What does US legal aid mean for Balkan Muslims?

Published 19.11.2014 02:30
Updated 19.11.2014 02:39
What does US legal aid mean for Balkan Muslims?

On Nov. 13, 2014 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that following meetings with EU ministers, the Justice Department directed a number of American federal prosecutors and senior law enforcement advisers to reside in key regions in the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa.

The goal of this American dispatch of prosecutors was stated to "aid those countries in bringing criminal prosecutions against individuals who return from Syria and ensure that they have the necessary laws to do so, such as one routinely used in the United States that makes it a crime to provide material support to terrorist organizations." Holder further noted: "Our goal in all of these efforts is to build the capacity to fight foreign terrorist fighters within the rule of law so we can stop the flow of fighters … and aggressively combat violent extremism." The plan that Holder announced included "the assignment of a regional counterterrorism adviser in the Balkans."

For people who reside in the Balkans, Holder's announcement came as a great surprise. During the past few months, a number of Balkan governments including Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo have all revised their penal codes and made the participation in a war or affiliation to armed groups in another country punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In line with the directives from Washington, all the Balkan countries that have Muslim populations have joined the new "war on terror" of the American administration. Since August 2013, when the Americans changed their plans for "regime change" in Syria, and declared the "democratic freedom-fighters" against the "Syrian dictator" as "terrorists," Balkan states publicly denounced the "jihadis" as well. Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia have made dozens of arrests and local and American media outlets in the region, like Radio Free Europe, which until June 2013 was praising the jihadis and calling them "volunteers," have now totally changed sides and are all condemning the jihadis as terrorists.

The jihadis and their chief bogeymen, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are being condemned by the official state institution of Islam in the Balkans, as well as many of the usual suspects – Wahhabi preachers. While until 2013 many imams and official institutions of Islam in the Balkans praised the "Sunni" war or "the Arab Spring," against "the Syrian regime" and "the Shiites and Alawites" and commended the jihadis as freedom fighters, following Radio Free Europe and the U.S. administration's U-turn, they too have joined the bandwagon and now claim that the jihadis aren't Muslims and do not represent Islam.

So, when all the regimes, all the official Muslim leaders and almost all Muslim believers in the Balkans have come to finally realize and admit – out of desire or fear – that jihad in Syria is bad, and excommunicate ISIS jihadis en masse from Islam, why does Holder and the American administration need to dispatch federal prosecutors and assign a regional counterterrorism adviser to the Balkans? While it is true that the government of Albania supplied weapons to jihadis in Libya, the government of Kosovo received and probably trained and armed Syrian jihadis, and Croatia together with the Saudis armed the jihadis in Syria, now, all the Balkan governments have "repented" and admitted their past sins. They have all passed the blame for the 2012-2013 jihad against the Syrian government to the nefarious "Wahhabis," "terrorists" "ISIS-inspired radicals" and what have you, and countries like Albania have expiated their sins by even providing free arms deliveries to the anti-jihadi Kurds, many of whom fight for terrorist designated organizations like the PKK.

So, why is this grand regional counterterrorism adviser needed in the Balkans when all is going fine for NATO on the Balkan front? Well, as the British say, the devil is in the details. The recent arrests that the Americans and their subservient governments have made in countries like Kosovo and Albania are not playing out all well for the American U-turn and the blame game on Muslims and Islam as the source of jihadism and terrorism in Syria.

Let us take the example of Kosovo. The mass arrests that the Kosovar authorities made in the ex-Yugoslav province of Kosovo in August and September 2014, where the local authorities proclaimed the arrests as a fight against ISIS, have played out to be a farce. The Kosovo courts have proclaimed most of those arrested innocent since they cannot find legal justifications for their detention. On the other hand, organizations like the Youth Muslim Forum of Kosovo have openly challenged the Kosovar government for its involvement in the Syrian jihad. In a press release issued in August 2014 they demanded from the prosecutor general's office the arrest of Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj as well as the questioning of President Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi for their involvement with and support of Syrian jihadis.

