The Balkan Muslim ‘Threat’ has Never Materialised

09 Jan 15

The Balkan Muslim ‘Threat’ has Never Materialised

Paradoxically, the Islamist danger is not coming from where once it was most expected – from among Muslims in the Balkans.

Marcus Tanner


As people in Paris – and beyond – mourn the 12 victims of the worst terror attack that France has seen in decades, a question at the back of many people’s minds is, where next? Paris again, London again, Madrid again, or somewhere else? This is the latest terror attack. No one can possibly imagine it is the last.

What seems likely is that the next bombing, shooting or stabbing will rock a city in Western Europe or perhaps in North America. Almost certainly, it won’t happen in Eastern Europe, or the Balkans.

In one sense, that is paradoxical. In the 1990s, one of the arguments made against supporting – or even allowing – independence for Bosnia or Kosovo was the supposed unreliability of the Balkan Muslims. They weren’t to be trusted with running or co-running states in the middle of Southeast Europe.

Serbian propaganda in particular, both in the 1990s and since, specialized in serving up the deadly danger to the whole of Europe of a Balkan Caliphate.

Both the Bosniaks and the Kosovars were supposedly concocting this with add-on help from the Muslims in Serbia’s majority-Bosniak Sandzak region and perhaps the Bulgarian Muslim minority as well.

The talk then, and later, was of a “zelena transverzala” a green, that is, Muslim, “highway”, running from Novi Pazar in Serbia through Sarajevo down to Pristina and then all the way to Istanbul.

Many Western writers, commentators and even some politicians credulously picked up on this horror-B-movie scenario, making much of the risks of permitting majority-Muslim states to emerge in the Balkans. They would act as a magnet for Islamists everywhere and then start exporting terror westwards, it was said.

Fast forward to today, and it becomes clear how muddled those calculations were. As the latest horrific carnage in Paris shows, Western Europe does indeed face a real threat from Islamist terrorists. But the threat comes from within; not from the “old” Muslims of the Balkans but from the “new” Muslims of Western Europe itself.

The Madrid railway bombings of 2004, the London Underground and bus bombings of 2005, the killings in southwest France in 2012 and those in Belgium last year were almost all the work of alienated immigrants to those societies with a mainly North African or Pakistani background.

The Madrid bombings, which claimed 191 lives, have since been attributed to a coalition of terrorists of Moroccan, Libyan and Algerian origin. A judge laid blame on “local cells of Islamic extremists inspired through the Internet”.

Three of the four London suicide-bombers, who killed 52 people, were British-born children of immigrants from Pakistan. One was a local convert. One of them had worked as a primary school teacher.

The Toulouse/Montauban killings of 2012, which claimed seven lives, including those of three Jewish children, were the act of a French-born citizen of Algerian descent who apparently had become radicalized in prison.

Last May’s killings of four at the Jewish Museum in Belgium were also the work of a French national of Algerian origin.

Thread these and other attacks together and what becomes clear is that outside operators from the Middle East or from Yemen played little or no role in them except as cheerleaders. As for the Muslims of the “Green Highway” in the Balkans, they feature nowhere at all.

The Balkans themselves, meanwhile, have remained relatively free from attacks by religiously motivated terrorists, apart from the attempt in 2011 to shoot up the US embassy in Sarajevo, which was the work of a lone Sandzak-born gunman.

Mevlid Jasarevic’s crazy attack certainly put the wind up Bosnia’s complacent political and religious establishment, but it was a ludicrously amateur episode compared to the slickly conducted mass murder in Paris.

The one real Islamist terror attack in the region, the Burgas bus bombing of 2012, which killed seven Israelis, appears to have been the work of outsiders from the Middle East with no connection to Muslims from Bulgaria or the region.

There are, of course, some worrying signs of religious radicalism among Balkan Muslims. Several hundred Albanians and Kosovars are believed to have slipped off to the Middle East to fight for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. A number of imams have been arrested in Kosovo.

Still, what is striking about the region generally is not how much Islamic radicalism it generates, but how little – in spite of what sounds like a dangerous combination of war, genocidal slaughter, mass unemployment and deep, deep poverty.

Why the “old” European Muslims remain largely immune to the lure of radical Islam is a question for historians, sociologists and cultural experts. Perhaps the self-consciously European and occidental mindset of the majority of Albanians and Bosniaks is a key factor.

Either way, people in the Balkans can be grateful for one thing. For now, in the war on, or with, terror – which seems to be gripping more and more of Western world – they look like remaining on the sidelines.

Marcus Tanner is an editor of Balkan of Insight and the author of “Albania’s Mountain Queen, Edith Durham and the Balkans” [Tauris].

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)