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Kosovo Needs Western Help to Succeed

KOSOVO

Will Kosovo consolidate further as a democracy or become a quasi-theocracy where religious fanatics reign? Media will play a key a role in answering that question about this tiny Balkans country the West liberated in 1999.

Despite its dimuntive size - it has a population of just 1.8 million and a territory of 11,000 square kilometers (about the size of the US state of Connecticut) - this is a complex nation to cover. Incoherent, spotty news coverage of threats on the ground that pay little attention to strengths and opportunities in this young state do it a disservice. 

Following its liberation in 1999, the people of Kosovo no longer had to suppress their identities, including religious identities. Suddenly, citizens were free to express themselves more assertively in Kosovo's public sphere.

The secular Islam that Kosovo Albanians once favored now faced challenges from a new generation of religious clerics sent to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf theocracies (paid for by the gulf monarchies) for religious instruction. They returned to Kosovo with stricter views of Islam. They utilized the post-conflict institutional vacuum in Kosovo to impose a more rigid interpretation of their religion, introducing a tension into Kosovo's Islamic community.

The struggle between moderate and radical imams is palpable. So also are efforts by radicals to take over the Islamic community of Kosovo. This contest has been reflected to a degree in the local press, which covers the sensational conflicts within Islam. But the problem of radicalization trying to gain ground has remained off the front pages.

While the local press often misses the main point, international and Western press ignored this story completely following independence, perhaps considering Kosovo to no longer be newsworthy.

Radical imams solidified their base in Kosovo over these years through dubious Saudi-funded soup kitchens and brainwashing campaigns targeting youth, the desperate, and the needy. Radical factions built mosques and religious sites in the aftermath of the conflict. They began to encourage the same vulnerable groups to join the ranks of terrorists, such as ISIS, circa 2013, to fight the West in Syria.

At this point Kosovo caught the attention of the international press. Media outlets such as The New York Times reported on the rising tide of radicalism in Kosovo. Those reports helped government monitor the advance of radicalism. But these outlets have done precious little to follow up on the comprehensive efforts of Kosovo’s government to tackle the problem of radicalism in the last year.

Kosovo’s government has worked hard to repair the damage. In the wake of reports that more than 300 Kosovars have joined ISIS, the police charged 67 people, including 14 imams, while closing down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the constitution, inciting hatred, and recruiting for terrorism.

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