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The Results Of Hate Speech And Inaction In Bosnia

A gunman identified as Mevlik Jasarevic lies on the street after being overwhelmed after he fired shots at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo on October 28.
A gunman identified as Mevlik Jasarevic lies on the street after being overwhelmed after he fired shots at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo on October 28.
By Nenad Pejic
Last week, 23-year-old Mevlik Jasarevic made headlines when he got off a tram outside the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo and began firing an automatic rifle.

But his journey began several hours earlier that morning, when he crossed the border from Serbia into Bosnia-Herzegovina. Jasarevic is a Serbian citizen.

Stepping from tram No. 3, Jasarevic reportedly yelled "Run! Run away!" at passersby as he pulled an AK-47 from his backpack and began to fire. He continued to shoot for some 20 minutes before a police sniper shot him in the leg. It was later revealed that he had two explosives on him, but he apparently made no attempt to activate them. In fact, he stood calmly at the tram stop throughout the incident, making no effort to leave or to take cover.

It was a strange incident. Terrorists more commonly seek to maximize civilian casualties. Spreading fear is, after all, the definition of terrorism.

But nothing like this happened in Sarajevo. It is unclear whether Jasarevic expected to die in the attack. And he warned citizens to run away. One police officer was wounded in the initial moments of the attack, but there were no other casualties except the gunman himself. Instead of being afraid, citizens of Bosnia have spoken out loudly and often to denounce the violence.

As the details of the incident emerged, it became clear that Jasarevic was an easy recruit. His few visits to the Wahhabist village of Maoca in Bosnia hardly qualify him as an Islamic fundamentalist or a radical. But he has a criminal record, including a robbery three years ago in Austria. Late last year, he was spotted by police in the Serbian city of Novi Pazar during a visit there by ambassadors from the United States, Japan, and eight EU countries. He refused to show his identification, and a large knife was found in his pocket. He was detained but not arrested.

Finger-Pointing

The main result of Jasarevic's attack so far has been to provoke a long-overdue discussion about the ability of Bosnia-Herzegovina to cope with radicalism.

The reactions of politicians across Bosnia have been predictable. Leaders in Sarajevo say the attack was targeted "against Bosnia." And, indeed, it was -- but these same leaders are forgetting their responsibility for increasingly imposing Islamic practices on all citizens of the country. They haven't been commenting on why they tolerate the implementation of a parallel legal system (Shari'a law) in Maoca.

They don't talk about why they took little action in June 2010 when a terrorist attack in the village of Bugojino left one police officer dead and six others wounded. "After the Bugojino attack, we proposed several measures, but half of them were refused by parliament and condemned by the Islamic community of Bosnia," Sadik Ahmetovic, head of the Bosnian Security Agency, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "But even some media outlets and NGOs were arguing that imposing such measures would protect human rights."

Bosnian Serb leaders point their fingers at their Muslim counterparts and accuse them of tolerating Wahhabism. But they don't talk about how they tolerate -- even sponsor -- Serbian organizations that recruit Serbs to go to Kosovo to "defend Serbian lands" against NATO-led KFOR forces. In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said that Bosnian Muslims "declared themselves an ethnic group in 1993." "They cannot build up their identity without destroying the identity of other ethnic groups," he said.

This kind of hate speech, of course, fuels radicalism just as surely as Sarajevo's resistance to tighter controls on Wahhabism does. One part of Bosnia's leadership is radicalizing Muslims with hate speech, while another part does the same by tolerating radical behavior.

Lost Opportunity

Just three weeks ago, the Atlantic Initiative wrote in a security-risk analysis:

Unsubstantiated allegations of an increased terrorism threat in Bosnia, based on the preposterous claim that some 100,000 Wahhabis reside in the country, are not aimed at deterring such a threat but rather at pigeonholing Bosniaks as terrorists and delegitimizing their political aims. In response, the Bosniak side, and particularly the official Islamic community, has descended into default denial of any security threat that may be posed by the presence of dangerous individuals and ideologies associated with Islam, calling all such references hostile and Islamophobic. Consequently, law enforcement officials have been left to balance between two opposing, and equally flawed, perceptions and they have adjusted their analysis and reaction to the terrorism threat to suit the outcomes desired by their respective political elite.

