2005-05-24

Breaking news: U.S. unpopular in Muslim world

U.S. journalists have discovered a new outpost of anti-Americanism in Europe.

Yaroslav Trofimov, a reporter on the Wall Street Journal, writes in Slate that anti-American feelings have been inflamed by the war in Iraq. (Must have missed that one.) As an example, he presents... Bosnia. Under the hed Those Ungrateful Bosnians (“We liberated them. Why are they still against us?”) he makes the argument that the deployment of a mine-clearing unit has proven so unpopular that it has pushed the Bosnian Muslims' positive feelings towards the U.S. to the sidelines:

The debate over the Iraq expedition has bared the extent of anti-American feelings that flourish these days, even in such unlikely places as Sarajevo. As reactions in Bosnia show, the U.S. engagement in Iraq, which was meant to convert the Muslim world to America's gospel by building up a model democracy there, has so far achieved precisely the opposite result: Anger over Iraq's unfolding tragedy has superseded the memories of America's own past good deeds in Muslim lands.
I find it rather curious to claim that the Iraq war was “meant to convert the Muslim world to America's gospel” -- I always thought it was about removing Saddam Hussein. It's not like Wolfie and Dick and Rummie were sitting around one day thinking, gee, how can we get the Bosnians to love us even more, and then one of them came up with the brilliant idea to invade Iraq.

But quite apart from this gaffe, the article just re-runs stereotypes we've seen time and again (and I bet you this article will be brandished by nationalist Serbs and Croats for months to come as proof of what they've been saying all along -- the Muslims were dangerous and had to be stopped at all cost, and why does the West reject us when in fact we just did what was needed to preserve Western culture, blah-blah-blah): of bearded Islamist publishers, fiery preachers at the main mosque, and Bosnians fighting in Fallujah (okay, that's a new one, I think). What the piece does get right, however, is the shameless double-dealing of the reis ul-ulema, Mustafa Ceric, who loves to present himself as a voice of moderation towards Westerners only to turn around and pander to the less moderate feelings of some of his supporters.

In any case, it seems to me that most Bosnians -- Muslim or otherwise -- care most about what happened in their country and about the current situation there rather than about Iraq or even Palestine. Heck, they didn't even care about Kosovo when the Serbs went on a rampage there in 1998-99. Human nature, perhaps?

5 comments:

R Byrne said...

My letter to Slate about this very article... Rich Byrne

Dear Jacob:

I'm writing to you directly because the article that you ran by Yaroslav Trofimov was the dumbest and most irresponsible thing I have read about Bosnia in the last five years or so. And let's say that covers a lot of territory in a couple of languages.

First of all, Mr. Trofimov writes as if Bosnia is one society -- a Muslim one, and radical at that. Essentially, it remains three (Serb Croat and Bosniaks both secular and Muslim) -- whether one likes that or not.

So even if one might stipulate that the US did come to the "rescue" of "Bosnia," many Bosnians of all ethnic strands and religions don't exactly feel "grateful." (Indeed, you might find that even a majority of Bosnia's Muslims -- who feel the "rescue" was four years, hundreds of thousands dead/wounded/missing and a lot of ethnic cleansing too late -- might not stipulate that.)

Then Mr. Trofimov cherry picks a poll here (no numbers, no source), a marginal rag and a sermon to build a case for ingrate Islamic anti-Americanism in Bosnia. It's hard to begin to know where to begin dissecting reasoning such as this.

He presents a thin case for overall anti-Americanism in Bosnia (which I have rarely if ever felt there, as opposed to some trips I've taken in Serbia), but perhaps one might argue that any anti-Americanism isn't specifically Islamic in nature? After all, you have American diplomats (including John Bolton) traipsing around the Balkans trying to get those nations to sign agreements to exempt American troops from possible prosecutions for war crimes at the same time that we're demanding these same nations' compliance with the Hague Tribunal. Or perhaps, in a specifically Bosnian case that Mr. Trofimov somehow overlooks, incidents such as the 2002 seizure of six Arabs by US peacekeepers in Bosnia as part of the "war on terrorism" -- after they had been freed by a Sarajevo court -- might have some influence on public opinion about the US?

In sum, Mr. Trofimov's essay is highly-selective, wrong-headed and -- worst of all -- needlessly inflammatory. It was beneath the standards to which you should (and usually do) hold contributions to Slate.

ludost said...

human nature, or perhaps being too busy with ones own shattered lives... anyhow, the trofimov’s piece actually gave me such a laugh! are we sure the guy is not being entirely cinical or satyrical? ;)

T K Vogel said...

I must say, that possibility crossed my mind too -- an elaborate hoax?

ludost said...

too bad slate did not accompany the piece with a carricature of nasrudin hodza with a compulsory huge turban on his head, riding a donkey over an american flag, with that tipically islamic sinister grin on his face... that would've been perfect :)

Yakima_Gulag said...

xixix ludost!:)! Seriously guys, I never encountered anti-Americanism from any Bosnians,of any religion and the ones I met all knew I was American, what I DID encounter was an extreme distrust of both the first President Bush and the second President Bush. The majority of people I encountered had a high opinion of Americans generally. I did not encounter Islamic extremeism, but I did notice that younger Muslims were more visibly observant of at least the externals of their religion. I have always thought that a lot of Christian discomfort about both Muslims and Jews is that Christians are increasingly less observant of the actual customs and teachings of Christianity.
They talk a good game but look how people in Christian countries actually conduct themselves!
An observant Muslim, an observant Jew rather ups the ante. That is the source of the resentment and if you ask me, it always WAS the source of the resentment.
As far as the whole bit about Kosovo goes, there is some serious predjudice toward Albanians in the other Balkans Muslim communities. Some of it comes from frictions between Albanians and Slavic Muslim populations in Kosovo and other places where populations of Albanians and populations of Slavic Muslims co:exist.
Some of it indeed is the fact of being simply bogged down in their own very real difficult lives. The same could be said of Albanians in Kosovo dureing Bosnia's tribulations.