"Our goal: the Islamization of Muslims. Our methods: to believe and to struggle."-Alija
Izetbegovic, "Islamic Declaration," 1970
Alija, O' honored! You drive America crazy!" ÐLine from Arabic poetry sung by foreign mujahideen during Bosnian war
Last week, Alija Izetbegovic announced his decision to step down as president of Bosnia. The man Bosnians affectionately call
"Deedo," or Grandpa, will leave office in October. In a speech announcing his resignation, Izetbegovic cited health problems as the main reason for his decision-but tellingly, he added, "The international community is pushing things forward in Bosnia...but it is doing it at expense of the Muslim people. I feel it as an injustice," he said.
"These are the things that I cannot live with."
Izetbegovic's resignation is an event upon which Muslims around the world should reflect. He is one of the few Muslim political leaders of our time who demonstrates real love for Islam, and his career contains lessons in the way the West views Muslims in Europe and deals with Islamic movements in power.
"Do we want the Muslim people to leave their going-around-in-circles, their dependence, backwardness, and poverty?" Izetbegovic once wrote,
"Then we show clearly which path will take us to that goal: establishing Islam in every field in the personal life of the individual, in family and societyÉand the establishment of a unique Islamic community from Morocco to Indonesia."
For Izetbegovic, these were not just words; they were a plan of action that he acted upon his entire life.
In 1940, at the age of 16 he co-founded the Young Muslims, a religious and political group modeled on Egypt's Ikhwan al-Muslimeen. Six years later he and his friend Nedzib Sacirbey were jailed by the communist government of Yugoslavia for helping publish the journal
"Mujahid." After their release, the Communists again cracked down on the young Muslims and in 1949 sentenced four members to death and jailed many more for their Islamic activism. In 1983 Izetbegovic was arrested again for disseminating
"Islamic propaganda" and sentenced to 14 years in prison and was released in 1988.
It would seem unthinkable that such a man would ever become president of a European country. But in 1990, Izetbegovic was elected president of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the eve of that country's descent into a David-and-Goliath war with Yugoslavia and Croatia. Instead of packing up his family and fleeing his country as it was overrun, as the leaders of one Persian Gulf nation recently did, he stayed to lead his people throughout the war from his sandbagged office and his modest apartment. In doing so, he became for the world the face of the Bosnian people's struggle for survival in the face of genocide.
Izetbegovic led an army that managed to beat back vastly superior Croatian and Serbian forces. But he leaves another crucial legacy: for Bosnians, he took the shame out of being a Muslim. In Yugoslavia, regular visits to the mosque meant being snubbed for jobs in the Communist Party-controlled economy. Islam was demonized in history books, and practicing Muslim students could expect vastly lower grades regardless of how much they studied. Even the Arabic and Turkish words and expressions that enrich the Bosnian language were systematically removed and derided as
But "Alija Izetbegovic succeeded in organizing Muslims as a nation in Bosnia," Dr. Zuhdija Adilovic, a professor at the Islamic Pedagogic Academy in Zenica, told iviews.com in an interview.
"This was the first time that Muslims had come to power in Bosnia."
With that power, the president embarked on a policy of reaffirmation of Bosnians' cultural identity. Today, children study their religion in public schools. Government employees, businessmen, soldiers, and university students can openly practice Islam with a sense of dignity. A worshipper in one of Sarajevo's packed mosques today might find a street sweeper praying on his left side and the city's mayor praying on his right.
Izetbegovic's unapologetic approach to his religion and his political power made the West uneasy. Amid warnings of a
"fundamentalists Islamic state" in Europe, America and the EU stood by for three years facilitating the genocide of the Bosnian Muslim people. In 1995, when Islamic brigades of the Bosnian army launched a massive assault on Serb forces and seized thirty percent of Serb-controlled territory in a few days, it dawned on the West that Muslims might actually be victorious. America and Europe suddenly demanded peace.
"peace plan" drawn up and imposed by the United States and enforced by NATO military occupation rewarded Serbs with their own state on half of Bosnia's territory, while Croats received another twenty-five percent. The US plan left Muslims, which make up approximately half of Bosnia's population, quarantined and landlocked on one quarter of their country.
The US peace plan imposed a system of government on Bosnia that guarantees perpetual economic and political stagnation and weakens Muslim politica