“Croatia’s Far Right Weaponizes the Past” | Foreign Policy

Unbelievable! How can Croats think that this is a good idea? Weren’t the first two times bad enough? This is also likely to provoke an equally nationalistic response from Serbia, which then will further provoke Croats leading to an ever-increasing radical nationalism. Let’s hope the story doesn’t end like it

“The EU’s newest member, Croatia, has an unabashed and strong-willed fascist in its new cabinet — one who makes the right-wingers in power in Hungary and Poland look like wimps.”

Source: Croatia’s Far Right Weaponizes the Past | Foreign Policy

Propaganda and De-humanization: “The Brain with David Eagleman” PBS

The study of history is the study of human nature. However, it’s not the only way to understand human behavior. Science can also illuminate the mysteries of human behavior. Scientists may approach the problem in a different way, but they are also trying to understand human beings. So, I was thrilled when David Eagleman turned to the subject of ethnic/religious conflict in the third program in a series on the brain.  And he used the War in Bosnia (something I’ve spent years studying) to illustrate the problem.

What have scientists found? That when people are confronted with people in our out group (however defined) our brains react as if they were objects, not human beings. The ability to empathize with those in their out group had been lost. How does this de-humanization happen? Usually, through propaganda.

I’ve spent years studying religious/ethnic conflict to come to the same conclusion. He also proposed the same solution: educate students to detect propaganda. In other words, we need to educate students to be good B.S. detectors and independent thinkers. This is one of the reasons why the humanities are so important, particularly philosophy and history.

Here’s the link to the website for the PBS program:  The Brain with David Eagleman

“Ottomans saved Hungarian PM Orban’s Ancestors; now he says Islam never part of Europe” | History News Network

“Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban not only continued to defend his anti-immigrant bigotry but went on to say that Islam has never been part of Europe. Mr. Orban not only is increasing the misery of largely Muslim refugees, but now he has erased 1300 years of European culture and politics, committing a sort of cliocide or mass killing of history.” Juan Cole explains why Orban is wrong: History News Network | Ottomans saved Hungarian PM Orban’s Ancestors; now he says Islam never part of Europe

“Netanyahu Denounced for Saying Palestinian Inspired Holocaust” – The New York Times

As the violence escalates between Israelis and Palestinians, Netanyahu reaches a new low. Rather than aiming to deescalate the situation, he continues to use rhetoric that is inflammatory, offensive, and dishonest. But this time he may have went too far. Even Israelis are denouncing him: “Israeli historians and opposition politicians joined Palestinians in denouncing the Israeli prime minister for saying the grand mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea of annihilating Jews.”

Read the entire article here: Netanyahu Denounced for Saying Palestinian Inspired Holocaust – The New York Times

“Fear” by Marilynne Robinson | The New York Review of Books

In FDR’s inaugural address in 1932, he famously said: “the only we thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In his speech he was referring to a fear that was “paralyz[ing].” But this famous quote equally applies to a different kind of fear. A fear that mobilizes.

The last several years have seen a rise in nationalism, xenophobia, and intolerance, which are fueling the rise in religious and ethnic violence. We cannot attribute this rise in hatred to one cause, but underlying many of these events are some common factors, whether past or present.

As human beings we are prone to tribalism. It is in our DNA, but we must remember that biology is not destiny. We can live peacefully side by side with those who are different, as we have frequently have done. However, this peace can too easily be shattered by changes in circumstance that cause feelings of insecurity  and uncertainty (such as economic downturns, changes in climate that lead to drought, real and imagined resentments, etc.). The resulting anxiety leads to the inevitable search for scapegoats (usually a foreign or disadvantaged group). Such conditions are ripe for the cunning demagogue. By exploiting the fears and prejudices of one group, he (or she) can mobilize this group into projects that serve the political/ideological/economic purposes of the demagogue. This pattern is repeating itself across the globe.

It appears that we are set to repeat the horrors of the twentieth century. Maybe not on the scale of WWII with large national armies (although that is possible as well), but more likely it will take the form of a guerrilla-style fighting that is brutal and barbaric. But no matter what form it takes many more innocent people will suffer unless we figure out some way to live with those who are different from us. Demanding a brutal conformity is not a viable option, unless we want to live in a totalitarian society that has no qualms about using fear, coercion, and violence to achieve such conformity. Attempts to create uniformity (which inevitably fail) come at too great a cost, as Jefferson recognized: “Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” Jefferson was speaking of religious conformity, but the same sentiment applies to all efforts at conformity, whether national, religious, or political.

