Why did Balkan Muslims not react to Trump's Jerusalem provocation?

Published 26.12.2017 01:09
Updated 26.12.2017 01:12

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision on Jerusalem has caused worldwide condemnation and rejection. Muslim and non-Muslim activists, government institutions and religious organizations have reacted against the latest American provocation against the Muslims and Christians of the Holy Land. The latest U.N. vote against this move shows the international comminuty's disappointment regarding the issue of Jerusalem and the American-Israeli discrimination of the Palestinians.

Jerusalem, or al-Quds in Arabic, is one of the most sacred cities for Muslims. Balkan Muslims hold Jerusalem in high esteem, too. For them, Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa compound are considered holy places. Albanians were supportive of Palestine even during the era of communism. Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia and Enver Hoxha's Albania supported the Palestinian issue and the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state.

However, after the fall of communism, support for Palestine faded in the Balkans. The American domination in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia discourages the governments and civil society organizations in the Balkans from supporting issues that the American government does not like. Most of the civil society organizations in the Balkans are supported either by the U.S. or the EU and, as a result, the reactions that one sees in the West against wars, injustice and aggression are absent in this part of Europe.

Trump's provocation on Jerusalem was met with almost total silence by Muslim Albanian communities in the Balkans. The governments of Kosovo and Albania did the same. If someone visits the official pages of the Muslim Community of Albania, the Islamic Community of Kosovo or the Islamic Religious Community of Macedonia (IRCM), they will have the impression that Jerusalem is not an important issue for Muslim Albanian.

In the pages of the official Islam of Albanians of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, someone will read that these state-supported religious institutions are concerned about their Muslims who fight in Syria, organize meetings with foreign delegations and attend religious or inter-religious celebrations. They are all politically correct, conveying the message of peace and tolerance and time after time, organize conferences and meetings with U.S., EU and sometimes even Israeli delegations who teach them how to de-radicalize and behave well.

Unlike the rest of the Muslim world, which has frozen relations with Israel, in post-communist Albania, the Israeli Embassy regularly meets with the leaders of the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities and sends them to Israel for cultural and photographic events. The myth of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA Center), created by the Israeli state over the past decades, claims that Albanians are good Muslims. They saved all of the Jews during World War II, and as a result, are shown as good Muslims in contrast to the Arabs who do not like them. The Israelis like Albanian dervishes and imams with their turbans and beards paraded around Israel as an example of good Muslims.

Trump's declaration on Jerusalem, which even Pope Francis rejected, did not get the expected reactions from Kosovo or Albania. While the government of Kosovo was totally silent and careful not to worry its American sustainers and Israel, which do not even officially recognize Kosovo as a state, the government of Albania was forced to participate in the Istanbul Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which declared east Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, participating in the event with a low-level ambassador. Ditmir Bushati, Albania's foreign minister who was grilled in parliament by newborn Catholic politician Tritan Shehu about Albania's presence at the "anti-American event," downplayed the participation in the summit. He said they did not vote for it and even questioned Albania's membership in the OIC.

One day after the OIC's joint declaration, Albanian President Ilir Meta, Israeli ambassador in Tirana Boaz Rodkin and many other Albanian officials celebrated Hanukkah in the premises of the secular Albanian presidency in the presence of Albania's top Sunni and Bektashi clerics. A picture on Meta's website shows that Albanian Muslim leaders and politicians alike have no problem with Israel, which invades, deports and kills their Muslim brethren in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine. They do not share even the pope's call for wisdom and prudence.

When on Dec. 21, Albania, like 128 other U.N. member states voted against the U.S. Jerusalem move in the U.N. General Assembly, there was a fury of condemnation against the Albanian government's vote in Albania and Pristina. Kosovo's President Hashim Thaçi declared that he would be with the Americans to the end. In Albania, President Ilir Meta wrote an open letter to President Trump apologizing for this vote, claiming that the government did not consult him first. Sali Berisha and most Albanian politicians and media outlets described Albania's vote "against the Americans" at the U.N. as an anti-national move and almost no one dared to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.

While some Balkan experts probably understand the extreme pro-Israeli and pro-American bias of many Albanian politicians who fear for their future and have to sustain public attacks by American ambassadors in Pristina and Tirana who accuse them of being corrupt, the question that one might raise is why Muslim Albanians and their civil society organizations have not spoken out against Trump's Jerusalem declaration. Are they not concerned about the safety of their holy mosque and the human and civil rights of Palestinians?

The Israeli myth of BESA claims that Albanians saved Jews during World War II. If this myth is true, one might ask if Albanians are not worried about the Palestinians today as they were about Jews in the past. One might even ask how is it possible that the Muslim Council of Great Britain and many other Muslim organizations in the West have condemned Trump for his Jerusalem provocation, but the "autochthonous" Muslims in the Balkans have not. Some imams and believers whom I have asked this question have responded privately, saying they are afraid. Can you not see the mass state surveillance and hysteria against mosques and believers that the Americans have built in Kosovo and Albania with the excuse of the fight against terrorism? Do you not see how many imams and believers have been jailed on fake charges and how the media accuses us of being extremists and terrorists? If we speak or protest for Jerusalem, the Americans and our government will persecute us. This is their response.

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