Century old Muslim massacre remembered in Bosnia
A funeral prayer was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Muslim Ottoman citizens who were massacred 100 years ago in Montenegro for not converting from Islam.
01 March 2013 Friday
The Bosnians and Albanians who were shot in the cities of Plav and Gusinde for not converting from Islam in 1913 when the Treaty of Berlin granted the territory of the Ottoman Empire to Montenegro have not been forgotten in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Upon the decision of the Islamic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the Friday prayer, a funeral prayer was held at the historic Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque in the capital Sarajevo for the massacred Bosnian and Albanian Muslims.
President of the Islamic Association of Montenegro (Director of Religious Affairs) Rifat Fejzic said in a previously made statement that a funeral prayer will be held on March 5 in Plav and Gusinde for the Bosnians and Albanians in questions who lost their lives.
What happened in Plav and Gusinde?
Following the Balkan War which Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro forces initiated against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, the Ottomans lost Rumelia which they had once considered the "homeland."
After the withdrawal of the Ottomans from this geography, Muslim peoples such as the Turks, Bosnians and Albanians living in the area were subjected to massacres, deportations and forced conversions to Christianity.
It is recorded that following the withdrawal of the Ottomans from the region, and the inclusion of Plav and Gusinde in the territory of Montenegro, over a thousand Bosnians and Albanians were killed by Montenegrin soldiers while more than 10 thousand Muslims were subjected to forced religious conversions.
Rise of Bosnian mayor with a head scarf challenging assumptions about Islam
By Michael Birnbaum,March 09, 2013
VISOKO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — For years, Bosnian Muslims embraced a form of religion so moderate that many capped dinners during the holy month of Ramadan with an alcoholic drink.
But the bloody war that pitted Muslims here against their Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic neighbors tested the faith of one of the few European countries where Islam is the most common religion. It was once rare to see public expressions of faith on the street. Now, more women are donning head scarves — and one who does so just became mayor of this small town in the mountains of central Bosnia.
Amra Babic’s election victory in Visoko late last year made her the first mayor in this war-scarred Balkan country, and perhaps all of Europe, to wear the hijab. Her rise in this river valley town of 46,000 is making inroads for others who have also taken up visible signs of their religion. And it is challenging assumptions across Europe as societies debate whether to reject as repressive the Islamic practice of women covering themselves or to embrace it in the spirit of moderation.
France banned the niqab, or full-face covering, two years ago. Turkey, which has long put up barriers to observant women in public life, recently eased restrictions on wearing the hijab in public universities. Other countries are debating their policies.
In Bosnia, an inland, rolling country of 3.8 million, Islam was introduced in 1463 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The hijab has long been a part of the country’s life, especially in rural areas such as Visoko, but it dropped away during more than 40 years of communism. Practicing religion openly in the officially atheist state meant jeopardizing opportunities and jobs.
Many women cite their wartime experiences in their decisions to return to the moderate form of Islam that has defined religious practice for centuries. Some say they felt that Europe and the United States were slow to come to their aid during the war because of concerns over Islamic terrorism, and that their only recourse was God.
The war drew jihadists from the Middle East, and there are still pockets of violent religious extremism here. But many Bosnian Muslims say that the resurgence of moderate religious practice is a counterbalance to the ultraconservative forms practiced at the periphery.
Babic, a trained economist, is quickly making waves in her country for her political acumen. In the short time since she took over the town hall in the middle of November, she has earned a reputation as a tough administrator. Even jaded observers of Bosnia’s deeply divided political system hold out hope that she could help overcome years of government turmoil that have put the country far behind its rivals, Serbia and Croatia, which are both on a path to joining the European Union.
“I am European, I am Muslim. This is my identity,” she said. The hijab “is what you see on the outside. But the strength is what’s inside, not to do bad deeds. To live my life in honesty, and not to speak the language of hate.”
Hijab creates barriers
Here in Visoko, the winter air is filled with the pungent, sour smell of fabric chemicals from the processing plant that is the main source of scarce jobs. Unemployment in Bosnia is about 50 percent, distrust among ethnic groups remains high and official corruption is rampant. In Babic’s first week on the job, the town hall’s electricity was almost cut off because there hadn’t been money to pay the bill.
