The threat of radical Islam is being used to justify all kinds of political positions, real and feigned. Moslems only become part of public discussion when that discussion concerns immigration, terrorism, violent dictatorship or the dangers of youth being led astray by radical preachers. There are no other meanings to the term in contemporary political discourse.
Though no one is saying this directly now, the main objection to Turkey’s longstanding efforts to join the EU is based on exactly this thinking – there is supposed to be an inherent incompatibility between the secularised version of Islam practised by Ataturk’s creation and the “democratic” systems of Europe. It is also no accident that a number of US news outlets are giving platforms to people who maintain that there are Moslem-controlled “no-go zones” all over Europe, though of course none in the US, despite its own millions of Moslems.
So in Europe it is considered acceptable, even official, to equate Islam as a whole with actions committed in its name by a tiny minority and condemned by most Moslems. Any “Moslem state”, whatever that actually means, is viewed with suspicion at best and hostility at worst. One might wonder, therefore, why Europe went out of its way to create a Moslem state within its own midst, and is now stunningly silent about what is theoretically the greatest threat of all?
The accidental terrorists
When Yugoslavia began to break up after the fall of communism there were lots of potential ways of dealing with the problem. Most European countries were combating internal separatist movements, some of which were violent, but for some reason they were all happy to support the dismemberment of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia by groups with no greater claim to independence than their own. This emboldened the Slovenes and Croats to declare their parts of Yugoslavia independent within the borders given them by Tito, and create Europe’s version of apartheid for the rest of the people living within those borders.
The ensuing war put the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, smack in the middle of the country, in a difficult position. The Croats wanted to incorporate its Croatian areas into Croatia and the larger Serb population wanted to remain within Yugoslavia. Seeing what was going on in Croatia Europe didn’t want further conflict, particularly after it had openly provoked that conflict. So the international community declared that to prevent the known problems spreading further Bosnia-Herzegovina should also be an independent state.
Why? The reason given was that it was an analogous homeland for the region’s third main component, the Bosniaks. The Bosniaks are undoubtedly a separate cultural group to the Serbs and Croats, so this assertion made some sense at the time. But both Serbs and Croats found the idea of the Bosniaks having the same distinct identity they had dubious to begin with, as the resulting war demonstrated, and time has shown us exactly why.
Bosniaks are different for one main reason. The five hundred year Ottoman rule of Eastern Europe left Bosnia, if not other places, with a significant Moslem population. As elsewhere, these people are not Turks, a very fluid concept in itself, and nor are they Albanians, as the Kosovo Moslems generally are. Ethnically they are predominantly Serb, their chief distinguishing feature being the practice of the Moslem faith.
Bosniaks themselves are aware of this problem. There is considerable academic conflict between those who stress the Moslem character of the Bosniak people and those who stress a more secular heritage. But this heritage is not an ethnic but a political one. Bosniaks are people who regard the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia or the area covered by the modern Bosnian state as their homeland. The same distinction can be drawn between those who regard Persia rather than modern Iran as their homeland, or Taiwanese and mainland Chinese.
The modern state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a confederation on the Swiss model, with a tripartite presidency in which Serbs and Croats, as well as Bosniaks, have to be represented. But the Serbs and Croats can demonstrate far more significant cultural differences from each other than the Bosniaks can from them. With all Bosnian citizens, whatever group they belong to, now having a Bosnian homeland the claims to a Bosniak identity will rest ever more strongly on their following Islam. If Moslems are what Europe says they are, that is not a future anyone should have wanted.
Waiting for Godot
During the Bosnian War the Bosniaks sought assistance from Moslem nations. In fact it was friends in the West who provided them with the most support. Other, more identifiable Moslems did not take the idea of a Slavic Islamic homeland seriously, even though it might have provided a platform for creating the very “states within states” Moslems are alleged to want.
They too saw Bosnia’s Islam as primarily political, however genuine the faith of individuals, and did not see supporting Bosnia as supporting Islam. Yet the Moslem faith of Bosniaks was the hook the creation of the state was hung on. How therefore can they continue to justify their state, without due recognition from those who should be their obvious supporters?
When the war ended Bosnia was divided into Bosniak and Serb-controlled zones, reflecting the realities on the ground, and one small condominium district. It is a safe country, widely visited for its natural beauty and heritage. But this is not because it has made such economic progress that everyone wants to play a part in its future. It is safe because hardly anything has happened there since the war.
Both sides want to live in peace but without provoking the other, and any initiative from either side must acknowledge the separateness of the Bosniak people and regions to have any hope of success. Therefore all the state can do is make political declarations which satisfy the claims of all sides but have very little effect on things like jobs, housing and unpaid wages and pensions.
