Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rebuttal of Francisco Gil-White's Gross Misrepresentation of the Bosnian War

This is a response to Francisco Gil-White’s view of the war in
Bosnia, as expressed at

Mr. Francisco contends that Alija Izetbegovic, the late President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was an Islamic fundamentalist and that it was his book Islamic Declaration that caused the war in Bosnia. According to Francisco, Izetbegovic’s principal objective had always been a creation of an Islamic state in Bosnia. One particular passage from Izetbegovic’s book is frequently used to support this thesis: "…the implementation of Islam in all fields of individuals' personal lives, in family and in society, by renewal of the Islamic religious thought and creating a uniform Muslim community from Morocco to Indonesia. ...". Francisco believes that there can only be one interpretation of the above and that is the forcible creation of an Islamic state in Bosnia. I beg to differ. This quote was taken out of its proper context. Consider for example the introduction to this book: “The Declaration which we today present to the public is not prescribed reading, intended to demonstrate to foreigners or doubters the superiority of Islam over any particular system or school of thought” (all quotes from this book will henceforth be taken from this website). Basically what this introduction means is that Izetbegovic from the start acknowledges that he does not believe that Islam is superior to any other religion. This particular point is reiterated throughout the book, as exemplified in the following passage: “Class distinction is equally unjust, morally and humanly unacceptable, as national and other division and differentiation among people”. Moreover, Izetbegovic asserts that it is imperative that we judge people based on the content of their character only: “As a religious and moral movement, it finds unacceptable any differentiation between people which does not include moral criteria”. I will leave to the reader of this paper to decide whether or not the views expressed in Izetbegovic’s book in any way characterize a fundamentalist view of Islam. Consider the following passage: “Harems must be abolished. No one has the right to refer to Islam as a reason to keep women disenfranchised; abuse of this kind must be brought to an end…It is an underlining of the equal values of men and women, together with the underlining of the differences between them, which should be preserved”. Izetbegovic further strongly opposed the increasing exploitation of the female body for pornographic purposes.

As for the alleged implementation of an Islamic state in Bosnia, the following passage renders all comments superfluous: “In the struggle for the Islamic order, all means are permissible, except one-crime” (emphasis added). This non-violent approach is omnipresent in Izetbegovic's book. Thus, Izetbegovic denounces violence and lauds justice and forgiveness. Izetbegovic also seeks to bridge the gap between the Christian and the Muslim world by calling for cooperation and tolerance: “If Christians so wish, the future may offer an example of understanding and cooperation between two great religions for the well-being of people and mankind, just as the past has been the battlefield of their senseless intolerance and strife” (emphasis added). I ask the reader the following question: is this quote in any way indicative of religious intolerance? Similar views are expressed about Judaism.

After I finished reading Islamic Declaration, I reached the inevitable conclusion that Izetbegovic’s message had been grossly misrepresented by Mr. Francisco and the emperors-clothes website. Izetbegovic’s vision was a united Muslim world, the chief characteristics of which would be solidarity, empathy, tolerance, social justice and education. By the term “united Muslim world”, Izetbegovic did not refer to the geographical aspect; what he meant was that the Muslims should empathize with each other whether they happen to live in Pakistan or Turkey. One example is the question of Palestine. According to Izetbegovic, many Arab nations are completely indifferent to the plight of the Palestinian people and Izetbegovic strongly denounces this apathy and moral relativism. Instead of being a passive bystander, the Arab world should express its solidarity with the Palestinian people. This is what Izetbegovic meant when he was calling for a united Muslim world.

In an interview for START in August 2003 Izetbegovic said that Bosnia must remain a secular state. As far as I know, all fundamentalists abhor secularism. I am therefore bewildered by Francisco’s perception of Izetbegovic. What is even more perplexing is the incontrovertible fact that Izetbegovic never makes a single reference to Bosnia in his book and yet Mr. Francisco immediately draws the conclusion that Izetbegovic’s vision also applied to Bosnia. I strongly urge everyone to read this book and then make up their own minds about it.

Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader, who is being sought for war crimes, has however said that “the road to which you want to take Bosnia and Herzegovina is the same highway of hell which Slovenia and Croatia took. Don’t think you won’t take Bosnia and Herzegovina to hell and the Muslims into annihilation…Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is war here”. If this is not an explicit threat to exterminate the Muslims of Bosnia then I don’t know what it is. I wonder how this managed to escape Francisco’s attention. I also wonder how Francisco explains the fact that every single church remained intact in the area controlled by Bosnian Muslims when the war in Bosnia ended. Conversely I am looking forward to an explanation as to why every single mosque was destroyed in the area controlled by Bosnian Serbs. If the Muslims of Bosnia are such fundamentalists as Francisco so strongly suggests, should not the situation described above have been reversed?

Moreover I am deeply concerned by the fact that Mr. Francisco refused to consult one of the most authoritative books on Bosnia - Bosnia a Short History - by a noted expert on the subject, Noel Malcolm, before he began spreading misinformation about Bosnian Muslims. According to Malcolm, Bosnian Muslims are without a doubt one of the most secularized Muslims in the world. This is corroborated by the fact that there were approximately 30% mixed marriages in Bosnia before the war began in 1992. Francisco, I strongly suggest that you read this book.

The war in Bosnia was genocide of Bosnian Muslims. Consider the results of one of the most meticulous investigations of the human rights abuses in Bosnia. Cherif Bassiouni, Professor of Law at De Paul University, conducted a thorough investigation of human rights abuses in Bosnia, the results of which were later submitted to the U.N. Security Council (the title of the report: Final Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 from 1992). It is frequently asserted that this highly meticulous and exhaustive study offers the definitive account of the war crimes perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bassiouni’s commission of experts found that all parties in the war committed gross violations of human rights. None the less, the study also emphasized that the Serbs committed the overwhelming majority of the war crimes in Bosnia. Most importantly, the commission concluded that the crimes perpetrated by the Serbs were part of a greater Serbian ideology, namely the creation of a “Greater Serbia”. Here is what the report said: “with respect to the practices by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, “ethnic cleansing” is commonly used as a term to describe a policy conducted in furtherance of political doctrines relating to “Greater Serbia” (p. 33). Thus, achieving hegemony was the primary objective of the Serbs. The report further disclosed that Zeljko Raznjatovic’s and Vojislav Seselj’s paramilitary forces were found responsible for gross human rights abuses in Bosnia. The commission also implicated the JNA and Bosnian Serb leaders in allowing and even encouraging the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs (p.35). Regarding the war crimes committed by the Bosnian Muslims, the report said that: “Bosnian Government forces have also committed the same type of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against Serbs and Croats, but not as part of a policy of “ethnic cleansing”. The number of these violations, as reported, is significantly less than the reported violations allegedly committed by the other warring factions” (p. 36 emphasis added). The commission also found that all warring parties had detention camps, Serbs had 237, Muslims 89 and Croats 77 (p. 51). However, the worst atrocities were committed in the detention camps held by Bosnian Serbs. According to the report: “camps operated by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina are by far the ones where the largest numbers of detainees have been held and where the cruelest and largest number of violations occurred” (p.52). Moreover, Serb camps were used as an instrument of ethnic cleansing where killing and appalling torture of prisoners occurred daily (p.53-54). Subsequently, even though the Muslims committed sporadic atrocities, the Serbs committed systematic and extremely well organized war crimes in order to exterminate the non-Serb population. Proponents of “collective guilt” theory thus correctly contend that all sides in the Bosnian war committed atrocities. None the less, as this authoritative report makes perfectly clear, only the Serbs were guilty of systematic war crimes.

I am looking forward to Francisco's response and then we will let the readers decide whose side of the story represents the truth.

List of References

as adopted from

Malcolm, Noel. Bosnia a Short History (1996). New York University Press.