For reasons best known to themselves some newspapers have decided it worthwhile to run articles branding Bosnia a potential terrorist haven. Using questionable sources, they style the West Balkan country as “a new ISIS H.Q.” or “ideal refuge or last resort” for fleeing militants from Iraq and Syria. It is perhaps convenient for these claims that Bosnia is a majority Muslim country but is it really likely to become a haven for Islamic State militants? Let’s look at the facts:
Bosniaks and Extremism
The Telegraph quoted an official figure of 330 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State. In the 2013 census 50.7% of Bosnia’s population of over three and half million citizens said they were Muslim which is about 1,800,000 people. As a percentage of the Muslim population of Bosnia, the number who travelled out to Iraq and Syria is just 0.018%.
In comparison an official estimate for French citizens fighting for Islamic State accounted for 0.036% of French Muslims. Out of Russia’s 9,400,000 Muslims, official figures suggest 2,400 Russian citizens have fought for I.S. in the Middle East. This works out as roughly 0.025% of the Muslim population of Russia.
This comparison shows that as a percentage of the Muslim population, less Muslim Bosnians have left their country to fight in Iraq and Syria than from certain Western countries. So, why should Bosnia apparently be such a hotbed for radical Islam? In fact, the low figures of radicalism amongst Bosnian is indicative of their tolerance. For centuries Bosniaks and other groups of Muslims in Bosnia have co-existed with other ethnic and religious communities. Actually, what makes the low figure of Bosnian Muslim’s radicalisation even more honourable is their treatment during the 1992-1995 war. Bosniaks made up a disproportionately high percentage of the civilian casualties (81.3%), plans were made by the Christian aggressors to eradicate the community entirely and many of the Bosniaks’ religious buildings and monuments were destroyed. However, even after all this they have returned to a life of co-existence and only 0.018% of Bosnia Muslims left to fight in the Middle East.
The framing of mainstream media is unfair and incorrect. This country has had more than its fair share of suffering and trauma and at a time when it looks towards European integration the last thing it needs is baseless claims that damages its reputation. Bosnia has many things to be proud of: amazing food, compelling literature, attractive cities and countryside but most of all its wonderful mix of historic ethno-religious communities and their histories. These are the things we should be talking about.