Bosnia and terrorism

July 25, 2005|By Zeyno Baran

WASHINGTON - The London bombings and the anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica, the Bosnian town where nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered, were two seemingly unrelated stories that occurred within five days of each other this month. Though separated by 10 years and 1,000 miles, the two are actually rather closely linked.

The war in Bosnia, particularly the arms embargo imposed on the Muslim population while the Serbs were massacring them, became the major turning point for the global Muslim consciousness. Even secular, nonpolitical Muslims were furious about what they perceived as Western indifference to the mass killings of their co-religionists. Muslims worldwide experienced a shared sense of great injustice.

Bosnia thus became the entry point into Europe of jihadist ideology and those willing to fight for it. Afghan mujahedeen, Iranian mercenaries and recruits from South Asia, Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East united behind their Muslim brothers in Bosnia. Although most of these men returned to their homelands, they are ticking time bombs. Ideologically, they were transformed by their wartime experience, and many began to believe that Britain and the United States are enemies of Islam.

Further, many learned military and guerrilla tactics and techniques that can be applied elsewhere against these enemies. Following a meeting in Istanbul in February 2002, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, is believed to have activated Europe-based sleeper cells formed during the war in Bosnia. Indeed, several of the terrorists who attacked the British consulate and the HSBC bank branch in Istanbul in November 2003 had fought in Bosnia.

It was only a matter of time before these men targeted the British homeland. Osama bin Laden, in a 2001 speech, blamed the Bosnian horrors on the British: "The British are the ones who put the arms embargo on the Muslims of Bosnia so that 2 million Muslims were killed."

What does this mean for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic?

First, the British (and Europeans generally) should not blame the U.S.-led war in Iraq for attacks in Europe. Europe has its own soul-searching to do about its own activities, whether during the colonial period or during the 1990s Balkan wars.

Second, Europeans need to recognize their policies toward their Muslim minorities contributed to the rise of Islamic radicalism. They allowed the doctrine of multiculturalism to ghettoize Muslims through marginalization. To put it bluntly, Europeans have been overly accommodating to radical Islamists and turned a blind eye to the effect these few were having on the larger Muslim community. They tolerated intolerance for too long, believing that appeasement would spare them from attack. Sound familiar?

Because of its particularly lax approach to radical groups, London long has been the headquarters of groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun, which for years have been inciting Muslims to kill Jews, Americans and British citizens.

Until recently, Germany was the only European country that banned these groups' activities. The Dutch banned them after a radicalized Muslim brutally murdered filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in November.

Third, U.S. and European policymakers must realize that the enemy is trying to divide them, using the Iraq war as the perfect wedge. Both need to devise a common strategy and present a united front in this existential war of ideologies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is correct in calling the challenge "a global struggle ... a battle of ideas, hearts and minds, both within Islam and outside it."

This strategy must include working with the silent Muslim majority, which fundamentally opposes radicalism but increasingly is afraid to speak against it. While the West remains unable (or perhaps even unwilling) to reach out to these moderate Muslims, the radicals - some of whom pretend to be moderates - are increasingly effective in winning them to a common agenda.

How do Europe and America take over this agenda? An immediate step must be the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader, and Ratko Mladic, the wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb forces, who have been indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity for Srebrenica and other abuses in Bosnia. Bringing them to justice is long overdue.

The Bush administration's broader Middle East and North Africa agenda and its Muslim world outreach include the right policies, but they have not been communicated effectively to Muslims, who are skeptical of the intentions. They are right to be doubtful, since even within the administration, few have any idea of what the overall strategy is, let alone how to implement it.

Moreover, Europeans are not fully committed to combating the ideology that fuels radicalism. It is laudable that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making a serious push to re-energize the trans-Atlantic partnership; she now has an even greater ally in Mr. Blair.

For the fight against the further spread of radical ideology to succeed, Europe and the United States must acknowledge their mistakes to gain the trust of the silent Muslim majority. Together, they can then work to avoid making new ones.

Zeyno Baran, director of the International Security Program at the Nixon Center, is the author of Hizb ut-Tahrir: Islam's Political Insurgency.

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