Monty Python and the Balkan Islamofascist division
Among political ‘dissidents’ of one kind or another, it is frequently taken for granted that almost everything about international affairs you read in the daily papers or see on the news is simply imperialist propaganda, which the ruling classes disseminate in order to hoodwink the brainless common people into supporting their policies. Perhaps more than any other part of the world, the former Yugoslavia is portrayed as the place against which imperialist propaganda most frequently sins. All those who for one reason or another were sympathetic to the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic or hostile to the Bosnian Muslims, felt compelled to justify themselves with the claim that Serbian atrocities in the 1990s were massively exaggerated by the imperialist media and/or that Alija Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was itself responsible for the bloodshed. This line then gelled with the same folks’ discourse on the Iraq war, whether for or against; it being either claimed that the US had no business preaching about a war against Islamist terror when it had itself supported Izetbegovic’s ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ against the innocent Serbs, or that the war on terror retrospectively proves that the US backed the wrong side in the Yugoslav war. To maintain either of these positions requires conflating the moderate Bosnian Muslims led by Izetbegovic with the genuine Islamofascists of al-Qa’ida – a difficult trick to pull off. In this article we shall show just how difficult it is, by analysing a popular myth of the anti-Muslim lobby: that Bosnia’s Izetbegovic was an Islamofascist who revived the politics of the SS in the Balkans. And there is no better place to start than with our old friend Neil Clark, whose statements on the topic are unfortunately entirely representative of a wider circle of Milosevic supporters and Islamophobes. Indeed, compared to some, Neil ‘Milosevic – prisoner of conscience’ Clark is veritably moderate.
Clark is something of a celebrity as he has recently won this year’s ‘Best UK Blog’ award. Out of a total number of UK bloggers that Clark himself estimates at 4 million, his blog came first with the impressive tally of 1,116 votes, although some of his more zealous supporters in this contest, such as his frequent sparring-partner Oliver Kamm, admit to having voted for Clark many times over (in Oliver’s case, perhaps for ironic reasons). Be that as it may, Clark is justly proud of having captured what he describes as ‘the most prestigious prize in blogging’, which he attributes to the fact that ‘the positions I espouse are (unlike the self-appointed uber elite of bloggers) in tune with the views of the majority of ordinary people.’ I should like to take this opportunity to offer Neil my congratulations.
Clark is perhaps best known for his admiration of the late Slobodan Milosevic, of whom he famously said that ‘his worst crime was to carry on being a socialist.’ He has, consequently, acquired something of a reputation as a Balkan expert among the ranks of both left-wing and right-wing Milosevic supporters. So it is reasonable that he should have a go at fellow Balkan expert Michael Palin of Monty Python for not being sufficiently well informed on recent Balkan history. Apparently, Palin’s sin was to remark that Milosevic had ‘died of a heart attack at The Hague after his conviction for war crimes.’ Clark points out that Milosevic died without being convicted.
And now for something completely serious. Although comical in the eyes of any normal person, Clark is simply one of a number of Milosevic supporters who have been promoting the line that the late Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic was a supporter of the SS in Bosnia during World War II. In fact, in this group, Clark’s views have been far from the most outlandish. Others have gone so far as to claim that Izetbegovic was a supporter of the SS during the recent war in Bosnia as well. Yet these more radical elements have arrived at their interpretation through strict adherence to the Neil Clark methodology in historical research. What they all have in common is a desire to rehabilitate Milosevic while demonising the Muslim inhabitants of the Balkans, thereby countering the perceived brainwashing of the human race by imperialist propaganda.
