From Beneath You It Devours
The Coming Balkan Caliphate: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West
by Christopher Deliso, Praeger Security International, 2007
For almost two decades, events in the Balkans have been described in the West as a simple consequence of “greater Serbian nationalism,” a phantom notion conjured to explain the complexities of a deeply conflicted region in the aftermath of the Cold War. Social, economic, ethnic and religious factors involved in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia were routinely ignored, and in their stead propaganda about “genocidal fascism” and “butcher Milosevic” ruled the airwaves – and minds.
In the trickle of works that break with this dogma, a prominent place should be reserved for The Coming Balkans Caliphate by Christopher Deliso, a longtime Antiwar.com contributor and founder of Balkanalysis.com. Deliso, who lives in Macedonia, has had ample opportunity to observe Balkans events from up close, and point out holes in the official propaganda large enough to let through a carrier battle group or three.
In Caliphate, Deliso examines the taboo topic of the modern Balkans: the infiltration of radical Islam. The mere mention of this religion, let alone any examination of the role its followers have played in the Balkans recently, is met with shrill denunciations from, as Deliso once put it, investors in the “Bank of Collective Serbian Guilt.” The Muslims of Bosnia are commonly referred to as “Bosnians” or “Bosniaks,” even though Islam is the foundation of their national identity. The fact that Albanians in Kosovo are predominantly Muslim is also ignored, or declared irrelevant.
Yet Alija Izetbegovic, who spearheaded the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina and bears a lion’s share of the blame for the brutal civil war that ravaged it for over three years, is revered in the Muslim world and is buried at a cemetery for martyrs in the jihad. Likewise, the current Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, Haris Silajdzic, studied religion and started his career as an imam.
A Very Real Threat
Caliphate’s methodology is regional, chronological, and topical. The first four chapters cover the jihadist infiltration of Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, from 1992 to 2001. He then zooms out to examine the role of Turkey and “certain foreign relations,” not forgetting to describe how the international presence in the Balkans is deliberately turning a blind eye to the threat of radical Islam.
Chapter 3 plays on Kosovo’s Serbian name (Plain of Blackbirds), envisioning a “plan of black beards,” while Chapter 6 takes its cue from an observant Texan peacekeeper, who sees the West “fixin’ to lose.” Each chapter makes for a fascinating read in itself. Taken together, they coalesce into a terrifying specter of jihad that has already taken root in the region, and seeks to expand into Europe. Unlike the phantom menaces conjured by mainstream Western propaganda, this danger is very real – yet it is almost entirely ignored. Deliso’s concluding chapter examines the potential ramifications of continued blindness by the West to what its Balkans interventions and policies have wrought.
Only fifteen days had passed between the fall of Kabul to the mujahedin and the outbreak of fighting in Bosnia, recalled an Afghan mujahedin in 1994 (p.27). Abu Abdel-Aziz, who chose to continue the jihad by going to Bosnia, saw that as a sign of divine providence. In Bosnia, Islamic militants who sought to continue the struggle began in Afghanistan found themselves working arm in arm with the United States, with the common purpose of bolstering the Izetbegovic regime and an independent Bosnian state.
The second wave of radical penetration went via Albania, and into Albanian-populated areas of Serbia (Kosovo) and Macedonia. Whether money and indoctrination following weapons or the other way around, radical Islam was making inroads throughout the region, bolstered by American and European support for Bosnian Muslim and ethnic Albanian political causes.
One may be tempted to dismiss as an exaggeration Deliso’s claim that “Bosnia had become one of al-Qaeda’s most important European assets, as both the staging post that proved the viability of jihad in its global sense and the place were Europe’s first Islamic state might someday be established.” (6) Or that Osama Bin Laden spent time in Albania and that his organization had connections with the “Kosovo Liberation Army.” What should one make, then, of U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Ca.), who in April 2007 appealed directly to jihadists, pointing out that “the United States stands foursquare for the creation of an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe.” He meant Kosovo, but his words apply to Bosnia just as much.
The holy warriors that poured into Bosnia and to a lesser extent Kosovo and Macedonia were a vanguard. What followed were money and missionaries – Saudi-trained clerics, spreading the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam to the receptive audience. This worldview has on occasion clashed with the more Ottoman views of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims; however, “the challenges of specific local realities merely force [well-funded Arab proselytizers] to tailor their methods to best influence the particular society in question. What works in Brazil or China or Belgium might not work in Kosovo. But where there is a Wahhabi, there is a way.” (p. 71)
Deliso notes a significant difference between Bosnia and Kosovo; while in Bosnia Islam has played a much more pronounced role, the Albanians of Kosovo have been driven by more nationalist ideas. Albanians have shown particular savagery towards Serbian Orthodox churches. Yet they have also persecuted ethnic Turks and Slavic Muslims (Gorani), who share their religion. Meanwhile, Wahhabi missionaries have been destroying Ottoman-era mosques and replacing them with Saudi-style ones. (p.55) Now that they have in effect exterminated the Serbs, explains Deliso, Albanian identity politics will find itself dominated by religious differences – between Ottoman and Wahhabi Islam in particular. (p.51)
Don’t Know, Don’t Care
By far the most damning chapter in the book must be “Fixin’ to Lose,” a 22-page tale of disillusioned Westerners who grew frustrated with the way militant Islamic activities have been covered up or ignored. While Deliso does not make the leap to conclude that the appeasement and neglect of the Islamic threat might be deliberate, he does describe it as a function of venality, careerism, prejudice and politics.
At one point, he points an accusing finger at Serbs, claiming that the “Serbian lobby’s tendency to sensationalize and even provide false information incriminating the Albanians” actually damages their own cause. (p.70) One has to remember, however, that there is no such thing as “the Serbian lobby” and that if a few bloggers tend to wax hyperbolic, that certainly cannot be a reason for wholesale, deliberate ignorance and denial in the West. An excuse, perhaps – but those can, and have been, readily manufactured even without the Serbs’ participation.
If there is one objection that can be legitimately laid at the doorstep of Deliso’s analysis, it’s his apparent belief that Islamic conquest of the Balkans is something that can at best be contained, but certainly not reversed or defeated. For example, on p. 113 he says that the growth of Muslim populations in the Balkans might eventually level off under the influence of urbanization and Westernization, but it might be “too late” for Christians to avoid returning to Ottoman status of second-class citizens.
Then again, if the Empire’s behavior is anything to go by, there isn’t much reason for hope. While Western governments and spies play games with the Balkans, jockeying over power, influence, natural resources and capital, Islamic radicals are working on establishing their ideal political order: “a religious commonwealth, a sort of revived Ottoman Empire distinguished by Saudi mosques, Afghan clothes, and fundamentalist mores.” (xii)
“Almost three decades after the CIA put Osama bin Laden in charge of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets,” writes Deliso, “the West has still not learned its lesson: that no matter what they promise or how nicely they behave, the fundamentalists are merely using them for their own purposes. In assuming that religious fanatics can be bought off, appeased, or even enlisted for a limited use, Western intelligence agencies imperil not only themselves but all of Western society.” (p. 133)
Until Western leaders realize this, the “war on terror” will be nothing but a sham, and all the death and destruction associated with it will be in vain.
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