Alija Izetbegovic, a not-so-moderate Muslim leader



Ian Hamel (*)

When he died in 2003, Bernard-Henri Lévy had described former President Aliza Izetbegovic as “de Gaulle of Bosnia in struggle”. However, it was this man who wrote in 1980: “The Muslims have formed the plan to take control of the fate of their world and to shape it thanks to their own conceptions”. Head of state during the Balkan War, Aliza Izetbegovic welcomed thousands of jihadists from all over the world.

Since his meeting with Hitler in Berlin in November 1941, Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, hosts propaganda broadcasts calling on Muslims to “kill Jews wherever they are found [because] it satisfies God, history and religion.” In April 1943, SS officials organized his visit to Sarajevo. “There he received representatives of the main Muslim associations and delegations from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sandjak and even Albania,” recounts scholar Xavier Bougarel, a specialist in Balkan Islam, in a recent book entitled La division Handschar. Waffen SS de Bosnie 1943-1945 (1).

Among the delegation of the Muslim Youth Organization received by the Grand Mufti, an 18-year-old high school student, Alija Izetbegovic, the future president of Bosnia. Since the defeats in North Africa and Russia, the German army has been in need of cannon fodder. Heinrich Himmler therefore chose to sweep away the racial criteria of the Waffen SS and recruit Muslims. Hence the birth of the infamous 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar. It will recruit between 20,000 and 30,000 Muslim soldiers. On the scale of a country like Bosnia, which had only 1.5 million Muslims at the time, this is huge (less than 10,000 Frenchmen served in the Waffen SS during the war), apart from the Alsatians who were forcibly incorporated. The uniform of the Handschar division had two peculiarities: a Muslim fez with a skull and crossbones, and on the collar of the shirt, a scimitar (in German Handschar, in Bosnian Handzar). Another peculiarity: Handschar was framed by imams and mullahs.

Three years in prison in 1946

Since then, Handschar, who committed atrocities, has not ceased to haunt the memory of the Balkans. To be precise, it is not exactly a Muslim division, but a German division, composed mainly of Bosnian Muslims, but also a few Christian Croats (Croatia, like the Pétain regime in France, collaborated with the Reich). Should we be surprised if the Serbs, during the Balkan War, rewrote the history of this 13th division, insisting in particular on Izetbegovic’s sympathies for the National Socialist. An article in the New York Times dated October 20, 2003 states that “Izetbegovic decides to support the SS division”. Xavier Bougarel relativizes the commitment of the future Bosnian President. If members of the Muslims Youth Organization actually fought in the Handschar division ‘notably three of them as imams,’ on the other hand, this would not be the case with Alija Izetbegovic. He was “from a well-to-do background that was not in any way used to sending its children to war,” the researcher points out in an interview given to the Courrier des Balkans (2). However, in 1946, the future president of Bosnia, then aged 21, was sentenced to three years in prison, not for collaboration with the enemy, but for “pan-Islamic activity”.

“The absolute power of Allah” 

Alija Izetbegovic returned to prison in 1970 and again in 1983. He was arrested by the communist regime with thirteen other Muslim intellectuals and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for “Islamist propaganda”. He was accused of publishing the Islamic Manifesto (“Islamska deklaracija”). The book was not translated into French until 1999, with a preface by Ahmed Abidi (3).

Released in 1988, Alija Izetbegovic founded the Party of Democratic Action, which won the November 1990 elections. Contrary to the accusations of Yugoslav propaganda, in his book, Alija Izetbegovic does not call for the introduction of Sharia law in Bosnia. Nevertheless, he makes a very radical speech, which the Islamists would not deny. Isn’t his introduction entitled: “Programme for the Islamisation of Muslims and Islamic people”? It is difficult for the Serbs not to see it as a declaration of war when the author proclaims: “We declare today, to our friends and enemies alike, that the Muslims have formed the plan to take control of the fate of their world and to shape it through their own conceptions”.

Among the “pearls” of the Islamic Manifesto are: “Anyone who abandons Islam reaps nothing but abhorrence and opposition”, or, “Recognizing the absolute power of Allah means total disavowal and definitive rejection of all other absolute power”. He also does not hesitate to refer to the Quran: “Many rabbis and monks illegally devour people’s property and obstruct the path of Allah. To those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend them in the way of Allah, announce a painful punishment. It is worth noting that Alija Izetbegovic sings the praises of Pakistan (“the only Islamic republic that today declares its Islam”), a country that is not a model in terms of democracy. He is not particularly open towards other religions, especially Christianity, speaking of a “partly falsified divine revelation”. Bosnia is populated by Muslims, but also by Orthodox, Catholics and Jews. Concerning the latter, he clearly announces the colour: “If the Jews want to keep Jerusalem, they will have to beat Islam and the Muslims. But that, thank God, is beyond their power”.

Thousands of mujahideen

The President of Bosnia and Herzegovina from December 1990 to October 2000, whether Bernard-Henri Levy likes it or not (who called him a “gentle man”), does not really appear to be a great democrat. It is also difficult to make him “one of the greatest Muslim thinkers of the 20th century”, as Ahmed Abidi, his French translator, writes. This is not to minimise the crimes committed by the Serbs during the last Balkan war (they are said to have killed about 65,000 Bosnians). But one can be surprised by the blindness of Western countries, which only wanted to see a martyred Muslim community in Bosnia. They turned a blind eye to Alija Izetbegovic’s recruitment of several thousand jihadists (then known as mujahideen). Fighters for whom human rights are not a primary concern. 25,000 Serbs also died in the conflict. Some jihadists subsequently settled in the country after the end of hostilities.

Alija Izetbegovic died in 2003, his son Bakir (born in 1956) now runs the Democratic Action Party, the main Muslim formation in Bosnia. On several occasions, he was president of the presidential college of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which brings together Muslims, Serbs and Croats). In 2016, Bakir Izetbegovic provoked a diplomatic incident with Serbia when he went to campaign in the Sandjak, a Serbian region with a majority Muslim population.

A recent study reveals that 60% of the French who went to fight in Afghanistan, but also in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq, were convicted after their return from the jihad for terrorist offences distinct from their mere stay in the war zone” (4).

(1) Passés/Composés, 438 pages.

(2) “Seconde guerre mondiale en Bosnie-Herzégovine : sur les traces de la division Handschar”, July 17, 2020.

(3) Al-Bouraq Editions, 174 pages.

(4) Jean Chichizola, “Une étude révèle un taux élevé de récidive chez les djihadistes”, Le Figaro, July 21, 2020.