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Ed Webb

Is This Saudi Arabia's Laboratory for Religious Influence in Europe? | Fast Forward | OZY - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s increasing influence in the southeastern European nation that’s sparking a debate over whether Riyadh is attempting to reshape the country’s traditionally liberal Islam with its own ultraconservative Wahhabi version. It’s a charge Saudi Arabia has faced in the past in Asia and Africa. Is Bosnia and Herzegovina, beset by weak state institutions, a struggling economy and a history of foreign influence, now emerging as Saudi Arabia’s laboratory for religious influence in Europe?
  • In just 2017, Riyadh invested $22 million in Bosnia — a significant figure in a country with a GDP of $20 billion. From Sarajevo’s two biggest shopping malls — the Sarajevo City Center and BBI — to Poljine Hills, a luxury apartment complex on the outskirts of the capital where house prices go up to $555,000, Saudi Arabia is behind some of the biggest infrastructure projects today dotting the Bosnian landscape. Both malls come with strict rules about not serving alcohol or pork products.
  • Bosnia, which has the world’s highest youth unemployment rate — 55.5 percent, according to the World Bank
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  • 27 percent of Bosnian respondents said they had a “mostly negative” opinion of the Saudi role in their nation. Only 10 percent had a “mostly positive” view of Riyadh’s influence. The numbers for Saudi Arabia are worse than Bosnian perceptions of influence from the U.S., Russia and Turkey — the other foreign countries respondents were asked about.
  • the growing flow of tourists to Bosnia suggests an increasingly organic interest from Saudi Arabian citizens — and not a state-sponsored plan. In Europe, only Albania and Kosovo have a higher percentage of Muslims in their population — 50 percent of Bosnians are Muslim. “The Saudis find Bosnia cheap, culturally close and not too far to the sea,” says Sarajevo-based researcher and writer Harun Karčić. “The idea that they spread radical Islam between sightseeing, shopping and partying is ridiculous.”
  • During the war in the 1990s, thousands of foreign mujahedeen came to Bosnia to fight (and some stayed) against Croatia- and Serbia-backed rebels. Several Bosnian Muslims went to study in Saudi Arabia. Even then, though, Bosnia took steps to shield itself from extremist influences — including from supposed friends in the war, such as Saudi Arabia. It banned a Saudi charity organization accused of spreading terrorist propaganda.
  • Around 300 Bosnians had joined the ranks of foreign fighters for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, among the highest per capita rates from any nation. Now, many of them have indicated they want to return, and Bosnia is grappling with the question of what to do with those former fighters.
  • “There has clearly been a conservative turn among Bosnian Muslims,” says Jasmin Mujanović, a Bosnian political scientist. “But it is rather connected to the country’s poor economic situation and postwar trauma from the genocide than to the Middle East.”
  • A 2018 report by the Sarajevo-based research organization Atlantic Initiative found that only 2.5 percent of Bosnian Muslims supported their compatriots traveling to the Middle East to fight there — five times less than the number of Bosnian Serbs who support Bosnians fighting in Ukraine.
  • the nation hasn’t seen a single major terrorist attack
  • some experts caution that fears of a perceived Islamic threat could be used by Serb and Croat nationalists in Bosnia and politicians in Serbia and Croatia to interfere in Bosnian affairs again. “The 1990s are not a remote past,” says Bećirević. “I remember well how a similar narrative of ’defense against the Islamic threat’ served to justify genocide.”
Ed Webb

What Went Wrong With France's Deradicalization Program? - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • When Vallat returned to France in 1994, he began visiting a Salafi mosque his GIA friends had recommended. Salafism, an ultraconservative, fundamentalist strain of Islam that aspires to emulate the Prophet Mohammed and return to the religion’s supposed original ways, has been known to breed jihadists. At the mosque, he was told that modern-day Islam was a domesticated product of colonization, and that true Islam was that of combatants, of sacrifice, of blood. Anyone opposing the jihadists must be annihilated, he was told. He read the Koran and began learning Arabic.
