Moderate Balkan Islam: The Two-Edged Sword
by Stephen Schwartz
I first encountered the living reality of Balkan Islam, which is an indigenous and moderate European form of the religion, in 1991. I have spent a great deal of time in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania, and among the Muslim diaspora communities produced by people originating there.
I have argued since September 11, 2001, that Western leaders and media should spend more time listening to Bosnian and Albanian Muslim clerics and Sufi sheikhs, many of whom, especially in the Albanian lands, are vocally pro-American.
Finally, it seems, someone is paying attention. Except -- On December 16, 2006, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), one of the chief fronts for Islamic radicals in America, will hold its sixth annual convention in Long Beach, CA. To demonstrate its commitment to a moderate interpretation of Islam, loyal to America, MPAC has invited Mustafa Ceric, the chief Muslim cleric of Bosnia-Hercegovina, to address its assembled members.
This in itself could be a good thing. Mustafa Ceric speaks English perfectly, and is a paragon of moderate religion. He was formerly the imam of the Bosnian Muslims in Chicago and gained his doctorate from the University of Chicago with an outstanding thesis on rational theology in Islam. He has always been a peace advocate.
There is, however, something wrong with this picture.
First, MPAC has advertised the name of Mustafa Ceric, representing the Bosnian Muslims who suffered war and terror, and who were rescued by the United States, alongside that of the British (fantasy) writer Robert Fisk, who happened to be one of the most vocal and extreme critics of U.S. intervention to help the Bosnians!
Did MPAC inform Ceric that he would be listed in tandem with Fisk? All one has to do is look up Fisk on the internet and one finds such gems as this: on January 19, 2001, in The Independent of London, Fisk denounced the U.S. for allegedly dropping depleted uranium bombs on the Serb-occupied Bosnian city of Doboj in 1995. According to Serbian propaganda recycled by Fisk, the bombs caused years of devastation: animals deformed at birth, grass contaminated, and a rise in cancers.
The hallucinated Fisk is so careless with the truth that he advanced the absurd conspiracy theory that the Serbs covered up these alleged NATO atrocities so that one of the Serb defendants before the Hague International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia could get a break.
Ever the master of "objective" journalism, The Independent put the following saccharine headline on Fisk's piece: "In another Bosnian town two small boys lie in their hospital beds. Is this collateral damage?" That is, collateral damage by NATO?
Doboj was a center of terror against Bosnian Muslims and a legitimate target for the NATO forces. The city, which I have visited, has rebuilt mosques destroyed in the war, and Muslims are returning there now. But Balkan Muslims do not forget who their real friends were when they were under attack, and only MPAC would be stupid enough to put Fisk on the same level with Mustafa Ceric.
MPAC wants Ceric present to certify the organization's moderation, while inviting Fisk to prove its devotion to anti-Americanism. MPAC thus insults Mustafa Ceric by attempting to use him in a despicable intrigue.
As to depleted uranium as a source of ill-health, I heard the claims myself when I was in the Balkans. I investigated the matter by consulting with real nuclear and health technicians who had no reason to lie. Significant exposure to depleted uranium in the Balkans is a myth, attested by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
MPAC insults Ceric and the Bosnians in a deeper way. Ceric and the Balkan Muslims are not living in California where their views on moderate Islam are meant for media consumption, and where political correctness preserves the impunity of radicals to preach. The Balkan Muslims are presently fighting to preserve their moderate style of Islam from the continuous invasion of Saudi-financed agents of Wahhabism. And the fight is not limited to press conferences, radio or TV broadcasts, and the other forms of manipulation at which MPAC excels. Rather, it is a physical struggle.
When I was in Sarajevo two weeks ago, the whole Balkan Muslim community of several million was roiled by anger over an incident in the town of Novipazar, which is located in southwest Serbia and has a Muslim majority. On November 3, a group of Wahhabi radicals interrupted Friday prayers at a Novipazar mosque, denouncing the imam for refusing to follow their sect. A fight took place, spilled into the street and resulted in shooting; two of the anti-radical Muslims have been accused of firing at the radicals.
The reaction of the Bosnian clergy was eloquent. Mustafa Susic, a teacher of Islamic jurisprudence in Sarajevo, declared, [the Wahhabis] "say that the way we were raised and taught is not the real Islam, that we are bad Muslims? They do not behave like we do, where faith is a part of tradition; they want to be "professional Muslims." They want day-long stays in mosques, to sleep and eat there, and our mosques do not accept that? There is no dialogue with them? Al-Qaeda started from that movement."
For the Bosnian Muslims, moderation is a matter of life and death. When the Bosnians had to fight for their physical survival, they turned their sword in the direction of their armed enemies, but maintained a peaceful attitude in their religious teaching. Now they must turn the blade toward those who Mustafa Susic describes as "aggressors against our tradition." For them, spiritual survival is at stake. And in contrast, apologists for Islamist extremists like MPAC still try to split the difference between moderation and radicalism, between America and its enemies: truly, between life and death.