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Kosovo Radical Islamists In New Political Offensive

12:45 PM, Feb 13, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Agani’s party provoked derision in the Assembly of Kosovo when, among other declarations, it criticized Darwinian evolutionary theory. It is viewed as similar to the “soft fundamentalist” Justice and Development Party led by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. Additionally in 2011, the American University of Kosovo signed an agreement with Dartmouth University for improvement of Kosovar health education. That led Agani, in his governmental capacity, to visit the New Hampshire campus in November 2012 for talks with faculty and students.

Agani remains in the Kosovo government although his marginal party is increasinly divided. In July 2012 its branches in the towns of Lipjan and Fushe-Kosove, as well as the major city of Gjakova, split. Its most important regional leader, Munir Basha in the southern Kosovo city of Prizren, complained that party voters had supported a conservative economic perspective rather than the inveiglement of Agani in the issues of the headscarf and religious instruction in public schools. Charges that Agani has ignored the needs of the health sector, was manipulating religious controversies, and used the party for his personal enrichment have long been heard.

For their part, Ramiqi and his coterie claimed considerable public attention in 2011 when they began holding Muslim prayer services in the streets of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. They demanded erection of a “megamosque” to match the Catholic Cathedral of Blessed Mother Teresa, which is under construction in the city center. Ramiqi’s crowds claimed they lacked sufficient facilities for Islamic observances, although Pristina has 22 mosques.

The Pristina municipal authorities granted the Islamists the right to build a new and expansive “Central Mosque of Pristina,” which is intended to include 80 businesses, and has been criticized by some Muslims as a “mall with a minaret.” A property was designated in the Dardanija neighborhood, somewhat distant from the historic mosque quarter in Pristina’s core area and also from the new Catholic edifice. A cornerstone for the “Central Mosque” was laid on October 8, 2012. Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga, a woman who does not wear Islamic dress, spoke at the ceremony, noting that Kosovo is secular but seeks to protect religious and other community rights. Jahjaga was the target of whistles by Islamists at the scene, who waved signs accusing her of “offending the Koran,” but the intruders were removed by police.

As is typical in Kosovo, news of the formation of Ramiqi’s political party elicited sharp commentary from the public, expressed in the online comment spaces of the newspapers. The Pristina daily Express, energetic in its exposure of Islamist intrigues, included nearly 13,000 words from readers discussing Ramiqi and his party, much of it negative.

It has become common to hear Muslim radicals in Kosovo accused of working for Serbian and other foreign interests. In the Express comment section, an individual signing as “Martin” warned that is it is better for Serbia to have Albanians appear Arabized, and for Erdogan’s Turkey to see Albania as “Turkish.” A reader identified as “Lola” put the case more directly: “Fuad Ramiqi, Shefqet Krasniqi [a prominent Islamist incendiary against the Catholics], are for the destruction of Kosovo.”

Another Express entry, signed “Dardanija,” declared, “Fuad Ramiqi calls for ‘Unity,’ but knows that he is undermining the nation. For the Taliban conspirator there is no aim but personal profit. The government should put Fuad Ramiqi in jail.” Finally, a contributor signing with the sarcastic title “Shejtan” (Satan), offered perhaps the best summary of the recent history of Islamist politics in Kosovo: “I do not believe that this party will succeed as it is not even comparable to the party of Ferid Agani. The Ramiqi group do not aim at forming a better society but only for personal benefit and the destruction of national identity! Ramiqi and Co. do not feel strongly Albanian, but more Muslim and Arab than Albanian. So this party and such people will never gain wide support in Kosovo.”

Try as they will, it seems clear that Islamist radicals face an uphill struggle in Kosovo, however ardent they are to impose their authority.

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