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Kosovo Still the Balkan Front Line Against Radical Islam

10:43 AM, Jan 3, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Last year saw voting for administrative positions in the Muslim communities of each Kosovo town and village. An election was also supposed to be announced, within a year, for the top executive position in the Islamic community of Kosovo, held by Ternava. But controversy broke out in the southern Kosovo town of Kacanik, where opponents of Ternava were excluded from the lists of candidates.

A young and enthusiastic imam in the Kacanik-area village of Begrac, Adnan Vishi, was contacted by Ternava’s office in Pristina and informed that Vishi could earn a glorious place in the history of the Islamic Community of Kosovo. This would happen if he signed a proposal for Ternava to be named chief Islamic cleric of Kosovo on a life basis, without elections.

“I thought for about three seconds and said ‘no’,” Vishi told me. “I told them I was not concerned to become a ‘big man’ in the annals of the Kosovo Islamic Community." So Vishi and his mentor, Musli Verbani, another dissenter from the commands of the man Kosovo Islamic figures call “Sultan Naim Ternava,” were dropped from community ballots in the 2012 vote for the local Muslim apparatus. Two Wahhabis, Florim Neziraj and Sadullah Bajrami, who had never attended Islamic assemblies in the Kacanik district, suddenly appeared and were designated as supreme religious officials for the region.

Vishi spoke with the self-confidence one often encounters among Islamic clerics and others who have decided to take a stand against a radical offensive. “My community is safe,” he assured me. “We are building a new mosque, and the congregation would reject any other imam.”

Other voices among the Kosovars echo an urgent concern about Wahhabi intentions in Albanian areas. Avni Islami, from the Kosovo town of Podujeva, is a participant in the Self-Determination political movement, which holds the strongest position in favor of complete sovereignty and controls a larger delegation in the Assembly than AAK. Islami believes the Wahhabis intend to recruit 50,000 people, which would give them five-to-one numerical odds over the 10,000 member Kosovo police.

Self-Determination deputy Glauk Konjufca, who serves as vice-president of the Kosovo assembly, told me earlier this year of his new view of Wahhabi aggression against the Albanian Bektashi Sufis of Tetovo, in Western Macedonia. The Baba Harabati Bektashi shrine in Tetovo is the largest spiritual Sufi installation in the Balkans, but since 2002 has been the object of an unfortunately successful effort by Arab-financed Islamic fundamentalists to occupy and transform it, expelling the Sufis.

Konjufca said he now realized that attacking the Sufis was a first chapter in a long strategy to delegitimize the Albanian minority in Macedonia, and, by extension, Albanians thoughout the Balkans. “The Bektashis were outstanding among the creators of Albanian national identity in the 19th century,” Konjufca said, referring to the Bektashi introduction of the first Albanian-language schools, in opposition to Ottoman authority. He concluded, “To undermine the unity of Albanians it makes sense to first attack the Bektashis.” As elsewhere in the Balkans, ethnic rivals of established Muslim-majority communities are believed to be allied with Islamist radicals in sowing conflict within the moderate populace. For Serbs, there are too many Albanians. For Wahhabis, there are too many who are “not Muslim enough.”

For ordinary Kosovar Albanians, the most obvious evidence of Arab-based intrigues in their community came in early December with explanation of a scheme for a “Central Mosque of Pristina.” Demanded by Islamists in the streets last year and endorsed by clerical “ruler” Ternava, a Pristina “mega-mosque” would accommodate commercial no less than spiritual needs. As sketched out by Ternava’s crew in offering the project for competitive bids by architects worldwide, the “Central Mosque” would include 80 shops and 900 parking spaces.

Pristina, a city of 200,000, has 22 functioning mosques. The Ternava “mega-mosque” plan has been called “a mall with a minaret” by unhappy Muslim residents. Its conception reflects the Saudi-influenced Wahhabism Ternava is accused of supporting, and which has produced architectural grandiosity and desecration of traditional sites in Saudi Arabia. The Pristina “mega-mosque” is suspected to be, additionally, a catchment basin for increased Gulf-state financial influence. The proposal epitomizes the radical tendencies conventional Muslims in Kosovo oppose, and will, by all indications, continue to resist. 

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