Wahhabis in short pants

I was writing a post about how we cover suspected or actual terrorism (which I’ll save for tomorrow) when word came that a gunman fired shots at the United States Embassy in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. As snippets of news came out about this on Twitter, I saw a picture of the gunman (seen here) and it appeared, because the picture wasn’t of great quality, that the man was wearing shorts. That seemed odd attire for a gunman in October. Sarah Schlesinger, a research fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at Hudson Institute, explained:

“Short pants,” which is used as a euphemism for Wahhabis in Bosnia.

You learn something every day. And, indeed, this man had the appearance of a Muslim from his facial hair. I wondered how the media would report this. Some readers complain that the media downplay the role of Islam whenever there’s a terrorist incident. That certainly can be true, but it’s also true that reporters are in the business of reporting things that can be confirmed, not speculated. Just because someone appears to be something doesn’t mean you can begin extrapolating from there. We need to nail down what we know and what we don’t know.

So having said that, I thought that this New York Times blog did a great job of reporting the news, with a concern for the religious angle.

The top of the story is a just-the-facts look at precisely what happened. Gunman fired shots at the Embassy. Video of the assault was posted by a news service. State Department guy says no injury reports. Embassy is in lockdown. Law enforcement is responding. A (yes, “A”) Bosnian president condemns the attack. Another president (how many presidents does this country have?) called the incident a “terrorist attack.” Some media outlets report that the gunman was wounded by a police sniper.

And then we get some information about a possible religion angle:

Citing a Sarajevo newspaper, the Belgrade radio station B-92 reported that there might have been more than one attacker, and noted that the man seen in the video was bearded in the manner of Islamist radicals.

The Sarajevo daily, Dnevni Avaz, reported in a live blog on the attack that the gunman was a 23-year-old with a Slavic name who was born in the Sandzak region of Serbia, which is home to a Muslim community. The newspaper also said that the man spent time in Gornja Moaca, an isolated village in northern Bosnian which was home to a small group of adherents of Wahabbism, a strict form of Islam.

This Bosnian television report on the shooting shows police officers outside the U.S. Embassy after the incident, and identifies the gunman as Mevlid Jašarevi?.

Most of Bosnia’s indigenous Muslim population is made up of ethnic Slavs, whose ancestors converted to Islam centuries ago, during Ottoman Turkish rule. Although the community as a whole has not been particularly observant in recent decades, from the start of the country’s civil war in the 1990s, Bosnian Muslims were subjected to a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing by extremists from the Serb Orthodox and Croat Catholic communities.

During the civil war, hundreds of Islamist foreign fighters came to the aid of the Bosnian Muslims. Some of those men remained in the country after the Dayton peace accords were signed in 1995.

Last year, Bosnian police officers raided Gornja Moaca where some former fighters of Arab origin were reported to have established a community that practiced a strict form of Islam.

I just wanted to highlight how the reporter included information that people must have been wondering about without going overboard or being too restrained. The report indicates what information is known and what information might be relevant. Perhaps facts that are revealed later will show that some of this context was insufficient, but it’s a good start.

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  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Most of Bosnia’s indigenous Muslim population is made up of ethnic Slavs

    A refreshing change from the wartime coverage which kept telling us that the fighting was between “Muslims and ethnic Serbs”, when the “Muslims” are just as much “ethnic Serbs”.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    “A refreshing change from the wartime coverage which kept telling us that the fighting was between “Muslims and ethnic Serbs”, when the “Muslims” are just as much “ethnic Serbs”.”


    This is inaccurate inasmuch as, after ethnogenesis in Tito’s Yugoslava, Bosniaks don’t identify themselves as “ethnic Serbs” of Muslim religion–they identify themselves as members of a separate, if related, ethnic group. Nowadays one would be as accurate to identify Croats as ethnic Serrbs of Roman Catholic religion.

  • Will

    Ah, but you just pointed out the political factor in inventing a previously nonexistent “ethnic group”. If a language is “a dialect with an army”, Bosnian “Muslims” are “a religion with a regional administration”.