“Ordinary people don’t need much,” said Babic, who raised three sons alone after her husband was killed three weeks before she gave birth to the youngest. “They just need to feel that someone is looking after them.”
But barriers still exist to women who cover their heads. Many people who wear the hijab say they experience job discrimination. In public life, women in the army have complained of being harassed if they cover their heads, and there was a heated public argument several years ago about whether hijabi women should be allowed to serve in the judiciary. Several now do.
Part of Bosnia’s Islamic revival has been encouraged by Saudi and Turkish funds that financed the reconstruction of the country after the war destroyed some of its most famous religious monuments, along with much of its infrastructure. In Sarajevo, the soaring King Fahd Mosque, the largest in the country, was built in 2000 with Saudi support, and weekend prayers draw crowds of conservative faithful.
Extremist enclaves at Bosnia’s fringes have caused problems within the country, including an October 2011 shooting attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo by a Serbian Muslim that wounded a local police officer. But the number of people linked to the extremist community is small, officials say, and not growing.
In the urban streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, where copper-domed Ottoman-era mosques have pierced the skyline with their minarets for centuries, hijabs have become more visible since the war, though they remain uncommon. More women wear them in rural areas such as Visoko. Full face veils are rare.
“During communism, you didn’t have educated women wearing the head scarf rising to positions of prominence,” said Djermana Seta, the head of the research at the NAHLA Center for Education and Research. Even now, Seta said, “the main sentiment is, ‘This is an uneducated, rural woman.’”
For that reason, many Bosnian Muslims hope that Babic’s election might help change attitudes about the hijab.
“People think that if you are covered, you’re stupid,” said Senada Spahovic, 46, who works as a cook at an Islamic boarding school just outside of Visoko and was wearing a silver-colored embroidered hijab one recent day.
“This is my shield on my head,” Spahovic said of her scarf. She started wearing it in 1995, after her husband was killed in Gorazde, her home town, which was besieged during the war.
One girl at the boarding school where Spahovic works said that Babic was a role model.
“She means something new here, not just for Bosnia but for Europe too,” said Sumejja Essidiri, 19, who was in a study hall of tittering girls, all wearing hijabs. “When we cover our heads we say, ‘Okay, I’m a Muslim and I’m open,’ ” she said.
Even many women who do not cover their heads have an increasingly laissez-faire approach to the topic.
“We are proud that she was elected,” said Jasmina Ismic, 60, a Visoko native with a stylish brown bob who, striking a pose, bragged that she had been Miss Yugoslavia in 1970. She also said that she ran into Babic at the mosque. “I have my style, she has hers,” she said.
Bosnian woman helped make rape a war crime
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
There were days when she prayed for a bullet to end her suffering. When she thought she was dying of a heart attack, she whispered "Thank you God."
A young judge, Nusreta Sivac was one of 37 women raped by guards at a concentration camp in Bosnia. They never discussed the nightly traumas — their pained glances were enough to communicate their suffering. She also witnessed murder and torture by Bosnian Serb guards — and was forced to clean blood from walls and floors of the interrogation room.
She told herself to memorize the names and faces of the tormentors so that one day she might bring them to justice.
Today, it's partly thanks to Sivac's efforts to gather testimony from women across Bosnia that rape has been categorized as a war crime under international law. Thirty people have been convicted at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague and another 30 cases are ongoing. She personally helped put the man who raped her repeatedly during her two months in captivity behind bars.
"Most of the strength I took from the idea that one day this evil would be over," she told The Associated Press this week ahead of International Women's Day on Friday.
The U.N. Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict said Sivac and other victims are helping to make sure wartime rapists pay for their crimes.
"The courage these women have shown coming forward and sharing their stories demonstrates the need to break the silence and stigma surrounding sexual violence in conflict," said Zainab Hawa Bangura. "These survivors are helping to end impunity by making sure perpetrators are brought to justice."
Bosnia's 1992-95 war was the bloodiest in the series of armed conflicts that erupted when the Yugoslav federation fell apart and its republics began declaring independence. It took over 100,000 lives and devastated the region. According to the UN, between 20,000 to 50,000 Bosnian women were raped — many in special rape camps — during the war that was fought between the new country's Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.