Bosnia's political leaders -- from both federal entities and all ethnic groups -- are not only failing to building a functioning federal state, they are also jointly managing to radicalize one ethnic community after another. And they seem to be doing everything in their power to make the situation worse. The economy is in tatters and unemployment is about 40 percent. More than a year has passed since the last elections and the country still has no functioning executive branch. Bosnia's Serbs consistently block any movement toward a functioning state, while the leadership of the Bosnian-Croat Federation cannot agree even within itself, to say nothing of finding common ground with Bosnian Serb leaders.

"The nature of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina prevents us from creating a government or attracting investment. And that conflict could become even violent," Bakir Izetbegovic, a member of Bosnian Presidency, told RFE/RL last week.

Following the attack on the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Patrick Moon expressed the hope that the violence would unite Bosnians and push them forward to the common goal of European integration. Unfortunately, this will not be the case. For more than two decades now, virtually all of Bosnia's political leaders have had one thing in common -- the undeviating pursuit of their personal interests at the price of dividing the country along ethnic lines. More than 16 years after the war ended, fear remains the dominant mood in all Bosnia's ethnic communities. And fear is the perfect environment for fostering radicalization and manipulation.

An International Role

The previously quoted Atlantic Initiative report argues that this manufactured fear must be replaced by "credible deterrence." This would "not only prevent a return to violent conflict, but would create the potential for forward movement on the political and social fronts by stripping the entrenched political elites of their current ability to leverage fear. This would create space for citizens and potential leaders who want to find a way to make the country function consensually. Restored, credible deterrence is the sine qua non of any political and social progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

But "credible deterrence" can only be imposed by the international community. That community still "agrees to disagree" about the causes of Bosnia's problems. Immediately after the attack last week, the following "joke" appeared on Facebook: "Packing for Sarajevo: coat, sweater, Kalashnikov, bulletproof vest, pants, boots...."

I'm not sure that's really all that funny.

Nenad Pejic is a regional director at RFE/RL. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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by: Billy
October 31, 2011 22:10
Going by this article, Jasarevic is merely a misunderstood nice-guy, whilst Dodik is the real problem and no doubt Serbs are to be blamed for the attack. A common theme on RFERL.

by: Schlomo from: Canada
October 31, 2011 22:49
Here we go again. A Muslim extremist attacks US embassy and somehow this is tied back to Serbia and the problems Bosniaks have with Serbs. Give me a brake. Call spade a spade. This is a Bosniak problem for having allowed and continuing to allow these muslim groups to thrive in their country. They may or may not support them, but certainly they allow them to spread their culture within what once were moderate muslims. Now with Sharia laws and other strange habits, they get to see what can happen if Bosnia falls to the Muslim hands. As for Serbia defending its land in Kosovo - please tell me what that has to do with Islamic mad man in Sarajevo?!!? Concentrate please! Serbia defending its land is a completely different story. Whoever wrote this is surely not a journalist.

by: john from: melbourne
October 31, 2011 23:13
So a muslim terrorist that the serbs have been fighting since the break up of Yugoslavia, re kosovo and Bosnia AlQaeda's children, is Serbias fault.
Figure that.
Imagine a Serb actually did something like this, Nato would bomb Belgrade and Banjaluka immediately!
Nato bombs Serbs to carve a muslim country, muslims bomb America to thank them, nice!

by: George Arvanitis Bouas from: Melbourne
November 01, 2011 09:56
I cannot believe this article passed for serious journalism. There have been 15,000+ jihadists attacks globally since 9/11 - are Serbs to blame for this? This jihadist was inspired by the Koran to do what he did and he did not shoot (Muslim) civilians because that is "haram" forbidden by the Koran. The influence of jihadists grew when during the war the US, NATO etc supported the Islamists against the Orthodox Christian Serbs. Iran and Saudi Arabia did so and continue to do so. As for Kosovo, UN resolution 1244 and international law says Kosovo is Serbia. When will the US wake up and see that its Balkans policy has been fundamentally flawed. The US, Germany, NATO etc bombed and killed Serb civilians, the Yugoslav army which was defending Yugoslavia and violated international law. Time to wake up and realise your mistakes.

by: Fred from: USA
November 01, 2011 14:36
The real problem is that the politicians focusing on ethnic politics are preventing the country from functioning. Major blame for that lies with Dodik. All those that blame Bosnia need to remember that this guy lives in Serbia. Serbian police had him on their radar. It remains to be seen if they shared this information with Bosnia or if this guy was not a sufficient threat at the time to do so. The Serbian area of Sandzak has more such people there and they should be monitored and arrested if a threat. Also the border police should cooperate more to share information about potential threats.

