In an article entitled "Is TİKA funding radical Islamists?" published in Todays' Zaman on September 25, 2014, Emre Uslu alleges that the recent arrests which were made in Kosovo are related to TIKA and the various non-governmental organizations that this Turkish agency supports in the Balkans.
While the author of this article has been an open critic of the radicalization of some Albanian Muslim groups since 2012, the sectarian and anti-Shia sermons of a number of imams, and has openly criticized the policies of the Turkish and Albanian governments towards Syria,i I have to also admit that the article of Emre Uslu is full of inaccuracies and outright lies. In this article, I want to explain what is going on in Kosovo at present, and why and how the authorities of Prishtina are using America's new war on terror (against ISIS) to silence and subdue their own Muslim population for their narrow political agendas.
Let us begin by explaining why the recent arrests of the most influential imams of Kosovo are not at all related to the war in Syria and "radical Islamic groups", as Emre puts it. Firstly, the Kosovar government has not arrested "thirty imams" as the author claims, but thirteen, and out of those, only one is proclaimed to be a sympathizer of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front. The others are regular imams or prayer leaders who have a large following in the country.
The government of Kosovo has been cracking down on practicing Muslim activists since the proclamation of the province's independence from Yugoslavia in 2008. The leadership which NATO installed after the war is secular, Philocatholic and Islamophobic. Based on the teachings of Albanian nationalism, the version created by Austro-Hungarian orientalists and Fascist Italy, and later imbued with modern Catholic iconography by former president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, the Kosovar leadership perceives Islam and Turkey as an enemy of the modern Albanian identity. Leading Kosovar politicians, like Enver Hoxhaj, current Foreign Minister of Kosovo, have declared on more than one occasion that the current political elites in Prishtina do not want to see any trace of Islam in the country.ii The rulers of Kosovo, despite their warm gestures towards visiting Turkish officials, hate Turkey and the Turks. This hate stems from Albanian nationalist literature which blames the Turks for the Islamization of the Albanians, as well as from the inferiority complex that the Muslim Albanian leadership of Kosovo has towards the West. In an interview given by Kadri Veseli, current secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo and previous chief of the Kosovar security services, to the German portal “Grand Tourisme” in 2011, he clearly elucidated in a frank and open manner the Turkophobia that the current Kosovar leadership holds towards Turkey, the Turks and the Asians in general.iii
For these reasons and ever since after the proclamation of the Republic of Kosovo, the Kosovar leadership has continuously and systematically banned any form of Islamic display in almost all the aspects of the social life of post-war Kosovo. The media which are owned by Kosovo's politicians or sponsored by the Americans, attack on a systematic basis the Ottoman heritage of Kosovo and praise its supposedly Catholic roots, which - according to them - connects Kosovo to the West. For these reasons, we see how on a monthly basis hijab covered women are illegaly thrown out of public schools and institutions of Kosovo,iv while the hijabi covered Mother Theresa is an ever-present feature of these very same public schools. We have also seen how very successful Muslims preachers from across the border in Albania, like Imam Kastriot Duka, were illegally deported from the country without justification and merely because he was successful in galvanizing youth to re-connect with their Islamic heritage. As I have shown elsewhere,v while the Kosovar leadership uses its public institutions and schools to indoctrinate Kosovars into believing that their original religion is Catholicism, and the major national heroes of Kosovo today are presented as Catholics who fought against the Muslim Turks, this leadership selectively uses the secular constitution of the state to expel Muslims and Islam from the civic and everyday life of the country.
