This is not an enthralling post, but, while we're on the subject of non-credible sources on the Balkan wars, it seems the proper time to conclude an issue that I've been looking into for a little while. I state it as factually and dispassionately as I can in the hope that it will be a useful point of future reference for assessing a particular claim.
Irrelevantly, the claim appears in a Telegraph review of Douglas Murray's book Neoconservatism and my Anti-Totalitarianism. The reviewer is Neil Clark, an occasional contributor to The Spectator and one or two other UK publications. (Clark also writes regularly to me and, I understand, a few other columnists of similar views on foreign policy, usually in the form of a challenge to say or do something; I regret that I am not assiduous in replying.) He writes:
Similarly, while lambasting the "amoral quietism" of the Major government in its non-intervention policy in Bosnia, Kamm fails to remind readers that the Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic - whose separatist cause neo-conservatives enthusiastically championed - not only wrote that "the most important lesson from the Koran is the impossibility of any connection between Islamic and non-Islamic systems", but also recruited for an SS division in the Second World War.
It's true that this claim about Izetbegovic was known to me when I wrote my book, as I've come across it several times before. The oddity is that in each case the author has been the same: Neil Clark. There are sightings, for example, in articles for The New Statesman - "Izetbegovic, a man who had not only served in an SS-sponsored organisation in the Second World War but actually recruited for it" - and The Guardian - "... even if you served in an SS unit (like the neoconservatives' favourite Islamist, the late Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic)... ". Being of inquisitive cast of mind, I finally asked the Cambridge historian Marko Attila Hoare if he knew the source of Clark's claim. Marko sent me a full answer, which I have abbreviated (and any consequent errors in it are mine).
Marko could find no direct source. The closest he could get to it was a claim that the Serbian historian Milan Bulajic - a genuine if not entirely objective authority on the Croatian Ustashe - wrote to the journalist David Binder, claiming he had found a transcript of Izetbegovic's 1946 trial, in which the prosecution alleged that Izetbegovic had recruited for the SS during WW2, and Izetbegovic made no attempt to deny it, but merely excused himself on the grounds of his extreme youth.
Marko is careful not to rule out the possibility that this is true, and Bulajic is a credible source, but as things stand, this is merely third-hand hearsay. Marko has not seen Bulajic's letter, or the transcript of Izetbegovic's trial, and it is doubtful that Neil Clark has either. Consider also:
1. Contrary to the pro-Serb nationalist claims, Izetbegovic was tried under the Communist regime not for his wartime activities, but for his post-war agitation against the Communists: he was thus not a war criminal in Yugoslav Communist eyes, and he spent only three years in prison before being released.
2. The 'Young Muslim' group to which Izetbegovic belonged, was not considered by the Communists to be a pro-fascist or quisling group equivalent to the Serb Chetniks or Croat Ustashe, and initially it enjoyed a certain freedom of activity for the first several months of the Communist Yugoslav regime. Many members of the Young Muslims joined the Partisans and fought against the Nazis, Chetniks and Ustashas; some even joined the Communist party. It was only because of their resistance to the Communist dictatorship that they were eventually crushed. Izetbegovic himself was first arrested in September 1945 for his oppositional activities, but released the next day. The Communists did not move against the Young Muslims until 1946; this was linked to Young Muslim political resistance, which itself was provoked by the increasing unwillingness of the regime to accommodate the religious and dietary needs of Muslim students and soldiers.
3. Izetbegovic was only 19 years old when WW2 ended.
Marko did a splendid job in furnishing me with this historical background, but I eventually realised why he had failed to turn up Clark's source. An academic historian combing through a range of primary and scholarly secondary material is unlikely to alight on the type of source that the author of a piece proclaiming Slobodan Milosevic a 'prisoner of conscience' would rely on. But I, on the other hand, have found it.
It transpires that the source is an organisation that Clark names as "the Institute of Strategic Studies Organisation". I wouldn't blame anyone for treating the London-based think-tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies as an authoritative source, as it is widely regarded as the premier NGO in the field of security policy. Unfortunately, Clark gave no publication details or web link, so I had to search for the relevant publication myself in the Institute's output. And I turned up nothing at all. Eventually I realised I must be looking in the wrong place. By the "Institute of Strategic Studies" Clark had meant not the IISS but an organisation with a different name from the one he gave, namely a little-known US group called the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA). The ISSA's output is not the same type of thing as is published by the impartial and scholarly IISS, and I can only assume that Clark is either unfamiliar with the difference or doesn't realise that it matters. Here, for example, is advice from an ISSA publication on where those responsible for homeland security should be focusing attention:
Significantly, Bosnia-Herzegovina has in place in its UN Embassy in New York a committed Islamist, already tied to major war crimes. Just as it did in the run-up to the September 11, 2001, attacks. The US did not even investigate the links following September 11; the Bosniak leadership is counting on the fact that the US will not now look into the Bosnian link.
There is a widespread non-technical name for this general class of theory about political agency, and I shall not trouble to give it. And it is this organisation that Clark relies on for his assertions about Izetbegovic's historical affiliations. The exact document that Clark invokes is here. Clark also cites one other source for the claim, whom he calls David Pinder. I'm assuming that, again, Clark is merely not strong on names and is referring to the journalist David Binder, who is cited above and whose judgement on the qualities of General Ratko Mladic I quote in the post immediately below this one.
I have in this post endeavoured to make no value judgement on the sources I have located, or on the manner of Clark's appeal to them, but merely stated what they are. The next time Clark makes this claim without attribution in The Guardian , The New Statesman or somewhere else, you may wish to recall its provenance.