News & Islam News Jeremy Corbyn supports commemoration of Srebrenica genocide The East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre together with the Bosnia Heritage Foundation commemorated the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide on Monday 9 July 2018 in a special event held at the Mosque’s Maryam Centre. The 1995 genocide is the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. A number of distinguished figures addressed the solemn occasion, including two genocide survivors, academics, and interfaith leaders. Jeremy Corbyn MP, the leader of the Labour Party, sent a message of support: “My sincere apologies that I am unable to join you today to commemorate the 23rd Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide at the London Muslim Centre. Last year, I attended a Srebrenica memorial event in Sarajevo. As anyone who remembers or has learned about the events at Srebrenica, I was horrified by the inhuman brutality of the massacre and determined to do what I could to help future generations remember and learn from what took place. “To the Bosnia Heritage Foundation, and those groups working alongside you to ensure we never forget this terrible atrocity, thank you for all that you do. It is through your vital work that we hope future generations will learn the lessons of the horror of ethnic cleansing and religiously motivated violence.” Dr Abdullah Faliq, Co-Founder of the Bosnia Heritage Foundation who led projects and delegations to Bosnia for more than 17 years, chaired the event and opened with an emotional review of the legacy left behind by the genocide, whilst pupils from the mosque’s Al-Mizan School held up banners citing ‘Srebrenica We Will Not Forget You’. He reminded the audience of the many young children who were victims of the genocide, and the heartbreaking consequences it had and still has for the families affected 23 years on: “We need to continue to tell the story of what happened in Srebrenica, this is the least we can do to remember the victims and survivors.” A video was shown dedicated to the remembrance of the 35 victims whose newly identified bodies will be buried on 11th July 2018. Their names were presented to a silent and contemplative audience. Muhammad Habibur Rahman, Chairman of the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre, who visited Bosnia in 1995 during a brief truce in the conflict, urged all never to forget the crimes committed: “Events such as the 23rd Anniversary Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide are key to ensuring the memory of those who were killed will never fade way.” The Director of the Centre of Islam and Medicine, Arzoo Ahmed who has visited Bosnia several times, spoke on our relationship with the past and the danger of numbers becoming a dehumanizing factor in the portrayal of history: “The hardest visit to Srebrenica was on a scorching summer’s day on the 11th July 2012 to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the massacre. We were told it would be a difficult day, but nothing can really prepare you for the weight of the day. 40,000 individuals from the national and international community gathered with the families of the deceased, to pray over and bury 520 victims… thousands of gravestones marking the resting places of the deceased across the memorial site, with families clustered around weeping, reliving history and feeling the loss anew. The day felt surreal, like a trance – a deep collective grieving marked by tears without words.” The audience was then humbled by a speech given by Resad Trbonja, a war survivor from Bosnia, who at the age of 19 went overnight from being an ordinary European teenager to a soldier defending Sarajevo against the longest siege in modern history. He spoke about the horrors he had witnessed and echoed the sentiment of the Chairman that remembering the victims is of utmost importance: “I am calling on you to reject prejudice and hatred. One’s hate says more about themselves than the one they claim to hate.” Author of Violence in God’s Name and Co-Founder and Director of Forward Thinking, Oliver McTernan spoke about the realities of genocide. As someone who was involved in the initiation of the first post-Kosovo conflict talks between NATO and the Belgrade government, he remarked: “The primary blame for the massacre rests with those senior officers in the Bosnian Serb army who carried out the crime. But the UN and the Western powers must share that blame for having failed to protect the Bosniak men, women and children in Srebrenica, which in 1993 the UN Security Council had formally designated a ‘safe area’.” Dr Ilijaz Pilav, also a war survivor, delivered a gripping account of his experience during the war. He is believed to be the last man to leave Srebrenica, and is currently the Chief of the Thoracic Surgery Department in Sarajevo’s main hospital. He grew up in the former Yugoslavia and was stationed in the navy as a radio operator. He said, “Whenever I speak about Srebrenica I must speak in my own language as I cannot help it. I was born in Srebrenica and on 11th July 1995 I decided I was going to die in Srebrenica. I survived the Genocide. I was supposed to be one of the thousands who are dead. I have no right to remain silent. On the morning of 11th July, we all expected NATO to launch airstrikes on the Serbs, but it soon became apparent that it was not going to happen. We were left all alone, and that very morning the screams of Srebrenica were heard up into the sky. But the screams were not heard by the old lady, Europe. Srebrenica died on that day.” Revd Alan Green, the Rector of St John on Bethnal Green, London and chair of Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum, headed an interfaith group to Bosnia in 2009 with the East London Mosque. He made the point that, “Religion can be twisted and used to influence terrible acts but we must work together to avoid letting this happen to us regardless of whether we are of faith or secular. Srebrenica must never happen again.” Dr Swee Chai Ang, author of From Beirut to Jerusalem: A Woman Surgeon with the Palestinians, an orthopedic surgeon at the St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospitals, and Co-Founder of Medical Aid for Palestinians, related her experience in helping Palestinians, especially in the case of the Sabra and Shatila massacres: “In history, humanity has allowed itself to become manipulated and destroy other people.” She related a story from her time in Palestine, which she hoped would restore hope: a group of children approached her requesting for a photo to be taken of them so that they may be remembered and to show that they are not afraid. Nozmul Hussain, CEO of the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre, spoke about the importance of community and of working together for a bright and peaceful future. He spoke about his experience of meeting survivors of the genocide and mothers of Srebrebica who lost all male family members. He summarised the 10 stages of genocide and highlighted that half of these were already prevalent in the UK. He streesed the importance of communities working together to not allow hatred to take root between different ethnic and religious groups which could lead to a repeat of what happened in Bosnia. Harun Rashid Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, concluded the evening with a call for action and solidarity against injustice meted out against the innocent in Srebrenica, and the current tragedy that is unfolding in Myanmar. He added: “As the Grand Mufti of Bosnia said in his Jumu’a sermon last Friday, that even with all this suffering and loss, we shouldn't despair but continue to persevere in seeking justice." Notes 1. The 23rd Anniversary Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide was organised by the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre together with the Bosnia Heritage Foundation. The event was supported and sponsored by Bamfords Trust, Remembering Srebrenica, and BITE. Commemorative events such as this and other projects have been organised for more than 15 years. 2. Full video of the event available here.3. The Bosnian Grand Mufti’s Friday Sermon on the occasion of the 23rd Anniversary Commemoration available here.