From Kosova to Gaza
by Stephen Schwartz
Kosova media have reported that an Islamist ideologue from that country, Fuad Ramiqi, was among the participants in the ill-fated attempt to break Israel's naval blockade at Gaza. Ramiqi was joined by three Albanian Muslims from Macedonia--Sami Emini, Jasmin Rexhepi, and Sead Asipi.
Fuad Ramiqi is the representative in Kosova of the European Muslim Network, a fundamentalist organization headed by the Egyptian-born, Qatar-based cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the academic Tariq Ramadan. Al-Qaradawi and Ramadan are leading figures in the radical Muslim Brotherhood, which as Thomas Joscelyn has noted, had enough links with the Gaza incident for it to be considered a Brotherhood operation. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood, and Ramadan is the grandson of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.
Ramiqi, a soldier in the Yugoslav army who joined the Bosnian army during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, runs his own Brotherhood franchise, the Muslim Forum of Kosova (MFK), created in 2006. In the days following the Gaza blockade clash, Ramiqi's group apparently preferred to keep silent on his involvement. But a 2007 document in English on its website attests to its ideology. The group denounced a Kosova public school principal who had criticized two 12th-grade girls for wearing the Islamic headscarf in class. Kosova's ban on the headscarf in public schools is paralleled by police orders to track and arrest Islamist radicals.
Late in May, local police rounded up five Wahhabis--acolytes of Saudi-exported radical Islam--in the environs of the Kosova city of Prizren. The Islamist suspects included three Bosnian Muslims – Idriz Biljbani, a supposed professor of Islamic law trained at an Egyptian university, Mustafa Imeri, and Ismajl Skenderi – and two Kosovars, Hadit Miftari and Armend Kalendari. Weapons were captured at eight different locations in the course of the arrests: five Kalashnikov assault rifles, three more rifles, two pistols, and ammunition, along with body armor, uniforms, and diverse other materiel including handcuffs and laptops.
According to a Bosnian Islamist web report, the police action was officially described as a response to an assault by the five Wahhabis on a Kosova government employee who distributed the Bible to his neighbors during his off hours. The Bosnian radicals tried to blame the arrests on Serbian influence over the Kosova police, and complained that the Kosovar officers were imitating the Bosnian police who shut down an infamous Wahhabi cell in the village of Gornja Maoca in February. But Wahhabi attacks on individuals, including another Christian, have made headlines across Kosova throughout the past two years.
Confrontations between Wahhabi intruders and local Muslims have been visible in all the Western Balkan countries, including Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania. The presence of three Macedonian Albanians at the scene of the Gaza bloodshed is unsurprising to observers of Islam in the Balkans, since Macedonian Muslims have succumbed almost totally to the influence of Arab money. The pattern of unwanted radical immigration into the Balkans continues. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last month reported, unfortunately without providing an English translation, that Wahhabis have disrupted Islamic religious life in the resort town of Ulcinj, on the Montenegrin coast near the northern border of Albania.
Ulcinj, with about 12,000 residents, mainly Albanian-speaking and Muslim, is best known for its city fortress, dating from the Renaissance, and its wide Adriatic Sea beaches, including a nude spa notorious in the region. Leaders of the official and moderate Islamic religious community in the town complained to local media as well as RFE/RL that Wahhabis had threatened and physically attacked local imams, and invaded administrative meetings. Avdo Goran, chairman of the directing board of the Islamic Community in the city, said he had heard of threats to non-radical imams but not of physical attacks.
Mustafa Canka, a Muslim journalist from Ulcinj, blamed Islamic officials for "institutional weakness, idleness and neglect, based on personal interests and selfishness." He described the local Muslims as afflicted by "disorientation, inadequate response to contemporary problems, and ignorance." Canka denounced Wahhabism as "a kind of Islam that when seen from one side appears strong and monolithic, but which is sterile and unproductive." He said the radicals now have many supporters, but that their influence will not endure. He repeated his criticism of local Muslim religious functionaries, who he said were trained in the local form of Islam and did not recognize the danger when they "opened the door wide" to radical newcomers. Montenegro is mainly a Christian country and its Muslim minorities, both Slav and Albanian, have had few conflicts with the Christian majority for generations.
Islamist radicals continue their efforts to penetrate every country where Muslims live. In the Balkans, their appeal to ordinary Muslims is limited, thanks to local resentment of outsiders and a desire to avoid new conflicts. But as the Gaza flotilla showed, even small numbers of extremists can cause big problems.