Anti-Islam Conservatives Demonize Balkans, Kosovo

International conservatives have long targeted so-called “Islamization.” While their previous efforts focused on the Middle East, they’re now moving their attention to the Balkans, particularly the contested nation of Kosovo.

Anti-Islam Conservatives Demonize Balkans, Kosovo
[The United States and Kosovo have the same goal: inclusive democracy.]

With the new year upon us, the European Union has relaxed visa regulations for a number of its member nations, including Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo, whose US-backed independence has yet to be recognized by nations like Russia, China and Venezuela, will most likely join that group in the near future.

While certainly a welcome step for millions of Europeans looking for unhindered travel on the continent, conservatives are decrying the relaxed visa policies as a portal for hypothetical “radicals.”

As the new rules go into place, asserts the site Gates of Vienna, “About seven million new Muslims will be able to walk across the borders of the EU and disappear into the no-go zones along with the millions of legal and illegal immigrants who are already there.”

They go on, “Let’s say that a only tiny minority of 1% of those new migrants have jihad on their minds. That’s 3,500 new mujahideen, safely ensconced in the heart of Europe and drawing on state benefits to finance their jihad.”

The Astute Bloggers, the site that helped fuel the white supremacist ‘Thor’ boycott, has also targeted the Balkans, including Kosovo, which they describe as part of a “Muslim invasion of the EU.” I hate to break the news to these people, but Muslims have lived in Europe for decades, and these visa rules do not feed into an “invasion.”

Kosovo’s rapidly becoming target number one in this fabricated war on the Balkans. “U.S. and other Western policy makers persist in portraying the Kosovo intervention as a great success,” writes blogger Ted Galen Carpenter. “Governments are notoriously reluctant to acknowledge being responsible for a major policy blunder. But the United States and its principal NATO partners need to make such an admission regarding Kosovo. Pretending that the policy has been justified, much less that it has been successful, will not make the unpleasant reality go away.”

As part of their attempts to smear the region, conservatives are taking aim at Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who investigators say was leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s organ trafficking ring during the war against the Serbs.

While surely Thaci, if guilty, should be punished, past atrocities should not be held over the heads of Kosovo’s population as a whole. It would be like calling all Germans “Nazis,” something social satirists and comedians sometimes still do.

It’s no secret Kosovo struggles under economic and ethnic strains: unemployment hovers around 45% and race-based clashes are still quite common. To use this nation, however, as a proxy for an anti-Islam war is nothing short of irresponsible, and anti-democratic.

“We have achieved a victory for a safer world, for our democratic values, and for a stronger America,” said President Bill Clinton in 1999, after the successful NATO-led strike against Serbian forces who had for decades enacted ethnic cleansing against Kosovo’s Albanians.

Vice-President Joe Biden made similar remarks during his visit to the nation last year, telling an enthusiastic crowd, “Kosovo’s independence was and remains today in my view, in the view of my government, the only viable option for stability in the region.” Biden concluded, “And your independence — as I’ve said in the countries I have visited — your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible.”

Even Republican President George W. Bush celebrated Kosovo’s right to democratic life. “Independence is the goal. That’s what the people of Kosovo need to know,” the former President said in 2007. “Sooner rather than later you’ve got to say enough’s enough: Kosovo’s independent.”

Some on the right will insist that Muslims in Kosovo are launching their own holy war. The website Twilight of the American Empire claims Kosovo’s Muslim population has threatened Protestants and other Christians, and the writers conclude these people are enacting a “clash of civilizations.” You’ll no doubt hear similar arguments in the months ahead. They are, however, misleading.

While ethnic conflicts still exist in Kosovo, especially in the North, they are not characteristic of the nation as a whole. These incidents an example of the trials and tribulations of democratic progress, something even our nation hasn’t accomplished: see, for example, Rep. Peter King’s attacks on “Muslim radicalization” or unrelated Rep. Steve King’s remarks about “reparations” for black farmers.

And then, of course, there’s the staggering amount of hate crimes reported from coast to coast: nearly half of the estimated 8,336 hate crimes of 2009 were motivated by race, while about 20% were based on religious intolerance.

If we’re going by these anti-Kosovo conservatives’ standards, then our nation could be viewed as a bastion for white, Christian power. But it’s not. It’s a proverbial melting pot.

Kosovo’s not as diverse as our nation, but it is part of Europe, and its relationship with the rest of that continent should not be seen as a threat. It should be welcome with open arms, a test for American commitment to sustainable, inclusive democracy.

In the interest of full disclosure, and to prove my point, my last boyfriend hails from Kosovo. He’s also Muslim. And, you know what, he worked as a translator for the U.S. Army during the post-war period. As I told him on the 7th anniversary of his American arrival last year, he embodies the American dream, even if he’s not this nation’s native son. He overcame persecution and violence, came to America and is building a prosperous life for himself.

Kosovo and its Balkan neighbors are not our enemies. They are part of the European continent and deserve support in their struggles for democracy, rather than being demonized as a failure of our own creation. To ostracize the region and its people as being “Islamic terrorists” will not only alienate our allies in the Balkans, but in Europe as a whole.