September 13, 2001

Intersections of Fate

When four hijacked US airliners became terrorist cruise missiles Tuesday morning, ravaging Manhattan and hitting the Pentagon, Americans joined the family of nations that have experienced terror at home.

For nearly a decade, those who dwelt in what had once been Yugoslavia would wake up (or not) to explosions, bombings, sabotage, assassinations, war, expulsions and other forms of terror. The people of Bosnia, Serbia and Macedonia can relate and understand. That is why their condolences, issued honestly and immediately, ring with heartfelt sorrow and pain.


They are also familiar with the feeling of anger and helpless rage that follows the initial shock. There, however, this bond of understanding begins to break. It is one thing to demand a response, quite another to howl for an all-out, endless "holy war." It is one thing to vow vengeance against a perfidious enemy, quite another to consider an attack on one's own people an attack on humanity itself.

Whoever struck the United States on Tuesday morning, for whatever purpose, must indeed be gloating over such pronouncements, for they paint the picture of the United States as seen by its enemies: a belligerent, militant empire, brimming with arrogance and aggression, convinced of its own superiority and absolute self-righteousness, a menace to all and a friend to none.

After a crime of such horrendous proportions, a call to vengeance is justified, understandable and expected. Is it not always?


According to many of those very same American leaders, no. Here is where bitter irony sets in. When bombs ripped through several apartment complexes in Russia, killing hundreds of clearly innocent civilians, US media reported that Chechen militants "were blamed" by the aggressive Russian regime, even though this clearly fit the operational pattern of Maskhadov's bandits. US government and media have squarely condemned Russia's counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya ever since, despite the continued Chechen attacks on Russian security forces and civilians.

Three years ago, the "Kosovo Liberation Army" (UCK) began its campaign of terror against farmers, policemen and government officials in Kosovo. Its Macedonian branch embarked on an identical campaign this year. Did the US condemn these terrorists, who in addition to massacres and ethnic cleansing also trafficked in hard drugs, sold women into sexual slavery and routinely dynamited religious institutions?

Quite to the contrary, the United States swung its entire military might behind the UCK. For 78 days, two years ago, US planes and missiles rained death on Serbia. Hundreds, thousands of civilians died. Bombing enthusiasts dismissed them as "collateral damage," and were rewarded with titles and medals.

Just a month ago, an American envoy took part in forcing Macedonia to sign a document accepting all the demands of UCK terrorists, at the price of its own nationhood and independence. This was hailed as "peace."


On CNN, former authority on Balkans diplomacy, Richard Holbrooke, championed a declaration of war against not just the terrorists responsible for the mayhem, but against the countries in which they were based, and – by extension – against the people, civilians, in those countries. This certainly sounds like targeting innocent civilians simply because of who they are and where they live. This is the same Richard Holbrooke who championed "remedial" ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in 1995, coined the phrase – and ideology of – "bombs for peace" and enjoyed a champagne toast at a reporters' banquet the night US bombs killed 16 staff members of Serbian state TV.


Most Americans by now believe that Black Tuesday was an act of Osama bin Laden's Islamic fanatics. Yet in Bosnia, Holbrooke had acted in support and on behalf of a government which actively recruited these mujahiddeen, and, according to never-refuted allegations, even issued bin Laden a passport. That government is no longer in power, and its successors have expressed condolences to the U.S. and condemned the barbaric acts. But American troops in Bosnia still pass by villages inhabited by the "naturalized" mujahiddeen.

In May of 1999, as the bombing of Serbia was in full force, the Washington Times ran a story alleging that bin Laden was connected to the UCK and the Albanian drug traffickers. Because the beleaguered Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic was making the same claims at the time, NATO and the US chose not to listen.

A year before, in 1998, just after the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, an MSNBC editor explored the origins of bin Laden's organization in CIA's backing of the Afghan mujahiddeen in their struggle against the Soviet Union. Zbigniew Brzezinsky, National Security Advisor to President Carter, boasted about engineering the Afghan conflict to exhaust the Soviet Union. US lawmakers who were in on the project had said they would do it again.

All this aside, America's involvement in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia alone broadcast a loud and clear message to the world's militants: terrorism does pay, as long as it serves American interests. It seems someone forgot to explain this latter part to the terrorists responsible for this week's carnage.


America is now emerging from the shock of Black Tuesday with an understandable desire to avenge its dead. Many suggestions on how to do that are outlandish, and some border on insanity. If the most vocal warmongers get their way, this country would become embroiled in an endless war against the entire world, destroying entire cities at a whim. Any effort to make the world safe for America while making the world less safe for everyone else is ultimately both futile and paradoxical.

Opposing all terrorism as a principle is a truly noble endeavor, one which the author of these lines would eagerly join. Experiences in the Balkans point to a different reality, though. One cannot fight terrorism and use it at the same time. Understanding this would be a giant leap forward in the struggle against all those who treat human beings as "collateral damage," and who see nothing wrong with mass murder, as long as it serves their purpose.

Only then will justice for all the victims of Black Tuesday – but also those of Bosnia, Serbia and Macedonia – be both possible and within reach.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, many of which have been published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Intersections of Fate

Macedonia's Tragedy Masquerading as Farce

A Day to Remember

The Serbian Standoff

Macedonia's Futile Surrender

Murdering Macedonia

Rambouillet Repeated?

Empire's Willing Servants

Kostunica's Choice

Betrayal in Belgrade

The Empire Shows Its Hand

The Return of Kings

Meditations On The Edge Of The Abyss


Terms of Betrayal

Presevo – A False Victory

The Balkans: Land of Delusions

Enemies at the Gates

ICG's Blueprint for Destruction

Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana's Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

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