The three religions of Bosnia unite in prayer when a flood threatens their village in a poignant scene from Nobel laureate Ivo Andric’s historical novel, The Bridge on the Drina.
Yet through the four centuries captured in Andric’s epic, seldom do the religious groups show anything towards each other but begrudging tolerance. It is only external threats that promote reluctant and tenuous cohesion.
In 1878, when Austro-Hungary took over Bosnia from the Turks, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders united to greet the Austro-Hungarian military on the bridge. In May 1992, the same bridge became an ethnic killing field.
Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered on or near the bridge and their bodies dumped into the Drina. Once a symbol of albeit fragile unity, the bridge revealed deep ethnic fissures that never healed.
And, of course, elsewhere in Bosnia, Muslims were busy killing Christians and desecrating churches. Muslim veterans came from as far away as Afghanistan to fight in the Bosnian war.
Bosnia by any measure was and is a multicultural society. Yet the propensity in times of crisis for ruthless leaders to exploit ethnic differences and fear was always there.
If there is strength in diversity, that strength has fragile underpinnings.
As the political theorist Eric Hoffer has noted, when it comes to political movements, hatred is the great unifier. There is something nefarious in the human condition that enables people who have lived together for generations to turn on each other.
All multicultural societies are prone to racial and ethnic exploitation. If one were to cite Switzerland as a counter-example, the Swiss would boast that while they speak different languages, they share one culture.
As the racial divide in America has come to the fore in recent weeks, Black Lives Matter has organized protests peppered with racial and anti-Semitic tropes.
Among these is a call for stopping military aid to Israel, as well as references to Israel as a colonial, apartheid regime that is committing genocide against the Palestinian people.
These libels have not significantly impacted BLM’s status or its support among Jewish progressives who have found ways to rationalize backing BLM while ignoring the systemic anti-Semitism codified in its political platform.
Perhaps the most insidious and offensive accusation is that it was Israel that provided the training to American police that resulted in the chokehold that caused the death of George Floyd. BLM has done nothing to use its newly found visibility and prestige to put an end to this falsehood directly associated with its protests.
What good is a conspiracy theory if at some level you cannot trace it back to the Jews? Elements aligned with BLM who have ingested the teachings of the Nation of Islam have spewed their anti-Semitism freely in the wake of the BLM movement.
Infatuated with its own success, BLM has escalated both its demands and the imposition of its jaundiced view of the world enmeshed in Marxism.
In the end, the sinews of our society are fragile. Racism, in all its manifestations, is a real problem, as is anti-Semitism. Moreover, Marxism is an uncompromising theory not of social justice but of violent revolution.
Racism exists in many forms and is always pernicious and ripe for exploitation.
Witness the attacks on Chassidic Jews in Brooklyn, N.Y., or the fatal shooting of a young Indianapolis mother for saying, “All lives matter.”
The extremist rhetoric that follows BLM will do more to tear us apart than bring us together. We should not forget the scenes from Lebanon during the civil war, the atrocities of ethnic conflict spanning decades on the African continent, the Soviet civil war or the ghastly scenes from the bridge on the Drina River in the town of Višegrad.
Our political system is nowhere near those gruesome episodes. While those are extreme cases, take careful note of what the extreme cases look like and what tilting in that direction means.
No society is perfect; none is without long-standing grievances, and no majority ever relinquished power to insults and threats. Either we recognize the basis for what unites us or the divisions might create the basis for tearing us apart.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter: @salomoncenter.
Be a part of our community
JNS is your ideological home. Situated at the center of the pro-Israel ecosystem, we provide readers with the critical context they need on issues facing Israel and their Jewish world.
You can help support our efforts — and enjoy an ad-free experience, as well as premium content and other community benefits.
Join our community and help us continue to keep you engaged and informed.