Muslims in Bosnia and Beyond

June 04, 1994|By DANIEL BERGER

It is said by analysts who may or may not know that the reason European governments ignore the Serbs' methodical destruction of the Bosnian Muslim people is that they would not welcome a Muslim Bosnia in the heart of Europe.

This idea is not easy to tackle head-on, because governments are not caught saying this. It is only others presuming to interpret them.

So let the response be that, were this the case, it would be stupid, for four reasons:

(1) There are two Islamic countries in Europe now. Both are quite secular, but that may change if their societies do. Both are watching events in Bosnia and Western responses closely.

One is Turkey, a major European power because of the size of its armed forces, though only a sliver, including its financial and cultural capital, is in Europe.

Turkey has been an officially secular society since its revolution after World War I. But Islamic fundamentalism is growing, along with perception of Europe's reluctance to accept Turkey as belonging.

The other is Albania, a backward little country. Its regime is secular, consisting largely of former Communists who say they have reformed. While it was Communist, Albania suppressed the Muslim religion as ruthlessly as the Soviet Union and China did.

So whether a regime in Sarajevo were added would not much alter the Muslim presence among European regimes. But if Turkey and Albania determined that supposedly secular Europe is really a virulently anti-Muslim Christendom, they would have to reformulate their national survival policies accordingly.

(2) The Islamic presence in Western Europe and North America is here to stay. The golden mosques of Scotland have been a fact for a generation, the couscous restaurants of Paris for longer. This presence consists of descendants of immigrants, many Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Britain, Algerians in France, Turks in Germany.

Europe-born people with varying degrees of acceptance in their host societies are watching their countries' behavior toward Bosnia.

The Islamic component of the United States is also an indelible fact. It is made from streams of immigration from Islamic countries and from the growing interest in Islam among African Americans. These people, too, are watching.

(3) The Bosnian republic was never going to be an Islamic country. Its population at birth was only about 40 percent Muslim. Most of those are secular people, because that is their tradition, reinforced by four decades of Yugoslav communism. They were setting up to govern a diverse, pluralistic society full of Serbian Orthodox, Croatian Catholics and some Jews, the only democracy in the successor states of former Yugoslavia, in which the Muslims (that is, Serbo-Croats with Islamic names or religion) would be the dominant minority.

There's no doubt that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic reveled in top-dog-ism. But he was never going to clamp the Shariah on non-Islamic people, because there was no reason to believe that even the observant Muslims would tolerate it. His Bosnia-Herzegovina was designed to be a very Central European place, not the Middle East.

(4) About the only way to create a paranoid, anti-Christian, anti-European presence in Bosnia is to do what Serbia and the West are doing. That is, let the Bosnian Serb militia murder, rape and raze the Muslim presence away (just described as ''crimes against humanity'' and ''genocide'' by a special United Nations commission); pretend that Bosnian assaults on Serb artillery are equal atrocities, and imagine the reaction of any surviving Bosnian Muslims.

If a series of densely populated, impoverished Gazas is created, a veritable Bophuthatswana of noncontiguous enclaves called a state, a ghetto of Muslims, they may finally start to become what they were falsely labeled as having been.

Especially if the only foreigners who came to their aid were

Iranians and a few Saudis and Turks, they would be grateful accordingly.

Many Bosnians apparently don't know how to be devout Muslims, especially if that requires giving up plum brandy, but the young men are so disillusioned and angry that some threaten try.

Make no mistake, coming to the aid of Bosnia would not bring a militant, anti-Western, vengeful Islamic regime to the banks of the Drina. Continuing to tolerate the decimation of a thoroughly European people probably would.

F: Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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