Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

Everyone cannot be priest or hodja

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Macedonia cannot be and remain immune to radical Islamists, and breaking an extremist militant organization is not easy at all. What really concerns Macedonia, is how to conduct an action against these structures, while no political subject uses this to collect party scores to aggravate interethnic relations, says Nenad Taneski, PhD, university professor.

In an interview with “Republika”, he says that the number of radical Islamists who currently fight in foreign states and terrorist organizations in not concerning. However, what matters is that the number does not increase further. Macedonia is preparing a law that will sanction all those who organize, recruit or participate in foreign military conflicts. The professor, PhD in Security Science, renders this law only one of the tools which the state can utilize to handle radical structures. The most crucial matter is prevention of the ‘recruiting source’, which is the primary connection to the global network of jihad participants.

Islamism is increasingly present on the Balkans lately, at least in the media. What is you assessment on the security situation of the region? What is this image due to and where are these structures most dangerous?

Taneski: It may be that issues of Islamism, re-Islamisation of the Balkans, the “Green Corridor” and radical Islamic structures on the Balkans become increasingly present in the media, but this issues were in the intelligence services reports since Yugoslavia. For the record, the hall built in Sarajevo for the Olympic Games in 1984 was named “Ze-tra” [short of ‘Zelena Transverzala’, meaning ‘Green Corridor’]. However, neither Macedonia, not the region are exempted of global developments. If a new type of a security threat threatens the world, also evident in the domestic terrorism, carried out by radical Islamists (individuals, groups or other organizations) we cannot say whether this new security threat is not a real threat to Macedonia’s security,a s well. Naturally, leaving this matter ‘for later’ was in the best interest of building multiethnic and multireligious society. But, while the entire world spoke and wrote of radical Islam, Islamic fundamentalism and extremism as a new global threat, this terminology has been constantly avoided in Macedonia. Although, to put it mildly, it is slightly irresponsible for Macedonia to be perceived outside global and European events, yet no case was strong enough to replace the whisper with a debate, which will not be used for future aggravation of interethnic relations.

As far as the Balkan is concerned, presence of Al-Qaeda and its members is mostly related to Bosnia. Although some analysts claim radical Islamists are also present in Macedonia, the general assessment was that Macedonia is not the aim of this global rebellion. But, both experts and scientists found the five murders in April 2012 to be acts of terrorism, motivated by the radical Islamistic ideology, while others refused to color this event with religious symbols, rendering it solely an act of crime. In this non-integrated part of the Balkans,which Macedonia belongs to, militant Islamists continuously keep trying to penetrate for two decades now. There are indicators which show that around 500.000 Balkan Muslims, Bosniacs and Albanians have accepted the radical Islamistic doctrine. It should be accepted that this new danger, which was marginalized or completely overruled in the past year, poses a real threat today.

Where are the financiers and the organizers, from this region or the Near East?

Taneski: In the Western countries, there are many reports on financing of these structures on the Balkans, which available to the public. There are also reports on Macedonia. According to these reports, most common financiers are countries from the Near East, whose money are being paid to charity organizations accounts, and to individuals in some cases. The also provide logistics support, by granting scholarships to gifted students, which return to the Balkan countries after they are trained and continue to work towards meeting the clearly determined goals – how to implement their ideology. From what has been offered in the Western reports, I can come to the conclusion that it is mostly external entities who finance this, while the organizers are indoctrinated individuals in luring and manipulating the mass, who are well-established in their originating environment.

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What are their intentions? Establishment of an Islamic state which will unite all Muslim territories on the Balkan, or simply formation of a base to ease the access to the European capitals?

Taneski: Intentions of these structures can be guessed, and they are slightly broader than those two mentioned in the question. If we take the international stage, we can see that even there these intentions interweave, but also diverge. In that manner, many extremist organizations appear under the brand of Al-Qaeda. Although the global organization of Al-Qaeda has clearly and publicly defined goals, intends and purposes vary locally (depending on the state). They are sometimes a symbiosis of transnational crime and terrorism, at times they are used for accomplishment of religious and political rights, while lately the idea of establishment of a caliphate is present with some local extremist fractions. There are no major differences on the Balkans. Individuals or groups sometimes intend to gain personal wealth via extremist organizations, sometimes they try to implement extremist ideology on these areas with formation of one state for all Muslims as an end-goal, at times these are support to cells in Western Europe and transitional proselyte etc. Eventually, we can speculate and keep guessing on the intentions, but it is certain that if one of the intentions is easier access to European states, it does not eliminate the intention for formation of a common state for all Muslims.

Kosovo authorities admit to having a major problem with radical Islam, which has been a threat to the state’s secularity for a longer period of time. If such structures pose threat to a state with dominantly Muslim population, than how difficult, or easy, is it for them to achieve their goals in a country with sensitive interethnic relations, like ours?

