Introduction: “Criminal Non-Intervention”: Hispanism, Medievalism, and the Pursuit of Neutrality

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Casting new light on the relationship between history and its observers, the critical theorist Eelco Runia has arrestingly claimed that the past “may have a presence that is so powerful that it can use us, humans, as its material.” The starting point for Runia’s theory is the report compiled by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation on the massacre, in July 1995, of thousands of Muslim men and children near Srebrenica (Bosnia).2 Like Spain between 1937 and 1939, Bosnia had been placed under an arms embargo by the liberal Western democracies, and the Dutch UN peacekeepers stationed at Srebrenica had maintained a strict and—it has been widely alleged—ethically culpable neutrality. Refusing to take sides, the authors of the report reproduced this deliberate and repressive impartiality; they disarmed the past, Runia argues, just as the peacekeepers had disarmed the Muslims in the enclave. Their 7,000-page report effectively neutralized the horror of the massacre, subconsciously working to reinforce the myth of the Dutch as a sensible and decent nation. “They may have been under the impression that they were mastering the past,” he writes, “but, strangely and inexplicably, the past turned the tables and mastered these historians.”3


Islamic World Classical History Historical Profession Modern Language Association Medieval Study 
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© Simon R. Doubleday and David Coleman 2008

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