“Anyone with a political memory is thinking about Sarajevo these days as President Bashar al-Assad’s artillery shells blast into Homs (above) and families huddle in dark and unheated basements trying to stay alive,” writes Michael Ignatieff:
With the bombardment entering its fourth week, those watching video clips filmed with mobile phone cameras feel the same emotion they felt watching the siege of Sarajevo 20 years ago.
It is the feeling of shame.
You know it is shame when “the international community” now talks, just as it did during the Sarajevo siege, not of stopping the carnage, but of offering “humanitarian” assistance. The very word is abject. The people in the basements of Homs would be insulted to be called innocent victims in need of humanitarian rescue. They have been fighting to overthrow a regime.
“Resigning ourselves to carnage is also strategically foolish,” he adds. “It will leave us in a world where any tyrant knows he can shell his own people into submission, safe in the assumption no one will step in to stop him.”
The experience of Bosnia confirms that is also a strategically inept way of discrediting liberal democratic forces and empowering violent militants, according to Emir Suljagic, a Srebrenica survivor, and Reuf Bajrovic, a Washington-based political consultant.
Abandoning the Syrian opposition “would leave these forces susceptible to radical ideologies and movements which seek to kidnap the Syrian fight for freedom and hinder building a democratic and prosperous new Syria for decades to come,” they write in El Pais:
Bosnia should be a lesson: in a far less conducive environment, some Bosniak elements turned to extremist ideologies, which resulted in the formation of religious Muslim-only units, with emirs and imams, in what started out as a secular, multiethnic Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Wartime atrocities committed by foreign and domestic “mujahedeen” created deep-seated fears and resentments that continue to be employed by nationalist politicians.
So what can be done? Ignatieff asks:
In place of military intervention, nations can impose a comprehensive quarantine of Syria, designed to treat Mr Assad and his regime as an outcast, deny him any pretensions to legitimacy, drain any remaining support away from his cadre and force him from power.
Why should any country that values freedom still permit a Syrian embassy on its soil? Why should any country with an airport allow a Syrian commercial flight to land? Why should any Syrian associated with the regime be allowed a visa to a foreign country? Why should tankers still be landing fuel and arms at Syrian Mediterranean ports?