Thursday, October 10, 2002

Western misconceptions of Bosnia

One of many of the reasons I am doing this website is to expand the parameters of debate by putting forward a point of view that is rarely heard in the stale “left vs. right” approved spectrum of thought. So I was encouraged that some people were irritated enough by my post on Bosnia to react to it with some thoughts of their own. Well, not always entirely of their own.

What follows is unusually long for me, a reply to a rebuttal of the Bosnia post. I chose to write in this detail, however, because the rebuttal contained a host of commonly held misconceptions about the region. Therefore, this piece is a reply not so much to that rebuttal but to those misconceptions themselves.

In his rebuttal of my post, Bill Allison is right about one thing: Bosnia is a topic he “knows a little about.” A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, however, and the little knowledge he has of the topic is a rehash of conventional wisdom, unspoiled by much reflection of his own. Having read an article by Bosnia’s ex-president may make him an expert on the issue relative to most Americans who can barely find their own country on a map, but that hardly gives him the right to question my qualifications to discuss the issue.

Claim: All parties were equally bad

First, Mr. Allison asks whether I’m as pleased that the neo-Communists lost in the Croat and Serb ministates of Bosnia as I am that they lost in the Muslim part, considering that the parties that came out ahead there were the same parties that led the genocide against the Muslims.

When Communists lose in Muslim Bosnia, it’s good. When they lose in the Serb and Croat occupied areas, it’s bad. Why? Because the so-called Muslim “nationalist” party never promoted systematic rape, murder, and ethnic cleansing, whereas the Serb and Croat nationalist parties did. So although I’m a foe of communism, historically the Yugoslav manifestation of it has been less murderous than Croat and Serb nationalism.

Let me say at this point that, stripped to its essence, the notion that an election victory by all three ruling wartime parties is equally bad tends to assume a moral equivalency between the victims and the criminals. That may not be what Mr. Allison consciously intends; perhaps he simply echoes this notion uncritically, having internalized it from EU and US diplomats and NGO “experts” who monopolize the Bosnia issue in our lazy, narrow-minded media.

Claim: the Bosnian war was not religious

Mr. Allison recites the lefty litany that the war was not a Christian holy war against Muslims, but a war by nationalists opposed to a multicultural Bosnia. This is true in the same sense that the Spanish Inquisition was conducted by nationalists opposed to a multicultural Spain or the Crusades were launched in opposition to a multicultural Jerusalem. As I recall then-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic telling Dubai TV (in Arabic, a language he is fluent in after studying Islamic law in Libya), the Muslims were targeted “faqat lianna nehnu Muslimeen”—only because we are Muslims.

Claim: Bosnian Muslims aren’t real Muslims

Mr. Allison seems to assume that I am recasting Alija Izetbegovic as an Islamic fundamentalist (whatever that is) in the same way that the Serbs do, and then tries to “defend” Izetbegovic against me. Izetbegovic isn’t one of Mr. Royer’s kind of Muslims, he says, because after all, the former Bosnian president’s writings argue for “freedom of conscience, speech and religion in Muslim countries, and full rights for women.” That is, these are concepts that he, Izetbegovic, and all civilized people believe in, and that my fellow Islamic fundamentalists and I do not.

I’m happy to readjust Mr. Allison’s assumptions. Islam, Izetbegovic, and I all stand for those concepts, although not in their extreme as Mr. Allison and his fellow “civilized” people do. Islam is a religion of moderation and balance, and in ideal Islamic society the rights of individuals are balanced against the rights of the community. Western civilization, of course, makes a stab at this as well (is it legal in the US for a Rastafarian to smoke marijuana? Can I yell “fire” in a crowded theater?), but, not being a divinely revealed way of life, can only come up short.

Mr. Allison’s “proof” that Bosnian Muslims accept his "civilized" parameters on liberties rather than the "oppressive" parameters of Islam is an essay claiming that “between World War II and the outbreak of the Bosnian War, 30 to 40 percent of marriages in Sarajevo…were mixed marriages between Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim and Jew.”

This recalls the standard university text “How to Lie With Statistics.” I’ll assume Mr. Allison has a basic knowledge of Islam and knows that Muslim men are permitted to marry Christian and Jewish women. If Mr. Allison wants to make any claims about the degree to which Bosnian Muslims in that forty-year window of time observed or flouted Islamic teachings, the real question is: what percentage of marriages in Sarajevo and other urban areas were between Muslim WOMEN and NON-MUSLIM MEN. The answer to this question could be zero and his statistic could still be true.

