The Islamist Challenge in Kosova

The Islamist Challenge in Kosova

Mustafa Bakija School in Gjakova, Kosova

Will Kosova's rural Muslim population become Europe's own Taliban? The danger is real, according to Isa Blumi, doctoral candidate in history and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. He offered a first-hand view of the current situation in post-conflict Kosova and the politics of international intervention.

Western shortsightedness could once again result in decades of conflict and instability.

"Even as Western societies worry about the 'rise of Islamic fundamentalism,' the international community's ill-conceived policies for Kosova's rural Muslim population may prove to be directly responsible for the production of Europe's own Taliban," according to Isa Blumi, New York University.  Blumi painted a bleak picture of the prospects for Kosovar Albanians after the United States-initiated military action to force the withdrawal of Serbian military forces from Kosova in 1999.  He offered a first-hand view of the current situation in post-conflict Kosova and the politics of international intervention at a workshop on Islamic Communities in Eastern Europe and the Balkans on May 15 sponsored by the European & Eurasian Studies and Near Eastern Studies Centers.

While the international intervention in Kosova in 1999 may have been justified on humanitarian grounds, it has since introduced destabilizing forces that may prove counterproductive, Blumi argued.  Tension between the local population and international administration has been rising.  As many as 50% of all Kosovars continue to live in poverty, and UNMIK (The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo), and secular nongovernmental organizations have failed to address local needs.  As a result, evangelical faith-based charities have stepped in to fill the vacuum, and neglect by the international community is being used by many of these organizations to fuel anti-western sympathies.  The most visible of these organizations is the Saudi Joint Committee for the Relief of Kosova and Chechnya (SJCRKC).  It has been very successful, not only by providing food, clothing and shelter, but also funding schools and mosques.  Education in particular was one of the tools used in Afghanistan and Pakistan to develop the Taliban phenomenon, and rural Kosova currently is a parallel situation.

The international community's own emphasis on multiculturalism has created an environment easily corrupted by faith-based organizations with political agendas, according to Blumi.  Because Albanians are widely considered Muslims, many assume that Muslim organizations are best able to look after Albanian Kosovars' needs.  This is a misconception, Blumi argued.  The Albanians are a diverse population, many of whom are hostile to Islamic institutions, and engage in "unorthodox" Muslim practices.  It is not uncommon for Albanians to view their  500-year relationship with Islam as a by-product of foreign invasion that should be shunned, and some political groups today are eager to stress Albania's non-Islamic identity.  These groups tend to find large audiences in urban Kosova, while the rural populations are being indoctrinated in schools funded by these Muslim charities that have invaded post-conflict Kosova.

"While many in Kosova continue to resist the sectarian implications of the religious activities of various 'charities,' others concede that the arrival of these proselytizing organizations are creating internal conflicts as people are drawn to them by promises of money, jobs, education, and a new identity." Blumi concluded that, "unless alternative development programs are provided immediately for rural communities in Kosova, outside powers may once again find themselves manipulating internal sectarian differences, as they did in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s and among Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the 1980s."

(This article is based on Isa Blumi's presentation at UCLA on May 15, 2003 and on excerpts from "The Islamist Challenge in Kosova," Current History, March 2003, pp. 124-128.)

Published: Thursday, May 15, 2003