Last month the Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS), a think-tank in the Balkan republic, published a “Report Inquiring Into the Causes and Consequences of Kosovo Citizens’ Involvement as Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq.” The survey was financed by the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, and naturally carried a disclaimer: “The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the Author [Shpend Kursani, a Cambridge graduate] and the Kosovar Center for Security Studies and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.”
Nevertheless, this is a muddled and faulty document, which will be interpreted correctly by Kosovar Albanians as reflecting official American attitudes to the challenge of the so-called “Islamic State” or ISIS, and a microcosm of a broader Western failure to address clearly the activities of ISIS and other terrorists in the region.
The report comprises 107 pages of analysis, statistics, and diagrams. Such a quantity of data should encompass much that is useful. Unfortunately, while some important problems of Islam in Kosovo are disclosed, they are obscured by an avalanche of often-contradictory argumentation.
An 11-page executive summary titled “Key Findings” begins with what would seem an alarming statement: “Kosovo has 125 foreign fighters . . . for every 1 million citizens, making it the highest ranking country among 22 listed [Western] countries, followed by Bosnia with 85, Belgium with 42, and Albania with 30 cases of foreign fighters . . . for every 1 million citizens.”
Yet this is followed immediately by an alternative, contradictory observation: “In terms of the number of foreign fighters [as a proportion of] their Muslim population, Kosovo is in the bottom half of the list of countries, ranked 14th among 22 countries with the highest number of foreign fighters.”
The report does, nevertheless, offer an obvious presumption: “given that it is mostly the Muslim population of each of the respective countries that holds the desire to join the Middle Eastern conflicts on religious grounds, compared to their respective non-Muslim populations, it is necessary to look at the number of foreign fighters per capita of their respective Muslim populations. It becomes clear that it is the Muslim population of the non-Muslim majority countries that are mostly affected by the phenomenon of foreign fighters.” No surprise there.
Since Kosovo is a majority-Muslim country, its relatively large complement of fighters for a country of only 1.8 million people shouldn’t be a surprise, either. But the report does not say clearly which of the baffling sets of numbers it offers are significant, although the text, after some paragraphs of convoluted remarks on these figures, avers that “violent extremist ideas in Kosovo are embraced by only a small group of people when compared to the overall population size.”
More important, the report seeks—in the manner of the Obama administration—to separate radicalism from religion and thus falls back on that well-known, handy excuse for Muslim extremism: “internal conditions at societal, family and individual levels.” The report notes correctly, “For Kosovo citizens . . . the overwhelming majority [of whom] are Muslim, conflicts in the Middle East were until recently considered as remote events, with no Kosovo citizen officially reported to have been engaged as a foreign fighter in any of these conflicts, at least not to the extent of the recent wave of foreign fighters involved in Syria and Iraq. Similarly, for Kosovo citizens the rapid spread of the Arab Spring in many majority Muslim Middle Eastern and North African countries was equally as remote as previous events in the Middle East, including the recent unrest in Syria.”
What went wrong? The report spends much space reproducing the commonplace history of the Wahhabi movement originating in Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood founded in Egypt, and discloses some arcane but relevant chapters in the history of Islam in Kosovo. After 2005, the ideology of al Qaeda—traced through the Egyptian group Takfir wa’al Hijra, or “Religious Purge and Migration,” called “Takfiris” in the report—infiltrated Kosovo from the neighboring Republic of Macedonia. The latter country has a Slav Orthodox Christian majority, which dominates it politically, and a large, restive Albanian Muslim and Catholic minority.