This is sufficient to render this “proof” meaningless, setting aside of course questions like: Who conducted this survey? Perhaps Communist authorities who might be motivated to fudge and downplay religion? Was it scientific? And are the practices of people in a narrow demographic sliver during a forty-year period under oppressive communist rule really representative of an entire people’s 550-year-old religious tradition?

Claim: Islam is oppressive

Continuing his refutation of my article (I thought I had written about the merits of neo-communism’s waning appeal), Mr. Allison then quotes a lengthy warm-fuzzy passage about the fact that many cultures and languages and religions formed a big melting pot in Bosnia. This he apparently offers as further proof that MY kind of Islam is alien to the region, assuming such a society would be anathema to it and me. On the contrary: the source of the Ottoman’s tolerance of diverse religions, cultures, and languages in the Ottoman Empire was not Western secular humanism (gasp!) but Islam itself.

Like a Communist Party schoolbook author, however, Mr. Allison is hell-bent on minimizing Islam’s role in Bosnia: the Muslims were simply “an integral part of that culture,” he asserts. No, they were not a “part” of that culture, they were the foundation of that culture. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic empire that, to greater or lesser degrees, ruled for over 500 years not by democracy (whatever that means) or by the communism of Tito or Lagumdzija, but by the Shariah of the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah, peace be upon him.

I have a coin that was used in Bosnia in the late 1800s inscribed with the Arabic words “La illaha il Allah,” “There is no god but Allah,” Islam’s testimony of faith and the same words on the flag of the Arab and Bosnian Mujahideen you say were “clearly” terrorists. At the same time I have seen in the town square of Travnik, a wartime headquarters of the Arabs and former seat of the Ottoman wazir, the grave of a commander of Serb origin who helped lead the Muslims to devastating victories over the Serbian nationalists.

Claim: The neo-Communists will solve Bosnia’s problems

If Mr. Allison truly admired and understood the justice and harmony of Bosnia’s past, then he would wish for a return to its tradition of authentic Islamic values and ultimately Islamic authority.

He doesn’t quite understand it, though, so he looks to Tito’s successors: “Mr. Royer should explain why it is that he regards U.S. support for a peaceful, multiethnic Bosnia as ‘opposing Islam,’” he demands. (For him, US support for neo-Communists equals support for a “peaceful, multi-ethnic Bosnia”—for all his kind words about Izetbegovic, we finally learn where his political sympathies lie). In case he didn’t read my article which he expended so much effort refuting, the Communists don’t have a good track record in dealing with Muslims or religion in general. Lefties like Mr. Allison might not be concerned about that, but the multiethnic, multi-religious citizens of Ottoman Bosnia that he claims to admire would have had a problem with it.

The West’s supporting of the neo-Communists in Bosnia amounts to opposing Islam because the only serious opposition to them is the Muslim party, and the US and EU have threatened economic sanctions if the people vote for other than the neo-Communist party (or, as they sanitize it, the “wartime” party of the SDA). There are many other examples of the West’s machinations against Islam in the Balkans, which I will perhaps detail in a future article, God willing.

Claim: America saved Bosnia

America “saved” Bosnia, he claims. No, America and the European Union destroyed Bosnia. If you witness a rape and have the power to stop it but don’t, you are morally, if not legally, culpable. If you witness a rape and chase away people who are trying to help the victim, you are an accessory to the crime. In the case of Bosnia, the how and the why are arguable but incidental. What remains after their doublespeak and excuses are 350,000 dead, thousands of women raped, and genocidal maniacs awarded the land they stole. The US action came conveniently as the Muslims were marching on Banja Luka and the Serb army was fleeing. The Dayton diktat, I mean “accord,” was signed and the creation of a stable Muslim-dominated state in Europe was averted.

