Analysts say that the Islamic community can play an important role in reducing the violence in Syria.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 03/09/2013
An estimated 370 citizens of BiH are currently fighting in Syria, Dagestan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya. [AFP]
In response to a recent video showing attempts to recruit Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to fight in Syria, the head of the BiH Islamic community called instead for an end to the fighting between Sunni and Shiite sects in the conflict.
Reis Kavazovic delivered a lengthy sermon on August 23rd in Stolac, speaking out against both the video and sectarian violence. He said that Muslims need to "extinguish these fires, not make them worse."
Analysts and citizens consider Kavazovic's messages as a positive signal, noting that it is important that religious authorities help calm passions in time of conflict.
"After years of neglecting the attitude towards this problem, it can be noted that the new structure in the Islamic Community is taking seriously this problem of so-called preliminary wandering amongst the faithful people. It is definitely a good course and a good message because it shows that the leadership of the Islamic Community cares for its people," Asim Mujkic, professor in the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo, told SETimes.
"It is not at all surprising that such calls to fight in Syria for holy things occur because the financial situation is terrible and it's easiest to recruit people who are hopeless because they think that the violence will solve something," Mujkic said.
More than 100,000 have been killed in the unrest in Syria since 2011, including more than 1,000 victims of a chemical weapons attack on August 21st in a Damascus suburb. Opponents of the Assad regime have blamed the government for the attack, but Assad's government has denied responsibility.
"The settings for ethnic/religious radicalisation are not to be undermined, since there is a growing dissatisfaction, raised in the levels of poverty of people and radicalisation of the political and social discourse," Darko Brkan, the president of Sarajevo-based NGO "Why Not?", which deals with human rights.
Officials say the number of people from BiH which are fighting in Syria and other Middle East countries constantly increases and that the authorities should be more decisive. According to data of the Committee for Security and Defense of the BiH parliament, at least 370 citizens of BiH are currently fighting in Syria, Dagestan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya.
"This figure is probably higher but the security problem in BiH and the region will occur when these people come back from the front. Then what? The attitude of this committee is that the law should prohibit citizens of BiH on battlefields around the world," committee chairperson Dusanka Majkic told SETimes.
Marko Blagojevic, 34, a social worker from Banja Luka, said that the Islamic Community of BiH understands that religious fanatism can only make the relationships between people in BiH worse.
"Violence can only lead to more violence, people need to understand that. We all need to show that those groups are only small groups of fanatics who are trying to destabilise the normal people and to persuade them to argue," Blagojevic told SETimes. "It is good when a man on such high position such as chief of IC sends the message that ordinary people should not pay attention to those provocative groups. In this way, he makes them totally marginal and irrelevant, which is the point."
Correspondent Elisa Ronalds Hannon in Sarajevo contributed to this report.
How effective do you believe calls from Kavazovic will be in keeping Muslims from BiH from fighting in Syria? Add your thoughts in the space below.