Compellingly nuanced and a crucial contribution to its field: a review of ‘The Muslim Resolutions’

Credit: Center for Islam in the Contemporary World

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The Muslim Resolutions: Bosniak Responses to World War Two Atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Dr. Hikmet Karčić, Dr. Ferid Dautović, and Dr. Ermin Sinanović (Center for Islam in the Contemporary World, June 2021)

The social and political position of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) community in the Nazi-puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), has been the subject of political propaganda ever since the Communist-led Partisans (National Liberation Front) claimed victory over their rivals in 1945. 

While much effort was made by the victorious Partisans to emphasise Bosniak resistance against the Ustaše regime, the fall of Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia in the 1990s saw a shift in discourse. New research shows how a generation of Bosniaks became simultaneously reconceptualised by aggressors as both “Turks” (see Srebrenica Memorial Center’s Transkripti Genocida) and a continuation of Muslim collaborators in the NDH’s Ustaše regime (see Takis Michas, Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milošević’s Serbia for media discourse in Greece and Serbia).

Given this context of propaganda and violence, a set of resolutions put forward by the Bosniak elite (the Muslim Resolutions) in 1941 and 1942, have become a major point of academic interest. The Muslim Resolutions were a set of petitions written and signed by members of the Bosniak elite (mostly figures of religious, political and legal authority) in the fascist NDH. Criticising and denouncing various policies of the Ustaša regime, their significance has become a point of historical and academic interest both in South-East Europe and beyond. This is in large part due to the looming legacy of NDH crimes as well as multiple waves of violence against Bosniaks in the twentieth century. 

To that end, the historical significance of The Muslim Resolutions: Bosniak Responses to World War Two Atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina co-edited by Dr. Hikmet Karčić, Dr. Ferid Dautović, and Ermin Sinanović is manifold. The book provides a full English translation of the previously uncovered Muslim Resolutions of 1941 and 1942, thus making these primary sources accessible to both non-native English-speaking scholars and a wider anglophone audience. 

Moreover, the book presents in writing for the first time two newly discovered Resolutions: the Bosanska Dubica Resolution and the Bugojno Resolution. Overall, this is the first time all ten Resolutions have been made fully accessible in English.

The text’s provision of translated primary sources comes in spite of additional challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the editors faced the dilemma of textual interventions made by Communist-led Partisans, compounded by multiple reproductions of the Resolutions and ‘editorial negligence’ during the decades of reproduction (Karčić, 2021).

Readers should appreciate the editors’ efforts (Principal Researcher: Dr. Hikmet Karčić) to go back to the original documents, ‘gathered from the archives or the authors themselves (or their heirs)’ (Karčić, 2021), in order to make reliable translations. 

Aside from these factors that make this book an important contribution to Islamic Studies and multiple other academic fields, The Muslim Resolutions offers an opportunity that transcends academia. Its compilation of historical essays, some translated into English also for the first time, provides readers with the necessary scope of information to form a contextualised understanding of the Resolutions that is both nuanced and avoids sectarian interpretations.

Decades of propagandised and revisionist interpretations of the Muslim Resolutions and their significance, perpetuated by all from the Partisans to ethnic nationalists, are subdued by the text’s unembellished analysis and disinterested compilation of historical essays. Students, lecturers, researchers, and enthusiasts can refer to The Muslims Resolutions with the confidence that they will receive a nuanced evaluation of historical events during a period of Bosnian history that remains socially and politically salient to this day.

Summary of the text

The Muslim Resolutions offers a preface, on behalf of the three editors, that highlights the historical salience of the Resolutions and interpreting their significance. Here, the purpose of the book is stated: to present the Muslim Resolutions to a wider (English-speaking) audience and to place them within their wider historical context. The editors posit that their research shows the considerable role played by the Muslim Resolutions in influencing NDH crimes both during and after the Second World War.

The reader is then provided with a selection of historical essays – including one from each editor – that individually explore the complexities of the Resolutions and their significance. As the editors make clear in their preface, the selection of historical essays reflects the breadth of interpretations from historians specialised in the field. 

This is followed by the Resolutions themselves, translated in whole into English for the first time. 

Dr. Hikmet Karčić is the Principal Researcher of ‘The Muslim Resolutions: Bosniak Responses to World War Two Atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and a genocide scholar based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Key points of the book

Among the wide range of historical contexts and considerations explored by the book’s essays, the following stood out to the present author for allowing the reader to avoid simplistic interpretations of the Resolutions. They should not be seen as an exhaustive list or a complete summary of the book’s contents. 