Taneski: Radical individuals who fight for terrorist organizations in foreign countries are being mentioned in Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia. Luckily, at least for the time being, numbers in Macedonia are not concerning. I honestly hope the number will not grow any further. In Britain, France, Germany, the USA etc. emigrants from the Near East have been living for generations. These can easily be identified with fighters from terrorist organizations from the Near East (language, culture, upbringing, place of origin etc.). However, that number in Macedonia is minimal. Indoctrinated individual who recruit (lure) young Muslims here pose the only threat.

Police action for suppression of militant Islamists network took place in Kosovo at the beginning of this month, thereby arresting one Macedonian citizen, as well. It is another confirmation we are not immune to this occurrences, but is it very hard to differentiate these groups from the real belivers.

Taneski: You are right, Macedonia cannot be or remain immune to this occurrences, nor is it easy to break the network of a militant extremist organization. What really concerns Macedonia, is how to conduct an action against these structures, while no political subject uses this to collect party scores to aggravate interethnic relations.

Political parties of Albanians in Macedonia, intellectuals, journalists, but mostly IRC’s religious leaders, have neither been heard to publicly speak against this occurrence in the country, nor have they warned their followers to protect themselves from these structures. Why is this a taboo among Muslims in Macedonia? Is it fear, financial interest, ideology…?

Taneski: Wahhabism is the most famous radical Islamic movement on the Balkan and in Macedonia. Wahhabism began emerging in Macedonia during the conflict in 2001, when many mujahedeen and Islamic extremists fought on the side of ONA and were being related to Osama bin Laden. In fact, the “Imri Elezi” unit, which was called mujahedeen’s unit, was comprised of mujahedeen who came from abroad, but also from locals. After the conflict, part of the wahhabists stayed in Macedonia and actively propagated radical Isamism and their views on jihad. In the beginning, they did not receive any support of the local population and had permanent conflict with the sufi bektashis. The public found out about the problems between IRC and the wahhabists in Macedonia after the violent takeover of Tetovo-based shrine by the wahhabists. Problems with selection of a new IRC leader were to follow, than the beating of five Skopje imams in Kondovo, takeover of four Skopje-based mosques (Jaja-Pasha, Tutun-Huz, Hajtundzik and Isa-Beg) of IRC’s control, and developments escalated with the fight between both sides in the Isa-Beg mosque. Even IRC admitted radical Islam is reality in Macedonia. The Head of Islamic Religious Community, reis-ul-ulema Efendi Sulejman Redzepi, in September 2010 stated these events exist due to individuals who occasionally make noise for the purpose of personal and group interests, but the IRC dissociates itself from them and has nothing in common with it. At that time, he also asked for the support of Macedonian government, Albanian political parties, US embassy and asked the EU for help to combat the wahhabists. Although IRC’s leader statements are the most direct confirmation of the existence of radical Islam in Macedonia, all these events, plus the violent events on Skopje Fortress, speeches against Mother Teresa, forced collection of money from believers during Ramazan without IRC’s permission, and the last one – sternly critical remark from the head of IRC on the occasion of acts of violence and the use of Saudi Arabian flags in the protests on the ‘Monster” case verdict, clearly indicate the presence of radical Islam, while wahhabists are perpetually considered to be its promoters.

More than a month ago we witnessed violent protests, which started from the yard of a mosque near the center of Skopje. Mujahedeen flags were waved and religious messages were chanted at the protests. The event was well thought out and organized for a clash with the police, and also supported by several media in Albanian language. How easy is for the radical structures to provoke conflict and instability in the country under the pretext that the rights of the Muslim minority are endangered and who is helping them?

Taneski: On the Balkans, the Wahhabists are pretty organized, well funded and perform constant recruitment, resulting in more and more followers. Currently they are positioned in our society and form a secure transit zone for Islamic extremists on their way to Europe. Given the economic and even the social problems that our country is facing with, the Wahhabi and the radical waves have solid ground for recruitment (enticement) of young disgruntled Muslims who are, actually, manipulated because the inter-ethnic open issues are supplemented with religious diversity, and through teachings about potential returning on the true path of religion, these structures, with little effort, radicalize the socially vulnerable groups, which, primarily, are from the younger generation of Albanians.

The Christians are also familiar with religious radicalism. Recently, a religious camp for military training of minors has been discovered in Serbia. Dozens of Serbs, though, “voluntarily” participate in the Ukrainian crisis in support of ” their brothers in religion.” Why religion is usually abused while recruiting volunteers, who afterwards participate in terrible crimes?

Taneski: Today, Europe is often described as a territory where there is a clash of cultures, a confrontation between Islam and the West’s pro-democracy. Instantly one can question the role of religion in shaping the culture and the integration process. According to Huntington, culture and religion are among the most important factors in creating a global policy. According to his thesis of a “clash of civilizations”, the Islamic civilization and Confucian civilization pose a threat to the Western culture. As religion provides the basis for identity, the future conflicts will be the basis for the division between “civilizations”, “cultures” and different religions between the West and the Muslim world. The 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid, the 2005 in London, the murder of the Dutch filmmaker in 2004, the 2011 attacks in Sarajevo, the 2012 in Toulouse, Skopje and confirm this thesis. Today’s second and third generation of European Muslims are not identified by their family “roots”, the culture of the country they come from, nor the European country in which they live, but with Islam. The change among young Muslims born and raised in Europe, who today are mobilized in the political category of “Muslims” – Islamists, is evident. The new Muslims with a new transnational Islamic identity separate religion from nationality. The Islam, not the ethnicity, stands for a unifying force for strengthening the sense of belonging and political mobilization. The terrorist attacks which took place in recent years have proven that Europe has become one of the main fronts in the fight against international terrorism, and the investigations have proved that it is a matter of domestic terrorism.

