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Bosnians Know What's to Be Done

Authors: David L. Phillips, Executive Director, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, and H.E. Haris Silajdzic
October 2, 2001
International Herald Tribune


Bosnians were horrified by the terrorist attacks against the United States. Retaliation against terror groups is of course justified. But more than military measures will be needed to deter future terrorism and ensure world security.

Bosnians know all too well that U.S. leadership is essential to resolving regional conflicts, particularly when Muslims are aggrieved. More than 200,000 people were killed and a million made homeless as a result of ethnic cleansing and aggression against Bosnia's Muslim population.

After three years the carnage was finally ended when U.S. diplomacy, backed by force, culminated in a peace agreement. Bosnians cheered America's intervention and recognized its indispensable role as a peace broker.

However, expectations have gone unfulfilled. Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, has been delivered to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, but justice has not been fully served. His project of ethnic partition persists; displaced persons have not returned home; prominent war criminals are still at large. There is peace but no justice. And as a result, many Bosnians are frustrated and angry.

In Bosnia and elsewhere around the world, simmering conflicts can be incubators of resentment. Many conflict-prone countries question America's motivation and role in world affairs. They perceive a disingenuous self-interest and double standard when it comes to U.S. efforts at peacemaking.

The Muslim world has made clear its critical view of America's unconditional support for Israel. It is important that the Bush administration demonstrate fairness by taking steps to reactivate the Arab-Israeli peace process and work toward a regional peace settlement. Renewing U.S. resolve to mediate an agreement would send a signal of revitalized leadership.

U.S. leadership is also needed in other global hot spots which can become flash points for anti-Americanism. For example, achieving meaningful self-government in Aceh would reduce tensions in Indonesia. Resolving Kashmir's status in accordance with international law and in consultation with the Kashmiris would calm conditions in Southwest Asia. More vigorous U.S. efforts to settle differences between Azerbaijan and Armenia would reduce resentment in the Caucasus.

Although Moscow is cooperating with the campaign against terror, Washington should not turn a blind eye to egregious human rights abuses committed by Russia in Chechnya.

Such engagement by the United States would send an immediate signal of sympathy to the Muslim world.

The international community should pursue long-term solutions to the root causes of conflict. U.S. leadership is needed to forge a global coalition in the war against ignorance, poverty and injustice. These conditions lead to despair and provide fertile ground for anti- Americanism.

Throughout the Muslim world, ordinary people have limited information and are easily manipulated. Radicals who glorify martyrdom exploit ignorance and encourage violence. The ranks of disaffected youth are growing. To meet their needs, education should be the top priority.

From Sarajevo to Seattle, young people crave access to information. Poorer countries need better-equipped classrooms and improved Internet and communications technology. Expanded broadcasts of the Voice of America and similar networks in Islamic countries would improve cross-cultural awareness and enhance mutual understanding.

There is a growing gap in the level of social and economic development between the industrialized and developing worlds. It is easy to blame America for inequities arising from globalization. To narrow the gap, the Bush administration should create a forum where world leaders can gather to discuss ways of ensuring that globalization enriches everyone, not just a few. Many Muslims feel that they are being left behind.

To avoid an incendiary confrontation, the West should show that it is not hostile to the hopes and dreams of the Muslim world.

Mr. Silajdzic, a former prime minister of Bosnia, and Mr. Phillips, deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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