The war in Bosnia was a defining chapter in the development of the global Muslim Ummah. The sight of Muslims being slaughtered by the thousand for their religion in the heart of Europe moved Muslims to previously unimagined feelings of solidarity and brotherhood. Thanks, ironically, to the unusually sympathetic coverage Bosnia’s Muslims got in the west’s international media, Muslims around the world quickly learnt of their plight and mobilised in their support. The Bosnians’ survival albeit in the most difficult circumstances, thanks to the US-imposed Dayton Accords owed much to the support they received from Islamic Iran, Islamic movements in other Muslim countries, and Muslim groups and individuals worldwide, during the dark days from 1992-1994, when the west sat back and waited for them to die. And yet there were signs there too of our continued weakness. Muslims helped the Bosnians survive, but we were not able to help them win. The victory which they came close to in 1994-95 was snatched from them by western intervention, which forced them to halt their advance on Banja Luka and Brcko. The peace deal reached was defined and imposed by the west. In Bosnia, as in Afghanistan, Chechenya, and so many places below, Muslims won the war then lost the peace.
The tragedy now unfolding in Kosova (and neighbouring countries) puts Bosnia in the shade. To some it has come as a total and unexpected surprise. But even those who followed events closely, and had a good idea of what to expect once NATO started bombing targets in Serbia instead of Serbian units in Kosova, have been shell-shocked by the speed and ferocity of the Serbian onslaught. Within a few days, entire regions of Kosova had been emptied of Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovars were streaming over the borders of Albania and Macedonia, countries themselves ill-equipped to deal with them. In Bosnia, the war unfolded over a period of months, and Muslims had time to respond. In Kosova, another limiting factor has been the immediate and massive involvement of the west, both militarily û although its contribution has made matters immeasurably worse for the people it claims to be trying to help û and in the humanitarian relief work. Not least confusing, moreover, has been the idea of the west’s hated military machine, used to murmillions of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere, being used against one of our enemies for a change.
As soon as NATO’s bombing started, Crescent started receiving emails and letters asking us how we would respond to the unusual event of the US helping a Muslim people. As the results of the bombings for Kosovars were seen, the lettes soon stopped. It became clear that what we are seeing in Kosova is both the strength and the limitation of western power. The west has massive technical expertise and a high-tech war machine. Its logistical and organizational powers are formidable. And the political power it can wield in order to ensure that other parties support its interests are very considerable. In this case, we have seen the US putting pressure on other, less enthusiastic western states, such as Italy, Greece and Russia, to fall into line. We have also seen the way in which its media and non-governmental organizations pull together to impose their understanding of events. The issue has been turned from a political one to a humanitarian one, which will, in due course, be used as an excuse for not securing the Kosovars’ political rights.
At the same time, we see their greatest weakness: the inability to fight on the ground, even against Serbian bully boys more accustomed to murdering women and children than fighting other troops. The Kosovars will have the chance to fight for their freedom again in the future, and will take it because they are committed to their cause. Like other Muslim peoples around the world, they are willing to lay down their lives for their people and their freedom.
The rest of the Ummah will have ample chance to support them again, when the west has left them to their fate, or quite possibly turned against them in order to prevent them from achieving their goals. When Kosova needs unconditional friendship, it will find it with Muslims who are willing to do more than just drop bombs from a height.
Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1999