African conflicts have seen even more harrowing figures: Between 250,000 and 500,000 were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and hundreds of thousands more in conflicts in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sivac's ordeal started in the spring of 1992 when Bosnian Serbs took control over her native Prijedor, in the northwest of Bosnia and threw Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats in concentration camps. Alongside the women were 3,500 male prisoners, hundreds of whom were killed.
Sivac, a Muslim Bosniak, would start the day counting the bodies of the men who were tortured to death overnight. "Their bodies lay there in the grass in front of the building. Sometimes 20, sometimes 30 of them," she recalled outside the factory in Omarska where she was held for two months.
During the long days of forced labor in the camp's restaurant, the women listened to tortured prisoners screaming, calling for help and begging for mercy with voices that would become weaker until they went silent. Then the guards would force the women to clean the interrogation rooms, strewn with bloody pliers and batons. At night, guards would come to take the women away one by one — to rape.
Her captivity ended in August 1992 when a group of foreign journalists found the facility. The images of skeletal prisoners behind a fence and naked bodies beaten black and blue shocked the world and prompted an avalanche of reactions that forced the Serb leadership to release the prisoners.
Sivac's pre-war colleague from the Prijedor court, prosecutor Jadranka Cigelj, was also among the 37 Omarska women. The two escaped to neighboring Croatia, where they began collecting testimonies from hundreds of women who had been raped.
They spent years transcribing testimonies, convincing victims to break their silence and putting together legal dossiers which they then presented to the investigators at the International Tribunal for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague.
During this process, she said, "it became obvious how many women from all over Bosnia were affected. But I wasn't surprised by the big number."
For centuries, rape was considered a byproduct of wars — collateral damage suffered by women, horrors often overshadowed by massacres. Even though the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibited wartime rape, no court ever raised charges until Sivac and Cigelj presented their overwhelming evidence.
The effort finally paid off in June 1995 when the two traveled to The Hague to take part in preparations for the first indictment by the Yugoslav war crimes court.
Their collected evidence exposed the magnitude of rape which courts could no longer ignore. According to the United Nations, it was a major "turning point" in recognizing rape as a war crime.
Sivac remembers the sunny July day the two realized their work would be soon rewarded.
They enjoyed a coffee in an outdoor cafe in The Hague and wrote a few postcards back to their torturers in Prijedor.
"Dear Friends," they wrote. "We hope you will soon join us in this wonderful city."
A year later, the tribunal indicted eight Bosnian Serb men for sexual assault in eastern Bosnia — a verdict based on testimonies collected by Sivac and Cigelj.
It was the first time in history that an international tribunal charged someone solely for crimes of sexual violence.
Nerma Jelacic, spokeswoman for the Yugoslav war crimes court, recalls the "shocking" testimony in subsequent cases where some victims were as young as 12.
"We had cases where both mother and daughter came to testify and both were subjected to same kind of torture and kind of crimes," she told AP.
Sivac who has since testified in several cases, including against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, is satisfied with what she has achieved, although she wishes the ongoing cases would accelerate. "It's slow, very slow," she said. "But it is a start."
One of the Omarska guards she testified against was released in 2005 after he served two-thirds of his seven-year sentence.
Sivac ran into him on the street one day in Bosnia.
"We stared at each other," she said. "He was the first one to lower his head."
The boy who watched a genocide: War crimes witness weeps as he describes day home was destroyed, neighbours burned alive and dog shot when he was just 14
Elvedin Pasic fled from village when Bosnian Serb troops attacked in 1992
Witness was 14 at the time and spent months wandering with his mother
On his return he discovered many of his friends had been killed
Mladic has been indicted for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the Balkans war
By PHIL VINTER
PUBLISHED: 17:45, 9 July 2012 | UPDATED: 08:29, 10 July 2012
A microcosm of Bosnia
Mar 18th 2013, 18:01 by T.J. | GORAZD
Bosnian Muslim Senad Hadzic walks to Mecca via Syria
26 October 2012 Last updated at 11:47
A Bosnian Muslim man has walked 5,650km (3,503 miles) to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and says God kept him safe in war-torn Syria.
Senad Hadzic, 47, told the BBC that he spent several hours at the Syrian border haggling to get a visa.
