Sunday, August 17, 2008

Huntington's Clash of Civilizations & the Balkans

Huntington is of the opinion that Civilizations should not meddle in other Civilizations Fault Line Wars. We should have stayed out of the Balkans, for example. (As support for that view many experts are claiming that Georgia is Russia’s “tit” for the America’s Balkan “tat”) On page 290 Huntington writes, “American policy remained stubbornly committed to a multiethnic Bosnia despite the fact that the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Croats overwhelmingly rejected it. . . American idealism, moralism, humanitarian instincts, naivete, and ignorance concerning the Balkans thus led them to be pro-Bosnian and anti-Serb.” We not only didn’t know where our best interests lay, we were dangerously meddling in someone else’s garden. We have got, Huntington argues, to learn not to do that. He paints a grim scenario in which China moves against Vietnam and Vietnam call for U.S. help which we give, meddling in the Sinic Garden, resulting in all sorts of catastrophic consequences. He goes on for several pages in Tom Clancy fashion.

But should we have “meddled” in the Balkans. The Serbs and the Croats didn’t appreciate it. Our newspapers described our efforts as being humanitarian, but the Arab newspapers, apparently without exception, described our efforts as Machiavellian and diabolical. Huntington seems to have been right. We shouldn’t have taken our naïveté into someone else’s garden.

But then in one of the issues of the Middle East Quarterly I noticed the article “The Arab Betrayal of Balkan Islam” by Stephen Schwartz. Schwartz is described as a “long-term resident of the Balkans” and the author of Kosovo: Background to a War (Anthem, 2001) and the Two Faces of Islam.

Schwartz writes, “In the wake of the atrocities of September 11, many American and other Western commentators have asked a perplexing question. They point out that the aim of the last three wars fought by the United States and its allies was to rescue Muslim or Muslim-majority peoples from aggression. Thus, the Kuwait war of 1991 saved Kuwait from Iraqi invasion. The 1995 intervention in Bosnia-Hercegovina halted Serbian attacks in which some 200,000 people, the majority of them Muslims, were killed, and thousands of more people were raped, tortured, and driven from their homes. And the 1999 bombing of Serbia prevented the expulsion from Kosovo of two million ethnic Albanians, of whom at least 80 percent were Muslims.

“Why then, the commentators ask, should so many Arab Muslims hate America? Have they forgotten these acts? A disregard among certain Arabs for U.S. protection of the Kuwaiti rulers, and by extension the Saudi monarchy, is perhaps understandable. Even pious Muslims among the Arabs were known to have admired Saddam Husain or to think that his invasion of Kuwait paled in comparison with Saudi corruption. But don’t Arab Muslims care that the United States saved the Balkan Muslims and Albanians from extermination or exile? Wasn’t the Balkans a clear-cut case of massive U.S. military and humanitarian intervention on behalf of Muslims in distress?

“Yet it is a fact that no credit was given where credit was due. Fouad Ajami confirmed the point in an interview with The Washington Post: “Ajami asked why . . . no Arab or Muslim leader has given the United States thanks or credit for taking military risks on behalf of two Muslim populations in Europe: The Bosnians and Kosovars. ‘I have heard no one acknowledge any gratitude for that . . . It’s a mystery.” [The Washington Post, Oct 15, 2001] “The Mystery seems to deepen when one hears or reads what many Arabs have said about U.S. intervention. These Arab assessments tend to be overwhelmingly negative. . . .”

Schwartz writes that Arab misrepresentations of the U.S. role in the Balkans depended on the ignorance of the Arab audience. Furthermore this misrepresentation was peculiar to the Arab Muslims. “Turks, for example, know better. The Turkish journalist (and former diplomat) Gunduz Aktan provided a typical Turkish assessment of the U.S. role in the Balkan wars, in the midst of the Afghan bombing: “The United States, [after] it could not convince our European friends, stopped the Serbian aggressions with a military intervention in Bosnia-Hercegovina . . . the forces of the United States constituted 90 percent of the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] forces which brought Yugoslavia to heel, after it [repressed] the Kosavar Albanians and [sought to expel them]; and it is observed that the United States also played an important role in the recognition of extensive rights for the Albanians in Macedonia.”

“Even more telling was the pro-American position taken by many Balkan Muslims as the ‘war on terror’ unfolded. . . . The Islamic leaders in Albanian-speaking territories, including Kosovo an Western Macedonia, were even more outspoken in support o the United States. The day after the September 11 attacks, Haxhi Dede Reshat Bardhim, world leader of the Bektashi sect, which is headquartered in Tirana and has at least two million Albanian adherents, sent a message to President George W. Bush referring to America as ‘the pride of this world’ and declaring, ‘May Allah be, as always, on the side of the American people and the American state!’”

“. . . There was nothing surprising about the enthusiasm for U.S. global leadership expressed by Albanian Muslims. They know the lengths to which the United States has gone to protect them and other Balkan Muslims. The resentments they harbor over betrayal by false friends are directed not against America but against the Arabs, who either sided with Milosevic or treated Balkan Muslims with supreme condescension.