    Djilas would almost certainly not agree with you. He even argued (in NJEGOS) that the foundational account of Bishop Danilo’s ethnic cleansing was fictional, on the ground that Montenegrin Serbs would not have slaughtered their own clansmen who were Moslem.

    And the references to “ethnic Serbs” muddied it even more by using “Serb” and “Serbian” almost interchangeably.

    (Former) Yugoslavia also has some Romany who, after generations of being called “Egyptians”, now claim they really ARE Egyptian — came over with Mehmet Ali or something.

    “Thousands of ethnic Elbonians are crossing the frontier — which baffles observers, as no one knows the difference between ethnic and non-ethnic Elbonians.” — DILBERT

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    “Ah, but you just pointed out the political factor in inventing a previously nonexistent “ethnic group”. If a language is “a dialect with an army”, Bosnian “Muslims” are “a religion with a regional administration”.”

    It wasn’t only political, or theoretical.

    Serbian nationalism as it developed in the 19th century was strongly marked by anti-Muslim sentiments and by Orthodox Christianity as the religion of the naton. Nationalist rhetoric, as you note parenthetically with Djegos, was violently anti-Muslim, going so far as to mythologize a work that praised the massacre of entire Muslim populations. This was also enacted in Serbian public policy, where Muslim groups of multiple ethnicities were subjected to forced emigration on a fairly massive scale after the territories where they lived where conquered by the Serbian kingdom
    (http://balkanologie.revues.org/index265.html). Likely the ancestors of the Bosniaks were lucky not to live in those territories.

    Is it possible to imagine a situation where ethnogenesis of the Bosniaks didn’t happen, where there was no contradiction between being ethnically Serbian and religious Muslim? Sure. Was it going to happen in the context of a Serbian nationalism that not only defined itself against Islam, but often defined the proto-Bosniaks as traitors to had to be brought back to the light? No. Is this ethnogenesis going to be reversed? Unlikely, as judged by the continued polarization of Bosnia and the Sandjak.

    Bosniaks now exist as an ethnic group, defined firstly by their positive relationship with their Islamic religion (even if nominally so) and secondly by their exclusion from other communities (especially the Serb) by their religion. I’m not sure what point is served by insisting on the relatively recent date of the ethnogenesis.

  • Julia

    It’s my understanding that this animosity has its root in the every-five-year levy of young sons from the Christians in the Balkans, primarily Bosnia. These boys became the famous Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire.

    The Janissaries (from Ottoman Turkish ?????? Yeniçeri meaning “new soldier”, Albanian: Jeniçer) wereinfantry units that formed the Ottoman sultan’s household troops and bodyguards. The force was created by the Sultan Murad I from Christian boys levied through the dev?irme system from conquered countries in the 14th century[1] and was abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826

    From Murad I to 1648, the Janissaries were gathered through the dev?irme system. This was the recruiting of non-Turkish children, notably Balkan Christians; Jews were never subject to dev?irme, nor were children from Turkic families. In early days, all Christians were enrolled indiscriminately; later, those from Albania, Greece, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria were preferred.[4][5]

    According to military historian Michael Antonucci, every five years the Turkish administrators would scour their regions for the strongest sons of the sultan’s Christian subjects. These boys, usually between the ages of 10 and 12, were then taken from their parents and given to the Turkish families in the provinces to learn Turkish language and customs, and the rules of Islam; these boys were then enrolled in Janissary training. The recruit was immediately indoctrinated into the religion of Islam



    I have read that many Christian Bosnian families became Muslim so that their sons would not be conscripted – only Christian boys were taken. Of course, this made the converts very unpopular with their Christian neighbors whose sons were still being forcibly taken to Istanbul.

  • John M.


    Most interpretations of Islam enjoin men to be covered from the navel to the knee when in public.

    More can be uncovered–pardon the expression–by googling “awra” “awrah” or “awrat”.