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PERSPECTIVE ON BOSNIA : The Holocaust Analogy Is Too True : A Muslim people are targeted for extinction, and the West turns away. There is no rationalizing this brutal immorality.

July 11, 1993|HENRY SIEGMAN | Henry Siegman, a survivor of the Holocaust, is executive director of the American Jewish Congress.

To compare Bosnia and the Holocaust is to invite angry disagreement from some Jewish critics who correctly see the Holocaust as a unique evil, an unprecedented descent into hell. But the uniqueness of the Holocaust does not diminish the force of powerful parallels that do exist between these two tragedies, and no one should understand these commonalities better than the Jews.

To be sure, Hitler's obsession with the total eradication of the Jews of Europe (and of the world, if he could have had his way) and the crematoria of the concentration camps, the Nazis' method of choice for achieving their goal, are not elements in the Serbian violence against Bosnia's Muslims. But virtually everything else is, including the cynical and total abandonment of Bosnia's Muslims by the West to certain slaughter or expulsion.

Surely President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher know what journalists reporting from the Balkans have known for some time: that the current negotiations in Geneva to carve Bosnia into "ethnic states" for Serbs, Croats and Muslims are, like the negotiations to implement the Vance-Owen plan, a ruse, disguising the real goal of Serbs and Croats to extinguish Bosnia as a state and to kill or drive into exile all of its Muslim inhabitants.

In the face of this massive calamity-in-the-making--its outcome can hardly be in doubt, given our perverse insistence on observing an arms embargo that denies Bosnia's Muslims arms to defend themselves while the Serb militias are fully supplied--Christopher's assurance that the United States will go along with whatever plan the three parties agree to is cruelly irrelevant and morally obscene.

What we are witnessing is the West's total abandonment of Bosnia's Muslims to the destruction programmed for them. It is as complete and as cynical an abandonment as that of the Jews in World War II. The notion that America and its allies are helpless to do anything about this human and political disaster is a palpable lie. It is as believable as the argument that European countries and America could do nothing to help the Jews in the 1930s, even while those governments were turning away from their shores shiploads of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Of course, intervention in the Balkan tragedy is not cost-free, but the notion that putting a stop to so horrendous a human tragedy, and to the profound damage to the international order that is now being done in Bosnia, is not worth some cost is in itself the most pernicious long-range consequence of this Administration's distressing handling of the crisis in the Balkans.

A part of the shameful truth is that the West is indifferent to the fate of Bosnia's Muslims for the same reason it was indifferent to the fate of the Jews in the 1930s. There was something in Hitler's hatred of the Jews that resonated, however distantly (or not so distantly) with residual anti-Semitism in Western culture. Similarly, there is something in the Serbian demonization of Bosnia's Muslims--the fear of "a Muslim state in the heart of Europe"--that finds an echo in lingering Western prejudice. It confirms Samuel P. Huntington's thesis (in the current issue of Foreign Affairs) that in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, world politics is entering a new phase in which "civilizational" (that is, cultural and religious) differences re-emerge and replace traditional economic and ideological rivalries.

However we rationalize our indifference to what is happening in the Balkans, its cost will surely haunt us in the days and years to come. For what is at stake in Bosnia is not only indescribable human suffering, but also the idea of the universality of the civilized norms that are the foundation of our freedom and democracy. On the threshold of an unfolding new world order, we have been offered the opportunity to reaffirm that fundamental principle in Bosnia, and we are failing that test miserably.

Some will read this concern for Bosnia's Muslims as just another example of misguided Jewish altruism, so characteristic of a certain brand of Jewish liberalism. I make no apologies for liberalism, Jewish or otherwise, but such criticism could not be more off the mark. Patrick Glynn, in the current issue of Commentary (hardly the voice of Jewish liberalism) makes the point that in the Balkans, "the voices of the rational and the tolerant--for example, officials of the secular-minded Bosnian government--have been drowned out by the guns of ethnic fanatics. Efforts to secure democracy on the basis of rational Western principles have been crushed by the bloodthirsty exponents of 'ethnic cleansing.' "

These "new barbarians," says Glynn, are the vanguard of a re-mythologization and reversion to ethnic particularism. We are entering an era characterized by a diminished appeal of reason to the human imagination. We will, he says, move either toward ever greater fragmentation and violence or toward "the tolerance and rationality by which we in the West have learned to live and prosper." No one has benefited more from that rationality and tolerance than have the Jews, and no one is likely to suffer more from their abandonment.

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