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When `never again' means genocide will happen time and again

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  • When `never again' means genocide will happen time and again

    The Herald, UK
    July 12 2005

    When `never again' means genocide will happen time and again

    IAN BELL July 12 2005

    Srebrenica: Never Again? BBC4, 10.00pm
    Escape to the Legion, Channel 4, 9.00pm

    At a time when attention spans are being shortened as if by
    government decree, Leslie Woodhead is the documentary film's version
    of an authentic hero. He wants to understand what happened at
    Srebrenica in Bosnia 10 long years ago, and he wants to understand
    why it happened. That's all; that is everything.
    Others want to know why one million Armenians were massacred by the
    Ottoman Turks in 1915, and why that fact impelled one Raphael Lemkin,
    an extraordinary Pole, to devise a word that might just convey
    inarticulate horror. The word is "genocide", and it has seen heavy
    use in the past 90 years.
    Why Armenia? Why a "final solution"? Why Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur?
    And why, as Woodhead's bleak, lyrical and insistent film kept on
    asking, do our governments say "never again" before sitting back
    merely to watch it all happen again? And yet again.
    Wisely, Woodhead enlisted Samantha Power of the Harvard Centre for
    Human Rights Policy to give a context to questions. If you have time
    to spare for 620 pages of prose, try her book, A Problem from Hell -
    America and the Age of Genocide (Flamingo Paperback, 9.99 when last
    I checked). It is densely argued, but Ms Power gave Woodhead a
    summary for his film.
    Genocide, she said, "is not a coincidence", nor a mere, unfortunate
    failure. It happens as a matter of political policy. In Srebrenica,
    10 years ago this month, 8000 men and boys were slaughtered by the
    forces of the Serb general Ratko Mladic because the west preferred to
    do nothing; because, in fact, Dutch United Nations peacekeepers
    handed the defenceless to the care of Ratko the Butcher.
    Should we mention, this of all weeks, that those 8000 were Muslims?
    There might not be a better week. Woodhead has returned, time and
    again, to the scene of one massacre partly because it was so vast,
    partly because it was emblematic of all that had gone before in the
    twentieth century, and partly because of our inexhaustible amnesia.
    If anything, as Woodhead made clear, there was a kind of amnesia
    before the fact. A decade or so ago, it happened that I was writing
    "opinion" columns for this newspaper and waging a small, running
    battle with the then editor. His problem was that I insisted on
    "going on", week in and week out, about Bosnia. My problem was that
    too few people, in particular members of a supine government and
    media, were prepared to go on about Bosnia.
    Like most scribblers, I moved on after the dust had settled. Leslie
    Woodhead did not. The result is a film explaining that jihadis did
    not spring from dust and paranoia. The result, equally, is Mrs
    Osmanovic. She lost a husband and two sons. "I feel heaven is crying
    now," she said of her life. "I feel as if they'll come in from school
    at any minute," she said of her lost sons.
    Woodhead produced a great and good film. In Hasan Nuhanovic's
    obsessive pursuit of a Dutch military still refusing to admit
    culpability, the journalist found a real person like a character from
    a novel. In scenes of snow-bound, lacerated Srebrenica he gave this
    weary viewer pause. London, New York, Madrid, Bali, Chechnya, a
    Bosnian village: always there is someone's god, prowling in the
    The most efficient killers have to be trained, of course. That fact
    has yet to come up in the weirdly-compulsive Escape to the Legion.
    Bear Grylls and his fast-diminishing band of volunteers may believe
    they are on a boys' own adventure in search of masculine pride and
    identity. Shouldn't someone mention that there might be a small
    difference between a man and a psychopath?
    In this bizarre series the short answer is, apparently: nope. It
    seems that male bonding under conditions of extreme sadism is just
    the ticket as Bear and his fellows attempt to acquit themselves in
    reality TV's version of the French Foreign Legion.
    Perhaps the most extreme punishment was called the marche canard,
    complete with a victim's quacking. Chuck Berry called it the duck
    walk, but at least he could carry a tune.
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