This brings me to the article by Marilynne Robinson. Even though Robinson was writing in the context of domestic events and our gun culture, her analysis leads to conclusions that are similar to mine above. In fact, she begins by referring back to the Wars of Religion in France, in which the Catholic majority tried to exterminate the Protestant minority (Huguenots).

“The terrible massacres of Protestants in France in the sixteenth century, whether official or popular in their origins, reflect the fear that is engendered by the thought that someone really might destroy one’s soul, plunge one into eternal fire by corrupting true belief even inadvertently. If someone had asked a citizen of Lyon, on his way to help exterminate the Calvinists, to explain what he and his friends were doing, he would no doubt have said that he was taking back his city, taking back his culture, taking back his country, fighting for the soul of France.” (although they saw it more in terms of defending the “true” religion.)

Based on these insights she came to the same basic underlying factor that unites the Wars of Religion with the fanatic gun rights advocates in the US (she’s not saying they are the same, only that they are motivated by a similar attitude towards another group): “At the core of all this is fear, real or pretended. What if these dissenters in our midst really are a threat to all we hold dear? Better to deal with the problem before their evil schemes are irreversible, before our country has lost its soul and the United Nations has invaded Texas. We might step back and say that there are hundreds of millions of people who love this nation’s soul, who in fact are its soul, and patriotism should begin by acknowledging this fact. But there is not much fear to be enjoyed from this view of things. Why stockpile ammunition if the people over the horizon are no threat? If they would in fact grieve with your sorrows and help you through your troubles?”

Source: Fear by Marilynne Robinson | The New York Review of Books

“India and Israel Start to See Enemies Within” – Bloomberg View

Nationalism has been on the rise lately. I’ve written previously about the new nationalism in Russia and Japan, but the rise of nationalism in India and Israel may even be more concerning. Pankaj Mishra describes the current situation in these two countries: “There are eerie similarities between the Hindu thugs who assault Muslim males marrying Hindu women and followers of the far-right Israeli group Lehava (Flame), who try to break up weddings between Muslims and Jews…The new ruling classes seem obsessed with moral and patriotic education, reverence for national symbols and icons (mostly right-wing), and the uniqueness of national culture and history.” These leaders were brought to power by tapping into the resentment and discontent of their respective populations. This “politics of resentment,” as Mishra calls it, is powerful, and astute politicians know how to exploit it. As human beings we seem to have an affinity for nationalism. It gives us an identity, a purpose, a community, a compelling narrative, and a scapegoat for our woes. Unfortunately, it more often than not devolves into violence and oppression. How many times do we have to go down this road? Will we ever learn?

“It would be nice to hope that India and Israel’s emboldened hotheads are different, and will lead their countries to stability, prosperity and peace through their special mix of right-wing economics and the politics of ressentiment. It is already clear, however, that they find more thrilling the prospect of perpetual warfare with their perceived enemies, especially the ones within.” I’m afraid that Mishra is right.

Read Mishra’s important reporting on the situation in India and Israel: India and Israel Start to See Enemies Within – Bloomberg View.

"Playing with fire? Photographer: NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images"

“Playing with fire? Photographer: NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images”

“Russia must not be allowed to rewrite Srebrenica’s history” | Natalie Nougayrede | The Guardian

We all want to belong. We all want to think that we are good. We all want to be proud of our heritage, community, and history. We all want to have purpose and meaning in our lives. These are all genuine human desires that are by themselves positive sentiments, but they ultimately leave us vulnerable to manipulation by ambitious political leaders. Because nationalism fulfills all of these desires it has been the ideal political weapon for leaders like Slobodan Milosević, who unleashed the forces of Serbian nationalism as a way to rise to power. But more than fulfilling Milosević’s political ambitions it also released the forces of hatred that tore apart the former Yugoslavia of which the massacre of Srebrenica was a part of. Nationalism rests on an “us versus them” narrative that is more myth than actual history. All past nationals sins must be swept under the rug as a way to make the nation worthy of glory. If it just engendered pride in one’s past, nationalism would not be such a destructive force. Unfortunately, the end result is usually arrogance and hatred.

