A thin line of rage entered my bloodstream when I saw the face of the murderer. It is a liquid my heart is unaccustomed to pumping. But there are few on Earth who deserve raw hate more richly than Radovan Karadzic.
I remember the young Bosnian American woman I met at Trinity University last year. Her family lost everything in the war, barely escaped with their lives. She told me that her grandmother, one night while watching the evening news in Bosnia, had seen one of her grandsons murdered. Right there. In her living room. On television. “She cried his name to the television over and over again. She banged on the furniture. It drove her insane.” She was not using the word metaphorically.
It was Karadzic’s guns that committed the murder.
I remember the wild look in my father’s eyes when he watched those evening news reports on Bosnia (on the occasions when the evening news bothered to report on it at all). My (once) conservative, Reaganite father – the last person on Earth to side with his religious community over his adopted, beloved country – couldn’t believe that said beloved country sat by for so long and knowingly watched this genocidal madness unfold. “They are using rape as a tool of war,” he would scream, waving his arms about. And then, just to make sure I got the point: “Imagine if your mother was being raped and there was a policeman on the corner who knew it was happening and did nothing. AMERICA IS THAT POLICEMAN.”
It was Karadzic’s goons with their pants down and their mouths laughing doing the raping.
Reading the articles about Karadzic’s capture sent me back to that place. Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat who brokered the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the siege of Bosnia, called Karadzic even worse than Milosevic because, “… Karadzic was a real racist believer. Karadzic really enjoyed ordering the killing of Muslims …”
Richard Cohen, who reported from that war, wrote about staring into the shrapnel-shattered eyes of young Bosnian women and then going to look into the cold eyes of the murderer at a news conference and listen to him idly say, three years into the siege, that he was thinking about “declaring a state of war”.
I could go on. There are thousands of stories to tell. In the past, I had only the comfort of a divine reckoning. Today, I have the comfort that there will be a human one as well, in The Hague. I pray that it is swift and clear.
Most of all, I hope that it helps point our rage in the right direction.
Karadzic is on trial not because he is a Serb, or an Orthodox Christian, but because he is a murderer. As Charles Simic, our most recent Poet Laureate and an American who grew up in Serbia, writes in his exceptional essay Orphan Factory: “the murderers of all nations belong to a single nation, the nation of murderers.”
Karadzic has more in common with Al Qaeda’s Bin Laden and Zawahiri than he does with the vast majority of Serbs. Even the details line up in a fascinating, if morbid, way. Like Zawahiri, he is trained as a doctor. Like Bin Laden, he masqueraded as a spiritual healer.
But whether they are wearing flowing white robes or Western-style suits, speaking Serbian or Arabic, hiding in the mountains of Pakistan or the mountains of Montenegro – at bottom, they are all totalitarians. As Simic writes, “The supreme folly of every nationalism is that it believes itself unique, while in truth it’s nothing more than a bad xerox copy of every other nationalism.”
It is tempting, in a world supposedly caught in a clash of civilizations, to think that the only way to survive is to have the Kardzics in your corner, fighting to protect people who look like you, talk like you, pray like you. That is certainly what the young Serbian men who burned flags and threw bottles in defense of Karadzic believe. The logic essentially goes like this: “He’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch. And in a world of sons-of-bitches, you better have the toughest son-of-a-bitch in your corner.”
That’s misdirected rage talking, not reason. Misdirected rage applauds “our” murderers, believes they are necessary. It not only thinks the clash of civilizations is real, it needs the clash of civilizations to justify support of its murderers.
The only way out is to put Karadzic on the same train that his Serbian countryman Simic does – as a murderous totalitarian, amongst other murderous totalitarians, some of them from the faiths and nations we belong to.
That train stops at The Hague on its journey to hell.
Our train is heading in a different direction.
(A weekly feature which highlights a group or activity bridging the faith divide.)
Frank Fredericks, a former Interfaith Youth Core Fellow and a recent graduate of New York University, helped lead an interfaith service trip to Lebanon over NYU’s past winter break. The trip established relationships between a group of American and Lebanese young people through community service and dialogue. The project was one initiative of World Faith, an organization which Frank founded in order to promote interfaith cooperation through service. Frank is busy establishing World Faith as a 501(c)3 and sharing the model with communities in the US and abroad.