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The world marks 20th anniversary of Bosnian war

Religious bigotry, hatred and strife in former Yugoslavia

Ceremonies in Sarajevo mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina, in which 100,000 died and millions were displaced.

Just before leaving Istanbul, Turkey, last week I returned to a restaurant where I had first been hosted by my Turkish Muslim friends. I went to say goodbye and to thank them for their kind help in watching over me and caring for me while I was in their city.

We were all speaking in English, when a man sitting behind me became very agitated. Recognizing me to be an American, he began rudely bumping up against the back of my chair. After a few minutes this man, a Serbian citizen, stood up and started shouting loudly so that everyone in the restaurant could hear him, “I hate America! I hate Bill Clinton! Clinton bombed my house. He killed my family. My children–my grandchildren–all are dead. I hate America!”

At first I was stunned. My Turkish friends shielded me. I did stand up and reached out my hand to the man, at which he responded, “I know it’s not you. It’s your government I hate.” And he ran out of the restaurant.

Today it is the 2oth anniversary of the war in Bosnia. The seige of Sarajevo would become the longest of any European city since that of St. Peterburg, Russia, in World War II.

Years later the war would spread to Kosovo and then to Serbian territory with NATO forces implementing and testing new weapons systems. American bombers would begin flying nonstop, 24 hours a day from NATO bases in Europe. I often wondered if their bombs would really end up hitting the intended bridges and train tracks or other designated “Serbian military assets.” I remember praying, literally, “God, protect the innocent civilians.”

Now, as I write this blog post, the words of this Serbian man I recently encountered in Istanbul still ring in my ears. And I’m sitting here wondering how I would feel if I were in his shoes. I realize in my own feeble, human heart I would probably not feel any different than he. I would be just as angry and distraught. I, too, would no doubt be mentally scarred for life. I, too, would be battling a heart filled with hate.

Those hellish wars were the result of Catholic Croate Christians, Serbian Orthodox Christians and Bosnian and Kosovan Muslims being in conflict over religious beliefs and traditions that were often more than a thousand years old. While wars have subsided, still to this day, the bitterness and anger persist, and we realize men’s hearts cannot be bombed into submission.

War is never a “best choice” when it comes to human conflicts

Ra’id and Sam enjoy breatfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Millions die or are maimed for life by war, either physically or mentally. Children lose parents, and parents lose children. The long-lasting, psychological trauma of war is egregious. For many the horrors will never end.

While we in the West spin war with carefully measured terms like “shock and awe,” “callateral damage,” and “smart bombs”; we must admit that war traumatizes and terrorizes men, women and children. And the end result may often be that we are creating far more terrorists than we are eliminating.

On a positive note: Happy Easter and happy Passover!

I wish my Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters around the world a very happy Easter and a happy Passover.

While we Christians rejoice in the victorious resurrection of our prophet, priest and king Jesus, Jewish kinsmen will meet with their families and friends to celebrate Passover. On the 14th day of Nisan (Hebrew calendar) the sacrifice lamb was slain. The blood of atonement upon the door post brought salvation as the death angel passed overhead. It was the eve of the Passover, and the epic Exodus that follows sees God’s covenant people delivered from the bondage of Pharoah’s Egypt as they passed safely through the parted waters of the Red Sea.

Today, my Muslim friend Ra’id called me at 6:45 AM, saying, “Be ready in 15 minutes. I’m coming to pick you up for breakfast.” We had a wonderful meal on the banks of the Red Sea, at the Park Hyatt Jeddah Hotel.  We watched as pairs of storks flew overhead making their annual passage north from Africa to rebuild their nests on the chimneys of European buildings and homes.

As we walked along the beach later that morning we were invited by two Saudi fisherman to join them on their Turkish carpet for tea. I was able to share with these two men about my work in religious reconciliation among the Abrahamic faiths.

May God bless and direct our work as we seek to build understanding, tolerance and acceptance among people of different faiths. May we who claim to be followers of Father Abraham and his God, talk to each other, share our concerns with each other and pray for one another. Please hold Dr. Safi Kaskas, others and me in the Light as we rededicate our lives daily to the task at hand–that of religious reconciliation here in the Middle East and around the world.


April 6, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

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