Saturday, December 04, 2004

Our Albanian allies 

This story caught my eye today:
"Albania's government on Friday declared that an emigrant who died fighting as a U.S. Marine in Iraq is an Albanian martyr.

"Cpl. Gentian Marku, 22, of Warren, Mich., was killed in Fallujah on Thanksgiving. He emigrated to the United States at age 14.

" 'Upon the proposal from the premier (Fatos Nano), soldier Gentian Marku was declared a Martyr of Homeland,' government spokesman Aldrin Dalipi said.

"Marku was the second Albanian emigrant killed fighting with U.S. troops in Iraq. Albania, a small, predominantly Muslim country, backed the U.S.-led campaign and has sent 71 of its own troops to Iraq."
All this might sound a bit strange on its face - after all, it would be unusual of a Muslim government to declare a martyr one of their own fighting with - and not against - the Americans in Iraq. Particularly since the Albanian kin across the border - the Kosova Liberation Army - are said to have received help from al Qaeda and Arab jihadis in its fight for the province's independence from Serbia (there is even an Australian jihadi connection, in that David Hicks, currently held at Guantanamo Bay, fought alongside the KLA before eventually moving onto Afghanistan to train with the Taliban).

But it's not that simple. The majority of Balkan Muslims (in Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo) are Sufis, members and practitioners of a relatively moderate, mystical - some call it a "folk"- branch of Islam. Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis are the sworn enemies of Sufism and part of the mudjahedin military effort in the Balkans throughout the 1990s has been an attempt to infiltrate the local Muslim society, radicalise it and turn it away from what the Wahhabis consider to be a heresy and into the arms of "true" Islam (Stephen Schwartz, a former leftist and himself a convert to Sufi Islam who has spent a lot of time in the Balkans has a lot to say on this issue - see also here). In the end, Wahhabis did not endear themselves to Balkan Muslims, particularly with their efforts to destroy some of the local historic and religious heritage, such as old gravestone, which the fundamentalists consider idolatrous.

A reader recently commented on one of my previous posts: "Instead of a war of civilizations as some have put it, here we seem to be having a civil war of civilizations. That is, members of each civilization are fighting on the other side of the war." But while the civil war within the Islamic world is very bloody, the civil war within the West is - thankfully - still largely a political and diplomatic one.


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