No, Srebrenica did not ‘inspire’ Christchurch

Earlier this month, popular ‘progressive’ news website The Intercept published an article entitled “From El Paso to Sarajevo: How White Nationalists Are Inspired by the Bosnia Genocide”, written by journalist and staff writer Murtaza Hussain. The piece argued that many of the perpetrators behind mass shootings and domestic terrorism in the West — from the convicted far right extremist behind the 2011 Norway attacks to the suspect charged in the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand — were influenced by ethnic cleansing committed by Serbs against Bosnian Muslims during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Hussain uses a one-sided and Western-centric account of the inter-ethnic conflict in the Balkans to assess the Islamophobia burgeoning in Europe and the United States today. His analogy employs the same misreading used by NATO to facilitate the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia and justify its illegal military intervention and war crimes against Serbia. It is an irresponsible variety of yellow journalism that should be ruthlessly critiqued whenever it appears, especially at a news organization which purports to be “fearless, adversarial journalism that holds the powerful accountable.” It also does nothing to help address the growing foundations of fascism by diverting attention away from its real origins.

Hussain begins by accurately noting that the Australian-born suspect behind the massacre at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand, Brenton Tarrant, during his live-stream video prior to the carnage played the song “Remove Kabab”“Serbia Strong”), an upbeat patriotic tune that pays tribute to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić. Removed from the context of the Yugoslav Wars, the Serbian folk song and its accompanying wartime propaganda video were rediscovered by Western right-wing fanatics like Tarrant when it became a popular internet meme among the online fringe as an anthem for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in reaction to the influx of refugees from the European migrant crisis. The infamous convicted terrorist behind the July 2011 mass shooting and car bombing in Norway, Anders Breivik, also expressed affinity for the Serbs in his epic manifesto and was cited as an influence by Tarrant. However, despite the article title the author provides no evidence whatsoever to support the implication that the El Paso shooter, 21-year old Patrick Crusius, was in any way motivated by the Balkan conflict.

Brentan Tarrant also wrote the names of several historical Serbian military figures who fought against the Ottoman Empire in previous centuries in Cyrillic on his semi-automatic rifle used to carry out the slaughter. Curiously, he also wrote ‘Skanderbeg’, a legendary national hero of Albania who as a medieval military commander defected from the Ottoman Turks and prevented their expansion toward western Europe in the 15th century. Despite his historical legacy of rescuing ‘Christendom’ from an Islamic empire to which Tarrant was likely referring, Skanderbeg holds varying significance to different peoples and for the predominantly Muslim Albanians he is viewed as a source of national pride and identity.