While much of the media covers the extradition of former Bosnian Serb General, Ratko Mladic, to The Hague, on war crimes charges, it is worth spending a few moments to reflect on how the tragedy in Bosnia impacted UK Muslims.
Back in 1992, I used to run a little Muslim study circle in Ilford and remember being asked by one of my students whether European countries would allow Muslims in the newly declared Bosnian state to be massacred by the Serbs. ‘No, not in Europe,’ I replied, naively and stupidly.
Over the next three years, we watched aghast and horrified as tragedy after tragedy unfurled in Bosnia. It is difficult to overstate the huge impact those events had on UK Muslims on so many different levels. As we all wondered how best to help Bosnian Muslims in the face of so much blatant injustice, we were treated to the sickening sight of the world imposing an arms embargo on all sides in the Bosnian conflict. This had the effect of strengthening the position of the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs who could look upon the neighboring republics of Croatia and Serbia to arm and support them, while leaving the Bosnian Muslims defenceless. I particularly remember that Tory bastard, Lord Hurd, arguing repeatedly why it was right not to intervene in Bosnia.
A number of UK Muslim organisations sprung up to help raise money (and implicitly help provide arms) for the Bosnians. I remember meeting one man during a demonstration outside the Yugoslav Embassy (or Serbian – I can’t remember anymore) who went on several trips to Bosnia to deliver aid. I next saw him in a short news item in the Muslim News. The man had been martyred in Bosnia.
For many young Muslims, fundraising was not enough. The daily scenes of slaughter in Bosnia meant that coming to the aid of the Bosnians was a jihad. A number of times I heard the argument made: what was the point of fattening up the Bosnians if they were going to be killed by the Serbs? No, it was necessary to fight back. There was no alternative. This was a jihad. A jihad, here in Europe itself. It was the highest level of faith – to be willing to give up your own life to try and save others from such injustice. The disgraceful failure of the politicians to halt the Serbian war machine meant that such cogent arguments would win over many young Muslims.
I recall Dr Kalim Siddiqui publicly setting up a register during a meeting of the ‘Muslim Parliament’ for volunteers to go and fight in Bosnia. It was, in retrospect, a media stunt, but nevertheless, quite a few UK Muslims did go through other channels. And who is to say that they were wrong to do so?
Added note: I had to go and play squash and so ended the above a bit prematurely. I just wanted to add an additional bit about how the Bosnia tragedy also led to a marked disillusionment with many established Islamic organisations. A number of young Muslims I knew were appalled at what they saw as the lack of moral leadership from these organisations. I recall one very well-known Deobandi scholar from Leicester making a speech in our local mosque in Ilford at the time. Do you want to know what he talked about? Was it how young Muslims should respond to the inhumanity they were witnessing? No, it was about what one should do if a tiny bit of urine dropped onto one’s trousers while going to the bathroom. And also what to do in the cataclysmic event of the urine drop spreading to the size of a 50 pence piece. Just unbelievable – but all too true.