Monday, August 29, 2005

Under our noses

During the 1990s, many people relished the fact that there hadn't been such a peaceful decade in... well, decades. In the aftermath of 9/11, it was clear that under the surface, there was already a lot of trouble brewing during the 90s which simply went unnoticed -- or misunderstood -- at the time. Mostly, this reassessment focused on goings on in the Arab world and in Western Europe, where a second generation of Muslim immigrants was quietly stewing.
It seems, however, that we've really only just began to rethink the decade. The Spectator, for example, is running a very interesting article about the effect the wars in the Balkans played in the radicalisation of a whole generation of Muslims. To cut to the chase,
Though underdiscussed, the mujahedin’s movement to Bosnia had a transformative effect on the holy warriors and was key to the development of al-Qa’eda. In moving to Bosnia, Islamic fighters were transported from the ghettos of Afghanistan into Europe, from being yesterday’s men in a has-been Cold War clash to fighting alongside the West’s favoured side in the Balkans. As Evan Kohlmann argues in his Al-Qa’eda’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network, by 1995 Bosnia had become a ‘strategic foothold for Osama bin Laden and his fanatical allies to infiltrate Europe and the Western world’. Indeed, virtually every major al-Qa’eda attack of recent years has links back to Bosnia.....
Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, a veteran al-Qa’eda associate and one of the leading conspirators indicted by the US for the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, had a Bosnian visa; he visited Bosnia for a three-day ‘business meeting’ only weeks before putting the finishing touches to the embassy bombings. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, fought in Bosnia in 1992 and financed al-Qa’eda training camps there. At least two of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — got their first taste of jihad in Bosnia. As already noted, the alleged mastermind of the Madrid attacks that killed 191 in March 2004 trained in Bosnia. The Dutch authorities are currently investigating links between Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-Moroccan who murdered film-maker Theo van Gogh, and an al-Qa’eda cell that has its origins in Bosnia. And on it goes.
To what extent did American / European policies in the region facilitate this (the Spectator claims, for example, that Clinton actively encouraged Iran to arm the Muslims, contributing to the 'Islamification' of the conflict. But what about the way we handled the conflict in general)? To what extent did the Western media's coverage of the conflict -- which, as I've touched upon in the past, was completely and willfully biased and misrepresentative, insistantly portraying Muslims as victims while the truth was far more complex -- fuel Muslim extremism (the Spectator argues, a great deal) and help shape a foreign policy with serious long-term effects not properly understood at the time?
The sad truth is that I am completely ill-equipped to answer either of those questions, because I never really paid much attention to the conflict at the time -- couldn't keep track of who was who and never bothered trying to sort it out -- and to this day do not really understand what went on there. Unfortunately, I suspect I am not that different to 99% of Westerners on that count. As we begin to look more closely at the last decade to figure out exactly what had been going on, unnoticed, under our noses, there's a good chance that the fact most of us didn't pay the slightest bit of attention to this rather major conflict while it was going on will be something we end up deeply regretting.

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