Is Bosnia-Herzegovina doomed? The small Balkan nation is being subverted by powerful internal forces that threaten its existence. The West must wake up before the former Yugoslav republic descends once again into sectarian bloodshed.
Last month, an Islamic terrorist from neighboring Serbia, Mevlid Jasarevic, opened fire on the U.S. embassy in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. The 23-year-old jihadist was armed with hand grenades and an automatic weapon. Fortunately, no one was killed. Mr. Jasarevic was protesting American policy toward the Muslim world. He was arrested and is awaiting trial.
Police also raided a northern Bosnian village, Gornja Maoca, which is a hotbed of Wahhabist activity and a place Mr. Jasarevic often visited. The terrorist attack shocked both Sarajevo’s political establishment and the U.S. State Department. It shouldn’t have. In Bosnia, radical Islam has been growing for years. In fact, America and the West have deliberately turned a blind eye to its dangerous rise.
From 1992 to 1995, Bosnia was ravaged by a war pitting Muslims (known as Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats against each other. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the conflict was not - and never was - a civil war driven by “ancient ethnic hatreds.” Instead, the country was a victim of outside aggression. Serbia’s late strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, waged a genocidal campaign to annex large chunks of Croatia first and then Bosnia in order to erect a Greater Serbian Empire. More than 200,000 were murdered and nearly 2 million ethnically cleansed. To counter Serbia’s expansionist ambitions, Islamic countries sought to help the besieged Bosniaks. In particular, Saudi Arabia and Iran offered extensive financial and military assistance. Thousands of foreign Mujahedeen guerrillas entered the country to battle rampaging Serb forces. The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement ended the fighting. It also partitioned Bosnia along religious lines, creating two quasi-national entities - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic.
Yet, after the war, many jihadists did not leave. The Saudi government has spent millions funding the construction of mosques and religious education centers. More ominously, Saudi-backed clerics have vigorously promoted Wahhabism, an intolerant and extreme form of Islam. In pamphlets, books and sermons, Wahhabis demand an Islamist Bosnia where Orthodox Christian Serbs and Catholic Croats are subjugated under Shariah law. The goal is also to drive out Western, especially American, influence. It’s no accident that Mr. Jasarevic is a Wahhabi. Militant Islam has regained a foothold in the Balkans.
For the past decade, anti-American sentiment has intensified among segments of Bosniaks. Following the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, U.S. troops found more than 1,000 dead jihadists on the battlefield possessing Bosnian passports. The Saudis have supported several Bosnian charities serving as front groups for al Qaeda cells. Radical organizations, such as the Young Muslims, have proliferated. During the Iraq war, some Bosnian Muslim fighters joined the insurgency against American forces. At one of Sarajevo’s main mosques, the second-highest-ranking cleric in the country, Ismet Spahic, publicly denounced the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq as “genocide.” Western intelligence reports say Bosnia has become fertile soil for recruiting “white al Qaeda” - Islamic extremists with Caucasian features, who could easily blend into American or European cities and commit heinous atrocities.
Western public officials, however, have refused even to acknowledge the Islamist problem. For example, from 2002 through 2006, the international high representative for Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, repeatedly downplayed the rise of Wahhabism under his watch. Mr. Ashdown acted as the viceroy of Bosnia. He preferred to preside over pompous ceremonies, amass administrative power and gorge at elaborate banquets. He refused to speak out against incidents of Islamic extremism, such as vandalism against Catholic churches, the harassment of priests and nuns, and the growing persecution of Bosnian Croatians. He feared offending Muslim sensibilities.
The result is that Bosnia has become a safe haven for Islamic militants. They remain a minority but increasingly pose a mortal danger to a unified Bosnian state. The government in Sarajevo rightly condemned the terror attack. The majority of Bosniaks remain secular or moderate. For too long, however, they have tolerated the Wahhabis in their midst. This must change. Radical mosques must be shut down; fundamentalist clerics must be confronted and marginalized; videos sold on the streets of Sarajevo glorifying jihadists must be outlawed; and outside Saudi money must be banned.
Otherwise, Bosnia will disintegrate. The country’s ethnic Croatians are chafing under Sarajevo’s centralized rule. Yet the bigger danger is the Bosnian Serb Republic. It is led by a bellicose nationalist, Milorad Dodik. He is a vulgar liar. He has denied the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, where about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces - the worst atrocity on European soil since the end of World War II.
More ominously, Mr. Dodik has called for secession. He wants the Bosnian Serbs to form a common homeland with Serbia. He is Milosevic’s ideological heir, championing a Greater Serbia. There is only one problem: The Bosnian Serb Republic is founded upon genocide and mass ethnic cleansing. It is morally illegitimate. To this day, the Bosnian Serbs have not allowed most of the Bosniaks and Croatians expelled during the war to return to their homes. An independence bid almost certainly would trigger another war with Sarajevo - drowning the Balkans in blood once again.
The irony is that it was American air power that finally brought the Bosnian Serbs to heel and saved countless Bosniak lives. And still, jihadists such as Mr. Jasarevic are eager to wage holy war. This reveals the moral depravity and spiritual darkness at the heart of Islamic fundamentalism. The fundamentalists cannot be appeased. The West - including the peoples of the Balkans - must awaken to this evil force lurking in the heart of Europe.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.
Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.