In The Bosnian Village Seduced By ISIS

In Gornja Maoca
In Gornja Maoca
Domenico Quirico

GORNJA MAOCA — In Sarajevo, you come to realize that all the essential things in the world have been affected by war, or rather, by the circumstances of war. You realize the economy's upheaval, the general misery and, above all, the turmoil in each individual life: embarrassment, uncertainty, anxiety.

"It's like being in a prison and knowing that you can't get out," says a friend of mine who works in television. "You hear stories you won't believe. It's such a small part of the world that you can't understand how it's so difficult to live."

Bosnia and Herzegovina is fertile ground for fundamentalism, and people say that many who go to fight in Mosul and Raqqa pass through here on their way.

What the people have been deprived of here is not just a united country. A year ago, people took to the streets, burning town halls and ministries, demonstrating their rage against chronic hunger and frustration about the country's paralysis and corruption. One year later, nothing has happened — civic committees have entirely disappeared or have been absorbed by political parties.

That's what brought me here to the small town of Gornja Maoca, where the ISIS flag has been raised and the people live as if they were in lands conquered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's men. Just like in Mosul, black flags are flying — a mere hour's plane flight from Vienna.

"You're going to Maoca?" asks my friend smiling. "Save yourself the journey. All you'll find there is hypocritical silence. Did you know that you can't find vinegar in Sarajevo's supermarkets anymore? They're owned by Arab groups. This is supposed to be a multiethnic city, but men won't even shake my hand, and they lower their eyes when I speak. Because I am a woman, they won't look at me," she says.

Fights have broken out in the mosque in Nedjadici because new radical preachers want to abandon the old Bosnian prayer traditions, she tells me. "Don't bother going to Maoca," she says. "It's not worth the hassle. There are bad people there."

Bosnian TV channel reportage in Gorjna Maoca — Source: Skiljo expand=1] Kikas

A few weeks ago in Sarajevo the trial of Bilan "the Recruiter" Bosnic began. He went around the mosques, gathering the support of poor youth in small villages — and there was no shortage of listeners. According to official reports, 130 Bosnians are currently fighting with ISIS, and at least 30 have already been killed. But these are just the optimistic official figures issued to avoid spreading panic.

A different world

Maoca is near Brcko, on the northeastern border with Croatia, at least four hours drive from Sarajevo. Even as we pass through the smallest towns, we can see new minarets being constructed, funded by money from Saudi Arabia.

We stopped at an inn and met a group of boys, and when it became clear we were heading to Maoca, one of them took out his phone to show me a photo. "Look! This is Mirza Ganic, the martyr," he says, showing pictures of a bearded man holding his gun against the backdrop of a beautiful villa, built in the distinctive style of refined Syrian mansions. There's another photo of a group of guys in a pool, and the final one is of the same man wrapped in a blanket, dead, at the feet of his companions.

"He was born in Sandzak, and he got injured on his way here," the boy says. "It wasn't a mortal wound. He could have been easily saved. But he came here to die and become a martyr, so they left him to bleed to death."

Bairo "the Bosnian" Ikonovic is another who went over there; he's one of the bosses in the caliphate. "Some people decide to travel in space, but here in Bosnia this is how they hold on to a glorious past. In their minds, it will bring back the golden age of Islam," says the boy.

Mosque in Sarajevo — Photo: Avrupa/GFDL

The small Serbian cemetery was moved away when the Muslims bought the lands. Wherever you stand, there are simple tombstones and crosses, most of the deceased unnamed. A group of children plays nearby, the girls with their heads covered. There is something wry and gentle in the way they look at you, like the smile of an old lady and sad child mixed together. The two biggest kids are lookouts, ready to warn when someone is coming.

The houses here are barns made of stones and mud, and the flags of the caliphate don't fly from the windows of the houses anymore because the police took them down. But the black and white lettering remains on the balconies of those who proclaim the "true faith."

Prayer and violence

We stop near the mezdid, the place of prayer — in Salafist Maoca, there is no mosque. Trousers, djellabas and niqabs all hang in the local shop. We arrive just before noon, prayer time, and women dressed in black niqabs traipse through the snow with their brightly colored plastic sandals. The men all have long beards, boots and warm layers piled on top of their djellabas.

The head, the "emir," is Nesred Imamovic, and he left for Syria months ago with his wives and children. He named Merset Cekic as head of the community. This is a man who hurries to prayer; he lost an eye and looks at us with the remaining one with hatred as he spits on the ground. "Go away. No one here wants to talk to you," he says.

It isn't easy to live here, says a man who finally agrees to speak with us. "We have come from different places in Bosnia. Many work as masons and laborers in Brcko. Some people have even tried to go to Germany and Austria for work, but the people at the border saw that they came from Maoca and sent them back, telling them they were terrorists," he says.

"When the flags were put up, around 200 soldiers came with their faces covered, terrifying all the children," says the man, who wishes to remain anonymous. "They smashed up houses and stole about 3,000 euros from me. You tell me, is this not terrorism?"

Asked about the caliphate, he replies, "Muhammad said the whole world will belong to Islam, and the cross will be broken. This is the sign that this time is coming."

But this holy war is killing many Muslims, I tell him. "Answer me first, foreigner: What do the Americans, the British, all you infidels do to the Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria? This is fascism. The Muslims in Sarajevo and other cities are the same as the Americans — they're false believers," he says. "I dream of a Bosnia where there's a mosque at every corner to pray."

He invites us to his house to show me how it was damaged by the police. One of his children is learning to read by reciting verses of the Koran, and black veils hastily disappear behind a door. He shows me the police report, which details the items that were confiscated: a gun, three bayonets and a sword.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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