Natalie Nougayrede’s article at The Guardian reminds us that Putin is playing with the same fire for his own political purposes. This is not to say that Putin is planning to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing, but that his use of nationalism will, and already has, bring great suffering to many. Putin’s veto of the UN resolution is only a small part of his overall power play, but as Nougrayrede reminds us, it is still significant if we value peace and justice. “Some will argue that Russia’s latest veto should be seen as just another snub to the west. But the rewriting of the history of the Bosnian war and the unravelling of the mechanisms that the west tried to put in place to prevent more violence are something that Europeans would do well not to minimise. If only because of those unarmed 8,000 men and boys who were killed just because of who they were: Bosnian and Muslim.”

Russia must not be allowed to rewrite Srebrenica’s history | Natalie Nougayrede | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Srebrenica mourning

Srebrenica: Twenty Years after the Genocide, Have we Learned Anything?

I doubt it. Many Americans don’t know anything about the Bosnian War (1991-1995) much less Srebrenica. And if they did they would likely be baffled by the confusing mix of ethnic and religious groups, and conclude, like we did during the conflict, that there is nothing we can do! In addition, our focus, in terms of foreign policy, has been taken over by the troubles in the Middle East. At the time of I don’t think we ever learned them, but it’s never too late to learn something. Therefore, it is worth remembering what happened in Srebrinica.

On this day twenty years ago the Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladić entered the U.N. declared “Safe Area” at Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees had sought safety. No one thought that the Serbs would dare attack a U.N. “safe area” while the world was watching, but Mladić knew that the Dutch U.N. soldiers could do nothing. They were there to protect the Bosnian Muslims, yet their mandate only allowed them to use their weapons in their own defense. This situation was the result of the reluctance of Western nations to risk their own soldiers’ lives in defense of others.

After negotiations, Mladić was able to manipulate the U.N. into paying for the gas for buses that would, unbeknownst to the U.N., be used to take only the women out of Srebrinica. They had something else in mind for the men. Even before the Dutch soldiers had gone the Serbs separated the men from the women. However, they made sure that the Dutch would not see the killing, and therefore sent them on their way before the real killing began. In the end, they massacred approximately 8,000 Muslim men.


The point of the massacre, and those at other “safe areas,” was to ethnically cleanse (a term the Serbs coined themselves) the remaining Muslim enclaves in pursuit of their dream of a Greater Serbia that was free of all non-Serbs. Ironically, this massacre and the “cleansing” of the other safe areas opened the way for a peace agreement that was signed on December 14, 1995 in Dayton, Ohio. Continue reading

“Gaza: Killing Gets Easier by David Shulman” | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

David Shulman comments on a report released by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli ex-soldiers. The report is the culmination of an investigation of the Israeli campaign in Gaza last summer. Shulman explains that “the findings of the report—including the results of the fighting and the orders that brought them about—are nothing very new. What is more striking is how they suggest the impressive persistence and, indeed, continual intensification of practices that have occurred over the last three or four decades. Significant change lies only in the fact that the acts in question now reflect deliberate and explicit policy of a systemic nature coming down from the top. The Israel army once claimed to hold, nominally at least, to moral considerations of an entirely different order than those officially adopted last summer. Now, even that pretense seems to be gone.” Read more on this report and Shulman’s insightful commentary:

 Gaza: Killing Gets Easier by David Shulman | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

palistinian isreali conflict

Voltaire’s 250-year-old book on tolerance climbs French best-seller lists after terror attacks | Star Tribune

I am happy to see a renewed interest in Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration. Although the worst of religious violence in Europe had waned by the time of Voltaire was born, he witnessed plenty of religious oppression and discrimination. We need to relearn the lessons that Enlightenment thinkers learned from the religious violence that plagued Europe in the aftermath of the Reformation and Voltaire’s book is a great place to start. Unfortunately, those who most need to learn these lessons are probably not the ones reading Voltaire.

Voltaire: “It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?”

Voltaire’s 250-year-old book on tolerance climbs French best-seller lists after terror attacks | Star Tribune.