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EU “Hypocrisy” Radicalises Bosnian Muslims

Sarajevo | 21 July 2009 | Srecko Latal
EU offered visa-free roadmap to the Balkan non EU countries

The Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) religious leadership and media and many European officials and politicians warn that the EU’s visa-liberalisation plan could lead to the radicalisation of Muslims in Europe and seriously destabilize the entire region.

“Bosniaks feel squeezed into a corner from which they do not see a way out. In this situation, outbursts of aggression are a wholly normal reaction,” Sead Numanovic, editor of prominent Sarajevo daily, Dnevni Avaz, wrote in his Tuesday column.

“European hypocrisy cannot be understood,” the leader of the influential Bosnian Islamic Community, Mustafa Ceric, said during the interment of identified remains of Bosniak war victims near the western town of Prijedor on Monday.

Both comments reflect ongoing public criticism, across the region and in Europe, of a visa-liberalisation plan presented by the European Commission (EC) last week. The EC suggested to the EU Council of Ministers and European Parliament that the bloc's visa-free regime be extended to Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, while excluding Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo.

The criticism was intensified by the fact that exclusion from the visa-free regime will almost solely affect Bosniaks, since most Bosnian Croats already have Croatian passports and most Bosnian Serbs can easily obtain Serbian passports. 

Public sentiment in Bosnia holds that the new visa plan rewards the aggressors and punishes the victims, a feeling exacerbated by the timing of the EC announcement which was made only days after the fourteenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.

“After everything that you have seen, now you tell us from Brussels that we cannot go to Europe with visas,” Ceric said in his Monday address. “Now you have rewarded our killers.”

The visa-liberalisation plan has caused some divisions on both the regional and European political scenes and has triggered a number of public petitions demanding changes. Germany's Social Democratic Party, SPD, has launched a challenge in the Bundestag.

Fears have been expressed in the domestic media and by international officials that the visa recommendations plan could lead to the ghettoisation of Bosnian Muslims, triggering a hardening of their positions and promoting long-term instability in the region.

“There needs to be a fundamental critique of the [EU] Balkan policy of the last five years,” an EU official told Balkan Insight.

Bosnia chief Imam supports Wahhabis

Feb 8, 2009

Bosnian MUslim chief Imam Mustafa Ceric has expressed his support for the growing Wahhabi brand of Islam in Bosnia and condemned those who are worried over the spread of this extremist islamic doctrine for “spreading islamophobia”.

“Those that are accusing us that their situation is bad because of Islam and the ‘new’ Muslims are joining the islamophobia that is us, Bosnian Muslims, old and new remind on the experience of the survived genocide,” said Ceric during the ISlamic prayer on Friday in the mosque in the eastern town of Sokolac.

Ceric also said that to some “new muslims who call themselves Wahhabis” are troubling and that is because these Muslims have “survived genocide and are against the regime of apartheid” that dominates in Bosnia.

Wahhabis have been reintroduced to Bosnia during the 1990s when Bosnian Muslims waged Jihad against Bosnian Christians and invited holy warriors from Middle East to Bosnia granting them citizenship and marrying them off with Bosnian Muslim women.

Bosnian Muslims believe that supposedly a genocide of them occurred during the time when they waged Jihad in the 1990s.

Ceric’s support for the Bosnian Wahhabis comes days after a Croatian cardinal Puljic expressed concern at the growing Islamic extremism.

“There is a certain mentality that is not native to Bosnia. I do not know it well but I know that they call it Wahhabis,” said Puljic. “I speak of this rarely because I immediately get threats.”

After Puljic’s comments, Imam Ceric said publicly that Bosnian Muslims are a capable of meeting modern challenges and that they do not need anyone’s “paternalism”.

Ceric said that “Bosnian Muslims, not the old nor the new will infringe no ones right to life, liberty, property and dignity”.

Puljic’s statements were made during his visit to Washington where he met congressmen and held lectures.

