Monday, December 19, 2005

The future of Bosnia

In the Sunday Commentary column “Islamist state in Europe?” Jeffrey T. Kuhner suggests that Bosnia is at risk of becoming an “Islamist state in Europe” and says he considers it a failure of “multiethnic nation-building.”

Mr. Kuhner’s argument is flawed for four reasons. First, he suggests that “Croatians are dying,” which is unsubstantiated. Although official numbers are not available, it is true that the number of Croats in Bosnia has dwindled — not because of persecution, but because life in neighboring Croatia is more prosperous. Similarly, a more centralized state would not threaten Serbs, either.

Second, the international community does not argue for a centralized state, but for a more functional state with a stronger government. Until recently, Bosnia has been one of the most decentralized countries in the world, which wouldn’t be a problem if this would not prevent Bosnia from joining the European Union — any member must be able to participate effectively in EU institutions to join.

Third, the autonomy that exists for the ethnic groups in Bosnia is inherently problematic, as it is based on ethnic cleansing rather than any regular form of decentralization. With the return of half the refugees since 1995, some areas that had been homogenous at the end of the war in 1995 are no longer exclusively Serb, Croat or Muslim, thus making the current degree of ethnic-based autonomy hardly justifiable.

Finally, the risk of an Islamist state is greatest not in a multinational experiment (Mr. Kuhner only lists the failed multiethnic states, not the majority of multiethnic states around the world that work) but in full or de facto partition of Bosnia. This would send the message to Bosnian Muslims that the West rewards ethnic cleansing and does not care for Muslims. This would be the real tragedy.


Senior research associate

European Centre for Minority Issues

Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro

Canada watching the border?

Though Douglas MacKinnon has a point about a small minority of Canadian politicians opening their mouths before engaging their brains, their comments certainly are no worse than the uninformed opinions on Canada and terrorism coming from some American commentators who are more concerned with ratings than the facts (“Oh, no, Canada,” Op-Ed, Friday).

What mystifies me is Mr. MacKinnon’s assertion that Canadians are somehow responsible for screening persons entering the United States. I thought that was the job of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Perhaps we could send red-serged Mounties to the Seattle airport to assist? The Canada Border Services Agency probably is unable to help out, as it is too preoccupied with trying to stem the flood of illegal American guns into Canada.


Victoria, British Columbia

Tehran’s miscalculation

Regarding “EU condemns leader’s outbursts leveled at Israel” (World, Saturday): With his Holocaust-denial and anti-Israel diatribes, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad likely intended to assume an intimidating position in his standoff with the West over Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Fortunately, it appears that Mr. Ahmadinejad miscalculated. Rather than dividing Europeans and Americans, he has energized our common determination to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and even revived long-lost recognition of how easily anti-Zionist demagoguery can transition to overt anti-Semitism.

With decisive action by the international community, Holocaust victims just might be spared witnessing the emergence of a grave threat to their grandchildren, like me.



Regulation, bureaucracy and the family

In their Friday Op-Ed column, “In support of marriage,” David Wilkinson and Chris Stevenson offer a the kind of suggestion that usually comes from liberals for addressing a perceived social need: Throw money at it with a new government program.

Their idea of creating a new Department of the American Family smacks of the sort of social liberalism so effectively critiqued by President Reagan when he said, “The government’s view of the economy can be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

Education did not improve with the creation of the federal Department of Education; it got worse. Massive federal welfare programs did not eliminate poverty but instead created generations of families dependent on the state. Amtrak is not superior to privately owned railways; it is more expensive, less reliable and a drain on taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

Do Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Stevenson want to see the American family destroyed through government paternalism?

Turning again to Mr. Reagan, we have to ask ourselves whether we believe “in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

Creating a new federal bureaucracy to deal with social problems, no matter how real those problems might be, demonstrates a lack of faith in our capacity for self-government. It abandons the values that Mr. Reagan articulated best but that also were held by conservatives such as Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford and others before and since.

The Department of the American Family: liberal dream, conservative nightmare.



In support of religion in sports

I’m glad to see a fair nod to faith in “Teaming up for prayer” (Page 1, Dec. 6). I am for prayer in sports, as a matter of the free exercise of religion. The “kneeling in prayer on the field after NFL games … Signs for chapel services in baseball clubhouses,” etc., are all uses of that religious freedom unique to our country.

I understand Mustafa Ali, father of supposedly discriminated against football player MuAmmar, Ali, who said that people “should be able to pray how they want to pray.” MuAmmar Ali has the right to worship in public as he sees fit, and his team should have tolerated his different form of prayer.

However, I am strongly opposed to those people not “comfortable getting God into the game.” Maintaining the freedom to pray is more important than keeping everyone from getting uncomfortable, which is impossible anyway. We have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. People have the right to decide whether they themselves pray, not to decide by their disapproval whether their neighbors may pray.

Prayer should not be banned from public sports events, but rather, people of all faiths should be encouraged to express their beliefs. As Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, Air Force chief of chaplains, said in October, “This is America, and for those of us who come from belief systems that require us to tell others of our faith and what we believe, this is so important that we feel free to do this.” Restricting prayer would be a far greater wrong to those who pray than allowing it would be to those who do not.

I applaud the East Brunswick (N.J.) High School football head coach, Marcus Borden, who sued his district after being ordered to stop praying with his team before games; Mr. Ali; and any American who is not afraid to claim his hard-won right to religious expression. All of us must embrace this right ourselves and respect it in others if we are to level the religious playing field.


Gainesville, Va.

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