“As someone who has lived in Sarajevo, I have been struck by the hostile attitudes of Muslim politicians and intellectuals toward Arab states. They are bitter that these states watched passively as thousands of indigenous European Muslims were slain in the Balkans, offering no assistance aside from press releases, aid donations, and religious propaganda. . . .”

“There can be no doubt that Milosevic found many bedfellows among radical Arab states and movements, which rallied to his defense during the NATO operations against him. Iraq and Libya both described the NATO action in Kosovo as anti-Yugoslav aggression, while Syria and Lebanon registered no reaction to events there. . . . Many Palestinians also nurtured a similar sympathy for Milosevic. What may be considered the most surrealistic gesture during the entire decade of recent Balkan wars occurred six months after NATO’s bombing of Serbia: on December 1, 1999, the Palestinian Authority (PA) invited Milosevic to Bethlehem to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas. . . . Earlier in 1999, the Palestinian Islamic extremist Hamas movement issued a statement, denouncing U.S. intervention to settle the Kosovo crisis as ‘hiding under the slogans of human rights to impose its power in the Balkans.’ Hamas thus echoed the allegations of Milosevic’s own media, as well as the Russians and various leftist worldwide.”

“In sum, while the rest of the world regarded the sufferings of Bosnian Muslims and Albanians as heart-rending and the basis of a great moral challenge to global policy makers, Arab states and Islamic extremists took a different view. They seemed to regard ethnic cleansing in the Balkans as secondary to their own complaints against the West and Israel and as some sort of conspiracy of the West to infiltrate the Balkans. But their posture cannot be explained only by their obsession with Israel and their anti-Americanism. It owed much to the views of Wahhabi clerics who dominate religious life in Saudi Arabia and strongly influence it throughout the Arab states. Arab indifference to the fate of Balkan Muslims cannot be understood without an appreciation of Wahhabi ambivalence toward Balkan Islam – a very acute clash within Islamic civilization.

“It would be difficult to imagine Muslims less attuned to the nuances of the Balkans than Wahhabis of the Saudi school They abhor the very concept of mixed Islamic and non-Islamic societies such as exist throughout the Balkans. . . .”

“. . . the mujahideen were largely Saudi adventurers who loved war; the Bosnians were typical Europeans who had come to hate war after their experience of Fascist occupation and partisan struggle in World War II. When Bosnians fought, it was for their country, not for God or the opportunity for martyrdom. When the Bosnian war ended in 1995, no Bosnians followed the mujahideen to Battle in Chechnya or Central Asia. . . . the Bosnian Muslim community remained essentially impervious to puritan Wahhabism, a situation that prevails today.

“In Kosovo, Wahhabism encountered far greater difficulties. The main reason is that Shi’ite-oriented Sufism – a double abomination in Wahhabi eyes – is the dominant form of religious expression among Albanian Muslims in Dukagjini (Metohija), the territory most distinguished by its history of anti-Serb resistance. . . .”

“Kosovars have made it clear they will not suffer the imposition of a foreign and extreme form of Islam, now tainted by its association with terrorism. This is a victory for moderation and a great asset for the United States in its future approaches to the Muslim world.

“During the Afghan war, various Arab and other Muslims declared the United States was really waging war against Islam and that it even had a master plan to undermine Islam. Some Americans agonized that they had not done enough to placate Muslim opinion and that U.S. policy was to blame for September 11.

“The argument was nonsensical. The United States had used its power repeatedly in the 1990s on behalf of besieged Muslims, who are grateful for its intervention to this day. Those who charged the United States with being intrinsically hostile to Islam displayed a willful ignorance of recent history – so willful that it is doubtful the United States could ever do anything to persuade them otherwise. The United States has every reason to be proud of its record of solicitude for Muslims who have been persecuted for their ethnic and religious identity. It has no reason to apologize for its refusal to kowtow to Arab radicals like Saddam Husayn, or to indulge a Palestinian leadership that abandoned diplomacy in order to foment Balkan-style chaos in the Middle East.

“Yet the United States has not acknowledge the goodwill it did create in the Balkans. As it looks forward to the next stages in the ‘war on terror,’ it would do well to make the most of the solidarity shown by Balkan Muslims generally, and Albanians in particular. The answer to Usama bin Ladin is not the kind of Islam practiced in the Arab world, with its strong streak of intolerance for difference. It is certainly not a version of Wahhabism as exported by Saudi Arabia – a doctrine that is infected with the germ of terrorist extremism. It is the sort of tolerant Islam that is practiced in the Balkans, and whose practitioners today feel themselves closer to the United States than to their benighted Arab ‘brethren.’ This is an asset the United States would do well to nurture and employ. In the post-September 11 world, you never know when you might need a few good Muslims.”

If I were totally convinced by the realpolitik of Huntington I might be inclined to think we ought not to have meddled in the Balkans, but Schwartz provides a very different view. Should we abandon our moral convictions for realpolitik? We did that during the Cold War and it wasn’t a very good fit with our traditional view of ourselves. And who knows, we might one day “need a few good Muslims.” How about it, Hajji. Are you available?

Lawrence Helm

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