When Bosnia Turned Muslim


The Bosnian war happened because
nearly a thousand years ago the Pope punished Bosniaks
for doing their own thing. In this video, the second in our five part
series, I intend to show you how. In 1463, just as they’d done with the rest of
the Balkans, the Ottomans conquered Bosnia. Their Christian king cried out to his neighbours
for help, but none answered his call. The Ottomans killed him, divided his kingdom,
and set up an Islamic administration that would last for nearly
four hundred years. And just like all those before them, when they
came across differences in culture and religion, they aimed to change them. They converted, they pressured,
and they killed. But it wasn’t about just being good Muslims. It was about control. Any leader worth his weight in salt knows
that if you want boys to die for you it’s better if you control their God. If you write the words that they speak from
that pulpit, you have more than their bodies, you have their souls. If politics is a hydra, one of
its heads is religion. Under the new Ottoman administration, the Bosniaks would be pulled in three different directions by three different empires
pushing three different gods. Yet, unlike much of the rest of the Balkans,
most people here chose the new one. Islam. This was one of the few areas of Europe that
would take on a majority Muslim identity after being conquered by the Ottomans. And within a century, over two thirds of the
nation would have converted to the will of Allah. But the reason why likely had more to do with
the politics of Christianity than it did with Islam. Because when those first Muslim
missionaries arrived here in Bosnia, they found a soil ready for their seed. It wasn’t that the Bosniaks were
being offered something different, it wasn’t that they themselves were different. They were just living on a religious fault
line, and the spiritual history of this land has always been one of abuse. Power hungry men wrapped in the cloth of God,
lusting after their lands and tax returns. And at one point or another, they’d been treated as
heretics by both sides of the Christian schism, and they certainly hadn’t forgotten it. They’d even been the subject of a crusade. In the early 1200’s, the Pope was getting
quite annoyed with the Bosnian Church. They kept claiming they’d follow his rules, and then
when they went home to their remote mountain villages, they just did whatever the hell they wanted. At home, Bosnians prayed in their own language. They chose their own clerics. They had their own understanding of the
Biblical text and the rituals it required. In their churches, the pulpit spoke to them,
for them, and by them. It was a little schism all its own. To the pontiff, this was absolutely unacceptable. It wasn’t which specific rules they were
breaking per se, it was more the fact that they were breaking the rules at all. This was a land on the border of Orthodoxy, and with the
great schism only having just kneecapped his power, the Pope was not going to let this slide. They would do what he said, or he’d kill them. Or more accurately, he’d ask around and find someone
nearby who was willing to do the killing for him. And Hungary was more than happy to help. In fact, they’d been the ones
who’d spurred it on. Like most crusades, this was more like a war
of conquest masquerading as the will of God. They wanted Bosnia’s land, and if the local people
were heretical it was not only internationally acceptable, but it was also legal. If God and man agreed,
then Bosnia had to go. So Hungary’s rulers made an unspoken deal with the
Papacy that they would crush the independent Bosniaks, and in turn they could trust the pope to support
their claim to any land they took. But the invasion failed. Those unholy holy warriors were stopped in
their tracks and the core of Bosnia remained very much so true to its beliefs. Only now with a much more
suspicious view of Rome. And perhaps not surprisingly, that story
was the same on the other side. When Orthodox leaders were no less impressed
with the independence of the Bosniaks, they made no fewer attempts
to try to convert them either. They too believed that they deserved
control of Bosnian souls. And their reasoning was? They wanted them. And so they were willing to kill for them. And for hundreds of years, the local people of Bosnia
saw torture and oppression in the faces of God’s men. Believe the preacher from the East
and the West will kill you. Believe the West and
the East will do the same. So as the Ottomans conquered their way up
the Balkans, there were a lot of Bosniaks who were rightly really pissed
with the politics of Christianity. It’s not that they didn’t fight valiantly against
the invasion, but once they were conquered, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to find that there
were many people willing to try out this new God. From their end, the Ottomans were for the
