Since he was arrested
in Belgrade last week, there have been miles and miles of newspaper commentary
on Radovan Karadzic:
on his bloody past; his role in Srebrenica;
his limp handshake;
his transformation from war leader to bearded
hippy therapist. Yet perhaps the most interesting article – or at least
the most unwittingly revealing – was a 374-word
piece that appeared on the website of the UK Guardian on 25 July.
It was written by Inayat
Bunglawala, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain
(MCB) and bête noire of Britain's left-leaning "humanitarian
militarists." Pro-war commentators despise Bunglawala because he supports
Hamas, sympathizes with Iraqi suicide bombers, and, just prior to 9/11, he was
disseminating the writings of Osama bin Laden, whom he described as a "freedom
In the ever-shrinking world of British dinner-party spats between humanitarian
militarism on one hand and Islamism on the other, Bunglawala is considered the
arch enemy of Britain's laptop bombardiers, who believe you can liberate Third
World countries by writing a few outraged newspaper columns and dropping a few
Yet in his Guardian comment on Karadzic, Bunglawala found himself siding
with one of his staunchest critics amongst Britain's "muscular left."
Under the headline "Lessons from the past," Bunglawala wrote: "I
[have] finally managed to find something written by Martin Bright that I wholeheartedly
agree with." Bright
is the political editor of the New Statesman and is associated with Britain's
liberal interventionist writers; he is also the author of a pamphlet
titled "When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries," which attacked
the British government for having links with Bunglawala's apparently "extreme"
organization, the MCB.
What could Bunglawala and Bright possibly agree on? In Bunglawala's
words, they agree that British schoolchildren should be taught about
Srebrenica "in the same way that they are taught about Auschwitz,"
that Karadzic is evil, and that the Bosnian war was a lethal explosion of the
Bosnian Serbs' "deadly hatred" which followed their "relentless
vilification of entire communities" (presumably the Bosnian Muslims and
In short? Both Bunglawala, the anti-Western political Islamist, and Bright,
the leftish sympathizer with Western military intervention, see the Bosnian
conflict in precisely the same way: not as a bloody civil war in which all sides
committed atrocities, but as an episode of Nazi-style Serbian rampaging against
vilified communities, which was comparable in its horror to Auschwitz.
Bunglawala's article was a fleeting but powerful reminder of a truth that is
too often brushed under the carpet these days: namely, that both contemporary
Western interventionism and contemporary radical Islamism have their origins
in the Bosnian war. But back then, the "arch enemies" of the interventionism-vs-Islamism
debate were allies. They took the same side (that of the Bosnian Muslims), propagandized
wildly against the Serbs (whom they denounced as thugs, gangsters, dogs and
even monkeys), demanded Western military assaults on Serb positions, and described
the actions of the Serbs as uniquely barbaric, even Nazi-esque.
And both the Western militarists and radical Islamists were re-energized and
moralized by their joint crusade against the Serbs in Bosnia. One might even
argue that both of the major curses in international affairs today – the militaristic
meddling of Western governments that pose as humanitarian and the occasional
bloody attacks launched by al-Qaeda and others – spring from the anti-Serb
hysteria of 1992-1995.
This goes way beyond a rare and polite agreement between Bunglawala and
Bright. The capture of Karadzic is something that everyone from Bush to bin
Laden will celebrate. Pretty much the only consensus that exists between the
American military machine and the al-Qaeda network is that the Serbs are evil
and deserving of punishment.
Following Karadzic's arrest, Richard
Holbrooke, the US diplomat who negotiated the Dayton
Peace Agreement of 1995, described him as "one of the worst men in
the world, the Osama
bin Laden of Europe." This is darkly ironic, since in the early and
mid-1990s Holbrooke and bin Laden were on the same side, united in a violent
campaign against Karadzic and the rest of the Bosnian Serbs. Holbrooke
must remember this; in an interview
in 2001 he said the Bosnian Muslims "wouldn't have survived" without
the help of al-Qaeda militants.
Today's humanitarian militarists and Islamic radicals are cut from the
same cloth. In Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, they were close allies – propagandistic,
moralistic and militaristic allies. During the Bosnian war, anywhere between
1,200 and 3,000 Arab
Mujahideen, many of them veterans of the Afghan-Soviet
war of the 1980s, descended on Bosnia to fight alongside the Bosnian
Muslims. And their movement into Bosnia was facilitated by the new "humanitarians"
In 1993 and 1994, the Clinton administration gave a green
light to Iran, Saudi Arabia and various highly dubious radical Islamic charities
to arm the Bosnian Muslims. Despite having denounced
Iran as "the worst sponsor of terrorism in the world," the Clinton
administration told both Croat and Bosnian Muslim leaders that they should accept
shipments of weapons, ammunition, antitank rockets, communications equipment
and uniforms and helmets from Iran.
Washington also allowed "Islamic
charities," which really were radical Mujahideen-based organizations,
to supply money and arms to the Bosnian Muslims. As the Washington
Post reported in September 1996, US officials on the ground in Bosnia,
who were motivated by "sympathy for the Muslim government and ambivalence
about maintaining the arms embargo," instructed other Western officials
to "back off" and "not interfere" with these shipments from
radical Islamists. One of the "charities" whose provision of funds
and arms to the Bosnian Muslims was protected by American diplomats was run
by Osama bin Laden.
The US-protected supply line between the Middle East and Bosnia, through which
both Iranian elements and radicals sent money and guns, also encouraged Mujahideen
to make their way into the Balkans. Along with the flow of radical Islamist
weaponry, there followed the movement of radical Islamist warriors.