Even though major Western media outlets have falsely described the recent arrests in Kosovo as part of a global anti-terror drive, the truth is quite different (something which many local commentators have also noted ).vi The recent arrests of Kosovo are part of the ongoing battle that the ruling secular elites of Prishtina are waging against its Muslim population. The present Kosovar leadership is very upset with the religious Muslims and the imams of Kosovo who make fun of - and openly reject - the Catholic myths that this elite tries to impose on them. The religious Muslims of Kosovo reject the Austro-Italian version of Albanian nationalism which tends to portray them as anti-Europeans, barbarians and renegades of Christianity, who must repent for being Muslims and revert back to Catholicism. While the present Kosovar leadership has chosen Catholic saints as national heroes for its republic, well-known Muslim clerics such as Dr. Shefqet Krasniqi (who was one of those arrested this September), have openly discredited these "national Saints" and has even outraged the political elite of Prishtina by claiming that Mother Theresa will end up in Hellsince she was not a Muslim.vii In today's Kosovo one cannot find a single city or a village where imams, be them of Salafi or Hanafi persuasion, have not ridiculed the Christian "national heroes" of the secular regime and haven't praised the Ottomans and their sultans as liberators of the Albanians from the Serbs. For this reason, the present Kosovar elite and parts of its media, such as the influential Koha Ditore newspaper of Veton Surroi (which is funded by the Americans) continue their incessant attacks and insults against the imams, whom they accuse of being traitors and enemies of the country.viii
This clash of worldviews has led the Kosovar authorities, not only to perceive local imams and Muslim believers as enemies of the state and traitors (who adore the Ottoman "invaders" and hate Scanderbeg, the so-called "Athleta Christi"), but also to systematically harass them via the security services and the police, who often ask them to "comply" and accept the Christian heroes of the "nation", or else face blackmail or incarceration. This strategy is supplemented with a concerted media campaign to defame and further threaten these people.
For these reasons, the first major arrests that the authorities of Kosovo made in 2014 were not related to Syria at all. In July 2014 they arrested two Muslim believers, Jeton Verbani and Arber Berisha, and sentenced them to a month in prison, merely because in June 2014 they had filmed themselves slapping a sculpture of Scanderbeg, the Catholic hero of Albanian nationalism, and verbally insulting his figure as Kafir (infidel) in their home city of Kaçanik.ix Even though the sculpture was not defaced, defiled or otherwise desecrated in any way, the Muslim youth were imprisoned in a blatant violation of the basic human rights relating to freedom of thought and speech. They were paraded as terrorists by the media, in order to instil fear on thousands of other Albanian Muslims who insult the anti-Muslim Scanderbeg on daily basis in their youtube or facebook postings.
The arrests of Verbani and Berisha were followed by the arrests of 40 people in August 2014. This group of Muslim believers was accused of being supporters of jihad in Syria, even though many were soon released afterwards for being innocent. Among those arrested was an imam, Zekerija Qazimi, who is suspected to have been an open supporter of ISIS and of those Kosovars who have gone to wage jihad into Syria.
However, the latest arrest of 12 imams and Fuad Ramiqi (the leader of the Islamic Movement for Unity Party) and the subsequent closure of 13 Muslim civil society organizations that the Kosovar authorities carried out in September 2014, despite being portrayed in the media as part of "Kosovo's war in Stamping out Terrorism",x are in fact totally unrelated. Fuad Ramiqi, who is one of the leaders of the opposition against the current Prishtina government, was arrested only because he declared in a TV interview that the Muslims of Kosovo were outraged by the dictatorial behaviour of the government and the mass arrests of believers, and would not “stand idle” in the face of such attacks. Imam Shefqet Krasniqi and Enis Rama were arrested because they were criticized in the United States' "International Religious Freedom Report for 2013" for their allegedly negative views of the Catholic community and for supposedly using "anti-Semitic rhetoric" against the Jews. A number of other imams were also arrested and are currently incarcerated for reasons that the Kosovar prosecutor has not been able to fully articulate to the public.
The arrests of the major imams of Kosovo were probably ordered, though very publicly commended by the United States Ambassador in Prishtina, Tracey Ann Jacobson, who promptly commended the authorities for their "proactive approach against foreign fighters and extremism." However, none of the imams arrested in September 2014 had any connection with ISIS or any other terrorist organization. The 12 imams that were arrested in September were in fact the leading imams and televangelist preachers of Kosovo and their arrest was made in order to intimidate them and destroy their preaching network.
