Resistance to Islamist Infiltration Continues in Kosova and Albania
by Stephen Schwartz
The letter, which had been left in a box for charity donations at the mosque, warned Jashari, who serves as muezzin or caller to prayer, "If you insist on following Bilalli you will come to a bad end. Better take your distance from him."
Bilalli offered no probable suspects or motive for the threats, but turned the letter over to local police.
Earlier in the month, a man fired shots at Besim Arbanashi, who claimed to be the new imam of another local Muslim institution, the Llap Street mosque in Podujeva, while hundreds of believers were assembled for Friday prayer. The accused gunman, Sabri Berisha, was arrested for attempted murder, along with three other individuals, two of them from Albania. Berisha's house was raided and four kilograms (almost nine pounds) of unspecified drugs were allegedly found in his car.
The mosque where the bullets were fired was closed for two weeks, but Arbanashi withdrew his claim to leadership of the congregation. Arbanashi and his competitor for the post of imam, Imri Llugaliu, both claimed backing from the official Islamic apparatus in Kosova. The episode was murky, but, like other violent clashes involving Kosova clerics, exposed the turbulence within the religious hierarchy.
The newspaper Express is well-known for its coverage of Islamist penetration in Kosova, and, as in the past, the most interesting observations on the Podujeva incidents were inserted by readers in the comment section of the paper's online edition. Individuals signing as "Dushi," "Dardanija," and "Arlind" called on the Kosova authorities to protect the moderate clerics or to grant their right of self-defense. "Arlind" appealed for a law against Wahhabi activities.
Meanwhile, an official republic-wide ban, adopted in 2010, on wearing of headscarves (hijab) by girls in Kosova public schools has furnished a fresh pretext for disruption by the lately-formed Kosova Islamist party "Join!" (Bashkohu!). This "movement" is directed by a radical agitator, Fuad Ramiqi, and aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Previously, the headscarf prohibition was effected locally and inconsistently. In 2009, for example, Arjeta Halimi, then 16, from the southeastern Kosova town of Viti, which has a mixed population of Albanian Muslims, Albanian Catholics, and Orthodox Christian Serbs, was excluded from her school building for wearing hijab. But she was offered the option of taking her examinations separately from other students.
Instead of studying at home, as Arjeta Halimi had done, Njomza Jashari was said to spend her time in a local mosque. School authorities agreed, as in the earlier instance, to allow Njomza Jashari to take her final examinations at the end of the year, when other students will be absent. According to Al Jazeera, her parents refused. Her mother, however, appeared on the Qatari network with her hair uncovered and no sign of so-called "Islamic dress."
Njomza Jashari's fellow students refused to attend the classes from which she was barred, but as also seen on Al Jazeera, in a demonstration before the school building, none of them wore headscarves. The Islamist "Join!" party and allied small groups began a campaign across Kosova to support the headscarf "in Njomza's name."
Kosova is about 80 percent Muslim and 10 percent Catholic, and Ramiqi complained in 2011, "If you send someone a postcard showing these monuments, this appears to be a Christian country."
Issues in Albanian history have provided further excuses for Islamist arguments in both Kosova and Albania. The Turkish "fundamentalist-lite" government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party or AKP seeks to establish itself economically and politically as a dominant power in its former Balkan possessions, especially Albania, Kosova, and Bosnia-Hercegovina, which have Muslim majorities (70 percent in Albania) or large minorities (somewhere between 40 and 50 percent in partitioned Bosnia). As a tool of Turkish "diplomacy," Erdoğan's representatives object to Balkan textbooks that portray the Ottomans as harsh rulers, and demand changes in their presentation of the past.
Preoccupied with maintaining their secular educational system, the Kosova authorities agreed to form a commission with the Turkish regime to review the historical curriculum. The Kosovar government accepted alteration of texts. Still, as disclosed by the news service Balkan Insight, the changes in chronicling Albanians' experience with the Ottomans were mild. According to the copies released to the public, history texts for grades five, six, and eight, to be introduced in autumn 2013, include the following emendations:
* Replacing "violence" and "killing" with "conquering" and "imprisonment," on page 62 of the fifth-grade textbook.
* Deleting the sentence: "Ottomans killed many Albanians," on page 69 of the same volume.
* Editing the phrase "Ruthless Ottoman rule" to read "Ottoman conquest" on page 83 of the sixth-grade history text.
* Changing "They applied strict measures against non-Muslim people" to "All citizens in the countries conquered by the Ottoman Empire, in their daily lives, were equal before the law."
Aside from the obviously mendacious claim about equal religious rights under the Ottomans, most of the changes appeared almost comically "Balkan" in their ambiguity. The original author of the seventh-grade text, Isa Bicaj, however, declared, "You can cut off my hand, but I will not use the term 'arrival' for the Ottomans. They were conquerors."
On March 27, the daily Tema, based in Tirana, the Albanian capital, published a petition against the textbook reform signed by 140 prominent historians, journalists, authors, artists, and other intellectuals from Albania and Kosova. They declared, "We can not cover up historical truths. . . . The proposed changes in the history textbooks represent a form of cultural aggression against the essence of our nation." The signatories were both Muslim and Christian, as well as some known as non-religious. Among them was the Kosovar Catholic Ndue Ukaj, who had warned in 2011, "Turkey must show greater tolerance toward Albanians, to accept the historical facts and repent for the destruction of numerous invasions."
The Muslims of Kosova and Albania persist in repudiating Islamist intrigues from all directions. They deserve appreciation and support.