Introduction by Dr. Clemens Heni (New Haven, CT, and Berlin, Germany)
Islamic Jihad is among the biggest threats to world peace and particularly to Jews and the Jewish state of Israel. Since 9/11, though, many academics, politicians, and activists are denouncing any substantial criticism of Islamic anti-Semitism, the entire concept of Islamic Jihad, and lawful Islamism likewise.
Germany established a so called German Islam Conference, headed by the ministry of interior. The next round will take place on May 17, 2010. Among the new members of this conference is a German-Bosnian scholar, Armina Omerika. She works particularly on Islam, identity and Muslims in Bosnia.
However, an inside view in some of her work sheds light on questions she seems to ignore, like the role of Alija Izetbegovic and the Muslim support for the Nazi Waffen-SS during World War II in Bosnia. Omerika is supposed to be an expert on the “young Muslim” movement, though we cannot find a clear statement of her criticizing Islamic Jihad, including the writings of Izetbegovic, author of the infamous Islamic Declaration.
Worse, Omerika even seems to honor and praise Husein Djozo (1912-1982), one of the leading Muslim theorists and activists in Bosnia (respective former Yugoslavia). Djozo was probably also part of the Waffen-SS, as several Neo-Nazi homepages proudly announce.
Below you find a review of Omerika by Leslie Lebl, M.A. Leslie is a Fellow of the American Center for Democracy, she teaches “radical Islam and EU” at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (Olli) at the University of Connecticut in Waterbury, United States of America. In the early 1980s Leslie worked at the US Embassy in Bonn, Federal Republic of Germany.
Leslie Lebl on “Islam in Bosnia”
The question of national identity has bedeviled Bosnia and Bosnians for decades; in this article, Armina Omerika summarizes the different ways in which this topic was viewed in Tito’s Yugoslavia. She traces arguments in which various scholars and polemicists stressed the religious aspects of Islam, others Bosnian historical traditions and various secular elements, all in an effort to define what it means to be a “Bosnian” (or later “Bosniac,” now the accepted term for a Bosnian Muslim), as opposed to a Serb or Croat.
Omerika notes that, during this period, new institutions like the State Oriental Institute had links to Islamic ones like the Gazi Husrevbeg Madrasa. She also highlights the ties of several key figures to Islamic institutions elsewhere, such as the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, or were to organizations like the Young Muslims movement.
While the question of Bosnian identity is an intriguing one for a historian, however, it is also highly relevant in view of what happened in Bosnia after 1980 – the war that killed and displaced perhaps a fourth of the population in the 1990s, the subsequent non-reconciliatory peace of the Dayton Accords, and the growing influence of Wahhabists and other Islamist groups, with their links to global jihad and desire to spread Islam throughout the world.
In this perspective, certain historical events deserve closer scrutiny, for example the activities of Alija Izetbegovic and his group in World War II. Omerika, in recounting the 1980 dispute over Dervis Susic’s Parergon, skates lightly over this issue, emphasizing its relationship to overall Communist policy in Bosnia. That may be accurate, but the actual record of what happened during the war is important, as is the question of what Izetbegovic did in the postwar years, and the import of his famous Islamic Declaration. Was he a Bosnian Muslim seeking to achieve recognition of the unique characteristics and contributions of his group, or was he an Islamist for whom Bosnian identity was at best a means to achieve power? And, when he talked about Bosnia, did he conceive of any power-sharing with non-Muslims? The text of the Declaration suggests that he did not.
By failing to address the potential Islamist connections of leading Bosnian Muslims, Omerika raises more questions than she answers. For example, Husein Djozo, whom she describes as “the most influential Islamic thinker in Bosnia until his death in 1982” appears to have attended Al-Azhar University at roughly the same time as Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. As she describes Djozo, his philosophy differed sharply from that of Al-Qaradawi. Did he have any differences of opinion with Izetbegovic or others in his circle? If so, what were they? Any agreements or disputes might elucidate the question of Izetbegovic’s true convictions – and in turn shed light on the politics of the historians and literary figures she discusses.
In sum, Omerika leaves unanswered basic questions in the minds of many sympathetic Bosnia-watchers. How deep does Islamic fundamentalism run in Bosnia? How tolerant (in the Western, not the Islamic sense) will a Bosniac government be toward non-Muslims, once released from Western tutelage? These are not trivial questions – doubts about them are what block reconciliation in Bosnia today.
Leslie Lebl is a Fellow of the American Center for Democracy and Principal of Lebl Associates. A writer, lecturer and consultant on political and security matters, she also maintains a foreign policy blog. A former Foreign Service Officer, she served as Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels. She was also the Political Advisor to the Commander of Stabilization Forces (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She holds a BA in history from Swarthmore College and an MA in foreign affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Leslie is a returning OLLI presenter.