I’m sorry to return to a subject that I’ve already dealt with and that might appear a little parochial. It does raise an important issue beyond the personality involved or his politics, however. With this post, I want to place a marker of that importance with a few additional observations, and then leave the matter.
It would be fair to say that Neil Clark is a writer known more for the distinctiveness of his standpoint than of his prose. He is an occasional contributor to quite a wide spread of publications (wider than I have written for, at least), usually to insist that Slobodan Milosevic is a wronged party - a ‘prisoner of conscience’, in fact. It is, on the face of it, remarkable to find a convinced, as opposed to deliberately perverse, advocate of the proposition that Milosevic is on trial at the Hague for what he believes rather than what he has done. I know, at second hand, a little of the dilemmas of editors of the opinion pages in seeking to generate readers’ interest, and can understand why Mr Clark’s contributions would appeal in some circumstances.
Mr Clark has on several occasions advanced his opinions on foreign policy, and the Balkans in particular, by asserting a wartime link between the late Bosnian President Alia Izetbegovic (who would then have been in his teens) and the SS. I have cited three instances of that claim: in The Guardian, The New Statesman and, most recent, The Daily Telegraph (the last, as it happens, in a review of my book).
As I explained yesterday, a historian of the Balkans, Marko Attila Hoare, was unable to locate the source for that claim in primary material or the scholarly literature. I have found Clark’s source, however, in a different place altogether: the output of an obscure US organisation, called the International Strategic Studies Association, that in 2003 accused the UN principal deputy high representative in Bosnia Herzegovina of “forc[ing] Bosnian Serb elected officials to sign a fraudulent document accepting the official version of events in Srebrenica”.
I submitted that Clark had claimed “the Institute of Strategic Studies Organisation” as his source – in which case, as the International Institute for Strategic Studies is an authoritative organisation in security policy, his readers or listeners would have been impressed. The IISS, however, has not made such a claim, or at least not to my knowledge or Clark's. I suspect Clark was just unfamiliar with the territory, with the gulf between an organisation such as the IISS and the ones whose publications he follows, and with the significance of his confusion.
My friends at Harry’s Place and others have since asked Clark directly whether my identification of his claimed and actual sources is correct. As I understand it, he prefers not to answer. That is his prerogative, but I know the answer, and Clark knows that I know. Nothing is more important in recent historical disputes over the Bosnian war than doing justice and honour to its victims. But the provenance of Clark’s assertions as published in leading British newspapers, and what he has claimed about that provenance, are not trivial matters.