Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 1): Living Under Growing Threat

Western Balkans (photo: Pixabay)

Ever since the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the outbreak of ethnic conflicts in the 1990s, the Balkans was being framed as Europe's problem and a potential terrorist threat, and this type of extremism has always been discussed in the context of alleged "Islamic radicals." The Muslim-majority areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, the so-called Sandžak region (between Montenegro and Serbia), and Albanian-speaking territories in Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia, have been named as the main hotspots for radicalization, recruitment, and facilitation activities.

Investigating allegations of terrorism related to individuals and groups of people who until recently have been under attack of targeted and organized terror, seems hopeless and hypocritical. During the Yugoslav wars tens of thousands of the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslim civilians have been brutally killed, a far more than in all anti-Western terrorist attacks combined, and some anti-Muslim crimes were of genocidal character. Regardless of the honest intentions of the investigator, this investigating procedure provokes some discomfort, but it seems that an open discussion on this subject is still necessary.

If we avoid it with silence and denial, it leads to a collective victimhood mentality in which own tragedy becomes a universal benchmark and justification of absolutely everything. This type of cognitive reductionism prevents facing the reality and blurs its image. In Serbia, the collective mentality of a perpetual historical victim who "wins in wars but loses in peace" has created the pretext and served as a justification for the terror whose greatest victims in the last war were Muslims. For instance, Serb nationalist propaganda portrayed Bosnian Muslims as the successors to the Ottoman imperialists that so brutally repressed the Serbs, even though the Ottomans and Bosniaks hold little in common, and throughout the whole war had portrayed them as violent extremists or fundamentalists with the goal of "complete annihilation of the Serbian people."

Since the events of 11 September 2001, fears of terrorist acts perpetrated by "fundamentalists" and "extremists" have been seized upon by those with specific political and economic interests and agendas, and the image of Islam has become virtually naturalized in the discourse of Islamic terrorism. The conflation of the term 'Islamic' with 'terrorism' has become ubiquitous, laden with multiple misplaced assertions and misconceptions. The weight of these assumptions, coupled with the effects of 9/11, have proved challenging to those analyzing contexts with a history of Islamic traditions.

So, how to find a credible media source on the topic? Who is an expert and how to identify him? To put it more simply, for example, if someone assumes that in India next year thousands of people will die in traffic accidents, does it make him a traffic expert? Such an assumption is quite possible taking into account the existing data, poor infrastructure and a population of over one billion, but even if precise it does not make him an "expert" because anyone can assume it. The same goes for a correct assumption that next year in the United States, the country with many people and a vast amount of available firearms, there's gonna be numerous mass shootings. And if someone tries to associate these crimes with violent biblical citations just because a perpetrator was of Christian background, he will certainly get rejected and ridiculed by all.

On the other hand, if someone assumes that few among one billion and a half Muslims will commit attacks, and begin to associate them with arbitrary interpretations of the randomly selected hadith quotes, unknown even to 99% of muftis, he becomes an "expert on Islamic terrorism." He is taken seriously by most people, he is quoted by newspapers, even in books, he appears frequently on TV channels as a respected analyst. That's how most of the "terrorism expertise" truly works. In the next three series, we'll examine the most problematic groups.

See also:
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 2): International Quasi-expertise by Neocons & Zionists
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 3): International Quasi-expertise by Denialists
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 4): Regional Quasi-expertise
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 5): Governmental Accusations
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 6): Foreign Mujahideen
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 7): Wahhabi Movement
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 8): From the Balkans to Syria, and Back
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 9): Recorded Attacks
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 10): MEK in Albania

Robert Novak

Robert Novak is a social anthropologist and human rights defender with more than five years of experience in the Open Society Institute (OSF), an organization campaigning for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. His research interests include law and religion, human rights, comparative ethics, and international relations. Born in Osijek, he lives and works in Zagreb.