The same is true about the civil society organizations that the Kosovar government decided to close. None of these organizations has any relation with international terrorism. Some of the closed NGOs belonged or received funds from organizations in Saudi Arabia, while others from Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and local sources. Some of these organizations were specialized in the field of dawa (Islamic preaching), aid and development, while others, like the Association for Culture, Education and School (AKEA), which was frequently visited even by Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, worked in the field of arts and education. The only official reason that the Ministry of Public Administration has given for their closure is that the security services of Kosovo (which are run by friends of Kadri Veseli who does not like Asians and Turks) "suspected" that the activities of these organizations do not comply with the legal and constitutional order of the Republic of Kosovo and the international law. For this reason their activities have been suspended, although they retain the right to appeal the decision.xi
The claim by Emre Uslu that these organizations and the men who run them are Salafis who are "fighting the Hanafis" does not stand and is a highly flawed and laughable myth which has been created by the US funded media of Prishtina. While it is true that imams Enis Rama and Ekrem Avdiu probably belong to the Salafi school of Islam, Dr. Shefqet Krasniqi is a renowned Hanafi scholar, even though he was educated in Saudi Arabia. The same is true about Husamedin Abazi, the head of AKEA, as well as the head of the Muslim Community of Kosovo, Naim Ternava, who are all Hanafis.
In Kosovo, like elsewhere in the world, America's endless wars on terror (the present is a war against ISIS) are used by domestic actors to achieve their local agendas. The recent arrests that the leadership of Kosovo has executed against many Muslim leaders, believers and politicians is justified by the present Kosovar leadership as part of the American global war against ISIS and international terrorism. The excuse that the Kosovar government used to justify this massive crackdown against the imams, political leaders and the Muslim civil society of the country came from the crimes that an unknown Kosovar, called Lavdrim Muhaxheri, who is fighting for ISIS made over the past few weeks from Syria. Lavdrim Muhaxheri, whom the United States Department of State has included in the list of Foreign Terrorist Fighters,xii became famous in Kosovo after he opened an account on the facebook where he was posting pictures of Kosovars fighting in Syria and calling upon Kosovar Muslims to join ISIS. Before joining the jihads, he was a high security employee of NATO who worked for the Americas in Iraq and Afghanistan.xiii
The pictures and actions of Muhaxheri gave the authorities of Prishtina the necessary, albeit deceptive justification not only to curb those Kosovars who were funs of Muhaxheri and were going to fight into Syria, but, at the same time, to settle the personal scores that the Kosovar leadership had with the Islamist preachers and politicians of Kosovo who have continuously challenged its anti-Islamic and Catholicizing policies.
However, the claim by the Kosovar government that the mass arrests of the imams and believers was done simply as part of their anti-terrorism related agenda did not go down well in Prishtina. A few days after the arrests of the 40 suspected supporters of the Syrian jihad, the Youth Muslim Forum of Kosovo (YMF) demanded that Kosovo's General Prosecutor should also arrest the Foreign Minister, Enver Hoxhaj, and interrogate Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi and President Atifete Jahjaga since they too had supported, hosted and helped Syrian jihadists in Prishtina.xiv The issue became a severe embarrassment for the state after court proceedings revealed that those accused as "jihadis", declared that they had gone to fight in Syria after their own foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj had called on the people of Kosovo to "support the Syrian opposition fighters."xv The minister, who was left red-faced at such revelations, was forced to issue a rushed press release through his deputy Petrit Selimi, stating that he had never called for support of the opposition forces in Syria,xvi even though many media portals republished his declarations and pictures with the Syrian jihadis in Prishtina from 2013 – something which is still available on the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website! However, the minister warned the Youth Muslim Forum that it and its supporters will soon receive a "good news" from the government through a raft of new anti-terror laws that it was going to implement,xvii which would put the YMF activists out of business and probably behind bars.