While there, Puljic pleaded for protection of Bosnia’s Catholics saying that nearly half of Croats have left Bosnia.

Puljic also spoke with Steward Jones, Jason Hyland and Rosemary DiCarlo from the State Department.

“It is a sad fact that in those conversations one people were never mentioned, Croatians, not to mention about their rights,” Puljic commented on those meetings.

February 8, 2009



Religion, faith and ethics

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January 27th, 2009

Obama was elected by God” — Bosnian Grand Mufti Ceric

The Grand Mufti of Bosnia thinks the election of Barack Obama as American president is a gift from God that could help foster greater international tolerance of Muslims. “I believe that Obama is a divine sign to humanity,” Mustafa Ceric told me in an interview in Sarajevo. Americans “think that they have elected him, but I believe that he was elected by God.”

(Photo: Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, 27 Jan 2009/ Danilo Krstanovic)

“Barack Obama is one of these most noble goods of our time and our civilisation, that is why I think he is a gift of God,” he said. “At the moment we feel a trend to change. Whether this change will be really in practice and life, we need time to see.”

Sometimes called one of the world’s most liberal grand muftis, Ceric is considered a voice of moderation with an international reputation. He is active in dialogue with other faiths and discussions of how Islam can integrate into European societies.

Bosnia may be the European country where this integration is most evident. The call for prayer from Sarajevo’s hundreds of mosques wafts over cafes where alcohol is served in abundance and young couples cuddle in a mix of East and West traditions that has long characterised the capital. Women wearing headscaraves walk in the old quarter alongside others with revealing tank tops and uncovered flowing hair.

Yet the post-Sept. 11, 2001 atmosphere has impacted the image of Muslims everyone, from Bosnia to Indonesia. Ceric blames former U.S. President George W. Bush for fuelling further suspicions by using charged words such as a “crusade” against terrorism. The Republican president “will be remembered for creating a sort of Islamaphonia,” said Ceric, who was educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo before receiving a doctorate at the University of Chicago.

(Photo: Sarajevo women read election posters, 2 Oct 2008/Danilo Krstanovic)

Even with tolerance embraced by Obama, the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are likely still to face stigma, the Grand Mufti said. “We are going to live with Islamaphobia for the rest of our lives, with the same way Jews are living with anti-Semitism from time to time,” he said.

We spoke before we knew the news of Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya satellite TV, so I couldn’t ask his reaction to hearing an American president say things like “My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.”

But Ceric was quite positive about the last time he’d heard Obama speak, in the inaugural address last week that mentioned the variety of religions that make up the United States.“Barack Obama, he said that the United States is a country of Christians and Muslims, and this is for the first time that we have this kind of a phrase from an American president,” said Ceric, 56, who wore an Ottoman-style white turban and pin-striped robe as we spoke in his office. “He has a reason to be happy for being blessed by God to give hope to many people, not only in the United States but around the world, including my people in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

(Photo: President Barack Obama, 27 Jan 2009/Larry Downing)

Bosnia is still struggling politically and economically 13 years after the end of Europe’s bloodiest fighting since World War Two, largely along religious and ethnic lines. Political abuse of religious divisions rather than the underlying faiths was to blame, Ceric said. Many Bosniaks, ethnic Slavs who converted to Islam under the Ottoman Empire, emerged from the 1992-95 fighting that killed 100,000 with stronger links to their faith.

“The experience brought many people back to religion,” said Ceric, who speaks fluent English. “When you are faced with death and when you see that humans do not help you and you are left alone for four years in besieged Sarajevo, therefore you cannot live alone, you have to seek some help.”

A leader of “A Common Word,” a group that has fostered meetings betwen the world’s two largest faiths, Muslims and Christians, Ceric participated in several major interfaith conferences last year, including with Pope Benedict at the Vatican in November.

“It was not easy but it was productive because it was open and honest and face to face,” he said.

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