Islamophobia in the Balkans: from nationalism to the era of Pax Americanism

Dr. Olsi Jazexhi

In an interview with the Balkans Post, Dr. Olsi Jazexhi, a Canadian-Albanian historian who is specialized in the history of Islam, nationalism and religious reformation in Southeastern Europe, said anti-Muslim hatred in the Balkans is very often promoted by fundamentalist American administrations.

“George Bush’s War on Terror created the first massive wave of anti-Muslim policies in the Balkans where Muslim communities were targeted, spied and depicted as threat to America’s New world order,” he said.

The following is the full transcript of the interview:

Balkans Post: Dr. Jazexhi, you recently wrote a piece in Daily Sabah newspaper on anti-Muslim hatred in the Balkans. Could you shed more light on the roots of this issue?

Olsi Jazexhi: Anti-Muslim hatred in the Balkans comes from the times of the Ottoman Empire. The advance of the Ottomans in Europe and their victories during the 15th and 17th centuries against the Christian kingdoms of Europe have left a grave historical trauma in the historical identities of the Europeans. The militant Catholic Church and the Christian monarchies of Europe inspired by the victories of the Reconquista in Spain against the Arabs pushed the monarchies of Europe to start their colonization drive towards the rest of our planet with the aim of spreading Christianity and getting rid of the “Mohammedan peril”. Muslims who were technologically and culturally superior to the Europeans were a major embarrassment for the Europeans. The Ottomans who often were depicted as Turks remained part of the European continent until the 20th century.

The nationalism in the Balkans which was formed by the interference of the Christian powers of Europe taught the Christians of the Balkans that they had to get rid of their Muslim and Turkish neighbours and take revenge against the Turks for their invasion of Christian Europe. The Muslims were portrayed in these times as barbarians, Asians, enemies of Christ and civilization.

One of the slogans of Greek nationalism for example when the Greeks started their war of independence was "Kalo Turkos Mono Nekros" which means “A good Turk is a dead Turk”. The Greek revolution was accompanied by massacres against Muslims, Jews and Christians who defended and supported the Turks. In the Greek constitution of 1822 the Greek citizenship was offered only to Christians. Section Β, paragraph Β of the Constitution wrote: "All the indigenous inhabitants of the Greek Territory who believe in Christ are Greeks..." The Jews and the Muslims who were believers in Christ were perceived as enemies.

The spirit of Christian fundamentalism and hate against Muslims and Jews was repeated even in Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania.

The Russo – Turkish war of 1877, the First Balkan War (1912 – 1913) and the First World War where the wars that finally defeated and removed the Ottomans from Europe. These Christian victories were used by the Balkan nation states of Bulgaria, Greece and Kingdom of Serbia to massively expel, kill, convert and humiliate their remaining Muslim populations. The new Balkan state formed with the support of Russia, Austro-Hungary, France and England were formed as ‘pure’ Christian nations where Muslims and Islam had no place. Muslims who survived and were expelled from Austro-Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Greece ended up as muhacirs (religious refugees) in Albanian speaking vilayets of the Ottoman Empire (that later became Albania and Kosovo) and in Turkey.

The nation-states that Europe formed in the Balkans in the 20th century perceived and depicted the Muslims as Turks and enemies of Europe and Jesus Christ. State historiographies from Austria to Muslim majority Albania – depict Islam as foreign religion and the Turks and Muslims as barbarians, Asians and enemies of civilization. For this reason Albanian Muslims of Greece (Çamëria), Kosovo, Macedonia and the Bosniaks have been cleansed and persecuted throughout the 20th century.

BP: Why is Islam depicted as a foreign religion in Albania when Albania is a Muslim majority country?

Olsi Jazexhi: Well. This is related to the history of Albanian nationalism and the creation of the Albanian state. Albania was created by the Powers of Europe to serve as a ghetto for the remaining Muslims of the Ottoman vilayets of Southeastern Europe. Albania was created as a buffer state by the British to please the Italians and Austro-Hungarians who did not want to see the Serbs and the Greeks present in the Adriatic Sea.

