Balkan jihad

Interview | A new book shows that U.S. political and media leaders during the 1990s oversimplified a complex situation in Bosnia and ended up aiding and abetting Muslim extremists

Issue: "Survivors," Sept. 29, 2007

Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad (MBI Publishing, 2007) reappraises the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and the U.S. decision to come to the defense of Muslims in their conflict with Serbs.

Author John Schindler, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a former National Security Agency analyst, writes that most of his NSA work "was focused on the Balkans. What I learned there was far different from what I had learned inside the academy and from following the news. . . . I spent a lot of time in the Balkans and I participated in the culture, spoke the language and met many people. What I learned was that pretty much everything I thought I knew was either wrong or an even more dangerous half-truth."

Schindler has tough things to say about Bosnian Muslims, so he takes pains to note that he is not "a congenital Islamophobe. I grew up in a typical postmodern American suburb, beloved of progressives, where all religions were held to be equally (in)valid. . . . My liberal Protestant parents were so theologically open-minded as to be anything but horrified when, at the age of 10, I made best friends of our Muslim neighbors."

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He writes that "Islam didn't stick with me, but I was left with a deep respect for aspects of the religion-unlike the Episcopalians I knew, Muslims actually meant what they said, and lived it-and therefore found the criminal misuse of Islam in Bosnia that I witnessed as an adult especially tragic."

WORLD: You write that "the Bosnian war stands as perhaps the most misrepresented conflict of modern times." How so?

SCHINDLER: It occurred after the arrival of nonstop, 24/7 TV journalism, but before the rise of internet fact-checking. So people in the U.S. and the West were fed a steady diet of satellite-driven images, frequently horrifying, without the ability to independently verify what was really happening on the ground in Bosnia. The result was miscomprehension, the reducing of a complex ethnic and religious civil war into soundbites.

WORLD: You state, "Western journalists failed to note that the Muslim ruling party, while portraying itself as thoroughly democratic and impressively multicultural, in fact was run by and for Islamists of a radical bent whose ideal society was revolutionary Iran." Why didn't they report that?

SCHINDLER: The ruling Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which actively courted Western journalists, carefully packaged itself as the standard-bearer for secularism, multiculturalism, and progressive, democratic values-which it was anything but-and against this sort of propaganda naïve Western journalists had very little resistance, and accepted questionable claims at face value.

WORLD: You note that both sides committed atrocities. Please provide the specifics on one unreported atrocity committed by Muslims.

SCHINDLER: The number of Christians murdered in Sarajevo during the war by Muslim military and police, right under the noses of Western journalists, is at least in the many hundreds, and probably in the low thousands. Between 1992 and 1995, some 1,300 Serb civilians were liquidated by Muslim troops based at Srebrenica; this was the precursor to the infamous July 1995 Serb offensive against that town. I could go on and on; these incidents are hardly secret, and are well-known in Bosnia.

WORLD: Why didn't they become well-known in the west?

SCHINDLER: They were never seriously investigated by the Western press, governments, or NGOs. Christians knew of them, and Muslims who dislike the SDA spoke openly of atrocities perpetrated against the Christians of wartime Sarajevo, but no one in the West cared. The view that both sides committed atrocities ran and runs contrary to the simplistic, moralistic view of the war peddled by the international media, and therefore remains unwanted by CNN and many others.

WORLD: What would "even-handed" coverage have looked like? Since in Bosnia Muslims were subjected to ethnic cleansing, wasn't it logical for NATO/UN to stand by them against the Serbs? After all, in Croatia at the very beginning Catholics were under attack, and didn't NATO stand by them until the fight moved on?

SCHINDLER: "Even-handed" coverage of the Bosnian war would have admitted up front that all sides were behaving badly and committing atrocities, and the Muslims had no monopoly on virtue or suffering. This was a nasty, multisided civil war, much like Iraq today; but it bears noting that Bosnia's 1992-1995 was significantly less bloody and violent than the previous war there, meaning World War II.

While Muslims were certainly expelled from their homes in large numbers, so were Croats (Catholics) and Serbs (Orthodox), but only Muslim victims and refugees were really considered newsworthy. And Croatia effectively got no help at all from NATO and the U.S. when it was attacked by the Serbs in 1991-we stood by and watched.


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