Srebrenica and other genocides reveal the dark monsters within that we must all combat.
Twenty-two years ago this week the Bosnian town of Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces.
Bosniak civilians sought shelter with Dutch peacekeepers, only to be denied safe haven and expelled into the arms of Ratko Mladić and his troops, who butchered over 8,000 mainly men and boys and raped tens of thousands of women and girls.
Two-and-a-half years earlier, I had been in Slovenia – the first of Yugoslavia’s breakaway republics – and then Croatia and (briefly) Bosnia.
It was bitterly cold. Everywhere lay the signs of war, from the curious ‘splatter’ marks that RPGs had left on the side of buildings, to children playing with disused ordnance and the mothers of the missing crying as they begged for our help.
The scenes are etched on my memory.
I later went on to visit other conflict and post-conflict zones, civil wars where neighbour had turned on neighbour, and those they once thought friends had betrayed each other for the sake of supposed ethnic or religious superiority or difference.
In each conflict there were the enablers. Men like Leon Mugesera, a senior politician in Rwanda’s then-ruling Hutu party, who told a crowd of supporters at a rally in the town of Kabaya in 1992 that members of the country’s minority Tutsi population were “cockroaches” who should go back to Ethiopia. Two years later over 800,000 were murdered.
In Bosnia it was Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžić who spurred on the military commander, Ratko Mladić.
In World War Two it was (among many others) Lord Haw-Haw and in the modern UK it is men like Anjem Choudary or figures on the extreme far right such as (the now-banned) National Action who have so eagerly fanned the flames of hate.
In each case there seems an almost-psychopathic, narcissistic delight, a lust for destructive power over others that is deeply disturbing. In the case of Islamic State/Daesh, there is a nihilistic zealotry that actually seems to worship death as the end goal, with use of human shields and women and children as suicide bombers or sex slaves.
Horrors like the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, Cambodia’s killing fields or the Srebrenica genocide should not happen. But they do – again and again.
The problem lies not only in the violent extremists: there are those with more suave words, radical-right politicians who promise a ‘return’ to the good old days, of turning back the clock and turning away from the reality of a multicultural, diverse and tolerant society.
Their cheerleaders on social media promote fake news and turn black into white as they, again, fan the flames of division and hatred.
That is why we need organisations like HOPE not hate, and sister networks across the world. We need to expose these people where they stand, remind ourselves of our shared interests in living on this planet, and remind one another of our common humanity.
Because it is not only the ‘monsters’ we need to fear: it is the darkness within ourselves, too.