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Cablegate: Ambassador Calls On the Mufti

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS ZAGREB 002143

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EUR/SCE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV HR
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR CALLS ON THE MUFTI

Summary
------------

1. (U) On October 3, the Ambassador paid an initial courtesy
call on Sevko Omerbasic, Mufti of Zagreb and Croatia.
Omerbasic, an educator and known moderate, has been quoted in
the press as being critical of U.S. actions in Iraq. When
asked if there had been any efforts to promote extremism in
Croatia, Omerbasic emphatically said "no," and assured us
that extremist views are unlikely to be found among the small
and moderate Muslim population of Croatia. In a wide-ranging
meeting, Omerbasic struck a balanced and progressive tone,
thanked the U.S. Mission for a recent donation to a Muslim
community, and indicated a desire for further close contact
with the Embassy. End Summary.

A Face of Progressive Islam
------------------------------------

2. (U) On October 3 the Ambassador paid an introductory call
on Sevko Omerbasic, Mufti of Zagreb and Croatia. Ahmed
Ikanovic, Secretary of the Islamic Community in Croatia, and
Mirsad Srebrnikovic, President of the Islamic Center, joined
in what was a productive and informative meeting. Omerbasic
estimated the size of the Islamic community of Croatia to be
well over the official figure of 70,000 and nearly double its
pre-war size. He described the Community's successes in
education, and detailed their plans to develop a university
and increase social services, such as establishing a
pre-school and home for retirees.

3. (U) Omerbasic spoke of the September 11 attack on the
United States and the tremendous damage it caused to the
reputation of Islam. He noted that there were "irrational"
responses to the attack, including some from religious
leaders in the United States, but assured us that he believed
religious leaders had a responsibility to promote peace,
reconciliation, and tolerance.

4. (SBU) Omerbasic said he was energetically against Croatia
sending troops to Iraq out of fear of a backlash against
Muslims in Croatia from the majority Roman Catholic
population should a Croatian soldier be wounded or killed.
He urged us to seek alliances with Arab nations -- such as
Egypt -- who could supply Arab troops who would then take the
lead in rebuilding of Iraq. He expressed concern that every
additional U.S. soldier killed in Iraq will serve only to
worsen American views of Islam and the Arab world. However,
he confided to us that on Saddam personally, he would have
done the same as the U.S. and Great Britain. He said it was
not lost on him or others that only after Saddam's fall did
he proclaim himself a religious person. The Ambassador noted
Croatia's desire to enter Euro-Atlantic alliances and the
European Union, and spoke of the responsibility of all
democratic nations to play a role in the defense of democracy
and the fight against terrorism. The Mufti stated further
that he supported the Government's decision to send police to
Afghanistan -- noting that the Taliban had little to do with
Islam.

5. (U) In September, on one of his first trips outside
Zagreb, the Ambassador donated $13,000, including books,
computers, a photocopy machine, and sporting equipment to the
primary school and Muslim Community Center in the village of
Maljevac. South of Zagreb in a hard-hit war-affected area,
Maljevac is one of a series of small impoverished villages
with a large Muslim population along the border with
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Omerbasic said he visited the village
just after the Ambassador, and saw for himself the donations
and the effect they were having on the community. He praised
the donation as a symbol of the United States as a nation
based on justice and the rule of law. He portrayed Islam as
a positive and progressive force, and by so doing aligned
himself as a democrat in support of the same principles as
the United States.

Comment
-------------

6. (SBU) While he seemed at times reluctant to venture too
deeply into domestic politics -- saying the Government did
not seek his views -- he nonetheless felt comfortable enough
to discuss a broad range of issues, from the Middle East to
the upcoming elections. He was extremely positive about the
current government, calling its policy toward religious
minorities "revolutionary" -- and expressed hope that there
would be "continuity" in the Government beyond elections
expected this fall. We found the discussion fruitful, and

will seek additional opportunities for the larger Embassy
community to engage Omerbasic and his staff on issues of
mutual concern.
FRANK


NNNN

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