Readers may remember that early last year, in a debate at Harry’s Place, Clark was unable to provide any evidence to back up his assertion that Izetbegovic had recruited for the SS during World War II. This is an old story that has been extensively discussed by Oliver Kamm, among others, and there is no need to go into it again in detail here. The long and the short of it is that, as far as I can tell, the rumour that Izetbegovic recruited for the SS began with a letter allegedly sent by Milan Bulajic (a Srebrenica-denying Serbian historian), to David Binder (an American journalist known for his admiration of Serb Nazi-collaborator Momcilo Djujic and indicted Serb war-criminal Ratko Mladic), claiming that he (Bulajic) had learned of Izetbegovic’s pro-SS activities through studying the transcript of his post-war trial by the Communist authorities in Bosnia (it should be noted here that Izetbegovic was not tried as a war-criminal or as a collaborator, but because of his political opposition to the Communist regime). The claim that the teenage Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II thus remains entirely unproven, and will remain so unless Bulajic or anyone else can produce evidence to support it. Nevertheless, the rumour of Izetbegovic’s ‘SS past’ circulated among pro-Milosevic conspiracy theorists until it was picked up by Clark, via an obscure US-based outfit called the ‘International Strategic Studies Association’ (ISSA), as Kamm has explained here. The article on which Clark based his claim against Izetbegovic was this one, written by a certain Vojin Joksimovich.
Although Clark has become an object of ridicule for many of us (for reasons that Stephen Pollard summarises here), his treatment of Balkan affairs is entirely representative of his wider circle. For example, among the many factual errors that Joksimovich makes is his claim that Izetbegovic’s close political collaborator Hasan Cengic was a ‘veteran of the 13th Waffen SS Division’. Cengic was, it should be pointed out, born in 1957, and therefore might have found it difficult to serve in the SS. Nevertheless, this accusation against Cengic was repeated by other members of this circle, including Yossef Bodansky, ‘Director of Research’ at the ISSA and a pioneer in demonising the Izetbegovic regime. Another such conspiracy theorist, a certain Peter Robert North, turned up on Clark’s blog to push the line that Cengic had indeed served in the SS twelve years or so before he was even born.
North has written elsewhere that ‘Alija Izetbegovic RESURRECTED this NAZI SS DIVISION back in the early 90’s at the beginning of the war [in Bosnia] ‘ [emphasis in original]. This same claim was made by members of a US-based circle of Milosevic supporters and Srebrenica deniers, including Francisco Gil-White, who claimed that ‘Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia proudly recreated the Nazi SS Handzar Division’. Gil-White’s collaborator, the ex-Maoist Jared Israel of the Milosevic-supporting, Srebrenica-denying website Emperor’s Clothes, also makes much of a supposedly recreated Handzar division in Izetbegovic’s Bosnia.
Jared Israel and Francisco Gil-White, as true disciples of the Neil Clark school of documentary evidence, base their claim that a reborn Bosnian SS Division, up to 6,000 strong, existed under Izetbegovic, on a single newspaper article written by Robert Fox and published in the Daily Telegraph on 29 December 1993, and reproduced in full on the Emperor’s Clothes website. Like all good Chomskyites, they view themselves as Wise Men with a unique gift for deciding which newspaper articles represent The Truth and which are simply Imperialist Propaganda. I do not share their genius in this field, so I can only guess how they do it, but it seems that any newspaper article that supports their line represents The Truth, while all those that do not support their line can be dismissed as Imperialist Propaganda – indeed as evidence of just how much Imperialist Propaganda there is, and how determined the Ruling Classes are to propagate it. The Emperor’s Clothes website is, in fact, largely devoted to claiming that the vast number of media reports of atrocities by Milosevic and his forces were all simply fabrications. Yet it has no trouble whatsoever in condemning Izetbegovic as having recreated an SS division in 1990s Bosnia, solely on the basis of a single article from this same, ‘imperialist’ media. Gil-White describes Fox’s article as ‘one of a sprinkling of reports telling the truth about the Sarajevo regime that managed to make it through the censorship screen.’ By which he means, he agrees with this article but doesn’t agree with most articles about Bosnia that were published during the war.
