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Balkan Report: July 3, 2007

Islam Scholar Rejects 'Clash Of Civilizations' Theory

Fikret Karcic at RFE/RL on June 10

PRAGUE, June 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Fikret Karcic is a professor of Comparative Legal History in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sarajevo and a professor of the History of Islamic Law at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo. A specialist in the history of Islamic law and institutions, he also has taught at Marmara University in Istanbul and the International Islamic University in Malaysia.

As a Bosnian Muslim scholar, he rejects notions that tensions between the Christian-rooted West and the Muslim East are inevitable. RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service correspondent Gordana Knezevic spoke with Karcic after he took part in a June 13 panel discussion at RFE/RL in Prague.

RFE/RL: What do you think about the widespread theory that today in international relations we are witnessing a clash of civilizations -- Muslim and Christian?

Fikret Karcic: What we see, I think, is an attempt to define a new paradigm that would reflect the state of international affairs in the post-Cold War world. [Harvard University professor] Samuel Huntington's theory of the clash of civilizations has by now become the prevailing paradigm that captures some of the modern world's complexities. However, in order for a paradigm to really hold its ground a whole set of conditions has to come into place. The theory about the clash of civilization has been around for years, and for many observers it has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I disagree with this theory, for I do not think that what we are seeing today is indeed a clash of civilizations -- Western and Islamic -- but rather a clash of divergent interests, which are being disguised as cultural or religious and then presented as such. But I am afraid that if we keep endlessly addressing this notion of the clash of civilization, we might well end up in just such a clash.

RFE/RL: Do you see today's world as sharply divided along cultural, ethnic, or religious lines?

Karcic: I believe that we cannot really talk about a global Islamic entity, nor about the Christian entity as its antipode. These two opposing worlds are just fictional. The truth is that so-called Christian and Islamic cultural elements are so intertwined today that this notion of the two rival and monolithic worlds is for the most part just imaginary.

RFE/RL: What do you think should be the role of politicians and religious leaders in addressing the underlying issues of the modern world?

Karcic: I would advise today's policymakers to carefully examine the causes of terrorism and violent extremism in the world. We need to understand the political, economic, and social impetus of violence, rather than attribute it, almost by default, to religion. On the other hand, religious leaders should delegitimize the use of violence in the name of religion. They should say very bluntly that those who resort to violence are working against their own religion. However, this alone will not stop terrorism, unless the root causes of violence are successfully addressed.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: New Book Investigates Presence Of Al-Qaeda

June 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Six men -- all foreign-born Muslims -- were arrested in May in the United States, accused of involvement in a terrorist plot to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, a U.S. Army training center in New Jersey. Four of the suspects are ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia, while one is from Jordan and one is from Turkey.

The arrests served again to focus attention on the issue of Islamic terrorists allegedly using the former Yugoslavia as a base of operations, as well as the impact of their radical views on the region's historically moderate form of Islam.

Vlado Azinovic is a senior editor with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. Azinovic explores these issues in his new book, "Al-Qaeda In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Myth Or Present Danger?"

MORE: A sample chapter of Vlado Azinovic's "Al-Qaeda In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Myth Or Present Danger" (.pdf format).

IN BOSNIAN: The complete book and other materials.

"The research for this book was prompted by a series of media reports and research papers that in recent years claimed that Bosnia was, and still is, a staging area and safe haven for Islamic terrorists traveling between the Middle East and Europe," says Azinovic. "My book arose out of a desire to investigate the validity of these claims."

Azinovic says he decided to focus on several key questions:

  • What is Al-Qaeda and the ideology behind it?
  • Does Al-Qaeda enjoy any support in Bosnia?
  • If so, how did it get there?
  • Are Bosnian Muslims being recruited to fight its cause?

He says his research established that, as of 1992, Bosnia had, indeed, become a meeting point for members of militant groups who had arrived either from training camps in Afghanistan or from Western Europe, where they had been recruited in mosques and Islamic centers. These militants felt that genocide was taking place in Bosnia and that a new jihad was required. Once they reached Bosnia, they became mujahedin and adopted new identities.

