Monday, January 29, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [29]

CHAPTER THREE: COMPARATIVE NATIONALISMS


THE SECOND BOSNIAN PROTECTORATE

The penultimate section of Chapter Three begins with this nuanced, informed statement:

"Everything that happens in the Balkans echoes previous events>"

Diana Johnstone, you will recall, constantly chides Western observers for making broad, uniformed generalizations about the region. Yet her book is littered with hoary cliches such as that opener.

The rest of the lengthy opening paragraph briefly relates, from her selective and biased point of view, the role of Bosnia's Muslims in World War II. I will give her credit--after the predictable mentions of the mufti of Jerusalem and the Handzar division, she closes with this one sentence:

"On the other side, Muslims were also recruited by the communist-led partisans, mainly based in Bosnia throughout the war."

I guess that counts for balance, although the implication is that only individual Muslims "were also recruited" without any leadership on their own part, while she names leaders and politicians among the Muslim elite who took fascist stands and actions.

At any rate, her motivation for that small concession to the complex reality of the situation isn't to exonerate the Muslims of Bosnia, but to emphasize how multi-faceted and confusing the war in Bosnia was. She is correct in noting this, as she is also correct when she points out that this is why it was the Republic with the most repressive and slavishly Titoist leadership after the war.

She then moves on to note that it was only in 1971 that "Muslim" became an officially designated nationality. She does have a valid, if narrow, point when she questions the legitimacy of a Muslim ethnicity. However, in order to truly investigate this question, one must address the uncomfortable reality that in the Balkans, religious identity and ethnic identify (with the notable exception of the Albanians) have gone hand in hand. Croats and Slovenes are Catholic, Serbs and Greeks are Orthodox, and so on. Any serious study of the region will need to address the problem of converts, or of people who were forced to decide their identity in the late 18th or early 19th centuries, when national identities were being solidified. This, clearly, is not a conversation Johnstone wants to have.

That is a theme which runs through the entire book; of more immediate concern is her subsequent assertion that the usefulness of an identifiable Muslim nationality with its own homeland in cultivating support from Muslim countries abroad (a widely acknowledged factor) actually became a drawback. She alleges that rather than primarily giving Yugoslavia leverage and clout with the Muslim world, the elevation of Muslims within Yugoslavia and their identification with the wider Muslim world actually gave Muslim fundamentalists leverage within Yugoslavia.

There is the seed of an interesting point here; by sharpening Slavic Muslims awareness of their "muslimness" and fostering them upon the wider Muslim world, Tito was encouraging their community to develop a more explicitly relgious, and less Slavic and Balkan, identity. This an avenue of potentially interesting and enlightening inquiry.

Needless to say, Johnstone doesn't follow it. Instead, she takes the much cruder and sinister position that Islamists from Saudi Arabia and Iran empowered alleged "fundamentalists" such as--you guessed it--Alija Izetbegovic. Johnstone is no longer merely implying that he was a fundamentalist fanatic, she now states it outright.

She then oddly confronts one of the key objections to the ethnic nationalism she has been championing throughout this book:

"There were very many people with no religion at all in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a small number of Jews and even Protestants, not to mention many families whose members were of different religious affiliation."

The obvious question is--how, then, can she propose to divide Bosnia between Serbs and Croats? How can she advocate carving the geopolitical entity of Bosnia-Hercegovina between two states of an explicitly ethnic-national character based on this same logic? Wouldn't the wisest solution--one she never, ever advocates--have been a unified Bosnia based on individual citizenship--the very form of government that Izetbegovic's SDA, however imperfectly and occasionally hypocritically, fought to defend?

She doesn't say. She dwells on the frequency of intermarriage and the popularity of the "Yugoslav" nationality in some parts of Bosnia, then even admits that it was the ethnic quota system of Yugoslavia which undermined such efforts at pluralism. She does not consider the ramifications of this among Serbs or Croats; the only negative consequence she is willing to consider is that many Bosnians felt compelled to 'become' Muslim.

The identification of Sandzak Muslims with Bosnia's Muslims and then with Bosnia itself is discussed, in sinister terms. The same dynamic applied to Bosnian Serbs and Hercegovina Croats--an obvious parallel--but she does not seem to recognize this.

The rest of this section compares Fikrit Abdic to Izetbegovic; Abdic is Johnstone's guy. He's the Muslim we're supposed to admire. His decision to lead a breakaway statelet and ally with Bosnian Serbs and separatist Croats against the Bosnian government and most Serbs is presented in the best possible light. I don't want to demonize Abdic too much, but he certainly doesn't deserve the hagiography she gives him here; he is practically a martyr in her telling. She often refers to "his people," indicating that she not only knew about his Don-like standing, but seems to approve.

She closes with a brief discussion of the Muslim civil war in Bihac; in the context of her discussions about Muslim nationhood and Izetbegovic's alleged fundamentalism, her intent when mentioning that "foreign mujahidin" took part in the final assault against Abdic's forces could not be clearer.

12 comments:

Owen said...

How closely does she look at Abdic and the significance of the Bihac enclave? Her view seems to be that if you accept the basic principle of decentralisation then anything goes, and the international community is inconsistent in not allowing autonomy to any entity whatever the basis of the way it pursues its aspiration to autonomy.

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