Kosovo, Albania and Jihad

I don't know Patrick but I read his AT article "Kosovo and Antijihad Bigotry" and I have to say, he is spot on. I deployed to Kosovo with the 101st on Valentine's Day, 2000 as part of the first unit rotation in country after the initial US deployment. I read the book Balkan Ghosts  to prepare myself somewhat for the deployment. (On a side note, just as liberals complain the US army is sending people to Iraq unprepared because they have just arrived at a unit and had no regional training, so it is that I went to Kosovo under "Clinton's Army" but with much less mission-specific training. It's a war, not a college curriculum.) After reading the book about the history of the region and its multicultural warring, I was completely surprised at the Kosovo that awaited me.

First, I must say, the Kosovar women are stunning. But in an odd twist, they had poor dental care. So it was not uncommon to see a woman who could be easily strutting on a Paris runway sans her front teeth, just an unusual observation that rests in my subconscious. Much more importantly, they had been the obvious victims of brutal repression for years. So it was that as I left the front gates and Hesco bags surrounding our compound in Mitrovica that I was brutally accosted by wide-eyed children begging me to take them home to the United States because they had no family and no social system in place, and had been abandoned by the Serb government. It was heartbreaking to receive their pleas and adoration and be unable to lend immediate assistance.

On a mission to Pristina we stopped at a red light in our Hummers. Unannounced, a couple of young men approached our window. Of course our weapons came up, ready to repel an attack. But the men apologized with tears in their eyes for scaring us as they extended empty hands to us. With both hands they shook ours, saying so profoundly, sincerely that we had saved their lives and the lives of their families. We knew then that yes, the US forces that came before us had done so. The trip was - to use an overused word that smacks of pretentiousness - surreal. To see a city that looked like it could be sitting in central Europe marred by the remnants of war time devastation, I realized what Europe must have looked like to our greatest generation.

We had made this one trip to Pristina to fix an antenna for a hospital ambulance dispatch office. The hospital was modern, though obviously dilapidated and lacking supplies. Among the hospital workers were many women who hid smiles and giggles behind hands raised to their mouths in surprise. For a second, I knew what a rock star must feel like. In another unheralded bit of good will on the part of the US Army, my soldiers climbed out on a five-story overhanging ledge to put up an antenna so the hospital could send the ambulances where they were needed. I knew the small effort would save lives and I was never prouder of the soldiers I worked with. Frankly, though I am airborne and air assault qualified, heights scare the beans out of me, so I watched the men on the ledge running cable in wonderment that they seemed not to notice that we were inches from a horrid fall.

On our trips we saw house after house, almost all of them roofless and gutted. Garbage was piled along the pitted roads like snow in Connecticut in January. People walked on the roads since gas was in short supply as evidenced by the charred hulks that used to be fuel storage containers, many of them blown up to deprive the Serb army of fuel. Driving meant meandering through a human obstacle course. Consumable meat was almost nonexistent. Butchers brought the occasional live cow to the side of the road where they carved them up on the spot for the rare Kosovar who could afford the beef.

But what really got me was the day when driving down the road we passed a dog eating a dog. I knew then that there was truth to the phrase "dog-eat-dog" and it had come to Kosovo.

These were not Islamic extremists. These were barely Islamic people, moderates, if you wish to use the term. The women were not covered. They worked and drove and were not forced to walk behind the men, they were equals as far as I could tell. It is unlikely they knew of al Qaeda.

The reasons why three Albanian men from Jersey became jihadists have nothing to do with Kosovo or Albania and everything to do with Islamic extremism. Just as some of the reaction to Patrick's column bordered on the extreme, in any society, extremists can flourish. It happens that because Islamic extremism is aimed at us, we notice it more. But it was anti-Muslim extremism that drove the Serbs to treat Muslims as second class citizens, and far too frequently much worse that that. One building we lived in had the entire top floor cordoned off with yellow tape. Inside was evidence of the rape rooms and other war crimes of the Serb police. I never knew what specifically was in there, I didn't want to know. I saw the effect it had had on the people outside the wire.

But in another building, there was also a room that gave me the creeps. This one was a prison cell that had held a US soldier who had raped and murdered a Kosovo child. This juxtaposition truly brought home for me that evil is not defined by race, religion, or political affiliation, but by deed.

To Serb villages we sent rapid reaction forces to assist our Polish comrades being battered by the Christians. There is no question in my mind that an objective evaluation can only concede that in the instance of Kosovo the Christians were the obvious aggressors and the Muslims the victims. It is a rare exception in modern history, I think, but one I must make for the sake of intellectual honesty. But this is not to say the Muslims were blameless. One of our central missions was to protect ancient Christian churches that the Mujahideen were blowing up. Our area experienced the occasional IED and drive by shooting almost never aimed at US forces.

I have read several articles since the news broke of the Jersey Jihadists about the former Yugoslavia and links to Islamic jihad in Bosnia and Kosovo. I have read them openly to reexamine my position and see if I got it wrong because of my personal experience. Mostly, the articles talk about the Balkan jihad. But what these writings usually leave out is that the jihadists in Kosovo were predominately Arab foreigners. Many of these were picked up by the CIA and sent to Egypt (as ordered by Bill Clinton in his new rendition policy), where they were tortured and executed. If you want to talk reasons for Islamic jihad against the US, this is one of many - not to say it was wrong but that it did have an effect.

It is true that a small cadre of Kosovars is motivated by religious extremism, but there are other factors such as nationalism, ethnicity, tribalism and even self-defense. History notes that Hitler himself founded a Bosnian regiment comprised of Muslim radicals bonded by mutual hate of Jews. But to lay every bad act of Islamic extremism at the feet of all Muslims or an entire ethnicity or country benefits no one, except those with a purely anti-Muslim agenda.

Just as some of the people we rescued from Saddam in Kuwait now fight us in Iraq, we can't condemn the entire population for the acts of a few when so clearly the rest of them support us and appreciate our efforts. We can contrast this to Pakistan, where entire regions long for American and Christian destruction. But Kosovo is not Pakistan and Kosovars are not Saudi Wahhabists. Let's keep the arguments focused on the real bad guys or else our good efforts are diluted.  

Ray Robison is co-author of the book Both in One Trench, a blogger, and a frequent contributor to American Thinker.