Later he had to negotiate his way through numerous checkpoints - some manned by the army, others by rebels.
"Some of them even kissed the Koran I was carrying," he said, adding that he also had a Bible in his backpack.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam - a duty that Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lifetime.
Mr Hadzic set off from a town near the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and his first ordeal was to brave minus 35C cold in Bulgaria last December, says the BBC's Dan Damon.
"There wasn't a single easy day, every day has been difficult. But at the same time it's been exciting," he said.
Continue reading the main story
I walked across seven countries, two deserts, 5,650 kilometres, without money”
Once he had got a Syrian visa, he said, an officer in President Bashar al-Assad's army "asked me to pray for him in Mecca, if I managed to get out of Syria alive".
"The road between the border, where I entered, and the city of Aleppo was full of huge stones. The rebels had thrown the stones to make it impossible for cars and buses to move. People with families simply had to get out of their cars."
He said having a Syrian visa "means nothing - a rebel fighter can walk out of a cornfield and demand your passport".
"No-one shot at me. I was stopped by armed people who inspected my passport. But when I said I was on the road to God, both the rebels and the army of President Assad let me continue."
Mr Hadzic said he carried both the Koran and the Bible "because I'm very religious".
"If I didn't believe that God was with me, the he was protecting me and guiding me, I wouldn't have even reached Bulgaria, let alone Mecca.
"I walked across seven countries, two deserts, 5,650 kilometres, without money, only with a rucksack weighing 20 kilograms," he told the World Update programme on BBC World Service.
If Muslims Stop Drinking Will They Become Violent? Thank God newspapers are dying
By HAROON MOGHUL
March 11, 2013
If the Washington Post’s deceptively titled article, ‘Rise of a Bosnian Mayor With Headscarf Challenging Assumptions about Islam,’ is the best our major media can do, then perhaps it’s good they’re dying. The title’s half the length of a tweet and it happens to do everything but challenge assumptions about Islam.
It shouldn’t be hard to make this one of those feel-good, informative, on-the-ground, we-get-you-a-perspective-no-one-else-can-because-we’re-the Washington Post stories. Instead it reads: “A woman wearing hijab must mean Islam is taking over Europe. Because hijab, and alcohol.” Put in similarly brief terms: “Article with really long title that refers to a woman as ‘mayor with a headscarf’ unsurprisingly recycles assumptions about Islam.”
Now, you might ask, what assumptions?
Frequently, people assume that Muslim terrorists, because they sometimes defend their actions in the name of Islam, are just very religious Muslims. In this conception, there’s a continuum between the areligious who are tolerant and peaceful, and the devoutly religious, who are never far from being a murderous zombie, which is the implication of the author’s opening line linking moderation and alcohol consumption: “For years, Bosnian Muslims embraced a form of religion so moderate that many capped dinners during the holy month of Ramadan with an alcoholic drink.”
To the contrary, Gallup researchers have found that the more likely a Muslim is to practice Islam as a religion, the less likely she is to support, condone, or accept attacks against civilians and other forms of violence. (There are other correlations that may upset our conventional stereotypes: For American Muslims, the more likely you are to attend a mosque, the more likely you are to vote—and vote Democrat. So much for religion being the property of the right.)
This particular piece is by no means the most egregious offender, it’s merely the latest and appears in one of the most well-respected newspapers. The truth is, these same assumptions can be found in numerous papers, periodicals, and of course on TV. Nonetheless, for an article to note an increase in the observance of Islam and to link that to the danger of extremism is to fly in the face of the only real, rigorous evidence we have, without presenting any reasons why we should fear extremism, except common biases. Namely, headscarves are a sign of “oppression,” and the only reason Muslim women veil is because they are forced to. The evidence in many European societies, such as France, suggests otherwise.
And while certainly there are extremists who believe their vile actions are justified by Islam, this is not what the majority of Muslims believe. Further, these assumptions handicap us because they mislead us about extremism’s origins. Rather than blame political causes, which are potentially solvable, we are pushed to see this violence as emerging out of religion and therefore incapable of solution.
When you ascribe the enemy “irrationality,” you absolve yourself of the need to try to understand. Ten years on from the Iraq War, have we learned so little?
