America is Not a Bosnia in the Making

In a response to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, City Journal published an article by Lance Morrow, who invoked genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda in order to analyze the grim events of the last few weeks. As the article’s title indicates, Morrow believes dark days are ahead for America unless something drastically changes in the body politic.

There is no doubt that the mass shootings are the work of evil and deranged people, and that the loss of innocent lives, especially children, is beyond comprehension. But Morrow’s comparison to the war in Bosnia and Rwanda is out of place, time, and any political or theoretical framework. As a survivor of the Bosnian war and a witness to the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims, I am always uneasy about the disproportion of such comparisons.

Morrow plays devil’s advocate and writes that the shootings in El Paso and Dayton “were spasms of private madness” and “not tribal or programmatic or ideological or religious acts.” But it’s not that simple, Morrow says. These acts may not be on the same level as a genocide but they appear far more “sinister,” “ominously new in the way of American violence,” containing “the germ of the Rwandan or Bosnian something.”

Morrow is correct to say we shouldn’t simply jump to the usual talking points and conclusions about either mental health issues or gun control. These debates are becoming tiresome and generally lead nowhere.

But his insistence that “something wicked this way comes,” perhaps in the form of a genocide, is absurd. He may not even think that something like genocide could happen in America, but by using the examples of Bosnia and Rwanda, the implication and the inevitable conclusion is that America is primed for such an event.

I have seen war, I have seen death, I have seen the moment when a man’s life is erased from existence by a sniper because he was a Muslim. This is not what’s happening in America today.

Something must be done, and “If President Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates had experience of the real thing, of the sort of evil collective violence I am talking about, they would turn aside from the road that leads to the Balkans.” This is a rather dramatic statement and a suggestion of an aggressive and wrong approach to politics.

I only speak as one survivor of the Bosnian war; perhaps others would disagree with me. I would note, however, that Morrow fails to dig deeper into the war in former Yugoslavia. Perhaps if he had, he would have realized that his comparison doesn’t hold up.

I have seen war, I have seen death, I have seen the moment when a man’s life is erased from existence by a sniper because he was a Muslim. This is not what’s happening in America today.

What happened in Bosnia wasn’t the result of a handful of alienated and disaffected young men who were angry about their mediocre lives and who decided that others’ lives were less valuable than their own. Rather, when speaking about genocide or, as it came to be known in Bosnia, “ethnic cleansing,” one must consider the entire history of the country, of the people, and political systems in place.

People like to say that old hatreds were rekindled when the Bosnian war began. Not true. It was a megalomaniacal genocidal “policy” of ethnic cleansing—an ideology, in other words—that brought chaos and darkness into our midst. The previous political regime of Communism and its collapse certainly didn’t make matters any better.

Without a doubt, we are living in times of strange violence spurred by narcissism, nihilism, and social isolation. We are seeing groups such as Antifa and the Proud Boys taking to the streets and using force and intimidation against their ideological opponents. But I cringe at the notion that all violence is equally comparable. I reject the idea that the sort of madness that is running hot through social media, and which may have driven the mass shooters in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, is on the same plane as the carefully constructed operations of dictators such as Milošević or Karadžić. These were efforts at the extermination of one particular ethnic group (Bosnian Muslims) with an objective to enact a fantasy of revenge against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, which no longer exists. These were genocidal dreams that very quickly became my and other Bosnians’ nightmares.

I don’t think that Morrow has bad intentions, but I do think he’s mistaken. He does not understand that by extrapolating an act of a man (or a few men, scattered across the country) to a collective policy of ethnic cleansing, he is effectively reducing the gravity of what happened in Bosnia or Rwanda or any number of other government-initiated exterminations in history. He is ignoring the persistence of memory and the need to honor the lives of those who perished in a way that elevates their souls rather than diminishes the meaning of the memory of the atrocity.

Morrow makes a good point that the violence we are witnessing today is bizarre and that it needs to be addressed. Yes, yes . . . and yes, at times, we can even talk about the general notion and nature of violence in order to gain a better understanding and stop it when and where we can.

Rather than making such comparisons that create an unnecessary atmosphere of doom and gloom, it would be better to delve deeply into the existential reasons for any particular act of violence. What indeed drove the shooters in Gilroy and El Paso and Dayton to act in such a way? All chose destruction over creation. They chose to separate themselves from the rest of humanity and to see the lives of others as disposable. Instead of participating creatively and productively in society, they chose to alienate themselves and thus made themselves the beginning and the end of it all.

Karol Wojtyła—the man who would be Pope John Paul II—in a 1977 essay examined the roots of alienation. “Alienation,” he wrote, “basically means the negation of participation, for it renders participation difficult or even impossible. It devastates the I-other relationship, weakens the ability to experience another human being as another I, and inhibits the possibility of friendship and the spontaneous powers of community.”

Although an experience of alienation does not always lead to violence, it’s also clear that once we begin to reduce the humanity of the other and make them into a construct that ought to be destroyed, then it’s not surprising to see violence on the scale of mass shootings.

Morrow’s attempt to understand through generalizes violence is valiant but misguided, however. His simplistic comparison of our current outbreaks of violence to the genocide that plagued Bosnia and Rwanda, not to mention the suggestion that our current political situation is moving in a similar direction, weakened his argument.

If we want to address the problem of violence on the part of the alienated within the United States, then we need to look at the particularity of these acts, and get to the core of what drives them to begin with. It may be anger, hatred, or even madness. But it isn’t anything resembling the recent dark and bloody history of the former Yugoslavia.

About Emina Melonic

Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, Emina Melonic immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo: Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.