Albania was invented as an Italian-Austrian protectorate in 1913 in the London Conference of the Ambassadors. Austro-Hungary and Italy were entrusted as its care-takers and social engineers of the modern Albanian identity. The Austro-Hungarians who were the first to sponsor the creation of an anti-Islamic Albanian nationalism wrote the first ‘genealogy’ and teleological text of Albanian history and built the school of Albanian historians. They taught the Albanians, the majority of whom were Muslims and had names like Osman, Abdullah, Mehmet, Muhammed, Mostafa and Ali that they were not Muslims and Ottomans but “white Arian Illyrians” and “Catholics” who were converted forcefully to Islam by the Turks. Unlike in Turkey where its national heroes are Muslims, or in Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria etc where their national heroes are Christians, in Albania the Austrians designated the anti-Muslim rebel Scanderbeg as the national hero of this Muslim majority nation. Unlike in Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria etc in Albania the Muslim majority was not allowed by the Christian powers of Europe to have Muslim symbols in its flag and other state institutions. Esad Pasha Toptani, King Ahmed Zog, Enver Hoxha or even the many Albanian Pashas of the Ottoman Empire have not been allowed to be identitarian symbols of Albanian nationalism. If you read Albanian school textbooks you will find that the major heroes and symbols of Albanian nationalism – from Scanderbeg to Mother Theresa, from the Meshar of Gjon Buzuku to Pjeter Bogdani – are all Catholics or anti-Ottomans even though the Catholics make 7% of the Albanians.
In the schools of Albania and Kosovo, Albanians are taught that Islam was imposed on them by the Turks and their original identity is Catholic. Public figures in Albania and Kosovo like Ismail Kadare have called on Albanians to renounce Islam and embrace Catholicism since according to them Catholicism means Europe while Islam means Ottomanism and barbarity. President Ilir Meta of Albania or Atifete Jahjaga and Ramush Haradinaj of Kosovo who Turkish names and surnames, have declared in their speeches and declarations that the national hero of Albania - Scanderbeg fought Islam and the Ottomans and defended Christianity. Islamophobia is part of the state national identity in Albania and in Kosova.

BP: What role have other countries played in making anti-Muslim hatred prevalent in the Balkans?

Olsi Jazexhi: As I mentioned above, anti-Muslim hatred in the Balkans is the byproduct of the European Orientalism, Christian missionarism, anti-Ottoman reconquista and imperialism.

However, during the era of socialism anti-Muslim hatred was not prevalent in most of the Balkans as it is nowadays. The communists were fair ‘kuffars’ or non-believers. They attacked all the religions equally by treating them as medieval ideologies and servants of imperialism.
In Yugoslavia thanks to Tito’s participation in The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) the Arab and Muslim World was depicted as friendly and human. In the Soviet Block the same thing was true. In Albania, thanks to Stalin’s installment of Enver Hoxha as the country’s leader Islamophobia was not promoted as it is today. Socialist Albanian historians depicted the Turks as barbarians and invaders at the same way as they blamed the imperialist Europe, the Vatican and the Americans for their crimes and capitalism. Scanderbeg was depicted as an anti-imperialist and secular hero in communist Albania and not as a hero of the Reconquista against Islam as it is depicted nowadays.

After the fall of communism we have seen a rebirth of religious extremism. We have seen how the West has demonized the Orthodox Serbs and Muslims in the recent years by depicting them as stooges of Russia or the Islamic World. In Albania and Kosovo we have seen the emergence of politicians like Ibrahim Rugova, Ramush Haradinaj, Edi Rama, Arben Xhaferri, Hashim Thaçi, Atifete Jahjaga and many extremist groups who claim that the Albanians must revert to Catholicism and insult Orthodox Christians as “Greeks” or “Serbs” and Muslims as “Turks” or “Arabs” who must be deported to Saudi Arabia or Turkey. The Vatican, the Opus Dei, the Military Order of Malta and many evangelical groups have been very active in Kosovo with the Ibrahim Rugova network, in Macedonia with Arben Xhaferri and in Albania with many politicians to promote anti-Muslim ideas which were promoted before by the imperial Italy and Austro-Hungary.

The Americans with their Protestant-Zionist agenda have been very instrumental on turning anti-Muslim hatred into state policies in the Balkans. While the mainstream Western media tries to put the blame on White Nationalism for the recent Islamophobic attacks in the West, we must mention here that White Nationalism is not the one to be blamed in the Balkans. Anti-Muslim hatred is very often promoted by fundamentalist American administrations. George Bush’s War on Terror created the first massive wave of anti-Muslim policies in the Balkans where Muslim communities were targeted, spied and depicted as threat to America’s New world order. We had secret CIA prisons where Muslims were tortured and waterboarded and the Americans portrayed Islamism as a threat to the Judeo-Protestant ‘civilization’.
Obama’s ‘Jihad in Syria’ and after the American defeat in Syria by the Russians, the war against Violent Extremism – which means ‘the deradicalization’ of Muslims whom American propaganda turned into anti-Syrian jihadis, have made the Muslim communities in the Balkans a target. The multi-billion dollar ‘deradicalization’ policies of the Obama administration treated Muslim communities as extremists and potential terrorists.

Nowadays Trump’s policies against Turkey, Iran and all the Muslim world and his pro-Israel policies are again inciting hatred against Muslims in a global scale. American state media outlets nowadays speak of Turkish and Russian penetration and threats in the Balkans. The Muslim communities are investigated for their links to Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and believe it or not, even Russia.

BP: According to Al Jazeera, Dozens of Bosnian citizens have claimed that Croatia has revoked their working permits, deported them and labelled them as national security threats after they refused to work as spies and provide information on Muslims in Bosnia. What’s your take on this?

