In This Review

Islam and Bosnia: Conflict Resolution and Foreign Policy in Multi-Ethnic States
Islam and Bosnia: Conflict Resolution and Foreign Policy in Multi-Ethnic States
Edited by Maya Shatzmiller
McGill-Queens University Press, 2002, 220 pp

At a time when many people are asking serious questions about foreign policy's role in dealing with Islam, they should remember that the United States intervened, albeit belatedly, to rescue European Muslims in the Balkans from the forces of aggressive nationalism that were determined to eradicate their 500-year history. Keenly aware of the dangers of radical ethnocentricity, Shatzmiller has collected essays from diplomats, political scientists, historians, cultural specialists, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a literary scholar. From their varying perspectives, a devastating picture emerges of the West's initial failure to examine the divergent motivations of the conflict's main players, favoring instead solutions based on the inaccurate assessment of moral equivalency. Authors such as Tone Bringa, John Fine, and Michael Sells leave no room for doubt regarding the multiethnic history of Bosnia. They show that although the region experienced its share of conflicts, its residents -- whether Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic, or Jewish -- had generally lived in harmony throughout the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian eras. Perhaps the book's central piece, however, is Andras Riedlmayer's impressive documentation of the destruction of Bosnia's cultural heritage, including more than 1,000 mosques. Such architectural gems as the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka and the Aladza Mosque in Foca were destroyed in an attempt to create the impression that Muslims had never inhabited these cities.

Islam and Bosnia also strikes an ominous note. After the Bosnian war, aid agencies did not put restoration of Islamic sites high on the list of necessary activities. The vacuum thus created opened the way for Saudi Wahhabis to embark on a propaganda effort to impose their stark vision on a sophisticated European society in which a tolerant understanding of Islam had flourished for half a millennium.