The Bosnian SS Division ‘Handzar’ (or ‘Handschar’) was a unit that existed during World War II, and it is conceivable that there really was a handful of Muslim zealots who, during the recent war, fought on the Bosnian side and grandiloquently named themselves the ‘Handzar Division’ after this historic unit. It is indicative, however, that no other journalist or anyone else seems to have noticed the existence of a unit of ‘up to 6,000 strong’ that named itself after the SS and that was, according to Fox, officered by Albanians and trained by mujahedin veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fox himself appears to have obtained his information about this alleged ‘Handzar Division’ at second hand, from individual UN officials on the ground.
Be this as it may, Fox does not implicate Izetbegovic or Cengic as being in any way connected with this alleged Handzar Division. He writes as follows: ‘Hardline elements of the Bosnian army, like the Handzar, appear to have the backing of an increasingly extreme leadership in Sarajevo, represented by Mr Ejup Ganic, Foreign Minister, Mr Haris Silajdzic, Prime Minister, and Mr Enver Hadzihasanovic, the new army chief.’
Thus, the alleged link between this supposed ‘Handzar Division’ and the Bosnian leadership boils down to the claim that ‘hardline elements of the Bosnian army’ of which the ‘Handzar’ are merely an example, ‘appear to have the backing’ of ‘an increasingly extreme leadership in Sarajevo’. Fox identifies Ejup Ganic as the first among these, but erroneously describes him as ‘Foreign Minister’ when he was in reality a member of the Bosnian Presidency. He also lists Haris Silajdzic as representative of this ‘extreme’ leadership, even though Silajdzic was actually one of the more moderate elements in the Bosnian government, one who himself came under attack from the Muslim hardliners in 1995.
So what we’re left with is a single newspaper article from the ‘imperialist’ media, which describes at second hand a recreated SS ‘Handzar Division’ that nobody else ever noticed, that is merely an example of hardline Bosnian Army elements that in turn merely ‘appear to have the backing’ of an extreme faction in the Bosnian leadership about whose composition the author of the article is himself pretty hazy.
Damning evidence indeed. John R. Schindler, in his book ‘Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad’ (Zenith Press, 2007), pp. 167-168, was sufficiently convinced by Fox’s article to assume its accuracy and repeat the key points, merely tweaking the facts slightly, so that the new ‘Handzar Division’ was no longer simply officered by Albanians, but now had a ‘fair share’ of them in its ranks as well. Yet the worthy gentlemen at Emperor’s Clothes were not satisfied with their scoop, and felt the need to sex up the evidence a bit. So Jared Israel penned an article entitled ‘The Handzar Division lives on in Bosnia’, which turns out to be a report on a series of historical articles about the Handzar Division from World War II that appeared in a Bosnian magazine in 1997: ‘The photos were taken during World War II, but they provide a glimpse of the truth about what really happened during the recent Bosnia war, and what is happening today.’ Indeed, members of this circle often seem genuinely unable to distinguish between the recent war and World War II; thus the extreme conservative Julia Gorin from the US accuses ‘Alijah [sic] Izetbegovic’ of having been ‘part of the Nazi SS Handzar division during World War II’, and helpfully provides her reader with a link to Fox’s article (which says nothing about Izetbegovic’s supposed membership of the World War II Handzar division, and mentions the unit itself only in passing).
Gil-White accused Izetbegovic of having ‘proudly recreated the Nazi SS Handzar Division’, based entirely on Fox’s article, even though Fox did not claim that Izetbegovic had anything to do with either the original World War II division or its alleged 1990s reincarnation. Yet Gil-White is far from the only one to make this factual leap. The amateur historian Carl Savich likewise claims ‘The Bosnian Muslim Army and the Bosnian Muslim Government of Alija Izetbegovic and Ejup Ganic sought to re-establish the World War II Nazi Waffen SS Divisions formed out of Bosnian Muslims’ – again basing this entirely on Fox’s article, which claims no such thing. Yossef Bodansky, the pioneer of Muslim-related Balkan conspiracy theories, writes that ‘ in mid-1993, Sarajevo revived the Handzar Division with all its fascist culture and preoccupation with the division’s role as the worthy successor to its SS predecessors. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Handzar Division provides the praetorian guards for Izetbegovic and other senior leaders of Sarajevo, clearly reflecting their pride in and support for the revival of the old traditions.’ Bodansky provides no sources to support these claims. Another of Bodansky’s unsourced descriptions of the resurrected Handzar division was picked up and repeated by the white-supremacist website Stormfront, which repeated his description of a force that had by now grown to between 8,500 and 10,500, and was now no longer merely officered by Albanians, but composed of them almost entirely. Stormfront describes this as ‘sizable Islamist forces involved in subversive and terrorist operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ Bodansky’s claims were also repeated by Shaul Shay in his book ‘Islamic Terror and the Balkans’ (Transaction Publishers, 2007), p. 68 – again no sources.