The "good news" which minister Hoxhaj promised to the Youth Muslim Forum came a month later, when the Thaçi government arrested 12 leading imams and the leader of the Islamist opposition of Kosovo, as well as closing down 13 civil society organizations.
The arrest of Kosovo's leading imams and the closure of Muslim civil society organizations has no connection with the war in Syria or the activities of TIKA in Kosovo, contrary to what Emre Uslu pretends. The arrested Kosovar imams are not more guilty for inciting the Kosovar Muslims to fight in Syria than the government of Prishtina, who hosted and the trained Syrian jihadis, is. The Syrian war is being used as an excuse by the present Kosovar leadership to crackdown on Muslim civil society and the political opposition to their government which is currently facing a fight for survival in Kosovo’s most serious post-war political crises. In an interview that minister Enver Hoxhaj gave to Zeri newspaper on January 2, 2014,xviii he has openly declared openly that the Prishtina government does not want to see any Islam in Kosovo. He explained that in order to eradicate Islam, the Kosovar government is being helped by the foreign presence (read: EU and American embassies and organizations that rule the country) which through their:
“… political projects, through a very professional media, the civil society, and their investments have created a social engineering situation in the Republic of Kosovo.”
However, the Western civil society organizations of Prishtina and the schooling system which brainwashes the Kosovars into believing that they are not Muslims but Catholics and Turkey is enemy of Kosovo, are challenged by the zealous imams and a plethora of Muslim civil society organizations which run parallel to the Western backed organizations. While the Western foreign presence has captured the elites and the public spaces of Kosovo, Muslim activists enjoy the respect of the masses. This fact was accepted even by Kosovo's ambassador in Tirana, Ramiz Lladrovci who in an editorial published in Tirana accepted the mass popularity that the arrested imams have and the weakness that his government has in confronting their popularity.xix For these reasons, the recent arrests and closure of civil society organizations in Prishtina should not be blamed on TIKA. The main culprit for the crackdown on Islam in Kosovo is the laic-catholic elite of Prishtina which does not want to see any Islam or Turks in the country, and for whom every Muslim is an extremist and a traitor, and every Turk is an invader. Thanks to America's war against ISIS the Prishtina elite has decided to "borrow some weapons of collateral damage" from America's might, through which it is intimidating, incarcerating and breaking the alternative identity that the Muslims of Kosovo hold against the Catholic myths that the nationalist rulers of Prishtina want to impose on their people.
i See for example my article: Islami si "fe e paqes" në Lindjen e Mesme të re, Gazeta Sot, March 26, 2013
ii Artan Haraçia & Arbana Xharra, “Hoxhaj: S’na duhet islami i importuar”, Zeri.info, 03.01.2014. Available at: http://www.zeri.info/artikulli/24055/hoxhaj-sna-duhet-islami-i-importuar
iii Rrëfen për luftën me serbët dhe për ‘frikën’ nga turqit!, Telegrafi.com, 06.01.2012. Available at: http://www.telegrafi.com/lajme/rrefen-per-luften-me-serbet-dhe-per-friken-nga-turqit-2-19452.html
iv See, among others, Perkins, Unveiling Muslim Women: The Constitutionality of Hijab Restrictions in Turkey, Tunisia and Kosovo, 2012, https://www.bu.edu/law/central/jd/organizations/journals/international/volume30n2/documents/note_perkins.pdf. A. Akbar also notes in her article the problems with the sub-legal hijab ban, see ‘The Media and the Headscarf: Kosovo Public Schools Edition (not the final episode)’, 2013, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2013/02/the-media-and-the-headscarf-kosovo-public-schools-edition-not-the-final-episode/
v See for example: Jazexhi, O. (2013) Rrëfimet e një kombi: shqiptarët, turqit, muslimanët dhe të krishterët në tekstlibrat shkollorë të historisë dhe letërsisë në Kosovë. Tiranë: Free Media Institute.
