to freedom of religion or belief was a “matter of increasing international concern”. We see this playing out with the the rise of Christian persecution becoming more widespread worldwide as well as the continued rise of anti-Semitism. But now, more than ever, we see that those of all faiths and backgrounds can sadly face prejudice.
TELLMAMA reports that one year after the Christchurch terror attack there was a 692% increase in Anti-Muslim Hatred that spiked in the UK and we see this within our media where there are often misrepresented or generalisations of Muslims, with terrorism being the most commonly associated themes. Such negative portrayal of Muslims is then exploited to spread hatred towards one group over another. We cannot allow such prejudice to take place in our diverse and multicultural society.
We must remember that Srebrenica Genocide was in our lifetime. Only 25 years ago was there a brutal massacre of Bosnian Muslims on our doorstep because of their faith and belief. After the Holocaust 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.
- ‘White armbands and yellow stars show similarities of genocide’
- OPINION: The world failed in Bosnia 25 years ago. We cannot turn a blind eye again
- OPINION: How Holocaust survivors supported Bosnia
The Jewish community knows all too well what it is like to face persecution. Earlier this year, we commemorated 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. A tragedy that must never be forgotten. I was proud to come together with Chief Rabbi Ephraim and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to highlight the theme of standing together to tackle hatred in society.
More recently, Chief Rabbi Ephraim has also supported the charity Remembering Srebrenica. We are both speaking at the memorial event online on the 11 July. It is so reassuring to constantly have the support and value of other faith leaders because whatever our faiths or experiences, it’s important we use these moments to stand together, shoulder to shoulder.
The potential genocide of Rohingyas, the systematic terrorising of Uighurs are further examples at hand. There are reports of ‘concentration camps’ where over a million Uighur and other ethnic minorities are forcibly detained in China. Yet, the international community, by and large, remains silent in challenging the systematic campaign against freedom of religion and belief of Uighurs. The world must not fail them this time.
The genocide of Srebrenica is a stark reminder that intolerance can happen anywhere unless we learn to respect and appreciate our differences. With increasing levels of discriminatory manifestation that we have seen during Covid-19, we must remain vigilant against all forms of racism, bigotry and xenophobia. Such hatred has no place in our society.
The theme for 2020 UK’s Srebrenica Memorial Week is ‘Every Action Matters’. Every Action Matters shows that doing something, no matter how small, really can make a difference. Doing nothing to stop injustice or persecution is not an option for humanity. We must all speak out if we see hatred, intolerance and racism.
This week has been Srebrenica Memorial Week where hundreds of acts of commemoration have taken place around the country – people pledging to stand together against all forms of hatred. As an Imam, I have written a sermon which highlights that genocide does not happen overnight. It begins when hatred, intolerance and xenophobia are left unchallenged.
Remembering Srebrenica provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our personal and professional lives, to show that those who raise a voice against prejudice, hatred of the other and racism, those who stand up and unite against hatred, can and will make a difference.
It has 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.