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Mick Hume

'Rape camps' and other horror stories

November 1992, Living Marxism
'What can we expect next? "Serbian Dr Mengele found experimenting on Muslim prisoners" or "Gas ovens discovered in Banja Luka"?' (Joan Phillips, 'Lies, damn lies and Bosnia')

4 January 1993, Daily Mirror
'One Bosnian woman is said to have died after an attempt to make her give birth to a dog....The [Serbian] concentration camp doctors are copying the methods of Nazi wartime monster Josef Mengele, claimed German MP Stefan Schwarz.'

The two-month old baby girl in the newspaper photograph looked like the picture of innocence, but she was apparently a tragic product of evil. The caption said that her mother, a 16-year old Bosnian Muslim, had been 'held in a rape camp and deliberately made pregnant by Serbs'. Those Serbs again; bomb the rape camp-running bastards.

But hold on a minute. That story and photograph appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 3 January, and the Independent on Sunday a week later. Which means that the picture was taken in late December at the earliest. Which means that the two-month old baby was conceived around January or February 1992. Which means that the 'rape camp' story must be rubbish, because the war in Bosnia didn't even begin until April.

So why was this story published without question, not once but twice? Perhaps the explanation is just that the editorial teams on British Sunday newspapers cannot count months very well. And then again, perhaps there's more to it than that.

Stephen King's horror stories have got nothing on the spine-chilling tales which the Western media have been broadcasting about war crimes in Bosnia. The most emotive ones, of course, involve babies. But if no wet-eyed child is available, the press have turned to tales which hit that other soft spot of the great British public: animals.

First, according to a front-page story in the Times, Bosnian Muslims were 'fed to dogs' by Serbs (7 August 1992). Then, suggests British dignitary Dame Anne Warburton, Serbs 'ordered' Bosnian Muslims to 'rape animals' (Times, 1 January 1993). Finally, says a German MP, at least one Bosnian Muslim woman died after Serbian 'concentration camp doctors' implanted an animal embryo into her womb in an attempt 'to make her give birth to a dog' (Mirror, 4 January 1993). No doubt the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will soon demand the right to inspect Serbian dog kennels under armed UN escort.

These horror stories are all, surprise to say, uncorroborated. They are typical of the rumours and exaggerations which breed like wildfire on the fear created in a conflict like the Bosnian civil war. Nobody should be surprised to hear such stories coming out of Bosnia or any other war-zone. The striking thing, however, is the eagerness with which politicians and the press in the West now endorse these incredible tales as the truth, and use them as evidence of the need for firmer Western intervention around the world.

The saga of the 'rape camps' in Bosnia provides the worst example to date of how a hysterical scare story can be accepted as good coin in the West. We have been told that between 20 000 and 60 000 Muslim women have been raped in Bosnia, and that up to 30 000 have been made pregnant. Many of the reports claim that the Serbs have been carrying out a 'systematic campaign' of rape or a 'deliberate policy' of getting Muslim women pregnant, organised around 'rape camps'. The campaign has variously been described as an attempt to destroy the Bosnian Muslims' national identity, and as a bid to breed more Bosnian Serbs.

What are the facts? No evidence has been produced to substantiate the claims of a 'systematic' campaign centred on 'rape camps'. Neither the International Red Cross nor the UN High Commission for Refugees has come across any such camp in Bosnia. The only evidence is anecdotal.

Anybody who refused to suspend their disbelief would surely find the alleged reasons for the Serbs' 'systematic' rape campaign ridiculous. Take the claim that the Serbs want to impregnate Muslim women with half-Serbian babies, so as to destroy their national identity. This makes no sense. There are no ethnic or racial differences between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia (or Serbs and Croats for that matter). They are all Slavs, who are simply brought up to practise different religions - and you can't pass that on in the genes.

The flipside of this argument is that the forcible impregnation of Muslim women is part of an organised campaign to create more children of Serbian descent in Bosnia. This makes no sense either. If the Serbs were practising some crazy policy of biological lebensraum, why would they let the women wander off to have abortions, to bring the babies up as Muslims, or to have them adopted by Croats? Then again, perhaps it is all true, and that infamous dog-in-womb experiment was really an attempt to breed a Best Friend for the new Serbian Master Race.

Western commentators and statesmen have not allowed the lack of facts or sense to get in the way of a good horror story. So at the end of the Edinburgh summit in December, the EC governments condemned the mass rape of Muslim women in Bosnia, and despatched a mission, led by Dame Anne Warburton, to investigate. In January, Warburton's team had to admit that they had no proof of Serbs being 'ordered' to rape 'systematically'. But who needs proof? In the same breath a leading team member, Irish foreign minister David Andrews, found the Serbs guilty of deliberately using rape as 'an instrument, not a by-product, of war'.

On 18 December, the United Nations security council voted unanimously to condemn 'atrocities committed against women, particularly Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina', citing 'massive, organised and systematic detention and rape'. Fritz Kalshoven, head of a commission of jurists on Bosnia set up by the UN security council, added that 'the numerous cases of rape amount to a war crime when it is connected to a situation of war'.

There can be no doubt that women have been raped in the Bosnian civil war, as in most wars. After all, rape is an act of violence and that is what war is about. If the Western authorities want to know about the relationship between rape and war, they might start by asking the American troops who went to Vietnam or the British soldiers who fought in the colonies.

But the horror stories about Serbian rapists suggest much more than this. They place a careful emphasis upon the allegedly 'systematic' and 'mass' character of the rapes, with their talk of 'war crimes' carried out in organised 'camps' with shadowy Dr Mengele figures in the background. No opportunity has been missed to imply parallels between the situation in Bosnia and the Nazi experience. The message is that here is a special case of evil, and that the West has a moral right and responsibility to intervene and end it.

By spreading tales like the one about the Serbian rape camps, the West has established a new, humanitarian case for intervening in the post-Cold War world. Whether they are launching air-strikes against Iraq, occupying Somalia or bullying the Serbs over Bosnia, the USA and the other Western powers now always seek to justify their actions by repeating some emotive horror story or other. It is like a global version of the way in which the authorities at home prey on public concerns about rape or child abuse to win support for the police. As a result, Western intervention has become institutionalised as a widely accepted fact of international relations today.

Yet the case of the rape camps also reveals how thin the West's horror stories are on plot. Ask a few pertinent questions about whodunnit, and the storyline falls apart. It becomes easy to see that these scare stories are just convenient pretexts for cynical interventions which are really designed to demonstrate the authority of the Western powers. As Frank Richards explains on page 18 of this issue of Living Marxism, behind the humanitarian mask the face of Western foreign policy is as ugly as any rapist's.

The trouble today is that almost nobody is asking critical questions about the true motives for Western intervention. Many of the erstwhile liberal critics of Western colonialism have now become the loudest supporters of the West invading other countries in pursuit of its bogus 'humanitarianism'. Typical of this trend is the way that some women's groups in the West have demanded firm action against the Serbian 'rape camps' in Bosnia. They are effectively handing the Western powers the moral authority to stage air-strikes for feminism.

The trend towards increased Western intervention in the third world and Eastern Europe today marks a new age of global conflicts and power struggles. It has nothing to do with humanitarianism, women's rights or the prevention of cruelty to babies and animals. Horror stories are for frightening children. Grown-ups, on the other hand, have to deal with the world as it really is.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 52, February 1993

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