The Islamic Post Blog

Bosnia: The Different Ways of Ethnic Cleansing by Khalida
January 2, 2009, 7:52 am
Filed under: January Volume I- 2009, World | Tags: ,

By Khalida Khaleel

Islamic Post Staff Writer

A report issued last month lamented continued injuries caused by landmines that remain in the countryside of Bosnia. Since the Daytona Agreement signaled the end of the Yugoslav Wars in Bosnia in 1995, four hundred eighty-seven people have lost their lives to the explosives, which are benign until triggered by outside pressure.
Be that as it may, since the complete cessation of the wars in the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, some of the foreign soldiers remained and have been attempting to bury landmines of their own. The outsiders, who came to the Balkan region during the war, promote explosive ideologies and infiltrate the local population with what most Bosnians consider unorthodox ideas and practices. Some of these outsiders fought alongside the Bosnian soldiers in war time, although critics say they were not part of any decisive victories.
Whether real or symbolic, landmines are rooted into the soil by enemy forces. These extremist elements have sought to take root in Bosnian society in the form of funding from countries where the official clergy belong to the Wahhabi, or Salafi, sectarian group.  The money has allegedly been filtered through charities operating in the region with the express purpose of helping ‘repair or rebuild,’ the ancient mosques built by the Ottoman Empire that were destroyed during the wars.
The donations are accompanied by Saudi translations of the Holy Qur’an –which are known to contain spurious commentary and mistranslated text. The refurbished place of worship must then distribute these to the masses. Mosques whose courtyards contain centuries-old graveyards and tombs do not qualify and, in these cases, the demolition began by the Serbian army is sometimes carried a stage further, with the destruction of these historical relics. The acceptance of such funds could create conditions that bury their way into society for the destruction of traditional life in Bosnia. The structures which are rebuilt, are stark bare, and uninviting. Oddly enough, according to author and Balkan historian, Stephen Suleiman Schwartz, “It was characteristic that the greater part of Saudi aid was spent on Wahhabi propagators and mosque-building, as opposed to broader humanitarian needs.”
At times the aid was rejected. While Mr. Schwartz states that Kosovo, like Bosnia-Herzegovina, was deluged with Saudi-funded Wahhabi propaganda and preachers, as soon as the 1999 intervention ended, the historian also quoted Kosovo grand mufti Rexhep Boja as saying: “There are people who come here and want to tell us how we ought to do things. We have been Muslims for more than 600 years and we do not need to be told what Islam is. We have our own history and tradition here, our own Islamic culture and architecture. We would like to rebuild our community and to rebuild our mosques, but we want to do it our way.”
The landmines of yesterday have remained, in a different form, than the landmines of today. “The Serbs killed us physically, but these fanatics want to kill our cultural heritage,” Gazmend Naka, an expert with the Institution for Protection of Kosova, told Mr. Schwartz in 2000.
Stephen Schwartz is the director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Washington, D.C., and an avid critic of Wahhabism, the misguided sect originally started by British intelligence to subvert the Ottoman empire. It is Wahhabi-type factions that many traditional Muslims living in the Balkan region have come to resent, some say more than the Christian extremist Serbian aggressors who “ethnically cleansed” thousands of Muslims during the wars.
It is perhaps because Balkan Muslims view the outsiders as undermining their own culture, that Wahhabism is unable to find favor with the people. A 2006 survey conducted by a polling agency in Sarajevo, Prizma, reported 69% of Bosnian Muslims oppose Wahhabism, while 13% support the sect, and only 3% follow it. The cultural undermining never-the-less, gives way to the rubble of desecrated Muslim graveyards and tombs of heroes which were attached to area mosques upon construction.
Wahhabis regard tombstones as a form of idol-worship and according to Mr. Schwartz,  were less interested in rebuilding mosques that had tombstones in their yards, a common feature of the traditional Balkan mosque. In the city of Peja, in Albania, angry residents chased out of town, the fanatics who had gone about smashing the gravestones which had stood for three centuries, with beautiful floral motifs and Qur’anic calligraphy,  in the courtyard of the Defterdar mosque.  Mr. Schwartz cites aid groups with Wahhabi backing as having “promised residents of the Kosovo town of Vushtrri that they would build them new mosques that would be bigger, better, and ‘more Islamic’—provided they first demolished the Ottoman-era gravestones of their Muslim Albanian ancestors. The Saudis seemed intent on completing the cultural vandalism the Serbs had initiated, this time in the name of Islam.” Herein lies the benign booby trap of rebuilding –more explosives of destruction.
It remains ironic that in the name of the most benevolent religion, which teaches Muslims to prefer the wants of others even above their own desires, the impoverished and traumatized survivors of the Yugoslav Wars were hardly given any money to rebuild infrastructure, businesses and homes. Instead, “Mosque Wars,” as they are known in the area, have ensued at the hands of a few fanatics creating cultural upheavals. These injuries remain to break down the fabric of society.  In another irony, the local government officials lack funds to remove the physical landmines which, for 1,178 victims living in the terrain, have caused a loss of limb or sight, while money is being funded for another kind of destruction.
The physical landmines that remain from the Yugoslav Wars stand as a symbol of destructive elements within the society and as a reminder of the Trojan horse that came from well wishers bearing gifts.
The minister for minorities and human rights in the Serbian government, Rasim Ljajic, told reporters in Belgrade in 2007: “Wahhabism can be neutralized not through repressive measures, but through the good organization of the Islamic community that will reject such an interpretation of Al Islam.” The local Islamic clergymen maintain a mild stance: Education is preferable to condemnation. This includes a solid education in Islam, especially for the youth who, out of a rebellious nature, may incline towards destructive elements in society.
Eliminating the threat of landmines “is not the impossible task we once thought it would be,” said Sylvie Brigot, executive director of the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines.


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