I also guarantee that the previous three comments are from Serbian diaspora.
In Response

by: Milan from: Belgrade
November 02, 2011 19:46
We are not allowed by the western policy to arrest or do ANY counter-terrorist action that would involve the muslim population of Serbia. Else NATO will come, BOMB the country, and occupy the territory, with the usual propaganda of ethnic cleansing and suppresion of "muslim freedom fighters". We saw it happen not one, but 2 times in 10 years.

by: steve from: USA
November 01, 2011 23:27
The last post by Fred seems perplexing. If the real problem is that politicians are focusing on their constituents, then the real problem seems to be representative democracy. Perhaps.

But then Fred would disparage anyone who says anything counter to him, meaning that free speech also poses a problem. Would Fred also guarantee that anyone who writes a post in support of Israel is Jewish? What nonsense?

by: Sergey from: Chicago, USA
November 02, 2011 05:02
"One part of Bosnia's leadership is radicalizing Muslims with hate speech, while another part does the same by tolerating radical behavior"

Well, Mr Pejic. Let's try to see your reasoning. Dodik and Bosnian Serb nationalists, by saying "hate speeches" against Bosnian and other Balkan Muslims, are "radicalizing" them into attacking the United States embassy--the embassy of the country that actually went to WAR against Serbia and Bosnian Serbs to make Muslim states of Bosnia and Kosovo possible.

Just think about it .If you have an enemy or adversary who say bad things about you, why would you attack your friend who seeks to protect you and defend your interests ?

This is really a line of reasoning that can be roughly translated into: "No matter what X does, blame it on Y. Even if Y is not at fault, find a reason to blame it on Y too".

Now let's look at another example of "brilliant" reasoning - Atlantic Initiative Report that you cited.

"Unsubstantiated allegations of an increased terrorism threat in Bosnia, based on the preposterous claim that some 100,000 Wahhabis reside in the country, are not aimed at deterring such a threat but rather at pigeonholing Bosniaks as terrorists and delegitimizing their political aims.

In response, the Bosniak side, and particularly the official Islamic community, has descended into default denial of any security threat that may be posed by the presence of dangerous individuals and ideologies associated with Islam, calling all such references hostile and Islamophobic."

If allegations are unsubstantiated, why wouldn't Bosniak leadership side want to prove them wrong by INCREASING security cooperation with NATO, EU, etc. ? Why would Bosnian Muslim leadership be so super sensitive to allegations made by adversarial Bosnian Serb leadership to such an extent that they would REFUSE cooperating with the ALLIES of Bosnian Muslims ?

Sorry Mr. Pejic, but all these lines of reasoning look like an utter nonsense to me and another lame attempt to whitewash Jihadists in the Balkans and elsewhere.

by: kev from: chicago
November 02, 2011 18:00
interesting, Bosnian Serbs have Chetnic Pravoslavs while Bosnian Boshniaks have Wahhabi Muslims, so to say, both of these groups need to control their dogs..., but they cant as B&H is still new country in development.

U.S.A is there to police Chetnic Pravoslavs and Wahhabi Muslims as they are known terrorist groups. But question is, why did Wahhabi attack U.S.A as it is well known that Serbian government and Serbian population hates U.S.A. and love Russia. How come it happened just after Dodik (Bosnian Entity President) was kicked out of united states, like a dog.

wait!!!!

this terrorist is Serbian Muslim, what does this have to do with B&H, as if illegal immigrant from Mexico who is christian comes to attack British embassy in U.S.A with help of other Mexican Christians who are legally in States, are American born Christians to blame or what? i'd say blame Mexico law enforcement and take it as a warning.
In Response

by: Mabuballah from: Oak Ridge
November 02, 2011 20:08
Now I see! Okay, so it's all Christians' fault. (What isn't, these days?) My, my, how sharp our vision waxes whenever we see fault with the visions of others. Just keep imagining that the rest of the world thinks of the US as so utterly "indispensable"!

by: Wim from: Voorhout
November 03, 2011 05:55
It is the West that is radicalizing Bosnia. In the war by encouraging the Muslims to ask support amongst Al Qaeda types and now by encouraging the Bosniaks to undermine Dayton by filling the positions reserved for Croats - including the Croat seat in the presidency - with their own stooges.

by: Pat
November 13, 2011 14:45
Well, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush. Soon you'll get what you were working for: two european islamist states called Bosnia and Kosovo. Congratulations!
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