Claim: “Wahhabies” are destroying Bosnian architecture

Mr. Allison regurgitates Michael A. Sells’ bigotry-fueled hysteria about the alleged “destruction” by Saudi Arabian organizations of architectural monuments they are supposed to be restoring. These claims, also advanced by racists like Stephen Schwartz, dovetail nicely with the Israeli lobby’s laughably transparent anti-Saudi Arabia campaign. In short, the claim is that members of the “wahhabi” sect (whose existence is a figment of the imagination of extreme Sufis, Westerners, and others who feel threatened by authentic Islam) have a tenet that allows no decoration on the walls of mosques, and so therefore “wahhabis” have destroyed the interior of the Gazi Husrev Bey mosque.

The problem with this theory is that there is no such anti-decoration tenet. The other problem is that the entire interior of the mosque has been restored and is back on the walls and ceiling of the mosque, exactly as the organizations said it would be. I know because I prayed Salaatul Jummuah in this mosque in April of this year. In 1996 I asked a mosque official why the interior was gone and he told me it was removed and would be replaced once it was restored, and it was. So this window of opportunity for Mr. Sells and his ilk to stir up intra-religious mistrust has been closed, though no doubt they will continue to seek others.

Claim: Each individual Muslim is responsible for what every other Muslim on the planet has ever said or done

And finally, Mr. Allison’s demand that I defend an Egyptian newspaper’s support for Milosevic is preposterous. Dear reader, I demand that you defend Charles Lindbergh’s support for Hitler. Confused? Me too.

Photo: Masjid Al-Ansar, Zenica, Bosnia. Photo by Ismail Royer

Monday, October 07, 2002

Commies & US policy toward Islam fail miserably

Good news for American policy-makers! The Communists have been defeated in free and fair elections in a pivotal Central European nation.

Oh, wait, sorry. I thought for a minute it was the 1980s. I'll try again.

Bad news for American policy-makers! The Communists have been defeated! Yes, the Muslim party in Bosnia has apparently handed a defeat to the Western-backed pinkos, who, according to preliminary returns, managed to scrape together a pitiful 14 percent of the vote.

Even threats from the EU and the US that they would stop throwing crumbs their way did not convince Bosnians to re-elect the party of Tito, a party greatly admired by America and the European Union for its main quality of not being Muslim, a quality it advertises with rallies featuring barbecued swine and massive posters of the blessedly deceased, wart-faced Yugoslav dictator.

Tito's League of Communists, which renamed itself the Social Democrat Party but retains its old headquarters and real estate holdings, was elected in 1997 with a lot of campaign support from the US, NATO and the European Union. Bosnian people were fed up with an economy that stagnated under the SDA, the Muslim party that had led them during the Croat and Serb orchestrated genocide of 1992 to 1995.

This is the "democratic" party that outlawed face veils for women; that murdered scholar Mustafa Busuladzic for writing an article critical of Stalin's deportation of the Chechen nation to Kazakhstan; that jailed Muslims like Alija Izetbegovic whose attendance at prayers and practice and love of their religion made them a threat to the dictatorship.

Characteristically, once the party regained power, they started locking up Muslims again and shutting down mosques (like the one in Zenica's jail). They began arresting Arabs, like the scholar Imad al-Misri, who had sacrificed wealth and cushy lives in their homelands to defend women and children from genocide--yet had suddenly become "terrorists" linked to Bin Ladin by virtue of their natural origin or language. This, of course, they were asked to do by America, but a Balkan communist needs little prodding to lock up a Muslim.

Support Communists in Eastern Europe, you say? Don't American politicians know US national interests from a hole in the ground? Golly, next they'll be pumping money to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Oh, wait, they already do that--over $3 million worth of office space, equipment, radios, vehicles, staff and training to a Sudanese opposition group that includes the Sudanese wing of Saddam's party (and, of course, Communists), with another $10 million approved but which remains, to my knowledge, as yet unspent. All in the name of battling a nominally "Islamist" government.

Here's a wacky idea--instead of opposing Islam by any means necessary (including asinine means, like trying to maneuver Communists into power in Europe and supporting Saddam Hussein's political party in the Middle East)--why don't American policy makers actually sit down and try to figure out how to get along with the Muslims in the world?

Would it really hurt anyone (except Israel's umbilical cord) for the US to actually try to live and let live--instead of repeatedly poking a billion Muslims with a sharp stick and then being "surprised" when a handful of misguided people carry out an act of terrorism?

Photo: US-trained Communist shock troops beat Muslims in Bosnia, Jan. 2002