Bosnian imam rails against the West's injustice: Bosnia-Herzegovina's chief Muslim cleric talks to Robert Fisk in Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
YOU WOULD not think, watching the president of all the Muslim imams of Bosnia-Herzegovina enter the room, that he had so much passion in him. Mustafa Ceric's red-and-white imam's turban is immaculate, his face - illuminated through the lace-curtained window of his office opposite the Careva mosque - has the quality of a Rembrandt self-portrait, reflective, wise beyond his years. So when he speaks, there comes a kind of shock over his visitors. There is no hatred. But there is a passion and cynicism and from time to time a bitterness that approaches fury.

His message is simple and, for many Muslims, unanswerable. 'You know, we have so many times said that we want to live together in Bosnia - and we are being killed because we want to live together. You see, we Bosnians are defending your principles - your principles in Europe. We are defending the principles of the United Nations and its Secretary-General - and he is the one who is breaking these principles. I ask you, is there anything left of humanity in the hearts of these people in the West? Is there anything left of justice or humanism? Because humanism is buried here in Bosnia . . . I don't know who is going to resurrect it.'

The Serbs are the first to receive Dr Ceric's condemnation, but he scorns the Western nations which recognised Bosnia and then watched it die. 'We have suffered two punishments, you know. On the one hand, Serbian nationalism - Serbian fascism - is trying to eliminate us, to force us into an exodus. This is our first punishment. Our second punishment comes from the Western community, from the European Community, who gave us some hopes that they would help us, the victims. We believed them and they betrayed us . . . They don't want to help us and they don't even want us to help ourselves. It is illogical. It is immoral - it is a crime to hold captives and to say to them 'we don't want to lift the arms embargo against you because if we do that, there will be more killing.' The killing is happening every day.'

Occasionally a distant shell explodes across Sarajevo, sending a faint tremor through the Imam's angry room. Britain rarely escapes his tongue. What, he asks, is one to make of a government that sent troops to save Bosnian lives then refused to allow the Bosnians to defend themselves - saying that British troops would be endangered if the arms embargo were lifted? 'You became part of our problem.'

Dr Ceric's voice rises. 'Injustice has been done to us. But Europe and the Western world has a monopoly on everything, a monopoly on righteousness, a monopoly on the bodies of Bosnian Muslims. We see now that Europe is killing and raping us (by not lifting the embargo) and at the same time feeding us and claiming to defend our rights - everything. We are just your objects. And we have to do what you tell us. We have a feeling now that these troops from England and from France did not come to protect innocent civilians in Bosnia. They came to protect Serbian aggression.'

Lord Owen's name is synonymous with evil in Dr Ceric's ornate office - chandeliers in a domed roof, sheets of wallpaper peeling off the damp walls - and he almost spits out the man's name. 'Lord Owen is a liar, a liar. Before he became involved in the Bosnian crisis, he said troops should be sent to crush Serbian aggression. Then he was partner in the Vance-Owen plan and blackmailed Bosnian Muslims to accept it, although they felt it was unacceptable. He guaranteed that if we accepted this, everything would be OK. And now this week he says that Muslims have to 'face the fact' of the conquest of the Serbs and Croats. To people like him, morality means nothing and from now on Europe has no right to teach us any morality. We don't ask for your soldiers to come and defend us. We don't ask Europe or Christians to come and save Muslims. We ask only one simple thing - please, give us our right to defend ourselves.'

Dr Ceric taught and preached for five years in the United States and believed in inter-church faith. 'We had Christian-Muslim 'dialogue',' he says. 'And until recently, I forced myself to say that this is not a war against Muslims and Islam. But after the experience of the past year, and from the kind of rhetoric we hear, it's very clear to me that this war is intended to humiliate Muslims. You people have to humiliate Muslims, you have to humiliate the Muslim world. The knowledge of this hurts me a lot. But I want to tell other Muslims that this is the truth. It is a kind of revenge the Christian world is taking on us now.' Revenge for what? Dr Ceric is uneasy for a moment. 'I think, er . . .' - a very long 'er' this - 'I think you feel a cultural inferiority to Islam, to Islamic civilisation. Europe was disunited for so many years because of the dominance of the Ottoman Empire. And now the Muslim world is divided, not because they want to be divided but because the Western world doesn't allow Muslims to unite.'

The Imam pauses again, sensing a broken argument. Why won't the West allow Muslims to unite? 'Because we live in an economic world and we live in a global society and it has to be interdependent. That means Western economic power. The Muslim world cannot be ignored but because of the technological dominance of the Western world, the West defines what is right, what is wrong, what is justice, what is injustice. And we are supposed to obey. If we do not obey, we will suffer the consequences.'

Dr Ceric was trained in the theological college at Al-Azhar in Cairo and comprehends the trap presented to his people by calls from the Middle East for Arab military assistance to Bosnia. 'I would say to my friends there (in the Arab world) they should stay at home and defend themselves, because what is happening to us could happen very soon to them . . . Some people want to make this comparison between us and the Palestinians - as if the injustice done to the Palestinians would in some way justify the same thing being done to the Bosnian people. First of all, we did not leave our land. And we are still in our land, and we shall stay here.'

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