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South Slavic: November 8, 2001

8 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 37


An interview with Sefko Omerbasic, the head of the Office of the Islamic Community in Croatia, by Mirjana Rakela of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service.

RFE/RL: Mr. Omerbasic, Osama bin Laden is talking about a jihad against the United States of America and the West. Is he trying to involve the entire world in a new era of interreligious conflicts? Is such a thing possible?

Omerbasic: Everything is possible in these troubled and turbulent times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2001). In fact, we must ask ourselves time and again where religion stops and the national and political sphere begins. This is why everybody uses all available means in today's conflicts -- including religion.

Unfortunately, it is not rare among Muslims to use religion for selfish purposes the way bin Laden's or other groups do. But to tell the truth, the West is not immune from such tendencies, either. How else can one understand Bush's use of the word "crusade" -- which he probably uttered in a moment of indignation or under pressure? Or what about [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi, who said that [Christian civilization is superior to Islamic civilization] and that a more moderate form of Islam will prevail? These things have, unfortunately, dragged religion down into what promises to be a big catastrophe.

RFE/RL: In this particular case, are we talking about a conflict between mainstream and fundamentalist Islam?

Omerbasic: I do not think that a showdown between the various branches of Islam has started in the Muslim world. The Muslim world is going through a phase of deep flux, maybe even a deep crisis. That crisis has many aspects, such as political, economic, and social ones, as well as dimensions of human rights and freedoms.

In such a situation, the world has big expectations of Islam as a religion of more than 1 billion people. That religion brought splendor to so many people in the course of six centuries during the Middle Ages. The Muslim world has since declined due to many different circumstances and crises, but those expectations remain quite understandable.

Unfortunately, at this moment, the terrorist groups are out of control. I must say that much of what they advocate is in keeping with trends towards independence, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, etc. But the Islamic world must be strong enough to restore order in its ranks.

I am not insinuating anything. I am saying this because I find the Islamic world responsible for a fifth of all the troubles of our world.

RFE/RL: Do you find Al-Qaeda and its supporters a real danger, not only for the West but also for Islam and the Islamic world?

Omerbasic: Their activities have already inflicted severe damage on the Islamic world. All those groups that we already know, as well as those unknown ones, must not affect the mainstream of the Islamic world. The Islamic world will certainly be working to see that they do not.

RFE/RL: What about the issues of vengeance and hatred? How can we accept that some Muslims see what is going on in Afghanistan as a war against Islam and not against terrorists?

Omerbasic: I think that the Islamic world cannot solve this problem without the aid of the Western world. However, as far as I know from watching various TV stations, from other media, and everything else -- the Islamic world is more than ready to join the coalition against terrorism.

As I have just said, terrorism is harmful for both the Islamic world and the West. I think that the [antiterrorist] coalition will take shape and that a positive response will come from the Islamic world, especially after all that was said [recently] at the latest session of the conference of Islamic countries.