Albanian Muslims: Islamist Target
by Stephen Schwartz
On October 9, the UN press service in Kosovo distributed a disturbing article extracted from the Kuwait Times. Among many objectionable elements in it, was one of special urgency for Western observers: an indication of new Islamist desires to infiltrate and destabilize the Muslim Balkans.
Under the headline "Muslims 'victims of injustice,'" the paper reported on a lecture given at Kuwait University's Faculty of Social Science, by Professor Ali A. Mazrui, a Kenyan Muslim, honored member of the faculties at several prestigious American universities, and strident critic of the West. Prof. Mazrui's curriculum vitae shows many distinctions typically sought by politically-correct African scholars in this country. Among them, he is Ibn Khaldoon Professor-at-Large, School of Islamic and Social Sciences, Leesburg, Virginia. The latter institution is controlled by the government of Saudi Arabia, and was raided by a U.S. Customs Service task force earlier this year. Prof. Mazrui is also a functionary of the extremist American Muslim Council (AMC). Prof. Mazrui is, therefore, an exemplar of the voices on Islam presently favored in the American academy.
Prof. Mazrui's Kuwait lecture was titled "The U.S.A. and the Islamic World After September 11." According to the Kuwait Times, Prof. Mazrui chose to add his voice to the chorus that blames America for all the world's troubles, even after September 11. He "termed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict… the central trigger of rage against the United States among all issues. He said that Muslims are victims of violent injustice elsewhere in the world without the globalization of anger against the United States… He accused the United States as the main source of military support for the enemy of the Arab World, Israel, and [said] also that the U.S.A. is the main destroyer of Arab potential to rise militarily. The latter is evident in the emasculation of Egypt and Iraq, he argued. If terrorism is to end, the Palestine problem is to be resolved. To the moralist, terrorism against the United States is born out of evil; to the political analyst terrorism is born out of rage and frustration, said the professor."
Of course, such a buffet of clichés is hardly novel, from leftist and extremist advocates esconced in the American academy. But in his survey of "Muslim victims of violent injustice elsewhere in the world" he stated, "Muslims in Macedonia are trying to cope with discrimination from Christian Macedonians; Muslims in Kosovo are facing the risk of reintegration with Yugoslavia against their will." He ranked these areas alongside Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, and Afghanistan as areas where Muslims continue to suffer. (On Afghanistan, by the way, he seemed clearly sympathetic to the remnants of the Taliban and the stragglers of al-Qaida: "'Muslims in Afghanistan faced the Soviet Union earlier and defeated it; the Afghans have now endured military action by the United States,' Mazrui went on.")
Thus, this tenured demagogue delivered a warning: he and other apologists for Islamist extremism would like to turn the simmering difficulties into the Balkans into a new "jihad."
From the viewpoint of the Balkan Muslims and their friends — and I take second place to nobody in that category — nothing could be more despicable, appalling, and even obscene. Israel and the Palestinians face each other as two heavily armed adversaries, each shedding the blood of the other, almost daily. Kashmir is the scene of continued extremist terrorism, and the self-defense of the Chechens has been badly disrupted by Wahhabi intrigues. By contrast, while tension continues in Macedonia between the Albanian majority in the western section of the country and the overall Slavic majority, the Albanians themselves do not see any religious significance in their predicament. Albanians demanding language and local autonomy rights in Macedonia include Catholics and nonbelievers as well as Muslims. The Albanians do not view themselves as fighting for Islam, but for the Albanian nation. Furthermore, Albanians and Slav Macedonians currently remain at peace — an uneasy peace, but peace nonetheless, and nobody intelligent, sane, responsible, or truly patriotic among the Albanians wants a resumption of fighting there. The recent Slav Macedonian repudiation of extremism at the ballot box, and the integration of former Albanian combatants into the electoral system, are causes for hope, not pretexts for new subversive agitation.
As for the problems in Kosovo, they are many, and they are aggravated by the lack of clarity on the status of the territory as a former possession of Serbian imperialism. Indeed, Kosovo is currently undergoing a wave of mass protest, including strikes by the teachers' unions. Kosovar Albanians are deeply disillusioned by the failure of Western administration in such areas as privatization. But nobody among the Kosovar Muslims views these issues in terms of religious conflict. Once again, the patriotic leadership of the Kosovo Albanians includes Catholics and nonbelievers no less than Muslims.
I know these things from personal experience. I have written and spoken extensively on the martyrdom of the Kosovar Albanians in the 1998-99 war. Of course, numerous pious, virtuous traditional Muslims were martyred by the Serbs in Kosovo. One of the most affecting moments I ever experienced came when I visited the Halveti-Karabashi teqja [Sufi lodge] in Rahovec, Kosovo, where Shaykh Myhedin Shehu, one of the most beloved figures in Balkan Islamic culture, was assassinated during the conflict. I joined the members of Shaykh Myhedin's community in a memorial dhikr or "remembrance of God" ritual, and comforted his son, who wept to recall the solidarity of an American journalist, Roy Gutman, thanks to whom the shaykh received a decent burial, even with the Serbs still in control of Kosovo at his death.
