The Holy Grail of Peaceful Coexistence

Djenita Pasic - Louisville, Kentucky
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, October, 8, 2010
Djenita Pasic

Growing up in the former Yugoslavia, lawyer Djenita Pasic enjoyed the peace of her religiously diverse country. But after the fall of communism and the outbreak of the Bosnian War, Pasic was forced to reevaluate her ideas about religion and tolerance.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe in not being defined by religion. To me, religion is just like communism—a beautiful, noble idea that we are all created equal, which does not work too well in practice.

Do not take me wrong: I am in favor of all the basic premises taught by all religions. But I have a serious problem with how all religions treat “others,” those who do not belong, in practice.

I was born into a Muslim family but I was raised in a communist, or rather socialist, country of Yugoslavia. With no religious practice or training in our upbringing, but with plenty of education and communist propaganda, I believed in my country, our way of life, our mutual, intermixed, and tolerant religious heritage without ever even thinking it may not last forever.

I suffered for the people in Beirut or Jerusalem and their constant wars because I believed we, in Yugoslavia, were different. I believed that we may have found the holy grail of peaceful coexistence, and I was very proud of it.

But then the war came to our country, and this beautiful dream fell apart. All of a sudden we were told that we were different among ourselves, that our religions now defined who we were, and that we no longer had our communist common denominator. All of a sudden I became just another Muslim who could get killed, tortured, or raped just because of my religion, which I never even practiced! Two hundred thousand dead and one million displaced Bosnian Muslims later, I realized it was time for change. I could no longer bury my head in the sand; I had to accept reality as is. I may have gone through the trauma of war and resettlement not visibly scathed, but I knew better.

Because of the experience of war in my home country, I “became” very much a Muslim, but I am also still a “communist” at heart. I know this may be the worst possible combination in the United States, but I am no terrorist or anarchist. I am more of an existentialist and a pacifist, happy with my choices. And I want to promote my European, intermixed, and tolerant heritage, which is still in the hearts and minds of my family and friends in my home city of Sarajevo.

Because of genocide over Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I feel compelled and obliged to belong, to defend and represent hundreds of thousands of victims of this incomprehensible war. I believe in giving those victims my voice. My allegiance is with “my” Muslim people but not at the expense of others. I have seen and experienced the holy grail of peaceful coexistence, and I will pursue it forever.

However, while I am Muslim, I refuse to be defined by religion. This, I believe.

Attorney Djenita Pasic and her family settled in Louisville, Kentucky, as Serbian forces laid siege to her hometown of Sarajevo for over three years. Pasic now is a partner at the law firm of Kahloon, Pasic & Lewis. She remains committed to education, peacemaking, and civil liberty issues.