Mujahedin Remain

"In short, [Bosnia-Herzegovina] is an ideal breeding ground for militant ideologies, while Wahhabism provides extreme, yet simple, answers to almost every challenge that arises from Bosnia's postwar reality." -- Vlado Azinovic

Azinovic says the number of mujahedin who fought in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 is estimated at 3,000 to 4,000. Initially, they were not under the control of the Bosnian military but fought beside Bosnian Muslims, or Bosniaks. In September 1993, however, the mujahedin were integrated into the Bosnian Army’s Third Corps under the name El-Mujahedin Unit.

A few hundred mujahedin remained in Bosnia after the war, Azinovic says. A few dozen still remain. He says they have enjoyed protection and support from the highest ranks of the Bosniak political and intelligence establishment. Some of them are believed to have links to Al-Qaeda.

The arrival of the mujahedin, he says, introduced two important factors into Bosnia's security and social landscape.

One was short-term: the physical presence of people trained to commit terrorist acts.

The other factor was long-term. Along with the mujahedin came a rather narrow, puritanical, and confrontational interpretation of Islam, commonly known as Wahhabism.

From the outset, Wahhabism caused tensions in traditional Bosnian-Muslim society, which has always been religiously moderate. These tensions have escalated in recent months, Azinovic says, and have led to a struggle between "traditionalists" and Wahhabis for the control of mosques and Islamic centers.

Source Of Instability

"My book maintains that the presence of Wahhabism and of the remaining mujahedin do not qualify Bosnia as a particular threat to international security," Azinovic says. "More of a threat, I believe, is the fact that Bosnia is becoming a failed state. The Dayton peace agreement may have ended the armed conflict, but through the establishment of the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), it incorporated, rather than resolved, the fundamental dispute over which the war was originally fought -- namely, whether Bosnia is a united or divided country."

Vlado Azinovic (RFE/RL)

He says this dichotomy provides a permanent source of instability. It prevents the establishment of a viable state structure and a self-sustaining economy. It destabilizes democratic institutions and creates internal frictions, hindering the reconciliation process. As a result, he says, the state's borders are porous and susceptible to human and drug trafficking, while weapons and ammunition are still readily available.

"In short, the country is an ideal breeding ground for militant ideologies," Azinovic says, "while Wahhabism provides extreme, yet simple, answers to almost every challenge that arises from Bosnia's postwar reality."

In addition, since 2002, the West -- and in particular the United States -- has been shifting resources and political energy from Bosnia to other regions in the world where security threats appear more imminent.

While discussing the alleged propensity of Bosniaks to join the global jihadist movement, Azinovic says, "we should look not just at whether there are individuals in Bosnia ready to put on suicide vests, but also at the factors that inspire people to embrace extremist ideologies."

Ideology Gaining Ground

While Al-Qaeda-linked groups and individuals in Bosnia remain elusive, he says, overwhelming evidence indicates that the ideology behind the movement is gaining ground rapidly.

"No one is born a terrorist; terrorists are bred. The social, economic, and political origins of terrorism must be addressed with equal resolve." -- Vlado Azinovic

"But Bosnian society does not seem capable of dealing with this problem decisively," says Azinovic, "while international involvement is often more of a hindrance than a help, for it typically deals with the consequences, instead of the root causes, of the problem."

The "war on terror," he says, cannot be successful if fought solely against those already indoctrinated with jihadist ideology.

"No one is born a terrorist; terrorists are bred. The social, economic, and political origins of terrorism must be addressed with equal resolve," Azinovic concludes. "My book argues that by helping accelerate its transformation into a nation of entrepreneurship, political responsibility, and popular sovereignty, Bosnia could be used by the West to promote a vision of modern and moderate Islam."

(MORE: In March 2006, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service spoke with moderate Bosnian Muslim leader Reisu-UI-ulema Mustafa Ceric.)

