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Sandzak and fundamentalist tendencies PDF Print E-mail

(report based on field activities)

Fundamentalist tendencies in Sandzak (that come as a reaction to the clericalization of entire Serbia, intensely conducted by the rightist authorities and the Serbian Orthodox Church / SOC over the past seven years) have been on the rise ever since 2000, and, as in the case of the SOC, are being disguised as human rights issues (the right to freedom of religion, and also, when minority religious communities are concerned, the identity of minorities is additionally being tampered with, such as the right to being different and to resist assimilation into the majority community).

I) Experiences deriving from WiB activities:

· Reasons for concern about the situation in Sandzak were present as of March 2004, when an international Conference was organized by the Women in Black network in Novi Pazar, on the occasion of March 8th. Under the influence of Muslim religious leaders, shouting out the slogan “abortion is my right” during the protest march was made impossible. That situation revealed the fact that the Muslim leaders were already performing censorship and that auto-censorship was present among the Sandzak activists. Other cases indicative of the growth of fundamentalism were described in the workshops at that gathering, (besides attacks on the reproductive rights of women, instances of public promulgation of polygamy, justification for which was allegedly found in the Sheriat law, prescribing the veiling of women, etc.)

· As part of the WiB educational activities connected to the appearance of fundamentalist tendencies in Serbia, one of the six regional seminars was held on mount Zlatar in June 2007, with the participation of 40 activists from towns in western Serbia and Sandzak. What the participants described as manifestations of fundamentalism in their religion is the veiling of women, girls dropping out of school under their parents’ influence, cases of genital mutilation, the segregation of women (introducing time reserved for women only at the city swimming pool). The relativization of these phenomena was also marked (the “women only” hours were seen as “emancipation” by some women, whereas the wearing of scarves was referred to as “free choice”, i.e. as a protection from promiscuous behavior or drug abuse). In Sandzak, religious leaders have begun replacing the state; they have been founding schools, universities and crèches. Sandzak.

· In September 2007, WiB and the Center “Women and Society” from Sarajevo organized the promotion of the book “Fundamentalisms today – feminist and democratic responses’ by Marieme Helie-Lucas, in six cities of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the communities with Muslim majority, the attendance was much lower. Novi Pazar: young people interested in this subject turned up in large numbers. Older people, mostly men, took the offensive, rejecting the “attacks against Islam”. During the informal part of the visit to this city (which took place in the course of the religious holiday Ramadan ), alcoholic beverages were not served in cafes and nobody smoked in public. It was only possible to obtain spirits “under the counter”, like in the days of Prohibition. Tutin: the public was interested, trying to find and identify the similarities in the models imposed by the growing fundamentalist forces. The participants particularly emphasized the similarities between the initial phase of fundamentalism in Algeria and in Sandzak.

Some of the conclusions:
Sandzak as well, there is great political confusion: reducing the so-called multiculturalism to folklore and exotic identities, to religious and ethnic dimension, so that multiculturalism is understood merely as an interethnic and inter-religious dialogue. The corruptions in the name of multiculturalism (of religion, nation, tolerance, etc.) remain practically unidentified. Also, the risks and dangers for women who publicly declare themselves against fundamentalist tendencies and movements should not be underestimated – this is particularly visible in Sandzak.

II) The conflict within the Islamic community in Serbia
Although Women in Black has intensively studied and warned about fundamentalist tendencies in Serbia since 2005, (with particular attention to the SOC, as the majority religious community), this phenomenon has come into the limelight only in 2007. However, due to the heritage of wars, prejudice and the absence of confrontation with them, fundamentalism is being attributed exclusively to the Islamic community. Thus, the Serbian regime that is losing the diplomatic battle for Kosovo, has turned Sandzak into a new hotbed of crises. In May / June 2007, the Serbian police in Sandzak arrested the alleged members of the Wahhabist movement, accusing them of terrorism and seizing a considerable amount of armament. The public was not informed about the outcome of this action afterwards.

In October 2007, an open conflict broke out within the Islamic community in Serbia: between the religious leaders in Belgrade and in Novi Pazar. Two Islamic communities have been formed, one with its seat in Belgrade and the other with its seat in Sandzak and with “spiritual ties with Sarajevo”. The acute political conflict between the two currents inside the Islamic community is about the right to organize themselves independently inside Serbia, which culminated in a brawl among the followers of the two currents in the mosque in Prijepolje and police intervention. The religious leaders from Belgrade want the Islamic community in Serbia to be unified and independent (uninfluenced by the Islamic community in Sarajevo), and they enjoy the approval of the Belgrade authorities, which perspires through the media support to this current. On the other hand, the religious leader of Sandzak believes that two Islamic communities can coexist in Serbia and that the supremacy of the Islamic community in Sarajevo is historically justified. Furthermore, it is because of the support of the official policy of Belgrade to the “Belgrade current of Islam” that the resignation of the Minister of Religion is being sought. Furthermore, the Sandzak conflict has led to attacks against two TV stations in that region.

The confrontation of the two currents within the Islamic community has also divided the public in Serbia. The official policy and its followers support the current of Islam with religious leaders in Belgrade, whereas the civilian-oriented citizens support the Sandzak current. The obvious problem is that the civilian-oriented public fails to see the general danger of fundamentalist tendencies within the entire Islamic community, and particularly of a peculiar tyranny imposed by the Sandzak current. at this moment, the civilian society perceives the Sandzak current as a “victim” of the official policy, which is, indeed, true in the ongoing power struggle; however, the catastrophic consequences of the activities of the Sandzak religious leaders are being overlooked.


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