After War, What?
01 June 1999

Analysing the war in the Balkans, as well as the student massacre in Colombine High School and racist attacks in Britain, William Rees-Mogg wrote in The Times of London recently about 'the racism that threatens the world's future'. He fears that mankind may be 'instinctively racist': 'If we cannot cure ourselves of that flaw in human nature, the outlook for the next century will be even grimmer than the experience of the century that is passing.'

Indeed, it is deep in human nature to define our sense of identity according to our ethnic background. This may always be so. But it becomes evil when it demonizes people of other races. This century's exploitation of ethnic nationalism drove the Holocaust and remains a deep stain in the heart of Europe, culminating in the war in Kosovo.

Is it possible to contemplate that the people of the Balkans, with their various ethnic and religious persuasions, will ever be able to live in peace as neighbours? Can the cycle of hatred and revenge ever be broken? What depths of repentance and forgiveness for the traumas of a brutal war will be needed?

The experiment that has brought the peoples of Western Europe together is still under way. Yet the fact that French, Germans, Poles, Dutch and British can live together in peace, following the barbarity of World War II, is a 20th century miracle. That miracle depended on healing in thousands of individual hearts. When the French resistance leader Irène Laure met the widow of the anti-Hitler plotter Adam von Trott in Caux, Switzerland, in 1947, both women recognized in the other a victim of war. That day, said Laure, a bridge across the Rhine was built. It was subsequently supported by the reconciliation of countless former enemies, as well as the generosity of America's Marshall Aid.

In the Balkans the bridges are destroyed. Yet the region could be a bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds, and East and West. For this to come about, churches and mosques will need to fulfil their rightful role of fanning the flames of conscience in individual souls. Soul cleansing is a necessary antidote to ethnic cleansing. Whole communities will also have to claim their inherent duty to be their brothers' keepers. Only then will the people of the Balkans be able to live in peace--knowing that their identity and traditions are secure because they count their neighbours as friends.

The same applies to the West's multiracial cities. For how can we expect the world's war-torn areas to live in peace and magnanimity, when we also hold onto prejudices in our own neighbourhoods? Both require a miracle of grace in the human heart.
Michael Smith

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