Olsi Jazexhi: Well, this is what is happening even in Kosovo and Albania and throughout Europe actually. In August 2014 when the Americans retreated from their Jihad in Syria, they gave orders to Balkan and European governments to start prosecuting Muslims who had been brainwashed by the Western propaganda against Assad to support the ‘democratic Jihad’ in Syria. Balkan governments were ordered to change their penal laws in order to jail their Muslim citizens who served in foreign wars (not those who fight for NATO or in Ukraine against Russia) or even expressed the desire to join a foreign war. In all the Balkans, mosques were turned into targets of surveillance and all Muslim activists and imams were spied and some even recruited to spy on their believers. What is happening nowadays in Croatia has been happening in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia since 2014. If you attend a mosque in Tirana or Prishtina today you will be photographed and investigated by local and western services. Thanks to America’s “war on terror” Islam has unofficially been declared a criminal ideology. That is why Croatia is using the Bosnians as spies against their Muslim brothers in Bosnia. In our days the NATO alliance does not treat Muslims in medieval terms, as anti-Christian heretics. NATO perceives the Muslims as potential terrorists.

Muslims who have connections to Islamic countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait etc are randomly interrogated and some even accused of taking money from ‘terrorists’ to run their social activities. When Pope visited Albania in 2014 some 300 Muslim believers were detained in police stations in order to make the Papal visit as holistic as possible. In November 2016 when the Israeli team came to play football in Albania, Edi Rama’s government detained 150 Muslim believers in all Albania, monitored the borders with Kosovo and Macedonia, turned away Albanians with beards and charged as anti-Israeli terrorists 4 Muslim believers who until now have proven to be innocent.

While Croatia is deporting the Bosnians who do not accept to be spies, in other countries of our region imams can lose their jobs if they do not accept to collaborate with security services. You cannot be a mufti in Albania or Kosovo if you do not accept to “confess the sins” of your believers with the anti-terrorism police.

A few weeks ago we had the director of one Iranian foundation in Tirana expelled as a national security threat by the Albanian authorities. In Kosovo we have many NGO-s who have been closed because they received funding for their social activities from Arab countries, Turkey or Iran.
While in the begging of the 20th century and during the Ottoman times, Muslims were depicted and targeted as Turks, Mohamedans and traitors of Jesus Christ, nowadays they are discriminated for their possible sympathies to governments in the Middle East and depicted as potential terrorists even when they are simple social activists.

BP: Islamophobia in the Balkans received some media attention in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack against Muslims, with Foreign Policy publishing a piece titled “The Balkans Are the World Capital of Islamophobia”. How does such radicalization process takes place the Balkans?

Olsi Jazexhi: The process of radicalization in the Balkans is historical and modern. In the past the European imported Christian nationalism radicalized Balkan nationalists into believing that Muslims were a threat to their imagined ‘pure’ and ‘white’ Christian nations. Nationalism, which manipulated the name of Jesus Christ massacred the Muslims whom it perceived as believers of anti-Christ according to their Church hagiography. Scanderbeg, Milos Obilic, Car Lazar, Pope Urban II etc were turned into heroes of the reconquista. Brenton Tarrant who massacred the Muslims in New Zealand was a believer in the old school of Islamophobia. In his guns he had written names of medieval Christian heroes and had not mentioned Donald Trump, George Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tony Blair, Victor Orban, John Bolton or Mike Pompeo.

Nowadays, the radicalization is quite often connected with the American and Israeli projects for imperial wars in the Middle East. George Bush’s war against Iraq and Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu’s war for making the Greater Israel have created much hysteria in the NATO circles with Muslim communities in Europe. If in the past, European hysteria depicted the ‘Mohammedans’ as Turks, nowadays they are depicted as ‘terrorists’, ‘enemies of democracy’, ‘refugees from shithole countries’, ‘infidels of Israel’ and ‘supporters of Palestine’. In the past it was nationalism. At present we have the American-Israeli Messianism which through its stupid wars in the Middle East is victimizing the Muslim communities on global scale. If in the past Balkan nationalists were bulldozing mosques, turning them into churches and mass killing and raping Muslims, nowadays the Big Brother is bombing whole cities in the Middle East, tapping mosques and listening to Muslims who live in Europe and America. Muslims are depicted as ‘security threats’, ‘violent extremists’ and ‘potential terrorists’ who aim to destroy the wonderful Pax Americana world were we live nowadays. This Islamophobic propaganda is radicalizing many Western lunatics like Brenton Tarrant who want to play the Don Quixote with the Muslims of their neighbourhood.

Olsi Jazexhi is a Canadian-Albanian historian who is specialized in the history of Islam, nationalism and religious reformation in Southeastern Europe. His interest covers nationalism, radicalism, religious and ethnic identities in the Balkans.