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Resistance to Islamist Infiltration Continues in Kosovo and Albania

7:18 AM, Apr 12, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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In 2011, after an attempt to overturn the hijab law, the Kosovo Assembly, the country’s national parliament, voted against the headscarf and against religious instruction in the public schools. Yet the controversy erupted again in January 2013 when Njomza Jashari, a high school student in the southern Kosovo city of Ferizaj, was barred from attending classes with her head covered. In reportage by the English-language service of Al Jazeera, the Islamist television network based in Qatar, Njomza Jashari was depicted not merely in a headscarf, but wearing an Arab-style full-body covering, although her face was exposed. Such a costume is notably rare in Kosovo.

Instead of studying at home, as Arjeta Halimi had done, Njomza Jashari was said to spend her time in a local mosque. School authorities agreed, as in the earlier instance, to allow Njomza Jashari to take her final examinations at the end of the year, when other students will be absent. According to Al Jazeera, her parents refused. Her mother, however, appeared on the Qatari network with her hair uncovered and no sign of so-called “Islamic dress.”

Njomza Jashari’s fellow students refused to attend the classes from which she was barred, but as also seen on Al Jazeera, in a demonstration before the school building, none of them wore headscarves. The Islamist “Join!” party and allied small groups began a campaign across Kosovo to support the headscarf “in Njomza’s name.”

Last year Ramiqi, mentor of the “Join!” party, was quoted by Arbana Xharra, a prominent Kosovar journalist, as denying the secular nature of the state. Ramiqi’s argument was based on the presence in Pristina of an unfinished Cathedral dedicated to Mother Teresa, who was born of Albanian parents in Macedonia, and statues of Mother Teresa and of the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg (1405-68). A former servant of the Ottoman court who then led the unsuccessful Albanian Christian resistance to the Turks, Skanderbeg became the prototypical Albanian national hero.

Kosovo is about 80 percent Muslim and 10 percent Catholic, and Ramiqi complained in 2011, “If you send someone a postcard showing these monuments, this appears to be a Christian country.”

Issues in Albanian history have provided further excuses for Islamist arguments in both Kosovo and Albania. The Turkish “fundamentalist-lite” government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party or AKP seeks to establish itself economically and politically as a dominant power in its former Balkan possessions, especially Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which have Muslim majorities (70 percent in Albania) or large minorities (somewhere between 40 and 50 percent in partitioned Bosnia). As a tool of Turkish “diplomacy,” Erdogan’s representatives object to Balkan textbooks that portray the Ottomans as harsh rulers, and demand changes in their presentation of the past.

While Albanians mostly became Muslims, they revived repeatedly Skanderbeg’s resistance to Turkish domination. Most important, they fostered a mid-19th-century national cultural rebirth, beginning with the establishment of Albanian-language education, which had been banned by the Ottoman authorities. Albania became independent of Turkey a century ago, in 1912. Still, in 2011 Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s foreign minister, went to Kosovo and declared that Turkey was unhappy that, in his words, “Kosovars learn history as interpreted by Josip Broz Tito or Enver Hoxha,” the Communist dictators of Yugoslavia and Albania. Davutoglu’s remarks, suggesting that Albanian patriotism was a Marxist fabrication, followed similar complaints by Turkish education minister Omer Dincer in a visit to Kosovo.

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