It is this that led to last year’s anti-government protests, ironically known as the Bosnian Spring, which resembled not so much the popular uprisings of the Middle East but the Red Brigades terror campaign in Italy in the 1970s. As in Italy the protestors, though non-violent, sought to “strike at the heart of the state” and then found there wasn’t one. The protests did not change the Bosnian government because it is incapable of responding to the people. It is obliged by the structure of the state to inhabit a different world, in which political declarations are supposed to magically take effect because the right people say so.
Maybe this is still better than the conflict of the past. But can the country proceed that way forever? Serbs will still be Serbs, Croats will still be Croats, but the country can’t survive without the Bosniaks, who can only continue to be Bosniaks by being Moslem. As they are in Europe, they must fit the European definition. Europe says Islam is incompatible with the sort of democratic structure the Bosnian state is supposed to be. Little by little, the Bosniaks will be forced to agree, whatever the cost.
How green is our valley
For now Europe is doing its best to pretend that all Moslems are alike but there are also “good” ones who do what Europe wants. It is seeking to turn the Bosniaks, and the more resistant Albanians, into the equivalent of the black African leaders who worked with the Ian Smith government in Rhodesia rather than trying to destroy it, behaviour Europe itself universally condemned at that time.
Bosnia remains an EU candidate country, despite its economic backwardness, because Europe created it in the first place and expects nothing less. There is in fact nowhere else for Bosnia to go, as its Bosniak identity has put it out of step with Slavic nations and its isolation from mainstream Islam has left it no alternative friends. Europe has also imposed a new language, called Bosnian, on all its official bodies, demanding they recognise it as a separate language in official documents and interpreting policies when it is less a separate language than, say, American is from English.
But this is the very reason the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be destroyed by the same Europe which insisted it should exist. Moslem states have to be politically dangerous entities which sympathise with terrorism and want to radicalise Western youth because these are the only contexts in which Europe ever talks about them. Bosnia may be a multi-ethnic state, whose “good” Moslem element can only be one part of its government structure, but it was only brought into existence as a Moslem homeland, while the other elements of its composition have such “homelands” outside its borders.
The Moslem Bosniaks will have to try ever harder to justify this position as time goes on. Serbs and Croats were also one people once, but their distinct identities go much deeper, for a raft of historical, political and religious reasons. Not the least of these is that Tito drew the internal boundaries of Communist Yugoslavia to damage the Serb minority, and buy off his fellow Croats, as far as possible, but didn’t have it in for the Bosniaks as they were less of a threat. It was subservience to foreign powers which had created them in the first place, this too had to be justified by continuing to do the same.
Eventually one of two things will happen. Either the Bosniaks will genuinely become a more radical Moslem force to justify their existence, and that of their country, regardless of the wishes of the Serb community there, whose own claims for reintegration with Serbia are much stronger in the same “ethnic” terms used by the Bosniaks. Or the EU will push the Bosniaks in a more radical direction to justify its broader position on Islam, claiming that “even these sort of people” can still build a country alongside European Christians, and traditional enemies, provided they remain “those sort of people” and it is shouted from the rooftops.
Europe does not really want to break up Bosnia, but neither does it want it to actually work. If it started actually doing things, one community might benefit more than another, and this would make it more difficult to run the country by using all the rights words but no actual content. The one district of Bosnia which is run on genuinely multi-ethnic lines, the Brcko District, has a significantly higher per capita income than the national average. But it is the one which has least connection with the national government, being more or less autonomous, and is thus a condemnation of the country, not a virtue of it.
This is the reason Bosnia isn’t even run by its government but by an international overseer, installed as part of the peace deal in 1995, who can hire and fire public officials at will. His job is supposed to be ensuring a transition to stability. This really means that both halves of the country must do as European propaganda says they should to be allowed to run their own affairs. Being “good” Moslems and “reformed” Serbs and Croats hasn’t achieved that yet, because Europe does not really believe there are such things, and cannot dare to be proved wrong.
The Serbian half of Bosnia is now threatening to secede, as its powers have been increasingly eroded by a national government which achieves nothing. This would be a direct breach of the 1995 peace accord. It would therefore play into the hands of Europe and give it all the more reason to encourage the Bosniaks to get nasty, provoking the sort of headlines Europe ensures are written about other Moslem countries.
If it were not a European creation we would be hearing a lot more about “Moslem radicalism” in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The difference between autocratic Moslem dictatorships and what Bosniak politicians will have to become to maintain their state is merely one of degree. But Europe won’t address the potential terror state in its midst because it wants it there. Ultimately it is there to prove what Moslems are supposed to be like, not to serve some higher purpose, like serving its people.
Europe created Bosnia as a sleeper cell of future propaganda victory. It does not want the country to work, just to justify the positions and actions of Europe in countries far away. Long before it created ISIS it created the Bosniaks, even though they themselves have resisted being used this way until now. But if the Serbian part does manage to separate, we will see them in the colours Europe has always given them, and their “independence” will have been for naught.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.