Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Faith At War" by Yaroslav Trofimov

I haven't read the entire book, so I hesitate to recommend it based on only the final chapter, but Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu by Yaroslav Trofimov concludes with a depressing but balanced look at the influence of Wahhabi extremism and hardline Islamist proselytizing in Bosnia.

Trofimov is a keen observer, and one of the most telling details comes when he notes that actual nature of the Saudi-financing mosque rebuilding efforts post-Dayton:

"Rebuilding in Bosnia, the Saudi way, turned out to be more like destruction. The austere Wahhabi ideology holds frescoes and paintings to be un-Islamic, and considers elaborate gravestones and Sufi tekke, prayer lodges, a common sight in the courtyards of Bosnian mosques, to be miscreant abominations. Saudi-financed rebuilding of mosques damaged in the war usually consisted of bulldozing the cemetaries and the tekkes--many dating back to the Middle Ages--and refashioning the ancient mosques in a graceless Saudi style."

And so on. The details of the architectural rape of the Begova Dzamija are painful to read, and infuriating to reflect on. This should not have happened. It needs to be said yet again--when their existence was first threatened, the Bosniaks first turned to the West. When we did nothing, only then did some of them choose to follow the example of the jihadists in their midst.

Trofimov also details the Bosnian connection with Al Qaeda, and the role that the Bosnian war played in providing a training ground for future jihadists, including two of the 9/11 hijackers. He also interviews some radicalized Bosnian Muslims who are as anti-American and anti-Semitic as any Arab mujahideen. The abandonment of Bosnia by the West, and the ferocity of the mostly Arab mujahideen volunteers made quite an impression on some of Trofimov's interview subjects.

There is a silver lining, and that is that the seed of Wahhabi intolerance does not seem to have spread beyond a small minority. This book was published in 2005 and the Bosnia reporting was done sometime before then--even then, Trofimov notes that the society remained largely secular, and on his second trip he noted that what Bosniaks seemed to be pushing for was integration into Europe by way of EU membership, rather than turning its back on the West and huddling in the Islamist fold. Three-plus years after this book went to print, that still seems to be the case.

Yet, we know the extremists are still there, and some of them dared show their faces in public during the assaults on the Sarajevo Gay Pride parade. Bosnians--not just Bosniaks--still by and large want to join the West, to integrate into Europe. We do not have the right to keep them waiting forever, and books like this remind us that failures to act also have consequences.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Wahabbism is not a religion; it's a sickness. These people are sick. They are extremists. My Muslim grandma says they are "kafirs", because their version of Islam and "our" Bosnian version of Islam is incompatible.