The Healing Power of Art and Music
Issue 91 April 2012
The war in Bosnia was another grotesquely ugly incident in Europe, but the human spirit can find ways to overcome such evil.
By Jeremy Henzell-Thomas.
As we reflect on the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian War, two horrific events are likely to stand out in the minds of many people. Firstly, the massacre in July 1995 of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica by Serb units under the command of General Ratko Mladic´—a genocide described by the UN Secretary-General as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. And secondly, the four-year siege of Sarajevo, during which an estimated 10,000 people were killed or disappeared, including over 1,500 children. As I write this, approaching the date that marks the leap year of 2012, I am reminded of the more positive fact that it is also the 16th anniversary of the declaration marking the end of the siege on 29 February 1996, following the signing of the Daytona Agreement in December 1995.
In a previous issue of this magazine (June 2008), I described the way in which Serbian orientalists had exploited the extensive media exposure they enjoyed in Serbia to differentiate, isolate and demonise the Muslim community in the Balkans. They did so by stereotyping and labelling all Muslims as ‘Islamic fundamentalists’, and by setting and emphasising cultural markers that focused on Islam and Muslims as alien, threatening, culturally and morally inferior, or perversely exotic.
At this time, when anti-Muslim bigotry is increasingly mainstream in Western societies, we should not forget the stark warning of Norman Cigar that by bending ‘scholarship’ and blending it with political rhetoric, those Serbian orientalists defined Islam and the local Muslim community in such a way as to contribute significantly to making genocide acceptable.
Important as such vigilance is, my purpose in this essay is not to dwell on the causes of the Bosnian War, nor to over-emphasise any parallels between the stereotyping of Muslims in the Balkans and our own society, but 20 years on, to draw out a message of hope and healing. My essay in June 2008 had opened with dire examples of Islamophobia and the wider culture of shallowness, misrepresentation and toxic cynicism in the media, but its title, ‘Embracing Optimism: Becoming a Creative Minority in the Media’, expressed its higher objective. “The message is simple,” I concluded at that time. We should “embrace an optimistic attitude which fosters the belief that change for the better is possible and that we can contribute to it. This is not a vacuous optimism teetering on vain hopes, but a solid and productive optimism built on the enduring solutions generated by a culture of participation, goodwill, and above all, adhering to the highest principles and values of our faith.” To that list, I want to add now the healing power of art and music, for this was something I observed for myself in my own encounters in Sarajevo after the war.