vi See for example the debate that Albania's ex-security chief Fatos Klosi, Albania's former minister of Cults Ilir Kulla and Vedat Xhymshiti, a reporter from Kosova made at Ora News on September 8, 2014. They claim that the recent arrests in Prishtina are being made for political purposes, while there is no real threat from radical Islam. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9m8rMHQJCk#t=139
vii See Kallëzim penal kundër imamit Shefqet Krasniqi, Gazeta Koha, 21.07.2011, Available at: http://koha.net/arkiva/?page=1%2C13%2C63361
viii An example where the imams of Kosovo are shown as traitors and enemies of the state because they praise the Ottomans, can be read in the article of Enver Robelli, “Hoxha” Irfan Salihu llomotit e gënjen për historinë e shqiptarëve dhe të Kosovës, Kohanet. 20.09.2014. Available at: http://koha.net/?id=31&o=313
ix See: Terror në Kosovë: Gjykata vendos të mbajë 30 ditë në burgim kosovarët vetëm pse shpulluan Skënderbeun, Asabija.com, July 4, 2014. Available at: http://www.asabija.com/terror-ne-kosove-gjykata-vendos-te-mbaje-30-dite-ne-burgim-kosovaret-vetem-pse-shpulluan-skenderbeun/
x See for example: Kosovo Leads the World in Stamping out Terrorism. Available at: http://friendsofkosovo.com/2014/09/17/kosovo-leads-the-way-in-stamping-out-terrorism/
xi See: The Decrees of the Ministry of Public Administration, September 17, 2014. Available at: http://map.rks-gov.net/getattachment/086fc9c8-9f13-4e0b-bc13-3a8a073813a9/Lista-e-vendimeve-per-Organizatat-Jo-Qeveritare,-t.aspx
xii Designations of Foreign Terrorist Fighters, US Department of State, September 24, 2014. Avialable at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/09/232067.htm
xiii Kush është Lavdrim Muhaxheri?, Gazeta Express, June 27, 2014. Available at: http://www.gazetaexpress.com/lajme/kush-eshte-lavdrim-muhaxheri-24969/
xiv FRM: Të arrestohet Hoxhaj, të merret në pyetje Jahjaga, Indeksonline, August 12, 2014. Available at: http://www.indeksonline.net/?FaqeID=2&LajmID=110839
xv Të arrestuarit për terrorizëm: Shkuam në Siri pas thirrjes së Enver Hoxhajt, Gazeta Express, August 12, 2014. Available at: http://www.gazetaexpress.com/lajme/te-arrestuarit-per-terrorizem-shkuam-ne-siri-pas-thirrjes-se-enver-hoxhajt-35742/
xvi Selimi: Hoxhaj nuk ka bërë thirrje për luftë në Siri, Gazeta Express, August 13, 2014. Available at: http://botasot.info/kosova/319809/selimi-hoxhaj-nuk-ka-bere-thirrje-per-lufte-ne-siri/
xvii Hoxhaj: Forumi Musliman, së shpejti do ta merr “lajmin më të mirë”, Telegrafi.com, 12.08.2014. Available at: http://www.telegrafi.com/lajme/hoxhaj-forumi-musliman-se-shpejti-do-ta-merr-lajmin-me-te-mire-2-49214.html
xviii Artan Haraçia & Arbana Xharra, “Hoxhaj: S’na duhet islami i importuar”, Zeri.info, 03.01.2014. Available at: http://www.zeri.info/artikulli/24055/hoxhaj-sna-duhet-islami-i-importuar
xix See Ramiz Lladrovci, KOSOVA DHE DY SFIDAT E SAJ, Gazeta Dita, September 29, 2014. Available at: http://gazetadita.al/kosova-dhe-dy-sfidat-e-saj/