Thursday, September 29, 2011

Updates on Balkan Islamic extremism, by Ioannis Michaletos

The Balkan Islamic extremism, although it is considered as a taboo theme by most of the mainstream media, is still an issue debated in high-level and sensitive discussions between policy makers across the world, due to importance of the region as a historical fault line between the West and the East, in parallel with the ongoing interstate competitions that are cantered around South-eastern Europe.
In a leaked cable of the U.S State Dept, dated back in 2005, the then Ambassador of the States in Bulgaria, John Beyerle noted that “Foreign international organizations and institutions praise Islamic extremism in Bulgaria…the official Islamic charities depend financially on them…Muslim Bulgarian women in Southern Bulgaria are imitating Arabic looks”. The cable was classified as secret and events that have happened over the past few years have testified the existence of the aforementioned findings.

According to information by various international security services, in the Balkans and in Bulgaria in particular, quite a few Islamic extremist groups are functioning and a number of Arabic descent Bulgarians are assisting organizations such as Hezbollah in financial terms by diverting a part of the profits they make through trafficking, car theft and narcotics trade.
Moreover, Chechen Islamic extremists operate in Bulgaria and deal drugs sending capital to their brethren in the Caucasus. The Kurdish KGK is also active in Bulgaria and Iranian diplomats have been noted taking part into radicalizing segments of the Pomak minority in the South of the country which is primarily Muslim.
In Kosovo, a recent established political-social movement named “Bashkohu”, which means “participation”, strives for the acceptance of the hijab in local schools and it includes amongst its circle groups of devout Muslims that want to openly declare the region as a “Muslim territory” and away from European norms and canons. Although the movement was not able yet to acquire the necessary clout to implement its ideas, the overall activity of certain Muslim circles -that has been extensively researched in previous articles and reports- is still gathering pace and it is estimated that as soon as NATO and international forces exit the Province; then it will manifest in an explicit form.
Back in 2009 an Albanian from Kosovo that lived in New York, was arrested by the American authorities as an Al Qaeda member who aimed to kill American troops in the Balkans.
The 23 year old Kaziu Betim went to Cairo in 2009 and came into contact with Pakistani Jihadists. In parallel he tried to recruit himself into the Al Shabab Somali terrorist group. His plan foiled when the FBI noticed his ventures and was subsequently arrested. Since 2006 there have been cases both in USA and in Germany involving aspiring Jihadists from Kosovo and at the same time there is constant surveillance of the activities of Middle Eastern sponsored individuals and NGO’s in the region by at least 11 different intelligence services. The amount of attention Kosovo is receiving regarding the threat by radical Islam is an issue that has not been thoroughly researched by mainstream media and remains for the moment the task of specialized analysis agencies and political risk consultancies.
In early July 2011, a significant number of Islamists gathered in the streets of Pristina and staged street prayers, as well as, demonstrations in order to demand the creation of a mega Mosque in the city centre, which hosts quite a few. What the real demand was, that a new large Mosque should be built in order to cover the view of the Catholic Church nearby. The demonstrators held flags of Hamas and many of those were dressed in Middle Eastern fashion.
The issue of radicalized Islam is in reality a pan European issue and not a Balkan one. In France and in Belgium the governments have passed laws prohibiting the use of the Burga and niqab in public spaces and in Switzerland in a 2009 referendum, there was 58% nay concerning the creation or not of new Mosques in the country. In the UK, since 2007 there have been certain restrictions by the Ministry of education regarding the dress of students in public schools, whilst a recent poll by the French daily “Le Monde” revealed that 42% of the French public and 40% of the German one view Islam as a “threat”, and up to 70% view the integration of the Muslim citizens as “problematic” for the French and German societies.
In November 2010 the German Chancellor Merkel admitted the collapse of multiculturalism in Germany and in parallel similar concerns were raised by the British Premier Cameron. If one adds the recent policies of Sarkozy in France and the Italian governmental coalition in Rome, as well as public and political sentiment in Austria, Netherlands, Belgium and Finland; one can easily comprehend that Islam as a religion and not only its radicalized segment will soon face tremendous challenges that can be easily summoned as “Integrate to the Western society or isolate yourselves”. In that respect the issue of extremism in the Balkans of Islamic nature, will come about as a focal European issue.
For instance the recent veto by Netherlands and Austria against the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen treaty was based on the assumption that the Balkans are the main gate under which Muslim illegal immigrants venture up to Central Europe. Due to reasons of political correctness in the Brussels, the terms “custom controls and organized crime ” were mentioned although the hard truth was that certain European states are terrified that yet another free access corridor will open up for a large number of illegal aliens from Afghanistan-Pakistan and other countries that congregate in Turkey before trespassing the Balkans on their way to specific EU states.
In short, there are three main nucleus of power relating to Islamic affairs in the Balkans. The first one is the so-called “Neo Ottoman” one being directed by Ankara and from Istanbul in particular through the use of the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs and the myriads of supported government institutions and charities, aiming at creating a Turkish influenced Balkan territory mostly for nationalistic reasons and not exclusively related to religion per se. A second power block is the Middle Eastern-Wahhabi one, been supported by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait especially, aiming for the “Islamization” of the region en route for the Western European countries. A third and lesser player is Iran that still actively tries to gain footholds of influence mostly for purposes of maintaining a global reach and as deterrence against its perceived enemies from the West.
The real issue here is the non-existent realistic approach by the Western countries and especially USA. Although the subversive nature of the activities of many groups and individuals across the Balkans has been noted, nevertheless the pervasive nature of political correctness, along with an irrational “cold war era” fear of the an impeding Russian (Soviet) “invasion” to the Mediterranean, has paralyzed the dynamic approach to the issue that in the long-term will neutralize NATO and will facilitate inter-ethnic competition in the whole of Europe. Unfortunately for many American policy makers, history is not understood as a dynamic all encompassing procedure and it is viewed rather from a mechanistic approach under which someone can actually both predict and change the course of events to its suit. The only certainty in history is that it does not favour lack of reason and that mistakes are due to be paid sooner or latter.
Note: Radicalism of Islamists in the Balkans is related directly to terrorist cells across the world and in turn those are indirectly connected with powerful criminal gangs of a translational level. Therefore, political mismanagement or overlook of the above regional issue has global consequences on security terms, a dynamic which is accelerated by the interconnection of all political-societal forces in the world nowadays due to the globalization process and the ease in communications and transport. In simple terms, the difficult years are ahead concerning the coming clash of civilizations which is gathering pace since the end of the bipolar world in the early 90′s and it is reaching a climax, judging by the ethnic and religious based conflicts nowadays. Balkans seems to be an ideal ground where this clash has already been proven and it still remains a volatile region with tensions simmering just below the surface of political correct haziness