In an act of symbolic solidarity, I along with a group of senior Rabbis and Imams, all of whom are members of the National Council of Imams and Rabbis of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, travelled together to Bosnia in association with the UK charity Remembering Srebrenica.
The aim of the visit was to reflect and learn from the atrocities committed against Bosnian Muslims 21 years ago and pay tribute to victims and survivors of the Bosnian conflict.
The Bosnian conflict between 1992-1995 resulted in the deaths of 100,00 to 130,000 people. However, the brutal and systematic massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica-Potočari symbolises the horrors committed against Bosnians.
During the Bosnian conflict 20,000 refugees marched from all over Eastern Bosnia to find sanctuary with UN peacekeeping force in Srebrenica enclave. But little did they know that they were marching to their death. In the second week of July 1995 young Bosnians boys and men were separated from their women.
Listening about this brutal separation process reminded me of the selection process used at Auschwitz. Healthy looking Jewish men were told to work in horrific conditions, while women and children were separated and sent to immediate death. In Srebrenica, after the separation, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered.
I have been to Auschwitz and visited the brutal concentration death camps and gas chambers; I have also seen personal belongings of thousands of victims that are persevered at Auschwitz.
It is beyond human comprehension that genocide of Jewish community was allowed to happen at such a large scale and using such inhuman methods. Further, it defies belief that only 50 years after the Holocaust, genocide of yet another religious community took place in Europe in 1995.
Death still haunts Srebrenica. 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.
After having murdered people in schools, warehouses and football pitches, bulldozers were used to dump bodies in mass graves which were then moved to secondary mass graves in an attempt to hide evidence of the genocide.
Consequently, parts of many bodies were spread across multiple mass graves. Over two decades on , remains of over 1000 people are still missing. 7,100 of the dead in or around Srebrenica have been found out of total of 8,372 missing.
Imams and Rabbis prayed for those lying in the graves as well as for the survivors, and asked for God’s peace on earth.
We also met one of the Mothers of Srebrenica and heard her powerful testimony. Meeting with the Mothers of Srebrenica is heart-wrenching and extremely emotional as they 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.
We walked around the memorial sites and the factories where massacre took place with looks of disbelief and often tear of sadness strolling down our faces. No words could suffice the information that we were trying to process in our mind.
Our visit to Srebrenica is a sober reminder of what hatred can lead to. The fact that genocide happened in Bosnia, which was seemingly an integrated society, is a stark reminder that it can happen anywhere, unless we learn to respect and appreciate our differences.
I believe we must learn the lessons of history to help tackle religious hatred, racism and intolerance in whatever form and against whoever it may occur in our society. It isn’t enough to condemn and move on. We need to educate our children not just about what happened in Auschwitz and Srebrenica but why it happened.
As part of the ongoing project on confronting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Imams and Rabbis of Joseph Interfaith Foundation have been visiting schools as part of the project “Auschwitz and Srebrenica: Lessons of our common humanity”.
This historic and symbolic visit helped Imams and Rabbis to enhance their understanding of each other’s faiths as well as learn about the sufferings of each other’s communites and develop stronger bonds of relationships. Only through working together can we defeat anti-semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and all other forms of hatred and intolerance that may exist in our communities or neighbourhoods.