More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 75

Over the next few weeks, allmediascotland.com is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

Turkey’s involvement in Bosnia was controversial. It was opposed by the Serbs and, to a lesser but significant extent, by the Greeks. Predictably, it was welcomed by the Bosnian Muslims.

Turkey’s woman Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, pushed hard for the incorporation of Turkish troops into the UN force. I found the Turkish approach to peacekeeping in Bosnia helpful, restrained and constructive. It maintained a distance from other powers such as Iran whose intervention was not so benign.

That probably helped stem growth of fundamentalism in Bosnia. And we should not forget the good intentions of Bangladeshi troops in Bihac; the Egyptians in Sarajevo and the Jordanians in Croatia. However, in military terms, the Turks were by far the most effective.

The Serbs construed Balkan Islam as being Turkish. A Serb commander once pointed out to me the government frontlines below in Sarajevo and the ‘Turks’ encamped there. But the Muslims of Bosnia were – and still are – very liberal Muslims. Their liberal Christian-Bogomil tradition also drew on Arab and Sufi thinkers prior to the Turkish invasion on the 16th century. The Bosnians were not forcibly converted to Islam by the Turks – instead they were given incentives.

Ultimately, they became happy, bad Muslims who quaff alcohol and eat pig. Foreign fighters could not understand the unwillingness of the Bosnians to die in battle and often despaired of the people they had come to free from the infidel.

Some of these imported fighters made extravagant claims to journalists that they would attack UN and NATO forces to cleanse Bosnia of the foreign invaders but there was no significant offensive except a January 1994 attack on aid workers in which a British ODA driver was killed.