Personal Reflections: Imams and Rabbis joint visit to Srebrenica – August 2017

"We went to visit Bosnia ( Sarajevo, Tuzla and Srebrenica ) with other imams and rabbis from the Joseph Interfaith Foundation. The visit was organised in a professional manner by the Foundation and Remembering Srebrenica in London. A very intense, very moving 3 days in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. It was an emotional visit. We have learnt many lessons from this visit. We will share it with our community and we will try our possible best to work towards better understanding among different communities and faith groups, so that such atrocities are not repeated at all. The contrast between the co-existence that three religious communities enjoyed in Sarajevo over hundreds of years stood in sharp contrast to what happened at Srebrenica in the space of just 4 days. This isn't a judgement about how fragile that coexistence was but rather the reminder of the ease with which decent society can be torn apart when forces of evil and resentment take hold. During our visit, most of the time we heard how Serbians treated their own neighbours and friends with utmost cruelty. However, we did not meet any Serbs. In my humble opinion, it would have been a more transparent and balanced exercise, if we could have met some Serbians also.” <
Mulana Shahid Raza

“A very intense, very moving 3 days in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. The contrast between the co-existence that three religious communities enjoyed in Sarajevo over hundreds of years stood in sharp contrast to what happened at Srebrenica in the space of just 4 days. This isn't a judgement about how fragile that coexistence was but rather the reminder of the ease with which decent society can be torn apart when forces of evil and resentment take hold. I would choose 3 images that represented being there. The positive one would be of a street in old Sarajevo with a line reading "Sarajevo meeting of cultures." The negative ones would be of Dragana Vucetic, the Forensic Anthropologist in Tuzla, leading the team working with remains from mass graves to restore the physical integrity of the victims and then through their DNA to identify them and enable their families to bury them. For Jews and Muslims, whose religion tells them not to delay burial, the idea of remains being purposely scattered over different graves and remaining unburied for over 20 years is deeply shocking. The other image, therefore, is of the cemetery at Potocari where over 6000 of the identified victims are buried. I have never been to a cemetery where all the graves bear just the same date of death: 11-15 July 1995.”
Rabbi Colin Eimer

“The trip was great experience where I explored historical background of the country. It was great experience and educational to visit the very old Mosques, Synagogues and Churches. I was glad to discover how all three faiths coexisted peacefully for quite long time in Sarajevo. It was also good to see first-hand experiences with regard to the genocide committed at Srebrenica. It was moving and emotional to visit the burial places for the thousands of men and children killed during the genocide. It was also emotional and moving to meet some of the people directly affected by the genocide who lost their love ones. I am gratefully to the Rabbis Eimer and Smith who also briefed us with regard to holocaust and taught us a lot that I did not know before. Overall it was very good trip and all participants were very open and friendly and trip left me with vivid memory of the genocide that had happened in Srebrenica. I would like to say my special thanks to our Delegation Leader Mehri Niknam for her arrangement and management of the trip. It was extremely great experience and very happy to be party for such trips which I believe brings all the faiths closer by understanding each other’s viewpoints.”
Imam Hussain Ibrahim

“I felt the trip was well organised, and the guides were very helpful. They enabled us learn something of the experience of the Siege of Sarajevo and the terrible massacre at Srebrenica. The visit to the International commission on missing persons was most informative, as a forensic anthropologist showed us how they were able to identify thousands of corpses by use of DNA, and were able to prove that massacres had indeed taken place despite official denials. On the one hand the trip was depressing as it showed how ordinary people suffered and died in dreadful times, and there seems little hope for a future of peace or reconciliation at this time. On the other hand the trip was well worthwhile as our group was made up of Imams and Rabbis, and I felt that our mutual understanding and sympathy developed during the visit. As a result we will try to honour the memories of those that have suffered in the past by working for human respect and better understanding in the future.”
Rabbi Daniel Smith

It is quite harrowing that human choices have rendered a country of such breathtaking natural beauty to as place of great political tension. To me, Bosnia highlighted the frailties, as well as the tenacity of the human condition. It is difficult to miss the great courage and endurance of the human condition epitomised by the Bosnians as they battled with injustice, and carry the wounds of genocide with them today. However, one cannot ignore the deeply disturbing atrocities that gave shape to the countries’ political climate. I worry though, that as the saying goes “those that do not learn from the mistakes from history are bound to repeat it”. As humans we have the potential for greatness, as well as great destruction and chaos. I look at the current global climate, and I would be lying if I said I was optimistic. I see the human condition as I saw Bosnia - a place of huge potential and natural beauty, but plummeted into turmoil due to greed and ego. If we cannot harness our potential for productivity and cohesion, but instead direct our attention towards division and sub-humanising the ‘other’, are we not doomed to repeat history?
Ikramul Hoque