As Serbia moves against another of Europe’s indigenous Muslim communities, comparisons are inevitably drawn with events in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Serbs’ attempted genocide of the Muslims of Bosnia had a great impact on Muslims everywhere. The Serbs’ open policy of genocide against an indigenous European Muslim people, and the west’s complicity in allowing them to continue until the Bosnians’ refusal to die forced them into intervention, exposed Europe’s and the west’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim animus beyond question for all except the most west-toxicated Muslims. The general anger at events in Bosnia became also a sense of unity and common purpose to support the Bosnians, which was permitted and encouraged even in Muslim countries where Islamic political activity is generally suppressed.
Subsequent events, however, have dissappointed many people. The Bosnian government has not maintained close links with Islamic Iran, whose assistance was - as the Bosnians themselves acknowledged at the time - a key factor in Bosnia’s survival in its darkest days, and it has kept other parts of the Islamic movement at arms length. The Bosnian government attitude was highlighted at the OIC conference in Tehran in December, where Alija Izetbegovic berated Muslims for their failure to help Bosnia, saying that only western intervention had saved his country, although it only came to public notice earlier this year when it was announced that Bosnia was establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
The fact is that it was never realistic to expect Bosnia to become an Islamic State. Bosnia’s situation following its liberation from Yugoslavia and its war of survival against the Serbs and Croats can be compared to the situation which other Muslim countries found themselves in as they gained their ‘freedom’ from western colonial powers - only worse. Islamic teachings and practices in communist societies were far more suppressed than they ever were in British India or French Algeria, for example. To understand the position the Bosnians are in today, think of Pakistan in 1947/48 or Algeria in 1962, except that in Bosnia the suppression of Islam has been much worse and the intrusive and corrupting interference and influence of the west is far greater. Bosnia has reached the stage of a post-colonial nation-State in the most appalling circumstances. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect them to establish of an Islamic State when Muslims elsewhere are still struggling with it.
The struggle in Bosnia was never about establishing an Islamic State - it was about ensuring the survival of Europe’s largest indigenous Muslim people and so retaining the possibility of establishing Islamic order there at some time in the future. The onus for pioneering the establishment of modern Islamic States rests with the Islamic movements in the Muslim heartland, such as Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey, where the presence, even dominance, of Islam and Muslims is not challenged. These are the movements which must lead the way and, by establishing Islamic States and an Islamic bloc, insha’Allah, show the way forward. The Islamic movements of the frontiers of Islam, such as Bosnia, Chechenya, Palestine, Kashmir, India, Burma, and Chinese-occupied Turkestan, to name but a few, where the survival of Muslim communities and their right even to live in their territories, are disputed by far more powerful enemies, cannot be expected to lead the whole Ummah - survival is victory enough for now.
The survival of Bosnia is not yet secure. The Serbs remain aggressively nationalistic, as they are now showing in Kosova, and western friendship is a fickle thing. It is also true that if the west chose to throw Bosnia to the wolves, as it threatened to do before the Dayton Accords, the Islamic movement would not be able to save it. Bosnia’s government may not welcome the Islamic movement’s continuing support, preferring instead to avoid antagonising the west, but it remains our duty to continue to offer it help against the enemies of Islam, while also seeking to show Bosnia’s government and people the desirability of re-building their society along Islamic lines rather than western ones.
This is a balance - comparable to the years of supporting the Palestinian cause while deploring the PLO’s leadership - which we are likely to have ample opportunity to perfect, in Bosnia, Kosova and elsewhere.
Muslimedia: March 16-31, 1998