  • he began visiting a Salafi mosque his GIA friends had recommended. Salafism, an ultraconservative, fundamentalist strain of Islam that aspires to emulate the Prophet Mohammed and return to the religion’s supposed original ways, has been known to breed jihadists. At the mosque, he was told that modern-day Islam was a domesticated product of colonization, and that true Islam was that of combatants, of sacrifice, of blood. Anyone opposing the jihadists must be annihilated
  • After a few months, the residents were eating non-halal food. Residents also received a rigorous training in French nationalism: They were asked to wear uniforms and sing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem, each morning.But deradicalization is a murky, unsettled science. A debate soon broke out among experts over how best to implement the program. Could radicalized youth be “cured” psychologically? Or was radicalization a structural problem, caused by inequality and segregation? What, for that matter, did it even mean to be radicalized?
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  • Reading Machiavelli and Rousseau gave him a new political idea—what he later referred to as the “gift of humanism,” where the potential for human goodness is regarded as a more important force than anything divine.  “I started to understand that all humans … can make a choice to believe in God,” Vallat, now 45, told me when we met at a sun-soaked café in central Lyon. “We can decide what we want, and the majority of our choices can be made to benefit us here on earth. Really, it shocked me.”
  • Though Vallat comes from an older generation of jihad, he insisted that radicalization remains much the same today. And the problem is worsening: some 350 “Islamic terrorists” currently sit in French prisons; another 5,800 are under police surveillance, and an additional 17,000 have been classified as a potential threat
  • The plan was to open an experimental “Center for Prevention, Integration, and Citizenship.” Radicalized men and women who’d been flagged by local prefectures for exhibiting withdrawn behavior were invited to voluntarily enter a program to “develop critical minds and appropriate citizenship and republican values,” according to its charter. If it went well, the government would open 12 more centers—one in each of France’s 13 districts.
  • Residents, who were aged between 18 and 30 and came from all over France, received lessons in French history, philosophy, literature, media, and religion, all with the goal of teaching them to “muscle their intellectual immune systems,” as Gerald Bronner, a French sociologist who worked at the center in Pontourny, put it. They also participated in daily therapy, art, and music classes. Group conversations centered on democracy, religion and laïcité, the French concept dating back to 1905 that calls for the separation of religion from politics.
  • Working as a junior al-Qaeda operative, he prepared to return to Bosnia as an arms dealer and die for Allah “like the Americans in Normandy.” But on August 29th, 1995, just a month after a bomb exploded inside a Paris metro killing eight and injuring 100, French authorities raided the cell and arrested Vallat. They were so surprised to find a French native that his mother was asked to confirm that he was not an undocumented Algerian.
  • Part of the difficulty, though, is in creating a program that avoids falsely categorizing Muslims who are conservative but not radicalized. While French intelligence monitors mosques, neighborhoods, and online activities, often there’s no way to tell if someone has fully committed to jihad until it’s too late.
  • “Radicalization” is subjective; it’s not like being ill or suffering from addiction. The idea that someone can possess the “wrong” radical ideology presumes there’s some “right” corpus of values. The CIPDR claimed to be addressing this problem by using the term “disengagement” instead of deradicalization. “Deradicalization means that we are going to withdraw the beliefs of a spirit,” Bronner wrote in an email. “This is not really the objective of the center; everyone has the right to believe what he wants. Rather, we want to help these radicalized young people make a declaration of mental independence to better control certain processes of deceptive reasoning such as conspiracy theories.”
  • “It’s a stupid idea to take young people from their homes. The problem is you need to re-socialize these people, not make them a bourgeois model.”
  • to Boukhobza, the “full-frontal” approach of “flag raising in the morning, courses in secularism, etc.,” was too aggressively nationalistic. “They’ve built a program in total opposition to the particular mental universe of the individuals. I don’t think it’s the right solution. Rather, they should propose not a counter-truth but something that can coexist.”
  • Is someone who rejects principles of laïcité inherently radical, even if they aren’t violent?
  • Even Vallat, still a practicing Muslim with a wife and daughter, doesn’t have an answer. “There always remains something of the pathway created from radicalization,” he wrote me later over email. “For example, I never go into a protected place without immediately imagining how to take it by storm. When I see a group of soldiers or policemen on the street, I cannot help but think how I’d neutralize them. I know today I will never do it, but this regard (or “outlook”) persists.”
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