With Israeli strikes on Gaza raising temperatures over the weekend, you’d think major outlets would have their hands full of real material to fill the pages. Not the New York Times, which published a piece by Dan Bilefsky entitled “Islamic Revival Tests Bosnia’s Secular Cast” (sic). I’d like to think the spelling of “cast” this way was deliberate, but that would be a stronger attribution of talent than I’m qualified to comment on (never mind that “caste” has little do with the former Yugoslav state’s intricate weave of contentious identity politics). My concern, really, is that this makes news out of non-news. To whit: “Thirteen years after a war in which 100,000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims, Bosnia is undergoing an Islamic revival.” Uh-huh. More:
More than half a dozen new madrasas, or religious high schools, have been built in recent years, while dozens of mosques have sprouted, including the King Fahd, a sprawling $28 million complex with a sports and cultural center.
Before the war, fully covered women and men with long beards were almost unheard of. Today, they are common.
Many here welcome the Muslim revival as a healthy assertion of identity in a multiethnic country where Muslims make up close to half the population.
But others warn of a growing culture clash between conservative Islam and Bosnia’s avowed secularism in an already fragile state.
Two months ago, men in hoods attacked participants at a gay festival in Sarajevo, dragging some people from vehicles and beating others while they chanted, “Kill the gays!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Eight people were injured.
Muslim religious leaders complained that the event, which coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, was a provocation. The organizers said they had sought to promote minority rights and meant no offense.
In this cosmopolitan capital, where bars have long outnumbered mosques, Muslim religious education was recently introduced in state kindergartens, prompting some secular Muslim parents to complain that the separation between mosque and state was being breached.
Bosnia’s Muslims have practiced a moderate Islam that stretches back to the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. Sociologists and political leaders say the religious awakening is partly an outgrowth of the war and the American-brokered Dayton agreement that ended it, dividing the country into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic.
Aside: Orthodox Patriarchs are a facially hirsute bunch, so I’ve always chuckled at observations that “men with beards” are a sure sign of the second coming of bin Laden. More to the point, social engineering has been in play in Bosnia for a while (a continuation of war by other means?), and Bosnian Muslims have been involved in revivals of one kind or another for a lot longer than 13 years. Whatever you might think of thist latest iteration, I’m not convinced that just because it’s now bearing observable fruit (which must be why it’s being reported as news now, right?…), that it’s really all that significant… except to the extent that it’ll inspire nationalists, who are unlikely to pass up an opportunity to fling the usual hysterics.