Firstly, Desmond Maurer discusses the volatile status of the Bosniak community since the fall of Ottoman rule in the region, and how this influenced their aspirations for ‘constitutional order’, recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ‘historical continuity’ and Bosniak identity as part of that continuity (Maurer, 2021). These aspirations, framed within the community’s perpetually insecure status as ‘a people without a state’ (Karčić, Dautović, and Sinanović, 2021), is compellingly linked with the Bosniak elite’s nineteenth-century style petitioning to the NDH regime. 

What is less certain, as the book’s compilation of essays shows, is the level of influence this method had on the fascist recipients. There were several examples of Bosniaks in office cooperating with Bosniak civilians to save Serb lives (e.g. Adem Osmanbegović’s actions as district chief in Gračanica). The Bosniak elite also successfully halted the Ustaša deportation of Muslim Roma to concentration camps in August 1941. None of these examples should be underestimated in their humanitarian significance.

Nonetheless, there is no evidence in the book’s primary or secondary sources of the authorities being majorly influenced by the Resolutions themselves. The Ustaša authorities ‘largely ignored the allegations and demands in the resolutions’ and the colossal death tolls of the NDH regime remain a fact of history. (Jahić, 2021)

Another point raised in the book’s essays and primary sources relates to the nature of Ustaša violence itself. The historical essays give examples of Croat members of Ustaše units in Bosnia and Herzegovina dressing in traditional Bosniak attire and referring to each other with recognisably Muslim names as they attacked Serb civilians.

This allowed the Ustaše to place responsibility of anti-Serb violence on the supposed settling of pre-existing Orthodox-Muslim disputes. The Resolutions themselves often make reference to this and in some, such as the Prijedor Resolution, this tactic is openly denounced. The book’s essays also contextualise this phenomenon within a rise in Chetnik reprisal attacks against Bosniaks at the time. 

However, as is pointed out in several essays, there were multiple examples of Muslim Ustaše wilfully participating in and even leading acts of violence against Serb civilians. Several of the historians published in the book note the tendency of the signatories to individualise Muslim participation in Ustaša crimes as ‘rogue elements’ (Sarajevo Resolution).

Nonetheless, the reader can refer to the essays from both Dr. Ferid Dautović and Ermin Sinanović to understand Islam’s long history of prescribing public justice and peace to its followers, and the likely influence this had on the ulema (Muslim clergy and religious scholars) who drafted and signed the Resolutions, calling on Muslims to refrain from Ustaša-led violence ‘in the spirit of the exalted tenets of their religion, Islam’ (Sarajevo Resolution).

Other significant points to note within the book’s essays and primary sources include the complexity of the Resolutions’ signatories, who ranged from Nazi collaborationists to those who would become explicitly anti-fascist. This is compounded by Maurer’s remarks that we should avoid viewing the Resolutions as evidence of Bosniak anti-fascism, ‘a position that few had yet fully embraced and those who had more often rejected fascism in favor of another totalitarian ideology than out of deep-rooted liberal democratic convictions’.

The complexities of Bosniak resistance is explored in particular detail in Marko Attila Hoare’s essay. Often unorganised, it would take time before Bosniak resistance would increasingly translate into participation in the Partisan movement, particularly given the examples of initial anti-Bosniak sentiment within the Partisan movement at its inception.

How, then, do we best understand the Resolutions of 1941 and 1942? The evidence provided by the book’s primary and secondary sources shows that they were far from flawless in method or design. However, as Adan Jahić points out in his essay, they were a unique example of interethnic solidarity in an era of violent ethno-religious tribalism. No such official protest against Ustaša crimes, however imperfect, can be found from the Catholic Church, and no such formal protest against Chetnik crimes can be attributed to the Serbian Orthodox Church at the time. Moreover, the Resolutions are one of few examples in the region’s history of such crimes being condemned by a ‘people without a state’ (Karčić, Dautović, and Sinanović, 2021).  

In conclusion…

The structure of the book and the breadth of historical themes explored create a crucial dialectic between existing research on the Muslim Resolutions and newer research, including from beyond the book’s studied period. Xavier Bougarel’s study of Muslim nationhood in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Marko Attila Hoare’s research on the complexities behind resistance movements in occupied Bosnia, and the relationship between the community and the elite explored by scholars such as Max Bergholz are all examples of historical discussions that find space in this book.

More recent research conducted by Emir Suljagić on the reconceptualisation of Bosniaks in the 1990s, and Stevan Bozanich’s ongoing work on Chetnik paramilitaries in the first half of the twentieth century would be appropriate supplementary reading to this book. 

Ultimately, the historical and social value of The Muslim Resolutions lies in its refusal to present schematic evaluations of what are easily manipulable primary sources. The evidence and analysis presented in this book compels the reader to interpret the role of Bosniak resistance during the NDH both with reason and within its historical context. In other words, the book fulfils its stated goals. 

Readers can access The Muslim Resolutions here.

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Image Article Source: Center for Islam in the Contemporary World

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