Neighboring Albania finds itself involved in the same legal mess. While the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama appointed the Salafi activist, Ilir Hoxholli, who had led protests against the Syrian government in Tirana between 2012 and 2013, as chairman of its State Committee on Cults, it has also armed jihadis from Syria to Libya. With such a context in mind, the government is desperately trying to produce a reasonable scapegoat for its past actions. Like in Kosovo, the Albanian government has arrested many low level Salafis who are accused of facilitating and supporting the jihad in Syria. But even here, not all those arrested seem to be culpable of any crime. Let us take the example of Verdi Morava. He has been on a hunger strike since October and is demanding that Albanian authorities interrogate or release him. He has been held for over eight months now and he has not been questioned by the police or intelligence agencies once and maintains his innocence. The two accusations against him are, 1) accompanying an old man who was traveling to Turkey to Tirana International Airport and 2) consoling the father of an Albanian jihadi upon the death of his son. Armand Ali, a Salafi imam from Tirana whose mosque was raided by the anti-terror police, claimed in a TV debate that his mosque and all the other mosques in Tirana were ordered by the "official" mufti of Tirana to pray for Syria and speak out against the Syrian government. So why is the government arresting only disenfranchised Salafis but not the Fethullah Gülen-inspired leaders of the Muslim Community of Albania whom the Americans depict as the good guys and are charged with the responsibility to guide the Muslims of Albania away from jihad and extremism?

Even though these two Balkan governments do not have strong evidence to convict those arrested, under U.S. pressure they have undertaken measures that go contrary to all democratic norms. While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. State Department keep quiet over the repressive measures being meted out on Muslims in the Balkans, Balkan governments like the one in Kosovo are finding it increasingly difficult to legally justify the crackdown on Muslim civil society, opposition politicians and the closing of many humanitarian nongovernmental organizations. Several organizations for orphans and the needy have been closed in recent months without any legal justification.

The absence of legal justification for the arrests of Muslim believers, politicians and imams and the crackdown on Muslim civil society have created huge tensions in Albania and Kosovo between the courts, civil society, the U.S.-dominated and subservient governments and the American embassies and Washington emissaries who demand mass trials and punishments for Muslim activists whom they often depict as terrorists. When in September 2014 the Kosovar authorities began a mass-arrest of dozens of imams and Muslim believers, they were publicly commended for this by Tracey Ann Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador in Pristina. But these arrests were condemned by many Kosovar intellectuals and human rights organizations. Well-known Kosovar resistance leaders and nationalist ideologues such as Adem Demaçi and Rexhep Qosja declared that they had not seen such arrests even during the era Aleksandar Ranković, the feared head of the Yugoslav secret police, and Slobodan Milloshević. Qosja noted that even though they were openly calling for resistance against communist Yugoslavia no one was arresting them en mass. Qosja asked how could a democratic state mass-arrest its citizens only on suspicion and under the justification of inciting religious intolerance, while Christian fundamentalists like Edi Rama's close friend, Maks Velo, who openly insult Muslims and Islam, are never arrested. However, the American officials think differently. When the court of Pristina released many arrested imams and believers in October 2014, Tina Kaidanow, the ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department annulled her Kosovo visit, one of the cited reasons being her disappointment with the release of the imams and believers from prison.

Based on the recent developments and tensions that the new American "war on terror" is creating in Kosovo and Albania, I believe that the assignment of a regional counterterrorism adviser by the U.S. administration in the Balkans is being made in order to "save face" and produce the necessary justifications that American officials and their subservient governments will need in order to further constrain the rights of Muslims in southeastern Europe. Since the local governments have not been able to produce much evidence to justify the mass-arrests, the mission of the regional counterterrorism adviser in the Balkans seems to be the production of enough spin doctored justifications and legal traps that the local governments need to invent in order to frighten and terrorize their Muslim populations. Muslims are being used as a scapegoat in the Balkans and only they are being blamed for the present jihad in Syria. While, it is true that the Balkans produced many brainwashed jihadis who believed the CNN and Al-Jazeerah propaganda against Syria,and joined U.S. President Barack Obama's fight for "democracy," they are not the only culprits for the dirty war that the Americans and their allies have been making for many decades in the Middle East.

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