Poverty, Corruption, Isolation As Reasons for Islamism – Kosovo Journalist Tells Krynica.info
Today thousands of people try to come to Europe from the Middle East. Meanwhile there is a huge number of people who move from Europe to the Middle East to fight for Islamic State. What makes them to go there? This is what Krynica.info discusses with Besiana Xharra, journalist of Zeri Kosovo newspaper, who investigates the reasons why some Kosovo people are fond of radical Islam.
Krynica.info: As a journalist, recent years you have been reporting on Islam religion. Is it a big problem in Kosovo?
Besiana Xharra: There is no doubt that Islam in Kosovo was always completely different from Islam in other places of the Islamic World. What I mean by different? The majority of people in Kosovo would claim that they are Muslims, but nor religious. They drink alcohol, don’t fast during the Ramadan, don’t practice the five Islamic prayers everyday, women live modern life, and you can rarely see anyone with veils, and those who do practice some of the religious obligations usually don’t fully obey the Islamic rules. Kosovo is secular state, and people are raised as secular, too. Kosovo’s brand of Islam may be the most liberal in the world.
And this is because of the history, knowing that Islam was imposed by force in Kosovo from the Ottoman Empire.
Whatsoever we cannot deny that unfortunately the face of modern Islam in Kosovo is changing for worse during the latest years.
The changes started after the war between Kosovo and Serbia, 1999, when the first clashes began between radical Islam and the traditional one that country had practiced for centuries.
Kosovars, most of whom are ethnic Albanians, have been most pro–American people in the World, deeply appreciate the US-led NATO intervention in 1999, which put Kosovo on the path to independence.
So today, the rise of radical Islamism in Kosovo is deeply troubling, and very concerning.
Krynica.info: How did this happened that today in a secular, pro-West country, its citizens, Albanians, are joining ISIS in Siria and Iraq. What really happened?
Besiana Xharra: Kosovo’s secular character is changing. Kosovo became completely destroyed by the war, 1999, and the field was perfect to be used by the radical imams and organizations coming from the Middle East who began to spread its roots in Kosovo, by using poor people.
A huge role in this tragedy plays also Turkey. Turkey is investing millions of dollars in radical Islam in Kosovo.
Since 1999 till now, from Arabian and Turkey money, 200 new mosques, majority from Arabic states, have been built in Kosovo and all with no building permition, as law requires.
Being a country with weak education system, with 40 percent of unemployment which makes Kosovo the poorest country in the region and Europe, religious charities from Arabic country used this situation and offered English and computer lessons, along with the instruction in the Qur’an, and what is even worse, these organizations in the name of ‘charity’, paid Kosovo women to wear veils.
Per capita, Kosovo is 4th in the world in residents joining ISIS.
Officially the Kosovo government acknowledges that 300 Kosovars have joined ISIS. But the number might be much higher.
The target group are youth, 18 to 25 years old, being easier to be brainwashed by the radical imams, who are Albanians, but got educated in Arabic states and returned to Kosovo with the purpose to took the place of the traditional imams Kosovo used to have.
Krynica.info: How do they manage to go to Syria? Who helps them to get there?
Besiana Xharra: Since 2012 I started to investigate why young Kosovars are going to Syria and who supports them trying to find the network. I made the list of almost 100 people, who were in Syria. I managed to talk with a lot of their parents, and all of them are devastated, angry, shamed, embarrassed, and yes, some of them even don’t want to do anymore with their children.
Every story has a same history how it started. Those young boys, whose parents never went to mosques to pray, lived as a secular people, suddenly become religious and started to go to mosques. Day after day they become radicalized and started talking about the Muslim world, and how they want to go and help their ‘Muslim brothers’.
The families I meet, the majority live in the worst conditions ever. No work, no education, they barely have enough to eat.
But I did met a family who were in a very good economy conditions, and two sons – one 19 and another 21 – left their home to join ISIS.
The father, who asked for help more than 30 times from Kosovo police and government asking them to prevent his sons to leave the country, openly shows how these Institutions didn’t help at all, much worse, he has facts and doubts, that people from inside Kosovo police and government, might being involved and helped his sons to join ISIS.
As for leaving the country and getting to Syria, Kosovo youth take the bus or plane to visa-free Turkey, from where they easily cross the border and join the jihadi from Urfa to Raqqa.
Today, an Albanian name, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, one of the first who joined ISIS from Kosovo, appeared in top 10 list of the world terrorist wanted by the USA.
Krynica.info: And how does Kosovo government treat those people who come back home from ISIS?
Besiana Xharra: Under pressure from Washington, the Kosovo Government has taken some preventive steps. In late 2014, Kosovo authorities closed 14 Arabic NGOs that were suspected of having close ties with radical Islamist groups.
Several months later, Kosovo police arrested 40 people, including 11 imams, on suspicion of recruiting for Islamic State. But these actions have been superficial and ineffective. Detainees were soon released, some investigations remain ongoing but nothing serious happens.
In 2015, Kosovo’s parliament adopted a law punishing participation in foreign conflicts with up to 15 years in jail, aimed at tackling the issue of Kosovars heading to join the ISIS.
Krynica.info: Is there any threat of ISIS members from Kosovo coming back to commit terrorist attacks in your country?
Besiana Xharra: There were some fears from police, authorities and the US embassy in Kosovo. On July 4th (US Independence Day) we used to have a huge concert in the capital Pristina, and last year for the first time after 16 years we didn’t have the concert. But nothing happened.
So far there were no serious attacks in Kosovo, but it is becoming a big problem for those who speak against this issue, especially journalist.
Me and some of my colleagues are target of some Islamic extremists, threatening our lives, as we speak and write for them.
Krynica.info: In your opinion, who is to blame most in this situation, and how can situation change in Kosovo?
Besiana Xharra: The Government of Kosovo places a large part of the blame. It is known for its high corrupt governance and crime. As a result Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe, with 40 percent of unemployment.
Kosovo remains the only place in the region with no visa liberalization, the youth are not able to see the Western values, completely isolated, poor and uneducated.
On the other hand, Europe in Kosovo completely failed to fight the corruption, even though they have a biggest mission in place, EULEX, in a name of fighting crimes, corruption and other serious crimes. They done nothing, even worse, the late findings have emerged as the EULEX is already involved in corruption within its own ranks.
While, the people of Kosovo has lost their faith in Kosovo and felt unwanted by Europe, religion and radicals offers a clear identity to them, and a sense of belonging to something.
Muslim Community of Kosovo is another big problem, whose leaders are corrupted, and whose businesses are with Arabian states and Turkey, and what they’ve done recent years, they have replaced moderate imams with radical ones, in a majority of mosques.
Turkey, on the other hand, keeps sponsoring mosques, imams, Islamic schools, doing everything to expand its influence in Kosovo.
Turkey also gained financially, as the biggest companies and industries of Kosovo has been sold to Turkish companies, related with President Recep Erdogan.
With Arabic and Turkey money, there have been built almost every month a new mosque in Kosovo. With no more than 1.7 million habitants, Kosovo today counts around 800 mosques.
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