There are strange bedfellows in this bizarre campaign of manufacturing a contemporary SS and demonising the Bosnian Muslims. Ted Belman of the extremist pro-Israel Israpundit website repeats Gil-White’s fabrications about Izetbegovic’s supposed reconstitution of the Handzar Division. Belman seems to equate the Bosnian Muslims with the perceived Muslim and Arab enemy: ‘The comparisons of the destruction of Yugoslavia with the destruction of Israel are chilling and instructive’ (apparently, Israel is not the Jewish state we all thought it to be, but is in fact a multinational federation similar to Yugoslavia). Belman’s fellow Israpundit contributor Felix Quigley draws upon Neil Clark’s ‘excellent historical “lesson”‘ and ‘very hard work’ in compiling a ‘wonderful history’ of the ‘Bosnian Islamofascists’, that naturally includes a reference to Izetbegovic, now promoted to ‘head organizer of a recruiting drive for the infamous, all Muslim, Waffen SS 20,000-strong Handzar or Hanjar Division’ (Quigley appears ignorant of the fact that the original Handzar Division was not ‘all Muslim’, but contained Croats and Germans as well).
Needless to say, none of these principled individuals mentions the fact that the Yugoslav People’s Army, which under Milosevic’s control carried out the attack on Bosnia and the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Muslims, included under its command the paramilitary force known as the ‘Chetniks’ of Vojislav Seselj, named after the Nazi-collaborationist Chetnik movement of World War II. Seselj was a political friend of Jean-Marie Le Pen. He had been personally decorated by the veteran Chetnik warlord Momcilo Djujic, who had fought alongside the Nazis in World War II. The neo-Nazi Seselj was deputy prime-minister under Milosevic in 1999, while the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo Albanians was being carried out.
When one takes all this into consideration, Monty Python is a much better source for accurate historical information than Neil Clark and his comrades.
Update: Santa Claus came early for me this year, and deposited through my letter-box a copy of the latest scaremongering book about the Muslim peoples of the Balkans, ‘The coming Balkan caliphate: The threat of radical Islam to Europe and the West’ (Praeger Security International, 2007), by Christopher Deliso of Balkanalysis.com. Deliso writes of ‘Hasan Cengic, a veteran of the World War II SS Handzar Division who reincarnated the unit while serving as Bosnia’s deputy defense minister in the early 1990s.’ (p. 8). As we noted above, Cengic was born in 1957 and Deliso’s accusation that he served in the SS must therefore have been based on some quite spectacularly superficial research; nor does Deliso provide any evidence for his accusation that Cengic ‘reincarnated the unit’ in the 1990s. Elsewhere, Deliso accuses Izetbegovic of having been ‘a recruiter for the Bosnian Muslim Handzar (“Dagger”) Division’ (p. 5), his only source being Vojin Joksimovich’s error-ridden article for the ISSA, mentioned above, though Deliso also cites Robert Fox’s article to ‘prove’ that the Handzar division had been ‘resurrected in the 1990s, during the Presidency of Izetbegovic.’
Based on research of this calibre, it is perhaps not surprising that Deliso should conclude that we are faced with a ‘coming Balkan caliphate’…
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