The ICJ's ruling that Serbia was not responsible for genocide in Bosnia (even if it "could have and should have prevented it") has absolutely infuriated Muslims across the world. Faisal al-Qassem's extremely popular talk show The Opposite Direction covered it last Tuesday. I've seen a slew of op-eds and stories in the Arab newspapers and considerable coverage on Arab TV stations, across the political spectrum. Ayman al-Zawahiri led with it in his tape the other day - before he got into the Palestine stuff - showing that al-Qaeda thinks the issue will resonate.
AFP picture, as presented on alArabiya.net
Outrage is the order of the day. The overwhelming theme is that it demonstrates the hypocrisy and lack of credibility of international tribunals. It has insistently been compared to the Darfur tribunal: Why so much attention to Darfur, they ask, while the Serbs get off and Palestinians are ignored (you can get a whiff of this from Mahmood Mamdani's controversial LRB essay)? Because the Sudan is Muslim and the Serbs are Christian, they respond. Why are Muslims brought before these tribunals while Bush, Blair, Sharon, et al have nothing to fear? Asked and answered. And how can the United States ask the ICC to judge Darfur, they ask, when it doesn't even accept the Court's jurisdiction over itself?
Expect this to become another oft-cited point in the narrative of Muslim grievances against the West, and to fuel al-Qaeda's 'clash of civilizations' frame. Bosnia has always been an area where American and Muslim perceptions have been almost 100% at odds. Most Americans seem to see Bosnia as an example of the United States coming to the aid of Muslims against Christians, and hold it against Muslims that they don't appreciate this. Most Muslims seem to see Bosnia as an example of the United States taking three years to do anything, allowing hundreds of thousands of Muslims to be butchered while not even allowing Bosnia to import weapons to defend themselves and the intervention coming far too late. That's the context for Muslim anger over this international ruling.
That many, many Americans and Westerners will also be outraged by the ruling won't matter much... though making it clear might help a bit. Lead war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has complained that Europe has been disappointingly "muted" in its response, though, slamming Javier Solana and Germany (current EU President). And the US has been far worse - another massive public diplomacy failure unfolding before our eyes. The State Department spokesman's response - "we would hope that the people of the region use this as an opportunity to reconcile themselves to the past and also to take advantage of this time to continue efforts at that reconciliation" - is downright insulting and seems calculated to be inflammatory in Muslim ears. "Get over it" is hardly what those who consider themselves to have suffered a genocide and have just received an international ruling that those they consider guilty have been exonerated want to hear. This isn't just a moral failing or a miscommunication... it's a serious policy failure at a time when the US wants an international court to deal with Darfur and to improve its image in the Muslim world.