Will Kosovo be able to confront the takfiri threat facing the Balkans?

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Kosovo Muslims attend a Friday prayers on June 21, 2013 at the Grand Mosque in the town of Pristina. AFP/Getty Images/ Armend Nimani

By: Amjad Malaeb

Published Saturday, November 22, 2014

Using Islam in the service of politics is not limited to Arab nations and communities, or individuals in Europe who broke with their societies to join the takfiri groups in the Middle East. There is a real threat to the society and the state in Kosovo, where a ‘tolerant’ brand of Islam, which is becoming more and more rare in our world, today prevails. This report sheds light on how Wahhabism is trying to infiltrate the Kosovar society after the war, amid suspicious Western silence that resembles the silence vis-à-vis the Wahhabi infiltration of Syria and Iraq prior to the disaster that befell the two Arab nations.

Pristina – As soon as the war ended in Kosovo in 1999, NATO forces entered the region, along with ‘humanitarian aid’ for the locals whose homes and businesses were destroyed, not to mention the public infrastructure, as a result of the conflict. But something else came long: A number of NGOs some of which brought something extremely dangerous to Kosovo, namely, radical religious ideology.

People in Kosovo complain that some of those organizations offered aid to Muslim Kosovars only. The majority of Kosovo’s people, of whom 95 percent are ethnic Albanians, consider themselves one people. They believe that their struggle against Serbian oppression is the same struggle, so they ask, how could foreign aid end up discriminating against them on the basis of religion? Some believe that the aid coming from Muslim governments therefore had long-term political goals.

In this context, and interestingly, countries like Saudi Arabia started building mosques all across Kosovo after the war. Head of the Kosovo Protestant Evangelical Church, Driton Krasniqi, said that Saudi Arabia built 400 mosques in the past 12 years in various parts of the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia invested in major economic sectors on the other side, in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

So there is a suspicious missing link. Some officials concerned with receiving aid from donor NGOs, which built mosques after the war, wondered: Did the donors not see on their way from the airport to the city the homeless people on the roads, and the need for hospitals, schools, and infrastructure before mosques?

It is not a secret that the Wahhabi ideology reached Kosovo after the war. Many politicians and clerics in the region referred explicitly to this issue. Everybody is aware there are takfiri cells in Kosovo, as some of them were apprehended. Though everyone is in agreement that political Islam is not a major threat for the time being and that it is under control, some believe that it will pose a major threat and challenge to the society and state in the future.

Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi says that political Islam in Kosovo receives support from non-governmental sources in the Middle East. He believes that this poses a threat to the democratic political process. Selimi also says that the threat will be a major obstacle to Kosovo’s bid to accede to the European Union (EU).

In effect, there were jihadis who went from Kosovo to fight with the takfiri groups in Syria and Iraq. It was revealed that some young people took part in the fighting while others were arrested as suspects. Sabri Bajgora, chief imam of Kosovo, says that the Islamic establishment in Kosovo and the Kosovar imams have nothing to do with the recruitment of young people to fight in Syria.

Bajgora accuses social media sites and “those behind them” of influencing and brainwashing the youths. He says that his institution is trying to persuade youths that the war in Syria is not their war and not their cause. For this reason, he continues, the imams are constantly trying in mosque sermons to give guidance to the youths, saying that taking part in the conflict there is not in the interest of young Kosovar Muslims.

In the same vein, Advisor to the President of the Republic Garentina Kraja told Al-Akhbar that some Islamist takfiri groups have a presence in Kosovo, “as evident from the participation of some Kosovar Islamists in the Syrian war.” She says this is based on intelligence coming from the State Security Agency.

Despite confirming the presence of Islamist takfiris in Kosovo who have sent fighters to Syria, Kraja declined to answer a question about the party she believes is supporting those takfiri groups, signaling that she might have information she could not reveal, as it would harm Kosovo’s national security.

Kraja stresses that the Kosovo government has taken measures to crack down on the jihadis, after a law was approved that would give 15-year prison sentences to anyone convicted of taking part in the Syrian war. Kraja said that the challenge of political Islam concerns all European governments, and not just Kosovo.

Kosovar society, which boasts of a tolerant and open brand of Islam, rejects political Islam, which has started to slowly penetrate the Kosovar society. Ordinary citizens, let alone officials, believe the new state faces a major test and challenge in trying to get rid of this threat to their unique model and the republic in general. This is the impression one gets through conversations with locals, who believe that politically motivated money could help recruit more youths in a society where the unemployment rate is more than 40 percent.

This begs several questions: First, who benefits from changing the Kosovar brand of Islam into an extremist form of Islam?

Second, what is the political agenda of those trying to create an Islamic state in Europe’s backyard, or a gateway for political Islam in the Old Continent?

Third, and most importantly, why is there Western silence vis-à-vis Arab-Muslim money entering the Balkans? The same questions could be asked about the current Syrian and Iraqi crises and the rise of ISIS there and other takfiri movements. In this context, there are serious questions that must be raised, concerning the approach of some Muslim governments in parallel with the suspicious silence of Western governments.

A political activist (who preferred anonymity) opposed to US hegemony over Kosovo, and who is known for his secularism and political independence, says that the West, particularly the US, could be using Kosovo as an experiment to uncover communication networks between takfiri groups in the East and the West.

Political Islam and the takfiri threat are not clear in Kosovo. If the media had not revealed some extremist youths were arrested no one would have known about it.

The unclear nature of the threat in Kosovo could make the problem more complicated and harder to address. Kosovo is a nascent state, and will most likely not be able to deal with this problem on its own, especially that Kosovo is a poor country confronting large inflows of money serving political motivations. In light of the international silence regarding the takfiri threat in the Balkans in general and Kosovo in particular, Kosovo might pay the price for its independence from Serbia, in the absence of a powerful structure that can confront a large political project like the project of extremist political Islam coming from the desert.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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