So far, dozen names of Macedonian citizens who died on the battlefields in Syria fighting on the side of Al-Qaeda have been published. Does Macedonia know how many of its citizens participate in foreign wars?

Taneski: It is important to accept that  there is a real threat of domestic terrorism in Macedonia, which is fueled by Islamist structures. Individuals or groups that are willing to undertake terrorist actions against institutions, slowly but surely are entering the pores of society whereby their identification and eradication becomes increasingly difficult for the security services. The sooner is perceived the seriousness of this threat, the easier it can be prevented. Being silent before the truth and not taking certain steps in the name of good inter ethnic relations will neither improve the relations between the ethnic groups, nor solve the problem. For starters, it is necessary to find appropriate terminology that would make ​​a clear distinction between these militant Islamist structures and the other Muslims. Then, clearly and unambiguously identify the threat and the intelligence to make a new security assessment of the magnitude of the threat. The new security assessment on the situation in the Republic of Macedonia, it is necessary to identify and locate these threats, their composition, connectivity, platform and program of action, material equipment, forms and methods of action, association with foreign factors, paramilitary organization, grouping and identification of the infiltrated followers who are infiltrated in the security, political and religious structures of the country’s system.

To develop an effective strategy to combat terrorism in accordance with the new security assessment, which the domestic terrorism will define with all its specifics and will recognize it as a new threat, which will be one of the priorities of the intelligence requirements as well as a challenge for the whole security sector in Macedonia.

What is the potential danger of these ticking bombs after their return home?

Taneski: Militant Islamists have ideological motives to link the local-domestic with the global mujahideen, so they can work and cooperate outside the country, to fulfill their ultimate goal, establishing tactical bases abroad in support to the “local jihad.” From the analysis of the security services carried out in the European countries, in which terrorist attacks took place in the last ten years, it can be concluded that the Islamists that spread the jihad in Europe belong to the Sunni Salafi Jihadism, a branch of Islamism. This branch of Islamism is based on one of the most influential contemporary militant Islamist doctrines. In Europe, the radical non-governmental organizations, such as al-Muhadjirin, Hizb al-Tahrir, al-Tawhid, al-Takfir, are active in building mosques as the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, the Al-Aqsa mosque in Hamburg and Saint-Denis and Murah Rue in Paris. The Finsbury mosque is considered as the center for recruitment and indoctrination of militant Islamists. Low cost travels have enabled thousands of young Arabs to acquire “Afghan experience” and receive basic military training, as well as religious “guidance” for making attacks on European territory. Authorities in western democracies are concerned about the security from the risk that young Muslim immigrants, who were in Syria and Iraq to wage jihad, and are now returning home, carry. They are considered as the most serious security risk in the last few decades.

The terrorist attack carried out on May 24, 2014, by the young Frenchman proves that this risk is not jut theoretical.  In the past few years, thousands of young Muslim immigrants from all the Western Balkan countries, Europe, Australia, America and even Russia, went to fight in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were killed in action, while others returned home. They have passports from Western countries. They roam the streets of the democratic countries as ticking bombs, capable and willing to pursue their interests.

How can the  law that is being prepared can help change the minds of Macedonian citizens that decided to go to war abroad?

Taneski: The law is still in progress. Legislators will probably will take into consideration the experiences of other countries and will adjust it in the best possible way in accordance with the needs and specifics of our country. But, of course, first the final text of the law should be completed and then enforced. Even best laws undergo changes, and the structures that will be intended for will certainly seek ways to avoid its effective enforcement. In other words, the law is just one of the tools that the state is facing radical structures with. It is vital to prevent the “source of recruiting,” which represents an initial connection to a global jihad network. Radical imams pose a threat for the Muslim assimilation process in the European liberal-democratic societies. More than obvious is that the imams preaching in European madrassas and mosques should be educated in Europe, not in the countries of the Arab world. The emergence of moderate “domestic” imams and new Muslim leaders, will protect the European Muslims from the impact of the global Islamist movement. Additionally, a policy of “zero tolerance” is necessary, which not only will prevent recruitment, but also will send a strong and consistent message that religious extremism and inciting violence in European democracies will not be tolerated.

How hard is it to prove that certain person was at war abroad?

Taneski: Western democracies are aware of the presence of this modern asymmetric threat, and that providing more secure societies involves removing and eliminating Islamist militants. Finally, when summarizing the whole situation and it is necessary to take the first crucial step to face the threat, a real debate between advocates of freedom and human rights, saying that the state should not be too powerful and “others”, who say that the state must be protected, will emerge.

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By: Nenad Mircevski
Photo: Igor Angelovski