Once inside Bosnia, these Mujahideen, many of them fresh from the bloody battlefields
of Afghanistan, fought with the Bosnian Muslim Army at a time when it was being
supported politically and militarily by Washington and vast numbers of Western
liberal commentators. In 1994 and 1995, Washington surreptitiously
supplied the Bosnian Muslim Army with weapons and training, even though
it had hundreds of Mujahideen in its ranks. The Mujahideen formed a battalion
of holy warriors which was, according to Evan
Kohlmann, author of Al-Qaeda's
Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network, directly answerable to
then Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic.
In other words, America armed and trained a military machine that was using
Mujahideen as "shock troops." As the United
Nations said in a communiqué in 1995, the period of America's secretive
arming, the Mujahideen were "directly dependent on [the Bosnian Muslim
Army] for supplies." Washington helped to create the gateway between the
Middle East and Bosnia, protected the supply of funds to Bosnia by bin Laden
and others, and secretly armed a Bosnian army that kept the Mujahideen in paid
employment (otherwise knowing as warmongering) after the Afghan-Soviet war came
to an end.
If the radical Islamists who flooded Bosnia were militarily backed by Washington,
they were propagandistically inspired by the Western liberal media.
The similarities between the positions of the liberal hawks in newsrooms across
America and Europe and the line taken by al-Qaeda militants were striking. As
the British author Philip Hammond argues, hawkish journalists in the Western
press depicted the war as "a simple tale of good versus evil." Likewise,
Kohlmann describes how Mujahideen
who fought in Bosnia believed there was a "clear divergence between good
and evil" and understood the conflict "in terms of an apocalyptic,
one-dimensional religious confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims."
Western journalists labeled the Serbs "thugs" and "gangsters";
the Independent newspaper in Britain even published a cartoon showing
them as monkeys. The Mujahideen labeled them "dogs" and "infidels."
Indeed, many of the Mujahideen who fought in Bosnia were inspired to do so by
simplistic media coverage of the sort written by liberal-left journalists in
the West. Many of the testimonies
made by Arab fighters reveal that they first ventured to Bosnia because they
"saw US media reports on rape camps" or read about the "genocide"
in Bosnia and the "camps used by Serb soldiers systematically to rape thousands
of Muslim women." Holy warriors seem to have been moved to action by some
of the more shrill and unsubstantiated coverage of the war in Bosnia.
In his book Landscapes
of the Jihad, Faisal Devji argues that contemporary jihad "is more
a product of the media than it is of any local tradition or situation and school
or lineage of Muslim authority... [The] jihad itself can be seen as an offspring
of the media, composed as it is almost completely of preexisting media themes,
images and stereotypes." The jihad in Bosnia was in many ways a "product
of the media" – many Mujahideen were inspired to fight by media "images",
and they executed their violent attacks against media "stereotypes":
Most strikingly, perhaps, both Western liberals and the Eastern Mujahideen ventured
to Bosnia in response to their own crises of legitimacy, and in search of a
sense of purpose. As Adam Burgess says of sections of the Western left in his
Europe: "Deprived of the traditional staples of left-wing politics,
the search for an alternative became increasingly pronounced in the late 1980s
and early 1990s. The left embraced new causes such as environmentalism, which
were traditionally associated with a more conservative orientation. It is in
this context that sense can be made of the readiness of the left to embrace
the anti-Serbian 'cause' with less restraint and qualification than even the
rest of society."
Similarly, the Mujahideen embraced the anti-Serbian "cause" because
they too had lost direction. In the early 1990s, Afghanistan was becoming bogged
down in civil war after the withdrawal of the Soviets, and governments in the
Middle East and north Africa were persecuting veteran Mujahideen returning from
Afghanistan and wiping out radical Islamic groups. For both Western liberals
(governments and thinkers) and the Mujahideen, Bosnia became a refuge from these
harsh realities, a place where they could fight fantasy battles against evil
to make themselves feel dynamic and heroic instead of having to face up to the
real problems in their movements and in politics more broadly.
Bosnia had a key transformative effect on both the Western liberal establishment
and the Arab Mujahideen. It was the conflict that made many in the West pro-interventionist,
convincing them that the "international community" must ignore sovereign
norms and intervene around the world to save people from tyranny. And it transformed
the Mujahideen from religious nationalists – who during the Afghan-Soviet war
global blueprint transcending their individual countries" – into global
warriors against "evil," who also, like their humanitarian paymasters,
began to care little for old-fashioned ideas about sovereignty. It is after
Bosnia that we see the emergence of international networks of Islamic
In Bosnia, both Western elements and radical Islamists became super-moralized,
militarized, internationalized. As a result of their joint war against the "evil"
of the Serbs, they began to conceive of themselves as warriors for "good"
who did not have to play by the old rules of the international order. Post-Bosnia,
Western governments, backed by numerous commentators, launched "humanitarian"
wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq – and Islamic militants who trained in
Bosnia were involved in the African Embassy bombings of 1998, the 9/11 attacks
and the Madrid train bombings of 2004.
There is nothing so bitter as a conflict between former allies. We should remind
ourselves that much of today's bloody moral posturing between Western interventionists
and Islamic militants – which has caused so much destruction around the world
– springs from the hysterical politics of "good and evil" that was
created during the Bosnian war. No doubt Karadzic has a great deal to answer
for. But the West/East, liberal/Mujahideen demonization of Karadzic and the
Serbs, and through it the rehabilitation of both Western militarism and Islamic
radicalism, has also done a great deal to destabilize international affairs
and destroy entire communities.