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Islamic Terror in Bosnia? New Book Offers Insights from Former RFE/RL Editor

Author and former RFE/RL Balkan Service editor Vlado Azinovic, during a presentation for his new book in Sarajevo, 16 July 2012
Author and former RFE/RL Balkan Service editor Vlado Azinovic, during a presentation for his new book in Sarajevo, 16 July 2012
In 2007, RFE/RL published a book by Balkans Service senior editor Vlado Azinovic that examined Al Qaeda's presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Five years later, the journalist-turned-academic is at it again, with a new book titled “Terrorism Studies: Introduction.” During a July 16 promotional event in Sarajevo, Azinovic said he hoped the book would inform an “oftentimes confused” general public and media about the nature of terrorism, define the threat, and help “devise successful counterterrorism strategies.”

The book examines the global threat of terrorism and spotlights how this threat manifests in Bosnia. Azinovic locates the root of terrorism in “deprivation – political, economic, cultural, or religious” and says that it is, for the terrorist, a cost-effective means to resolve grievances by destabilizing government and society. Terrorists proceed according to logic, Azinovic states, and acts of terrorism are “always premeditated, carefully planned and executed.”

To Get Ahead, Bosnia’s Politicians “Cry Terrorist”

Bosnia has not experienced a higher level of terrorist activity than other countries in Europe. However, Azinovic said, rampant discrimination, the government’s questionable legitimacy, and the influence of radical, puritanical Islamists – called Salafists – align to create an environment that is ideal for nurturing potential terrorists.

Instead of addressing these structural weaknesses, argues Azinovic, politicians in Bosnia try either to dismiss the resulting fears about terrorism or to exploit them for political gain. One group of politicians engage in “constant denial of [the presence of] radical ideology and groups promoting it,” while the other grossly overstates the role of Bosnian Muslims “as active supporters of Islamic terrorism.”

“Establishing a link between one’s political rivals and terrorism delegitimizes the opponent’s political goal. Calling the other side ‘terrorist’ gives one the upper hand in political struggle,” said Azinovic.

RFE/RL Career Set Stage for Terrorism Research Efforts

Today Azinovic is an assistant professor at the University of Sarajevo, where he has been teaching since 2008. Prior to his academic appointment, Azinovic spent 12 years with RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, and also worked as a journalist for Voice of America`s Croatian Service and FM Radio Zid in Sarajevo.

Though he is no longer employed with RFE/RL, Balkan Service Director Gordana Knezevic says the service would be hard pressed to find someone better equipped to look at these issues than Azinovic, who remains a regular contributor to Balkans Service programs. Whenever incidents such as the 2011 shooting at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo arise, the Balkans Service turns to Azinovic as a valuable source on the latest developments.

Azinovic credits much of his success to RFE/RL. “I never would have embarked on terrorism research if it had not been for my editors and peers at RFE/RL who encouraged my interests and academic pursuits.”

He continues, “I believe that my professional training in journalism and deeper understanding of contemporary international politics [not only] have enabled me to successfully change career but to carry on, through other means, the same mission that for more than 60 years has been in the core of RFE/RL’s values.”

That common mission, as he puts it, is “creating a well-informed citizenry as a pre-requisite for a functioning democracy.”

--JoEllen Koester