Milosevic’s Fugitive Widow Denies Smuggling Charges

Mira Markovic at a press conference in 2000

June 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking one day after an international warrant was issued for her arrest, Mira Markovic, the widow of late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, has denied accusations that she once led a lucrative smuggling ring, RFE/RL’s South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported.

Markovic left Serbia in 2003 after being charged with abuse of power. Her son, Marko Milosevic, fled in October 2000 after his father fell from power. Both are rumored to be living in Russia.

However, speaking today by cell phone with RFE/RL, Markovic declined to say where she and her son now reside. She also denied that they led a cigarette-smuggling ring from 1996 to 2001 -- an operation believed to have earned both mother and son millions of dollars in profits.

“What smuggling? What [is this accusation of] cigarette smuggling all about? And whisky? What else was smuggled?” Markovic said. “Don’t you know I'm a university professor?”

Asked if she wished to return home, Markovic said: “Where to? The place where they want to put me on trial for smuggling? It’s a shame. I would like to come. I wish very much to come.”

Wanted in Serbia

International arrest warrants were issued for Markovic and her son on June 12. Serbia's organized crime prosecutor, Slobodan Radovanovic, said authorities had begun investigating the two, and that authorities’ next step would include freezing their assets in Serbia and other countries.

"They will be treated as the organizers of a criminal group dealing in the illegal trade of tobacco," Radovanovic told a news conference in Belgrade.

He did not speculate as to where the two might be residing, but said the warrant calls for their extradition to Serbia as soon as they are located.

Slobodan Milosevic died in March 2006 in detention in The Hague, as the United Nations war crimes tribunal was nearing a verdict on his role in the Croatian, Bosnian, and Kosovo wars of the 1990s.

UN: Macedonian Elected As Next General Assembly President

By Nikola Krastev

Srgjan Kerim (file photo)

UNITED NATIONS, May 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim has been elected president of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly. His term begins in September.

Kerim says he will work to support the reform processes initiated by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and continued by current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Kerim is well known within the UN system, where he served as Macedonia's ambassador from 2001 to 2003.

In his acceptance speech on May 24, Kerim said he views the United Nations not only as a political forum but as a place of "networking" for business, educational, and other purposes.

Not Just Politics

Globalization, he said, affects everyone's life in a profound way. He said that, as the next president of the UN General Assembly, he will keep this in mind at all times.

"I believe in a United Nations which [is] an organization not only of intergovernmental character but a network which cooperates closely with business circles, with universities, with media, with NGOs," Kerim said.

Kerim will succeed the current president, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Kerim noted that although the term of the General Assembly president is for only one year, the work of the president becomes part of processes that often take years to conclude.

One of these processes, he said, is reform of the UN Security Council.

"There is no magic stick of the president or of the secretary-general which can make things go or stop," Kerim argued. "I don't think it's a problem of the organization always, and that it is inherent to the United Nations that they are not efficient by definition, by default. No, it's sometimes the lack of political will of the states. And this is why we have to take care of them and to ask all the states to try to make this effort to come to a solution."

What The President Does

The General Assembly acts as the main forum for UN members to discuss issues of international law and to make decisions regarding the functioning of the organization.

The president oversees the procedural aspects of the General Assembly's work. The president does not vote on General Assembly decisions, but has control over all aspects of discussions and negotiations, including time limits for speakers, closure of the list of speakers, suspension or adjournment of debate, and ruling on points of order.

The president also has an informal role to play by consulting bilaterally with delegations to assess differences in positions, proposing solutions, and building consensus.

Kerim said one of his priorities will be to promote dialogue among nations and cultures and to find common ground between different religions and world views.

"I am also ready to visit religious leaders, to talk to them [about] how to promote this issue, because I think it's not only terrorism," he said. "There are many other areas in the world where we have tensions and frictions just because of that -- because there is a lack of understanding of each other."

His excellent command of English and French, as well as his solid economic background, are said to give him an edge in maneuvering through the UN's complex administrative system.

The president of the General Assembly is elected by a simple majority vote.

The post rotates annually by regions. Kerim was selected by Eastern European nations.