First of all, two greetings:
To our fellow community in Brussels, with whom we celebrated Purim, and to the people of Brussels and Belgium: in the face of terror we must uphold together the dignity and wonder of life, in the service of which our existence finds its meaning. The messages of solidarity we have shared strengthen us all.
To Christian friends and colleagues over Easter: may the reflection on death and the restoration of life touch us with renewed reverence for the sacred spirit which dwells in us all. May these be stirring and meaningful days.
There are three ethical foundations of faith: the sanctity of life, the pursuit of justice, and the practice of compassion. Religions have not always been faithful protectors of these imperatives. In forsaking them, they betray God, humanity and life and turn themselves into forms of self-worship and idolatry, including some of the most monstrous known to history.
In defiance of Christian values, Radovan Karadzic was declared by part of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1994 “one of the most prominent sons of our Lord working for peace”. He is far from the only war-lord in history to receive accolades from his religious leaders for their purported efforts to bring tranquility to God’s earth.
It is not the case that Karadzic doesn’t have a soul. Born in 1945 as the war ended, in a brutalized Yugoslavia full of unhealed wounds and murders not called to account. He read medicine at Sarajevo University and Columbia, becoming a psychiatrist. He published powerful poetry which records a dangerous sense of beauty and a perverted faith:
Convert to my new faith crowd
I offer you what no one has had before
I offer you inclemency and wine…
People nothing is forbidden in my faith (For Izlet Sarajlic)
He entered politics as a promising young leader, making his home in Pale, overlooking Sarajevo. Largely Serb-populated, its people had lived alongside Muslims for generations. On 9 January 1992, the Bosnian Serb Assembly proclaimed the Republic of the Serb people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As Head of State and Supreme Commander of the army of the Republika Srpska, he initiated the Siege of Sarajevo which lasted 44 months, among the longest and most vicious in recorded history. His forces conducted lethal campaigns of ethnic cleansing against Bosniaks and Croats, including widespread murder and rape. He had direct responsibility for the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.
Whoever heard the verdict against Karadzic read out yesterday in The Hague will have trembled at the listing of so many accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Karadzic is set to appeal. Whatever the outcome, it will not help the thousands of women who still do not know where the bodies of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons may lie, often dismembered and disposed of in different locations, to lay their torment to rest.
I was moved, and troubled, as I listened to the judge. Humanity does in the end have power to call perpetrators – or at least some – to account. But the process is slow; justice comes too late, though better than never. The rest of their lives is too short a span to heal the wounds of the survivors. And in the interval, as we witnessed this week, more mass crimes are perpetrated.
We have to learn more quickly. We have to be better at teaching what is good and right.