Rahovec is a beautiful agricultural city on two levels, with an upper town on a hillside. On July 19, 1998, open fighting in the streets between Serb forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army culminated in a Serb assault on Shaykh Myhedin's teqja, in which terrified residents had gathered. At Rahovec, up to 150 Albanians died. My new book, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud From Tradition to Terror, published by Doubleday, is dedicated to Shaykh Myhedin.
In addition, I personally saw and photographed the bloodstains in the Dervishdana teqja at Gjakova, where Shaykh Zejnelabedin Dervishdana was brutally murdered with a group of his relatives and companions, in 1999. I interviewed the survivors of that horrific atrocity for the Sarajevo Islamic journal Ljiljan. The Dervishdana incident figured in the indictment of Slobodan Miloevic at The Hague. Shaykh Zejnelabedin was killed by masked Serb terrorists on March 26, 1999 along with two sons, two neighbors, and a friend. The family of Shaykh Dervishdana maintains the teqja, which follows the Sa'di-Jibawi form of Sufism. The bloodstains remain on the floor, under the carpets of the teqja. Shaykh Zejnelabedin's deputy, shaykh Rama, was killed in a massacre by Serb terrorists in the nearby hamlet of Korenica on April 27, 1999, a month later.
In the latter incident, one of the worst in the entire Kosovo war, Serb irregulars arrived in buses, with red bandanas tied in their heads or as armbands, according to a local resident, Tom Dedaj. Korenica's population is 90 percent Catholic and 10 percent Muslim. When the Serbs had completed their assault on Korenica, at least 129 people, and as many as 155, were dead, all unarmed, including women and children. One survivor said every man in the village over 16 had been killed. The ratio of victims was approximately the same as that of the living: 90 percent Catholic, 10 percent Muslim.
The local Serb army commander lived in Korenica. When the survivors of the massacre first came streaming into the Catholic church at Gjakova, Father Ambroz Ukaj — one of my dearest friends in the Balkans — went to the officer and demanded to know what had happened. He was interrogated as to how he knew anything had happened at all, and he replied that women in the village reported the mass arrest of all males. Pater Ambroz was ordered by the Serbs to return to his church or suffer himself, but he succeeded in getting medical care for some of the injured, even though it was too dangerous for them to go to hospitals.
No Albanian would dare say that Pater Ambroz, as a Catholic, was less a hero of the national struggle than the Muslims who have fought for Albanian rights. In my extensive involvement with Catholics in Kosovo, I frequently saw manifest the essential truth of the Albanian national epic: the religion of Albanians is the Albanian nation. To the extent Slavic nationalism, fuelled by Orthodox Christian demagogy, threatens Albanians, it is a menace to Shi'a as well as Sunni Muslims, Catholics and Albanian Orthodox as well as the small remnant of Albanian-speaking Jews. When I had the extraordinary honor of introducing Pater Ambroz to Baba Mumin Lama, head of the Shi'a-oriented Bektashi sect in Kosovo, each referred to a national poet and hero originating with their communities: Baba Mumin said, "you have Gjergj Fishta, we have Naim Frasheri." [Author's Note: Baba Mumin has corrected me about this, and said I, rather than either of the clerics. pronounced this phrase. It is an honor I will not disclaim,] Unfortunately, these names are nearly unknown in the West; but they are treasured in the hearts of all true Albanians and all the sincere friends of the Albanians. And of course, there remains Mother Teresa: When Dom Lush Gjergji, one of the great Catholic figures of the present day, introduced his new book on her in Kosovo in 2000, he was joined by Ali Podrimja and other leading Muslim intellectuals.
The Albanians — in Kosovo, in Macedonia, in Montenegro, in Albania proper, and elsewhere — will continue their just, righteous, and valiant struggle for national freedom and respect; for a seat at the table of European culture and full recognition in the family of nations. They remain Muslim in their majority, but their national hero remains Skanderbeg, a Christian. There is no place for "Islamization" of the Albanian national struggle. I know that another great friend of mine, H.E. Rexhep Boja, grand mufti of Kosovo, agrees with me on this. The Albanian struggle is not, and will not be, a "jihad." Kosovo and Macedonia are not Israel or Palestine, or Chechnya, or Kashmir. The blood of the Albanian nation cannot be exploited by Prof. Mazrui and other demagogues to justify Islamic extremism. Indeed, the attempt to "Islamize" the Albanian national movement would present the Slav extremists with a precious gift: evidence that their Islamophobic claims were true.
If Albanian Muslims face a religious enemy, it is Saudi-backed Wahhabism, which has been rejected in Kosovo, but whose well-heeled functionaries continue in their attempts to undermine traditional Islam in the territory. Their methods include the crazed Wahhabi practice of desecrating historic Muslim graveyards (which they consider an expression of "idol-worship" of the dead and of monuments). Similar vandalism is now being practiced by Wahhabis in Kurdistan, much to the dismay of Kurdish traditional Muslims.
I recommend Prof. Mazrui keep his eyes and hands off Macedonia and Kosovo, and turn his attention, as a leading African scholar, to the Wahhabi campaign to impose a rigid form of Islamic law in Nigeria, an effort that has deeply harmed the image of Islam in the West. The Albanians and their friends, the Americans, have no need of his attentions.