World Bulletin / News Desk
Alija Ali Izetbegovic (1925 - 2003) was a former lawyer who led his Bosnian people to victory after four years of war between the local ethnic groups. A lifelong opponent of communism, he was imprisoned for his Islamic convictions in 1946–48 and 1983–88 by the totalitarian regime in Yugoslavia. Mr. Izetbegovic built a Muslim political party, the Muslim Party of Democratic Action in 1990, as the old Yugoslavia began to dissolve into a chaotic era of competing nationalisms. After winning elections late that year, Mr. Izetbegovic then moved on and led his republic toward independence that was supported by the West but not by the Serbs who made up roughly one-third of the prewar population.
Nicknamed ‘the Wise King’, Alija Izetbegović was born on 8 August 1925 to a Muslim family. When he was in college he became curious about his religion and joined a Muslim youth club, before becoming a member of an organization for the development of ideas when he was just 15 years of age. This organization, the Mladi Muslimani (Young Muslims)which was originally founded for the debate and exchange of ideas, later became a leading organization for education and charitable works, and was a source of help for refugees during World War II.
His major work, ''Islam Between East and West,'' published in 1980, was, by the his own definition, ''not a book of theology'' but an attempt to define the ''place of Islam in the general spectrum of ideas.'' The book argues that ''Islam is more than a religion.'' and that it is in fact not just a religion, but a view and way of life, and is vastly superior to all intellectual and spiritual alternatives, including philosophical, religious ethical and political ones.
The passing away of Tito 1980 resulted in a vacuum with major disagreement over who would replace him as leader. The federal states of Yugoslavia agreed to temporarily operate autonomously from one another until a new leader could be decided on.
But it was this brief period of semi-freedom allowed Aliya Izzetbegovic to pen a book called the ‘Islamic Manifesto’, which was published in 1983 but written in 1970, and was widely slammed during the Bosnian war by Serbs as ''proof'' that "Islamic fundamentlism" was on the footsteps of Europe.
As a result he was accused of wanting to establish an Islamic state in the heart of Europe, for which he was given a 14-year prison sentence. However, this only spread the word about his book even more, allowing it to be read across the entire Muslim world.
Izetbegovic was imprisoned twice during his lifetime.
During World War II, when Bosnia became part of the puppet-Nazi state of the Croatian Ustashe, Izetbegovic joined the Mladi Muslumani. This group was torn between siding with the German-sponsored Handzar divisions organized by the German SS or with the Yugoslav Communist partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. Mr. Izetbegovic supported the Handzars.
In 1946, after the war, he was arrested for his activities during the course of war and a military court sentenced him to three years of imprisonment. Once free, he earned a law degree at Sarajevo University and remained engaged in politics.
His second imprisonment took place in 1983. Izetbegovic along with other Bosniak activists were tried for indulging in hostile activities, spreading hostile propaganda and making a visit to the Muslim congress in Iran. They were sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment. However, following persistent requests from human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, the Bosnian Supreme Court reduced the sentence of Izetbegovic to twelve years. In 1988, he was pardoned and released after five years however the impact of the imprisonment was a severe detriment to his health.
Independence and the Bosnian War
In 1991, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia (autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo) fell apart with Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia declaring independence.Izzetbegovic took the idea of independence to referendum, and with an outstanding ‘yes’ vote, declared Bosnian independence in 1 March 1992.
Following this, Serbs and Croats began to invade Bosnia-Herzegovina in a joint mission. In front of the entire world, Serbs and Croats slaughtered and raped hundreds of thousands of people including women and children. The civil war in Bosnia resulting in around 100,000 deaths, mostly Serbs and Muslims.
The West largely remained silent about the massacres. Muslims around the world protested, but their governments also remained relatively quiet. The Bosnian people, who were being wiped off the face of the planet, seemed almost hopeless. It was followed by a bloody war which went on till 1994 despite several peace attempts made by Izetbegovic.
Through these difficult times, Alija Izetbegović led his people with great bravery. Despite Serb bombardment of Sarajevo reducing it to ruins, he refused to abandon the capital city. He fought side by side with his soldiers and led them on the battlefield. At the same time, he represented his people in diplomatic relations, seeking a peaceful solution to the end of the war. The war was finally ended when he signed the 1995 Dayton Treaty in the US. As the enemy forces retreated, Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrated its independence, founded on the struggle and sacrifices of some 200,000 martyrs. After the Dayton agreement, Izetbegovic was re-elected as the president of Bosnia and continued to serve his nation until 1998.
Alija Izetbegović passed away on 19 October 2003. He will forever be hailed as a hero in Bosnian history.
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