most part less than forceful about conversion. That isn’t to say that there weren’t many
forced conversions, such as with the Janissaries, or that they didn’t heavily incentive Islam. Of course they did. They wanted control of the people’s souls
just as much as Rome or Constantinople. But they were also a sprawling, multi-ethnic
and multi-religious empire. Eradicating the entire population of
the region simply wasn’t feasible. Forced conversion of such a huge area of
land would lead to more uprisings than it would presumably be worth. So if they really, truly wanted to change people’s
minds, they had to be smart about it. So they made all-non Muslims
into second class citizens. And said, do you want to get
to the front of the line? Ok. Convert. Non-Muslims would be known as dhimmi, and they
would be protected from violence and depredation. But that’s about it. They whole point of the barrier
was to incentivize removing it. Non-Muslims wouldn’t be able to trade
on the Ottoman trade networks. They wouldn’t be able to hold office. They wouldn’t be able to ride
a horse or carry or sword. I mean some of these were clearly meant to
stop rebellion, but most were just simply basic forms of oppression. After all, that was the point. It could go away at any time. It was their choice. So for the most part, becoming a Muslim
in the Ottoman empire was a decision. It was the price you had to pay
to make more money. To get more power. And for many of the already heretical
followers of the Bosnian Church, that didn’t really seem like
that bad of a trade. If politics is a hydra, one of
its heads is the economy. And as more of their people rose to positions
of power, Bosniaks realized that in this regime, if they converted early, they could turn the
tables and become the new ruling elite. Those on the bottom could rise to the top. Converting early was a way to get more respect from
the empire, more power in their positions at home, and pay less tax in their communities. And it worked. Bosniaks became one of the
Empire’s most prized citizens. They were given positions of power and influence. Despite just a generation before being looked down
on by their peasant peers, these were now people at the forefront of a global society. To them, it was as simple as when they’d
changed to Christianity in the first place. But to others, it was the greatest treason
they could possibly imagine. And as time progressed, just as with the schism
before it, this new religious divide changed what it meant to be Bosnian. Language and culture were no longer
at a crossroads for all people. Because the more Bosniaks who turned
Muslim, the more it pushed those who hadn’t into the arms of their spiritual patriots. Orthodox Bosniaks found themselves
now aligning with the Serbs. The Catholics with Croats. Slavic ethnicities divided down yet another
fault line and became just if not more important than the religious ones alongside them. In the eyes of Bosnia’s Muslims, they were
simply expressing the same religious freedom that had always defined this land. In a way, tolerance to heresy was a part
of what it meant to be Bosniak. But in the eyes of both Orthodox and Catholic Bosnians,
the Muslims had given up what it made them Slavic. They were no different than the Turks. Than the Avar. They were now just another other
to see themselves reflected in. And if that wasn’t enough, the realpolitik
of governance only divided them further. For the next four hundred years, Christian Slavic
oppression came from a Muslim Slavic hand. The ruling elite may have lived in a nation
of tolerance, but they were still the ruling elite. They taxed, they spent, and they crushed rebellion. Those who had seen their own religious freedoms
fall before the pressures of empire were now the ones imposing it on others. And those others would not forget it. If politics is a hydra, one
of its heads is identity. As the empire corrupted and rotted from
the inside, its people rose in revolution. Taking to the ideals of ethnic nationalism
now popular across Europe, the Young Turks would drive a wedge
into their own heart, creating a shockwave that would end up splintering the empire and
causing genocides that feel raw even today. And just as with the Byzantines before them,
the weakened Ottoman empire began to fall to the uprising Slavs. As imperial hegemony receded, once suppressed
cultures were raised back from the dead. Deliberate work was put into reviving ancient
traditions, folklore and languages. An admirably futile attempt to
turn the past into the future. But the more work they did to redefine themselves, the
more they realized that you can’t fix a chasm of time. The people had changed. The region had changed. A new era of ethnic nationalism
had reached the Balkans. And before it was said and done, over
seventeen million people would be dead. But more on that next time. This is Rare Earth.

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