The announcement earlier this week by the FBI of the arrest of a terrorist cell near Fort Dix, New Jersey has prompted a number of emails to chastise me. My crime? Having some kind words to say about the Albanian people a few weeks ago in an article here at The American Thinker, “Albania and the Perils of the 21st Century”, for which at least one letter to the editor likened me as a Nazi sympathizer.
The apparent reason for this rash of unpleasant correspondence is because four of the members of the newly-revealed terrorist cell are Kosovar Albanian refugees, who expressed their hopes to attack and kill hundreds of American troops stationed at Fort Dix. The fortunate discovery of this cell by law enforcement is offered as proof that all Albanians should be considered suspect as latent, or even covert, jihadists.
Various commentators have derided the help our nation has offered the beleaguered Kosovars, subtly implying that the thousands of refugees – many who have been here for more than a decade without any previous incident – bear collective responsibility for the actions of these four men (the other two members of the cell were Turkish and Bosnian; I wonder if they intend to extend the opprobrium to those communities as well).
I would suggest that it is precisely these kinds of anti-religious and anti-ethnic sentiments from a small quarter of the anti-jihad movement which in the long-run threatens the entire enterprise. Not only does this provide vindication and a set of talking points for those organizations advancing the cause of radical Islam in the West, but it does nothing less than distracts us from the real life-and-death issues we must confront.
In all likelihood, these four Kosovar Albanians were radicalized, not at home or in refugee camps in the Balkans, but rather, right here in the US. If it is a public conversation about the forces of Islamic radicalism at work amongst us, that discussion is long overdue. But those who would use this incident as an opportunity to indulge in thinly-veiled racism and anti-religious bigotry are really in no way any different than the preachers of anti-Semitism and violent jihad. Both are driven by the same malignant spirit, and if those currently spewing venom would for a moment replace “Albanians” with “Jews” in their diatribes, I suspect they would be shocked at what they are really saying.
Since others are making much of the fact that four of these men are Kosovar Albanians, let’s consider some related facts. First, we have had tens of thousands of troops stationed in Kosova and Albania for almost a decade without a single combat-related fatality. In fact, reports indicate that US troops have been warmly welcomed by the Kosovars and they have received the full cooperation of the populace there. The NATO mission in Kosova may very well be the most successful international peacekeeping effort of the modern era.
Secondly, US diplomats have repeatedly acknowledged that the people of both Albania and Kosova are among the most pro-US in the whole of Europe. To go out of our way to alienate some of our closest friends and allies would be downright idiotic and self-defeating.
Thirdly, we must remember the circumstances under which the Kosovar refugees came to America. Do any of us remember the staggering sight broadcast live by the international news media of hundreds of thousands of Albanian fleeing their homes in Kosova and walking across the Albanian border in order to flee the ethnic cleansing campaign launched by the Serbian military? Do those present critics of our efforts to help the Kosovars believe that those hundreds of thousands of refugees were all part of a colossal media stunt, or are they willing to acknowledge that they were fleeing from the real threat of Serbian butchery and were deserving of our assistance and military intervention?
Fourthly, as I noted in my previous article, most Albanians, while identified as “Muslims”, are in most cases only nominally so. Your average Albanian has never seen the inside of a mosque and has never read the Koran, let alone observes the proscribed daily Islamic rituals. In that article, I noted the difficultly that Albanians are having with the rise of radical Islam of the imported Saudi Wahhabi variety in the Balkans, despite the fact that most Albanians are very well-educated and largely secularized (Albanians have one of the highest literacy rates in the world). Even many “Muslim” Albanians have expressed those same concerns. But to try to characterize the whole of the Albanians on that basis as a seething cauldron of jihadist sympathizers is to hold them to a standard that we as Americans could never meet ourselves. We hear and see daily the struggles that we have in the US with radical Islam, and we should look in the mirror before casting stones. If anything, the incident in New Jersey this week is as much an indictment of the problems here in the US with radical Islam as it is of the problems amongst Albanians and the Kosovar refugee community.
I speak as someone that has actually lived and worked in Albania (where I lived with a “Muslim” family) and who proudly wears my anti-jihad credentials on my sleeve. I am sickened at the acceptable bigotry that has bubbled up to the surface from various quarters in response to this incident and I take no pleasure in calling these sentiments for what they really are. I also deplore the attempts by some to use this occasion to pull out their instruments of their anti-Muslim and anti-Albanian bias to grind their axes for grievances that in some cases go back to the 14th Century. There is enough bloodguilt in the Balkans to go around, and we shouldn’t be trying to add to it. Many of our forbearers left their homelands to escape such violent stupidity; we only dishonor their memory and sacrifices by attempting to revive it.
There are plenty of questions to be asked in response to this current incident, and we shouldn’t shrink from asking the hard questions. But those small circles that are using this occasion to fan the flames of ethnic and religious bigotry are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If anything could potentially neuter the anti-jihad movement and hand a victory to the forces of radical Islam, giving ear to those shrill voices would be it. Let’s work with the Albanian community to address whatever problems exist, not Balkanize our discourse to persecute them further.