29 Nov 2021 – the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre with the support of the Muslim Council of Britain hosted a roundtable as part of Islamophobia Awareness Month, including special guest speakers H.E. Vanja Filipović, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the UK, and Peter Oborne, award-winning journalist, author and columnist for the Middle East Eye. 

Speakers drew attention to the very real threat faced by Bosnia-Herzegovina in recent days after the Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik (a member of the country's three-way presidency), continues to dismantle state institutions and form their own army, which risks plunging the country back into war. The panel also explored the dangers of state-sanctioned Islamophobia, which led to genocide in Bosnia, and the increasing pervasiveness of Islamophobia in Britain and beyond today. 

Dr Abdullah Faliq, a trustee of the East London Mosque, welcomed guests, “This event is part of Islamophobia Awareness Month, and through the East London Mosque and other organisations I have been leading on raising awareness about the Srebrenica genocide in the UK for almost two decades.” He expressed the purpose of the event was not to be “alarmist”, but to raise serious concern about what is currently happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which risks destabilising the country towards war.”

Peter Oborne cautioned that there was “so much at stake” and “lessons to be learnt” from the Srebrenica genocide. He gave examples of the atrocities that occurred in Germany during WWII, and how they had atoned and made amends for the heinous crimes committed during the Holocaust. However, lamenting on a trip Srebrenica, he had this stark warning, “If the people who committed that atrocity are not admitting it, and the war criminals who committed so many murders are still working in the local streets and the local schools are teaching that the genocide didn't take place. That means it can happen again. It means it’s quite likely to happen again.”

In a video message from Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General for the Muslim Council of Britain, she noted, “It’s easy to forget and not pay heed to important events that are happening around us: the global phenomenon of Islamophobia, where we are talking about the plight of Muslims, particularly in Bosnia. It’s not happening within a vacuum. We see this with the Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya Muslims, but we see it all over.” 

In a written message, Dr Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, scholar and author, reflected on an essay he wrote in 2021 on a charity project he had initiated for the reconstruction of a primary school in Ilidza, near Sarajevo, in 1998, after the Serbs had pillaged all its musical instruments and destroyed its concert hall during the Sarajevo siege. Narrating a passage from his essay, he appealed to all to “remember and honour the heartfelt plea of those children who sang 'na rata ne bude' ('let there be no war') on the ruined walls of the concert hall.” He stressed that “a crucial focus needs to be on the children, and the devastating impact of war on their lives and futures.” 

H.E. Vanja Filipović said it felt “unimaginable” to be speaking on the topic of potential renewed conflict in the context of the wider political issues currently faced in his country with rising nationalism. “Those of us who lived through the 1990s, have learnt to recognise signs of a coming storm. The hate speech, the divisive speech has been on the rise for the past 15 years, but now the rhetoric has moved into the political realm, and the hard won peace in Bosnia is now under severe threat.” He went on to describe the resolution achieved under the Dayton agreement as a “difficult peace and unjust peace… it accepted the new division based on war and ethnic cleansing of the country.” 

The Ambassador said the only reason the democratic system in Bosnia-Herzegovina worked for the past 26 years was because of the international presence, which was built into the Dayton Peace Agreement. However, he expressed that the agreement was not able to address the underlying issues that led to the war in the first place. He described the current issue in Bosnia-Herzegovina as an unfolding “security issue”, and called upon the international community to help combat this new form of political aggression which had crossed clear “red lines”.

The evening’s event ended with a Q&A session that further explored geo-political tensions in the region and what could be done to stop rising tensions. A special dinner reception was also held in honour of H.E. Vanja Filipovic with community and faith leaders, embassy officials, media, campaigners and policymakers in attendance. The reception closed with the Mosque chairman, Ayub Khan, handing a gift to the Ambassador.

A selection of event photos – click for higher resolution versions (open in new window)