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The Second Kosovo War

Ground zero in the fight against Wahhabism.

11:00 PM, Feb 2, 2009 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Osman Musliu is a moderate Muslim mullah and Kosovar Albanian patriot. He demonstrated his commitment to both causes during the Kosovo war of 1998-99, when he was the sole Islamic cleric in the territory willing to officiate at the funeral of Adem Jashari, the main founder of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Jashari was killed in his house by Serbian troops, along with, according to foreign human rights monitors, 57 other Albanians, including 18 women and 10 children under the age of 16. Some of the bodies were burned so badly they could not be identified. A single teenaged girl survived the raid on the Jashari home, which is now a Kosovar shrine.

Kosovo remains vulnerable to Serbian aggression (see here). But it faces a second serious threat. Agents of the Saudi-financed, ultrafundamentalist Wahhabi Muslim sect have sparked open violence in Kosovo. This new conflict in ex-Yugoslavia comes after years of Wahhabi infiltration and provocation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Muslim areas in Macedonia and South Serbia, where they have made significant gains (see www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/910syuxh.asp target=_blank>here), as well as in Albania proper, Montenegro, and Kosovo, where they have so far been kept in check.

On January 9, Musliu, now a regional chairman of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, went to a village called Lower Zabel to preside over the installation of a new imam. A riot broke out in a mosque and Musliu was beaten up, after which nine men were arrested by Kosovo police. An investigating officer said that of the four main suspects, two wore the bizarre short pants and had the distinctive long beards of Wahhabis. Musliu told the Kosovo daily newspaper Express, which is respected for its professionalism, "They can kill me, but I will not be intimidated. Their goal is simple. They want to take over the Islamic Community of Kosovo." Later, appearing on the paper's front page with a black eye and bandaged hand, he said he doubted that Serbia had damaged Kosovo as badly as could Wahhabi infiltration.

Musliu, who has recovered from the ambush, had previously denounced the Wahhabi takeover of a library in a local school, and has now closed the mosque in Lower Zabel until things calm down. But he has also pledged to confront the radicals no matter how many people they succeed in buying off. Cash is, as elsewhere among Muslims, the extremists' main weapon. Musliu declared, "Those who give out money do the worst harm." Musliu criticized Shefqet Krasniqi, a hatemongering imam who has preached around the new republic.

Krasniqi had his moment in media, in an Express interview published January 18. He defended himself in the customary idiom of Muslim fundamentalist fanatics, saying first that Wahhabism represented the reform of Islam and great achievements in Saudi Arabia. Those accused of adherence to it, according to the radical cleric, were simply young people eager to "return" to religion, in defiance of old, traditional teachers--the latter, to the outrage of the Wahhabi preacher, are "guilty" of celebrating the birth of Muhammad. This custom, present everywhere in the Muslim world--even behind the walls of private homes in the Saudi kingdom--is despised by Wahhabis as an alleged imitation of Christianity's love of Jesus.

A cleavage between young and old, according to the Wahhabi advocate, is owed to a youthful "desire to turn now to a completely Islamic life." Krasniqi rebuked Kosovar political leaders for creating a secular state, when, according to this Islamist bigot, "The state should not have denied the reality in Kosovo where 95 percent of the people are Muslims." Rather, he argued, the government (in which no religious parties are represented because none are popular or even taken seriously in Kosovo), should "promote" and "sponsor" Islam with public financing. He credited "God's guidance" for the beating of Osman Musliu and other incidents of Wahhabi violence, and, in a menacing manner, counseled that if the Kosovo Muslims accept the Wahhabi interpretation of religion, "everything will be much easier for you." As a Bosnian Muslim dissident scholar told me, "that is the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam as a religion of peace. Submit to their dictation and you will enjoy peace!" Finally, Shefqet Krasniqi, the Wahhabi missionary, like others of his breed, denied there were any Wahhabis at all in Kosovo! Like Communists in the West 50 years ago, Muslim radicals try to deny their identity even as they seek to defend it, because they know that many ordinary Muslims hate them.

Kosovar contempt for the Wahhabis, as expressed in online reactions to the assault on the moderate mullah, proved this point, and was profoundly heartening. The majority of commentators on the Express website supported Osman Musliu and indignantly repudiated Wahhabi ambitions in Kosovo. An unidentified reader in Sweden wrote, "Osman is right when he says that in Kosovo mosques some suspicious imams are preaching. These 'imams' use a language that is crude and hateful. I am not against the free practice of religion, but please . . . now we are suddenly surrounded by people who hate other religions. . . . The most rigid Muslim nations are trying to reform and move forward while we are going backward."

Most Arab states have declined to recognize an independent Kosovo--among leading Muslim countries, only Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia have established diplomatic relations with the new country. Even Bosnia-Herzegovina, also under Serbian pressure, has avoided doing so. Kosovo Muslims were recently barred from a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the authoritative global Islamic forum, in Cairo. Reflecting these developments, an Albanian identified only as a "patriot" living in Germany wrote, "Better to live without the recognition of our independence by the Arabs than to allow the spread of this 'cancer' in Kosovo and throughout our Albanian lands." The same commentator repeated Musliu's condemnation of radical Islam as a worse problem than Serbian harassment. Other commenters mentioned significant evidence, circulating throughout the Balkans and far more substantial than the usual rumors, that the Saudi-backed Wahhabis and Serb radicals are conspiring together. (Similar claims are often, and credibly, heard in Russia about Wahhabi terrorists and Vladimir Putin's secret police.)

Dudi, living in Kosovo, contributed the following concise analysis: "The Albanians should read about the Wahhabis on line and they will find out everything about them. They are nothing but a mafia. . . . Kosovo is not Arabia. We are part of Europe and we intend to join Europe, and as for these Wahhabis, let them go live in Arabia."

A reader named Flutra, in Mitrovica, the northern Kosovo town where Serbs have lately relaunched a terror campaign, called the foray against the moderate mullah "an unprecedented catastrophe for all Albanians." Agon, in Pristina, the capital, appropriately condemned "Islamofascism, which these fundamentalists are trying to promote in Kosovo." A teacher from Western Kosovo addressed the Wahhabis bluntly: "You are not believers, you are criminals."

All that needs to be added is that that these events have been ignored in international media, and that while Britain is the frontline state against radical Islam in Western Europe, Kosovo is now the crucial battlefield in the Balkans. Both countries are friends of the United States, and our new administration should demonstrate the fresh approach to Islam announced by President Obama, by clearly siding with Muslim moderates under siege. A courageous cleric in a remote Balkan location, and his many defenders, should not be left on their own to carry on this struggle, which is a defense of all human civilization.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.