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Tony Blair, ‘The Trouble Within Islam,’ and Kumbaya in Kosovo

10:32 AM, Jun 20, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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But what did the religious encounter sponsored in Kosovo by the Blair Foundation achieve? The event itself was strictly “kumbaya”—the kind of symbolic fellowship celebrated in the famous campfire tune. It managed to get representatives of the most notorious religious adversaries in Kosovo—the Serbian Orthodox Church and the official Sunni Islamic Community of Kosovo—to sit in the same room, along with figures from the Albanian Catholic church, the main non-Muslim Albanian religious minority in Kosovo. But is cool, or even sociable, proximity, under the ever-present gaze of foreign administrators in Kosovo, enough to constitute dialogue?

Participants in the Kosovo conference avoided studiously the real issues that are discussed in the streets of the country, instead addressing such anodyne topics as the transcendence of God, the expansion of social media, and faith in secular societies. Meanwhile, the matters stirring the people around them include the infiltration of radicalism into the highest level of the Kosovo Islamic apparatus, as represented by one of the most prominent, if laconic participants in the conference, the pro-Wahhabi, Muslim-Brotherhood-affiliated chief cleric of Kosovo, Naim Ternava. As the conference opened, Kosovo’s newspaper of record, Koha Ditore (Daily Times), reported on May 23 that Ternava has applied for status as a veteran of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), although he did not fire a shot in the 1998-99 Kosovo combat. In addition, the faultlessly moderate chief cleric in Kosovo at that time, Rexhep Boja, warned Islamic clerics against becoming involved in the military insurrection.

Ternava and his current assistant, chief imam Sabri Bajgora, have submitted documentation claiming recognition as “KLA veterans” based on their work organizing food and sanitary assistance for refugees. Ternava declared that he reported, during the war, to former KLA general staff chief Sylejman Selimi, currently Kosovo ambassador to Albania, and another former KLA commander, Sami Lushtaku, mayor of the city of Skenderaj. On June 1, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) reported the arrest of Selimi, Lushtaku, and five more former KLA members for alleged war crimes.

Another local concern involves the undiluted dedication of Serbian Orthodox clerics to the claim that Kosovo is part of Serbia. Kosovo has attempted to reach an agreement with Serbia on its northern border, where Serbian “parallel” police and political elements claim authority. Yet as the conference in Pec came to a hospitable end, Kosovars learned that their president, Atifete Jahjaga, had been excluded from a regional meeting of heads of state in Ohrid, Macedonia, even though the Macedonian government recognizes Kosovo. Kosovo’s attempts at good-faith negotiations with its Slavic neighbors seem doomed, notwithstanding rhetorical claims of compromise.

One hesitates to discount the good will of an individual like Blair, who so whole-heartedly pledges to educate the young people of the world in respect for their neighbors belonging to other religions and ethnic groups. But neither indoctrination of children in tolerance nor formalistic chat sessions between religious officials from mutually antagonistic congregations and nations can accomplish the lofty aims embraced by Blair.

He is quite right to say “There is a problem within Islam, and we have to put it on the table and be honest about it.” Still, it leaves the table bare, and shows no honesty, to imagine that such issues will be resolved by polite colloquies on social media or related trivial topics. Blair is correct in that the problem of radical Islam is undeniable and must be dealt with openly. That would require, in Kosovo, asking about the infiltration of radicals, as well as the continued pretext for Islamist provocation furnished by disruptive Serbian Orthodox agitators. It is good to admit that radical Islam represents a significant ideological menace; it is better to call it by its name, and support its Muslim opponents articulately and publicly.

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