Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bosnia and Kosovo: A Challenge and an Oppportunity

The Hidden Army of Radical Islam

The Balkans sit astride many boundaries. The split between Rome and Constantinople still reverberates in the Republics of the former Jugoslavia. Doctrinal differences between Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics are at least as political there as they are doctrinal. The lasting influence of Turkish rule and the Islamic imprint that it left on the region can not be overstated. From the manner in which coffee is prepared to the sound of their music, the echoes of Turkish rule linger in the Former Jugoslavia.
The majority of Muslims in Bosnia and also Kosovo practice a very lenient strain of Islam. Beer and slivovitz are still to be found at the tables of Muslims. During the decades of Tito's rule, interreligious dating was commonplace.
Despite this, nationalistic passions are never far from the surface. The Croatian yearning for independence and Bosnian Muslim's desire to stake out their identity was skillfully exploited by the Nazis, who used cunning as much as brute force to conquer Europe. The Nazi puppet state of Croatia seemed like a dream come true to all too many Croats. The genocidal passions unleashed by the puppet state shocked even the Germans. Jasenovac, Croatia's own concentration camp was a place of squalor, sadism and death for Serbs, Jews and gypsies.
With the support of Hitler, the Mufti of Jerusalem organised an SS brigade that was active in the Salonika deportations as well as other crimes.
In the wars of independence in the 1990's in Bosnia and Croatia, the many years of people living as neighbours gave way to separate lives for Serbs, Croats and Bosnians.
Clinton's policies in Bosnia and Kosovo were misguided from the beginning. Choosing a side in the conflicts of the region was impossible . I believe that the manner in which America walked a neutral path in the region was poorly thought out. By denying arms to Bosnians and Kosovars, it created a disparity of armed strength that invited aggression. It may sound very nice to condemn arms dealers, but the extent to which much of the world enjoys peace is because it is well armed. The refusal of America to offer any help or even to allow Bosnians to achieve parity of arms created an opening in the Balkans for Islamic militants to enter Bosnia and Kosovo. Had the warring groups been allowed to achieve a standoff in the local arms race the there could have been the type of cold war that exists across the Taiwan Straits.Like the Mufti of Jerusalem during World War Two, the Arabs who came to Bosnia in the nineties wanedt to create a strain of Islam in the Balkans that is politically useful to them. The majority of Bosnian Muslims did not heed the Wahabi call. But it is possible for a person to be a secular extremist. Beer and rock music do not automatically make a political moderate. We must bear in mind that Baathism in Syria and Iraq is a secular nationalist movement.
America has opportunities to expand and maintain its relationship with Turks, Bosnians and Kosovars. There are often turning points in political alliances. According to some historians, Ho Chi Minh could have been persuaded to ally with America during World War Two. Ho Chi Minh was ignored at Versailles at the end of World War One by the representatives of the victorious powers when he attempted to discuss with them Vietnamese national aspirations. The devil with whom Ho Chi Minh eventually dealt was not the Wahabis but the Bolsheviks.
When I take a taxi in New York, I am very diplomatic when discussing Balkan wars. New York has taxi drivers from all six Republics of the former Jugoslavia. Each republic has in turn its own official take on history and its dissenting historical narratives. It is not too hard to imagine the difficulties of balancing a foreign policy in the region.
There is much good will among Balkan Muslims towards America. America's enemies have offered them visible support such as arms and rebuilding destroyed mosques. There is a bidding war for the hearts and minds of Muslims in the Balkans. In this war we have a powerful advantage. We have a society in which people of every imaginable race, nationality and faith live together in a peaceful land. More than anything we can give the peoples of the Balkans, they want this peace for themselves. In America, people who in their homelands would be at war find ways to live together. The cooperation that thrives here can and should be transplanted to the soil of strife torn nations. It is in defense of this hope that America struck back so fiercely after 9/11. We have many friends in the Balkans. A wisely conceived policy in the former Jugoslavia would be to our benefit and that of the people in the Balkans. Sphere: Related Content

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