THE murder of Muslims in Bosnia could, if not more resolutely challenged, reopen historic religious divisions between East and West. So far, the West has refused to offer real help to Bosnia, whose Muslims have been mercilessly killed and driven from their land for six months. At the recent 22-nation London meeting on Yugoslavia, the only country advocating the kind of armed support the Muslims of Bosnia need was Turkey, their old Ottoman Empire ally.
Intelligence reports indicate Turkey has already started covertly shipping arms to Bosnia. Turkish military advisers may be next. Arab volunteer soldiers have been seen. Outside Muslims are closely watching the Kosovo and Sendjak regions of Serbia, where Serb troops are mobilizing.
Culturally, Bosnian Muslims are distinct. They are proud of being European Muslims - more Western than many Yugoslavs. Many are cosmopolitan and Western-educated. They acknowledge women's rights and are church-state separationists. They have developed democratic habits in a multicultural state, living with Croats and Serbs. Bosnian Muslims have two political parties (Bosnian Serbs have one). They are not fundamentalists, Serb propaganda notwithstanding.
Does the Muslim factor figure in the West? The West's do-nothing policy, and recent abandonment of Muslims by Bosnian Croats, push the Muslims into an old alignment with Turks that has powderkeg potential.
Lacking Western help, Bosnian Muslims will take aid from Turkey. The West has refused to arm Bosnians, saying it would escalate the war. Yet when Muslim women and children are being killed, when several hundred thousand civilians in Sarajevo and Bihac are being shelled - infants and grandmothers - the Muslims are going to find weapons somehow, somewhere. They will try to defend themselves.
Muslim women who have been raped and men who escape Serb "detention camps" ask again and again: Where is the West? How can it stand by? Their expectations for the civilized West ironically exceed the West's deeds. This may end in collective Muslim animosity toward the West.
The West must consider the Muslim dimension in Bosnia. It should help not because these are "European" Muslims, or only for basic humanitarian reasons. The West should intervene because it stands for the very kind of human, state, and minority rights the Muslims of Bosnia are being brutally denied. There is currently a greater UN mandate - the use of "all measures necessary" - for the West to send planes over Bosnia and ground the Yugoslav Army jets now shooting and bombing civilians than to send air pat rols below the 32nd parallel in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's planes have not flown since July.
A stable world is built on an adjudication of rights, not ethnic power blocs. The Bosnian Muslims are entitled to their identity and their homes. The West, with Protestant-Christian roots, stands for the toleration and diversity now denied these Muslims. Not helping them harms everyone.