Kosova Headscarf Conflict Grows
by Stephen Schwartz
The Kosova Republic's official stance against girls wearing the Muslim headscarf (hijab) in state-supported primary and secondary schools, has brought the country's main Muslim leader, Naim Tërnava, out of a pattern of silence about the penetration of radical Islam in that country.
Tërnava, who bears the title of "mufti" or president of the local Sunni Muslim apparatus, had said nothing about increasing intra- and inter-religious conflicts among Kosovar Albanians over the past year and a half. These incidents included attacks by Wahhabi infiltrators on moderate Muslim clerics for whose safety Tërnava is ostensibly responsible, and threats to Christians, as well as actions by local villagers to curb Wahhabi agitation.
Tërnava has now spoken out, but unfortunately, he has chosen to do so in defense of the headscarf. On June 30, he held a press conference in Prishtina, the Kosova capital, where he demanded that covering of girls' and women's hair be allowed in all public institutions in the republic. Tërnava called on Kosova's prime minister Hashim Thaçi (former leader of the Kosova Liberation Army) and education minister Enver Hoxhaj, who belongs to Thaçi's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), to nullify two administrative directives banning the hijab in public elementary and secondary schools and other state institutions. One such order was issued by the Kosova Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, and the other by the municipality of Prishtina.
Tërnava threatened that the Islamic community organization in Kosova would sue the Thaçi government in the republic's Constitutional Court for violating the rights of Muslim believers. Should he not win locally, Tërnava said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Education minister Hoxhaj replied that he was simply implementing the country's constitution.
As the republic's top Muslim leader, Tërnava seems to have chosen the headscarf controversy as the appropriate opportunity to go public with his own sympathy for radical Islam. His leanings in this direction have been a subject of private complaint for years. For most Kosovars, this bias explained his refusal to defend victims of Islamist thugs as well as his failure to support local Muslims who sought to keep radicals out of their mosques. During visits to the U.S., however, Tërnava has spoken as a seemingly-faultless moderate.
Tërnava was provided with an occasion to reveal his sympathies on June 19, when some 5,000 young women dressed in hijabs, and a few men in long, untrimmed Wahhabi beards, marched in Prishtina to defend the headscarf. The demonstration, which summoned one-quarter of one percent of Kosova's two million residents, was organized by Halil Kastrati, 35, possessor of an Islamic studies degree from Syria and operator of an "organization to assist orphans" – the familiar humanitarian cover for radical Islamist agitation.
Lirita Halili reported in the Prishtina daily newspaper Express on that incident: 20 Islamist non-governmental institutions signed the appeal to protest, but foreigners also took part and even addressed the crowd. An American named Rachel Gutierrez, who described herself as going to Kosova to seek peace for Muslims, proclaimed that the republic's authorities have no right to ban Islamic dress in schools.
On that occasion, as ever, the Express comment forum was alight with the anger of Albanian readers. "Mirlinda" in London wrote, "these people should leave Kosova." Several others said at first sight, pictures of the demonstrators in the newspapers and television made them think the event had taken place in the Middle East, Pakistan, or Afghanistan. "Ardiani" in Prishtina summarized the attitude of most ordinary Kosovars towards the headscarf: "Evil is gathering momentum. This is just the beginning. The first step is legalization of the headscarf in schools, then requirements for the teaching of Islam, then separate schools for boys and girls, and finally imposition of Shariah law and Arabization. This was not a protest, but a show of force."