The Failure of Europe in Bosnia
by Stephen Schwartz
SARAJEVO — While French and Dutch voters are only now venting their discontent with the European Union, the Bosnians have held Brussels in contempt since the onset of their civil war, some 13 years ago. Back then, Europe actively obstructed Bosnian self-defense. The British and French instigated a U.N. weapons embargo that prevented the Bosnians from legally importing arms. A staggering 250,000 people were killed in the ensuing war (out of a population now around 4.5 million). In the decade since the massacre at Srebrenica, where Serbs slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Brussels has ruled Bosnia, as provided for under the U.S.-orchestrated Dayton Accords.
This has been a disaster for Bosnians, whether Muslim, Serb, or Croat. European humanitarian colonialism has burdened the country with staggering unemployment (at least the official rate, 44 percent), severely retarded privatization and reconstruction, and perpetuated the partition between a Serbian-occupied zone and a shaky Muslim-Croat federation.
Muslim Bosnia and neighboring territories also face growing Islamist extremism. Wahhabi missionaries, promoting the ultraradical cult financed by Saudi Arabia, have come back to the Balkans after their expulsion from Sarajevo in the aftermath of September 11. Bosnian authorities acted then with admirable speed in cracking down on the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a center of al Qaeda activity.
The Saudis have not attempted to reestablish that official presence in Sarajevo, but Wahhabi terror scouts continue to patrol its streets seeking new converts. An educated guess is that at least 200 such meddlers are now at work. Traditional Bosnian Muslim clerics are moderate; they never use the vocabulary of jihad, even in the wake of their bloody war, and they do not refer to Jews and Christians as "unbelievers," even though they fought and were victimized by Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Enes Karić, a leading professor at the Bosnian Institute of Islamic Studies, told me, "In this country Muslims and Jews always formed a single umma," or religious community. The sentiment is novel to hear but deeply felt by local Islamic intellectuals.
Still, Wahhabis persist in hawking their beheading videos in the streets of Sarajevo, to the alarm of Muslim clergy and theology professors. A report published in the sometimes useful National Enquirer-style weekly Dani (Days) on January 14 included an interview with one of these men. A Bosnian referred to in the article as "A.S.," he is a fixture outside the Governor's Mosque in downtown Sarajevo. The interview contains this chilling exchange:
"When you cut a man's throat, you cut the main blood vessels with the knife and death comes almost instantly. Cutting a man's throat is therefore the most humane thing we can do."
"I am interested in Chechnya. Which part do you recommend?"
Rešid Hafizović, a leading professor of Islam in Sarajevo, commented, "I cannot see how the police can allow that. Personally, I had no idea such things were happening. Distribution of such materials is forbidden worldwide and is even punishable. . . . [Wahhabis] are fighting not only Russians and Americans, but Muslim traditionalists as well. Wahhabism is a phenomenon that is difficult to explain. The whole world is facing it and there is no way to stop it. To be frank, I am scared. I am particularly worried by the inertness of the system, which is not able to tackle this kind of a problem. . . . It only takes going to the King Fahd mosque during Friday prayer to be terrified."
In the Wal-Mart-sized, architecturally overbearing King Fahd mosque--which opened in 2000 on the outskirts of Sarajevo, built with Saudi money and named for the Saudi monarch--the imam is Nezim Halilović Muderis, a Bosnian extremist agitator whose antics here I have followed since 1999. Muderis's Friday sermons, available on Bosnian websites, are replete with incitement to violence in Israel, Kashmir, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the Philippines. He preaches the same line on the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq as is heard among the acolytes of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It is, to say the least, bizarre: "In Falluja, according to statements from the U.S. command, spirits have appeared in the form of enormous spiders, weighing about a kilogram, that only attack U.S. soldiers, and the person who is bitten dies within seconds."
Moderate Bosnian Islam is holding the line against Wahhabi infiltration; Muderis is one of only a handful of clerics publicly preaching extremism. But the situation remains difficult. President Bush and the Iraq war are unpopular here, above all because Bosnian Muslims look to Germany and Turkey for their political cues, and cannot help but be drawn to emulate those nations' anti-American attitudes. At the same time, and notwithstanding Bosnia's stagnation under E.U. administration, Bosnians are avid to become peers of Slovenia, the most successful post-Yugoslav republic, which entered the E.U. in 2004. Like many others in the world these days, Bosnians are confused; and their confusion makes many of them--especially the young--perfect targets for radical recruitment.
Across the border in northern Montenegro, in an obscure district called the Sandžak, Muslims of Bosnian tradition form a majority. But they are poor and neglected by everyone in the world except the Wahhabis. For that reason, Wahhabism has gained a foothold in the small towns and cities of the Sandžak.
Recent reporting in the Serb daily Vesti described an attack on traditional Muslims praying in a mosque in the village of Lozna. The local imam, Ragip Licina, was allegedly kicked in the stomach during prayers. Licina said about 20 Wahhabis have appeared in Lozna. "There are more and more of them," Licina commented, describing a series of "assaults on religious persons while they were performing mosque services."
A pattern duplicated elsewhere was described by the traditional Muslims of Sandžak: "In the summer, a young man who had studied Islam in Saudi Arabia held lecture sessions, bringing this kind of teaching to . . . the whole of Montenegro." Wahhabis then tried to beat up clerics in numerous Muslim communities, where ordinary believers had to defend their religious leaders with physical force.
The local struggle against radical Islam is not helped by the fact that Bosnian Serbs, a decade after they savagely shed the blood of their Muslim neighbors, remain so resentful of Clinton-era U.S. intervention in the Balkans that they leap to defend Arab extremists deported from Sarajevo to Guantanamo. Late last year, the Serbian magazine Novi Reporter leaked a secret document produced by the Sarajevo authorities regarding six Algerian terror suspects shipped from Bosnia to Guantanamo. Although the men are not of Bosnian origin, the magazine called them Bosnian "nationals" (which plays well among Serbs, who typically mistrust Muslims), and also slammed the United States. To Serbs, Guantanamo is "notorious," with "inhumane" treatment and "inadequate" medical services.
Faced with continuing ideological aggression by Islamists as well as Serb nationalists, the Muslim Bosnians can expect no protection from Europe. Once again, the United States may be called upon to help the Bosnian Muslims. If it is, Washington should not ignore Balkan Muslim clerics who are willing to help in the fight against terror.
Related Topics: Balkan Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, European Muslims, Wahhabism receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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