Not only does the piece peddle common fears with precious little evidence (other than headscarves here and there, and crowded mosques on weekends), it’s also offensive. To visit a place where people were slaughtered by the tens of thousands and to make no mention of this when they were attacked for no other reason than their religion, and then to make an ungrounded link to that religion and violence, is to overlook genocide. To make light of it.
To focus on a non-threat when there were other, far realer threats. It is, in fact, to legitimate the rhetoric of those who attacked Muslims in Bosnia who saw any evidence of Islamic practice as a ghostly premonition that could be preemptively stamped out. Considering what we did ten years ago on the notion of hitting before being hit, with no evidence whatsoever except a sustained public relations campaign to frighten Americans, this is a bad idea.
For people who claim that only religion makes people intolerant, consider the suffocating intolerance this article is laced with. Instead, the author references how “moderate” Bosnian Islam used to be by noting that Bosnians would drink after breaking the daily Ramadan fast. New rule: Define certain key words—‘moderate,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘liberal.’ Notice the correlation: If Bosnians drink less, that must mean they’re on the road to terrorism and extremism.
Even where some evidence is presented, such as the presence of foreign Muslim fighters, this is taken entirely out of context. First because there was, you know, a freaking genocide. Second, Darryl Li has studied Bosnia and mujahideen (a.k.a. “jihadis”) in Bosnia for some time now; his work will be of benefit to anyone writing on the topic. An actual expert in the field, Li’s revealed how much of this claim of jihadism all across Bosnia is hyperbole and even fearmongering—stereotyping standing in for evidence.
What these kinds of articles reveal is the degree of bias that remains, so swollen with stereotype that a Bosnian woman’s choice to wear the headscarf is suggestive of “Islamic extremism” in Bosnia. In fact, the amount of “Islamic extremism” in Bosnia is quite low, especially as they just went through genocide. What the article is pointing to instead is the predictable effect of emergence from Communism.
Bosnians were allowed to practice their faith openly and proudly only after Communism; however, immediately after Communism, the war over Bosnia plunged the country into years of horrific bloodshed. Only recently, as it has cobbled itself together again, can Bosnians live in peace and begin to explore their religious heritage. This is in no way different from how Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians explored their heritage—religious and otherwise—after Communism.
But we do not see rising interest in Christianity as correlative of extremism, because we are okay with Christian religiosity. (Should Bosnians not fear that, since they were killed in the name of twisted religio-nationalist narratives? Only if they fall prey to the same crude stereotyping.) The reason we’re not okay with Muslim religiosity is because we have been led to assume that terrorism comes out of religiosity, when in fact it comes out of the manipulation of religious sentiments to advance a political agenda.
Terrorists may or may not be personally religious. Indeed, the evidence suggests they are uninterested in religiosity, except as identity, and only then, as an oppositional identity. We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, a fraudulent conflict that was sold to the public by a right-wing, openly religious American president. Yet he was opposed in his decision by many people of faith (just as there were people of no faith on either side, from Christopher Hitchens’ cheerleading of war against Muslims to far-left anti-war activists who felt no affiliation with organized religion.)
But this kind of nuance is missing entirely. The war itself is missing! What we are seeing instead are fragments, united by a misleading narrative—religion is extremism, or the first step toward it. Indeed, the only mention of the Bosnian genocide describes it as: “...the bloody war that pitted Muslims here against their Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic neighbors...” That’s probably the silliest description of the war I’ve ever read. How’s this for World War II: “the bloody war that pitted Jews in Europe against their German neighbors”?
That sentence is so hideous I felt disgusted just typing it, and I was typing it as a thought experiment. In fact just replace “Bosnian” with any victim of genocide, at almost any part of the article, and you’ll see what I mean. We’re given an Orientalist smorgasbord of stock imagery—“Islam was introduced by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror” (and how was Christianity introduced to the Balkans?); “minarets pierce the skyline”; “Saudi and Turkish funds” support mosques that are crowded on the weekends—all of which causes us to miss the point.
Where is the extremism we’re supposed to be afraid of? Is it simply a woman wearing a headscarf who’s elected and appears to be a competent leader? And if that’s the case, why are we so afraid of Muslim expressions of religiosity? In any case, it’s become clear why our major media fell into line with the Iraq War as quickly as they did.