Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Bush administration has decided to get involved in another dangerous nation-building project — in the volatile Balkans. More ominously, the effects of this intervention will lay the groundwork for an Islamist state in the heart of Europe.

Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the leaders of Bosnia’s three main groups — Muslims, Serbs and Croats — met in Washington to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Accords, which ended Europe’s worst bloodletting since 1945. The administration should have limited itself to a symbolic remembrance. Instead, it pressured Bosnia’s political representatives to sign an agreement demanding constitutional reforms by early next year.

The plan seeks to establish a centralized, unitary republic dominated by a strong government in Sarajevo. The ultimate goal is to forge a more cohesive state that will finally eradicate the country’s ethnic divisions.

Bosnia’s current political system, with its rotating tripartite presidency, parallel administrations and vast bureaucracy, is neither rational nor efficient. Reform is needed. The American-backed plan, however, is a recipe for disaster. It is a form of radical social engineering that will have to be imposed against the wishes of the country’s Serb and Croat populations.

More importantly, it will pave the way for potentially turning Bosnia into Europe’s first Islamic republic. This will destabilize not only the Balkans, but the entire European continent.

During the Bosnian war of 1992-1995, many of the country’s Muslims became radicalized. Thousands of foreign Arab fighters, known as the mujahideen, infiltrated into Bosnia in order to wage jihad against Christian Serb and Catholic Croat forces. Iran and Saudi Arabia’s influence over the Bosnian Muslim authorities grew as the war ground on. Radical Islam took root in the Balkans.

Most of Bosnia’s Muslims remain secular or moderate. But in his recent book, “Faith at War,” Yaroslav Trofimov, the Wall Street Journal’s foreign correspondent, documents the chilling rise of militant Islam since the end of the fighting.

Mr. Trofimov shows the Saudis have been funding numerous mosques in Sarajevo. At these places of worship, long-bearded Imams champion the doctrines of Wahhabism, a particularly intolerant version of Islam. The Saudis have also supported charities that serve as fronts for al Qaeda cells. Islamist radio stations, such as Radio Naba, and radical organizations, such as the Young Muslims, have proliferated. Parts of Bosnia, like the village of Bocinja, serve as enclaves for a remaining mujahideen.

What is most disturbing, however, is the influx of young Bosnian Muslim fighters into Iraq. They are joining the Islamofascist insurgents in their barbaric campaign against U.S. forces. At one of Sarajevo’s main mosques, the second highest-ranking cleric in the country, Ismet Spahic, has publicly denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq as “genocide.”

This small minority of Islamic militants is growing, like a cancer on Bosnia’s body politic. Thus far, the U.S., the European Union and the Sarajevo authorities have ignored the problem.

They have also turned a blind eye to the growing persecution of Bosnia’s Christians, especially Croatian Catholics. Locked into a federation with the majority Muslims, the Croatians dwindled in number as they slowly leave their ancestral lands. Less than half-a-million are left. Those who remain suffer daily violations of their basic rights.

The Croatians are dying. If these constitutional reforms passes, it will be the Serbs’ turn to be submerged by the growing Muslim majority.

The way to long-term stabilization is not by centralizing power and trying to forge an artificial “Bosnian” identity as the U.S. plan foolishly seeks to do. Switzerland is a better model: Make Bosnia an efficient decentralized state and devolve power to ethnic cantons with considerable political, religious and cultural autonomy. Making all three ethnic groups masters in their own house, will give each, especially the minority Serbs and Croats, an incentive to view Bosnia as their shared, common homeland. It will also help to contain radical Islam by providing an internal system of checks and balances. This will prevent any kind of potential Islamic movement from seizing national power.

To the Balkanists in the State Department, however, Bosnia is a giant laboratory for their experiment in multiethnic nation-building. Like other such experiments — Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia — it will fail. This time the cost to the West will be even more severe: an Islamic inroad into the center of Europe. Washington will rue the day.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is editor of Insight on the News ( and a contributor to the Commentary Pages of The Washington Times.

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