Saturday, June 28, 2008

"The Nationalist Serbian Intellectuals and Islam: Defining and Eliminating a Muslim Community" by Norman Cigar

One of the two essays from the book The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy that explicitly addresses the plight of the Bosniak Muslims. Cigar is also the author of the essential work Genocide in Bosnia: The Policy of Ethnic Cleansing and comes to the subject with a wealth of knowledge and a clear perspective.

The gist of Cigar's essay is most likely familiar to most readers of this blog, as the influence of Serbian intellectuals and writers like Cosic, Draskovic, Karadzic, Raskovic, Plavsic, and many others is well-known to even a casual student of the last Balkan wars. Here (in line with the theme of the book), Cigar focuses on the demonization of Islam and ethnic Muslims by Serb nationalists; the opening sentences of his essay:

"Recent events in Bosnia-Herzegovina provide significant material for a case study on the impact that external images of Islam can have on Muslims as a community and as individuals. Perhaps there was no more striking aspect in this process of creating images than the role that Serb intellectuals played as they exercised their craft of developing and disseminating knowledge and engaged in political activity."

Cigar goes on to show that Serb nationalist intellectuals were consistent in creating an "in-group/out-group" mentality regarding the Serbs versus the "others." What is of note in the context of this book is how Serbs tried to play to outside (particularly Western) sensibilities by playing off stereotypes about and fears of Muslims and Islam. What is also striking is how ridiculously crude and irrational much of this "intellectual" rhetoric was. Consider this quote from writer Dragos Kalajic, speaking of the allegedly "unmanly" nature of the (allegedly "Serb") converts to Islam after the Ottoman conquest:

"..it is appropriate to point out that effeminacy and symbolic or actual homosexuality are not the only means by which to escape from a manly nature that is threatened with violence, terror, or death. The Serbian experience shows that there are many other ways of avoiding duty and responsibility stemming from too onerous a fate, which history has imposed on the Serbs. Historically, the first and easiest path of avoidance from unavoidable fate was actually opened up by the Ottoman occupation...[and] drove many Serbs along the road to treachery"

This is, of course, a load of nonsense, but it's the sort of nonsense that people like Diana Johnstone and Julia Gorin take very seriously. To say nothing of the quote from Radovan Karadzic wherein he tries to distinguish which Muslims could still be converted to Orthodoxy--apparently, religious conversion is a matter of genetics:

"When it is a question of the Serbs of the Islamic faith, there was always a great divide that determined whether they were to be more Muslim or more Serb. Those in whom the religious element predominated, and orientation toward Islam's fundamentals, were lost forever to the Serbian nation."

It goes on, but even that short quote is enough to make the obvious parallels to the Nazi efforts to determine which people in the occupied East had sufficiently "Aryan" characteristics; Cigar rightly notes that in this day and age nationalist extremists know better than to express their beliefs in explicitly racist terms, but there is really no other way to interpret Karadzic's gibberish about collective memories and achieving "that level of development to become Serbs while also having the Islamic past of their families." These are the words of a man described with no little warmth by the 39th President of the United States as I noted last fall.

Cigar's analysis is keen, but it is difficult to do this essay full credit without all the quotes he includes; the above passages are typical, but hardly exhaust the range of crackpot theorizing, pseudo-science, mytho-romantic pontificating, and sheer psychopathic lunacy on display here. Cigar convincingly demonstrates that among Serbia's intellectual elite there was a strong tendency to portray Islam as a corrosive, and thoroughly evil force which fully defines all followers of that faith; Muslims are at all places and all times defined primarily if not exclusively as members of a vicious, violent, and implacably anti-Western (and anti-Serb) movement. No wonder Samuel Huntington was so popular among them.

1 comment:

Daniel (Srebrenica Genocide Blog) said...

Islam is as bad as any other religion. To argue that Islam is source of all evil is the same as arguing that Jews deserved Holocaust because they killed Jesus.

Average Bosniak or Serb civilian can live in peace and even enjoy each others' differences. The problem is radical ultra-nationalism rhetoric coming from Belgrade. Believe it or not, but that's the cause of major problems we have seen in the alst 18 years.