Lee Smith laments that American Muslims have to read almost exclusively about scary Muslims and slightly less scary Muslims in the mainstream American media. “One can only sympathize with American Muslims,” he writes,
those who may or may not be religious, but surely have no attachment to the obscurantist fanatics that drove them from the region, and must now be wondering what is wrong with the New York Times that the only Muslims that register with the paper of record are very scary ones, and less scary ones.
I have noticed and been annoyed by this tendency myself, and it goes double today: I’m writing this from the capital of Kosovo, the least “scary” Muslim country on Earth. I’ve grown accustomed to moderate Muslims after living in and traveling to places like Beirut and Istanbul, but Kosovo is surprising even to me. Islam in this country is so thoroughly liberal (“moderate” doesn’t quite cover it) that, if it weren’t for the mosques, there would be no visible evidence that Kosovo is a Muslim country at all. I’ve been in Prishtina, the capital, for four days, and I can count the number of women I’ve seen wearing a hijab on one hand. Aside from the conservative dating culture, women here are as liberated as Christian women in the rest of the Balkan region.
A large number of Kosovo’s Muslims are Sufis–the most peaceful and the least fundamentalist of all the world’s Muslims. Sufis can be found in many parts of the Islamic world, but here in Kosovo they proudly proclaim that they are the most “progressive” of all.
Soft-imperial Wahhabis are trying to export their brand of Islam from the deserts of Saudi Arabia to this fertile green land. They have their work cut out for them with this crowd. Bosnia notoriously welcomed thousands of Salafist mujahideen fighters from the Arab world during Yugoslavia‘s violent demise. But the Kosovo Liberation Army brusquely told them to stay the hell out of their country–even while they faced an ethnic cleansing campaign directed from Belgrade.
“After two years of traveling almost exclusively to Western Europe and the Middle East,” Thomas Friedman wrote in 2003, “Poland feels like a geopolitical spa. I visited here for just three days and got two years of anti-American bruises massaged out of me.” I feel the same way now in Kosovo after working for much of the last year in Iraq. (Kosovo feels like a pro-American spa compared even to my home town in the United States.)
American flags are on sale at kiosks everywhere. They fly in front of government buildings. The world’s second largest replica of the Statue of Liberty sits atop the five star Hotel Victory. The largest street downtown was renamed Bill Clinton Boulevard. Many businesses are likewise named after Clinton. One cafe owner called his establishment “Hillary” and placed two gigantic pictures of Bill and Hillary on the walls. Don’t assume, though, that this makes Kosovars Muslim versions of Euro-lefties. Clinton is rightly hailed as a liberator, but one resident told me “We are Republicans here in Kosovo.” They want a strong American President who won’t back down from commitments.
Just a few short blocks from Bill Clinton Boulevard is the Israeli Odyssea Bakery. It is not just a Jewish bakery, but an Israeli bakery owned and operated by an actual Israeli. The very idea of this would be unthinkable in even the most liberal of Arabic-speaking countries.
Accomplished businessman and practicing Muslim Luan Berisha told me that 90 percent of Kosovars support Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict. I don’t know if that’s really true. But if so it means Kosovo is more pro-Israel than even the United States. And even if he was exaggerating, it was an intriguing– and telling–exaggeration. No one in any Arabic country would say such a thing. Whatever sneaking sympathy for Israel might exist here and there in the Arab world is vehemently denied by just about everyone else. Kosovo sharply contrasts also with nearby Serbia on this question, where General Wesley Clark is seen as a sinister Jewish figure who plotted Belgrade‘s destruction, and where Saddam Hussein was considered an ally.
Forget creepy crypto-Islamists like Tariq Ramadan and his ilk, whom reporters like to swoon over. Genuinely liberal and moderate Muslims do exist. They’re just not famous. If NATO’s Kosovo war had taken place after September 11, 2001 instead of two years earlier, perhaps the Muslims of Kosovo wouldn’t be so obscure. As it stands now, hardly anyone bothers to write about them because their country no longer explodes.