Political Exploitation of Islamophobia in post–communist Albania

Olsi JAZEXHI

The historical roots of Islamophobia in Albania

In a recent publication from the Council of Europe, Islamophobia has been defined as: ‘a fear of, or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them. Whether it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion’.[1] Islamophobia as a term first appeared in an essay by the orientalist scholar Etienne Dinet in L’Orient vu de l’Occident (1922). However the term became common parlance in defining the discrimination faced by Muslims in Western Europe only in the 1990s.[2]

Islamophobia, as it is currently understood, is a modern anti-Islamic discourse and practice which has intensified drastically in the West after 9/11. The term Islamophobia is contested by a number of writers, since it is often imprecisely applied to very diverse phenomena, ranging from xenophobia to anti-terrorism. As Marcel Maussen points out, “the term ‘Islamophobia’ groups together all kinds of different forms of discourse, speech and acts, by suggesting that they all emanate from an identical ideological core, which is an “irrational fear” (a phobia) of Islam.”[3]

The writer of this paper has observed that Islamophobia is not related to fear only, but also to an irrational hate of what Islam and Muslims stand for. In the Albanian case Islamophobia is presented and inherited from the communist past in arts, literature, media and public debates, where Islam and Muslims are shown as the “other” and the adversaries of civilization. Islamophobia is often mixed in Albania with the past communist propaganda against religion (in our case Islam only), with modern Christian and particularly Catholic proselytism, Turkophobia and Arabophobia. The present war on terrorism and past hatreds against the Ottoman legacy are often mixed together for producing anti-Islamic sentiments.[4]

Even that Islamophobia is new as a term, negative perceptions regarding Islam and Muslims can be easily traced back in the history of Europe. From the Crusades to colonialism, from the Iranian Revolution to the current war in Iraq, Islam and its followers have habitually been misrepresented in Europe and in other places, where Islam meets Christianity. As Karen Armstrong has shown, with the advent of Islam towards the West and the invention of the Crusades, Islam and its prophet become the supreme enemies of Western civilization and all sorts of obnoxious and dishonest terms were employed to describe its supposed menace.[5]

In Southeastern Europe, acerbic views about Islam and Muslims arrived with the Ottoman expansion of the 14 and 15th centuries. The local Christian churches saw Islam as sheer wickedness and perceived the Ottoman victories in Europe as a threat to their religion and power. Yet Islamophobia reached its greatest impulse in the Balkans during the 19 and early 20th centuries, when the Ottoman Empire came under attack, both physically and propagandistically by the newborn Balkan nationalisms and their European supporters. Almost all “national historiographies” of the Balkans projected the Turks and their religion as the cruel and domineering ‘other’.

Even though the majority of Albanians are Muslims, Islamophobia and Turkophobia has been part of the Albanian culture since the creation of the Albanian state in 1912. Because Islam in the Balkans was connected with the Turks, with their expulsion, the Albanian nationalists (primarily of Christian and Bektashi backgrounds) who were brought to power after the fall of the empire, constructed a national narrative filled with hatred against the Turks and, either directly or circuitously, portrayed the Sunni Muslim population of Albania as their collaborators.

The spirit of Islamophobia in Albania was strengthened and institutionalized even more during the era of communism. By perceiving themselves as modernizers, the communists inherited from the nationalists’ generation of Rilindja (“national “rebirth”) as well as from other Balkan national hagiographies, extreme anti-Turkish and Islamophobic prejudices. As a result, the communists portrayed the 500 years of the Ottoman Empire upon Albania, as a dark and medieval times which cut Albania off from mother Europe and her enlightened civilization.[6] In the history textbooks of modern Albania, the Ottoman Empire was (and still is) blamed for the backwardness of Albania, and the Ottoman officials who ran the empire, namely – the beys, pashas and ağas – together with the Muslim clergy, i.e. the hojas, dervishes and muftis – are often portrayed as the root cause of Albania’s social afflictions. Through publications, movies, books, pictures and poems the communist regime portrayed the Ottoman officials of pre-modern Albania as Turkic and hence non-Albanians, something which was rarely the case historically. By labeling the “oppressors” as aliens and Asian invaders in a European land, communist historiography could easily manipulate the masses against their own tradition and heritage.[7]

Islamophobia was likewise transmitted through the usage of orientalist themes in the art of the socialist realism, thereby demonizing the beys, ağas, kulaks, hojas, dervishes and all the Muslims believers, by portraying them as opportunists and collaborators, who had a hand in suppressing the “progressive” European nature of the Albanian nation. The fight that the communists regime organized against Islam in Albania, known as lufta kundër zakoneve prapanike (the war against obsolete practices,) uprooted Muslim traditions such as modest dress, the abstention from alcohol and pork, as well as belief in God and the hereafter.

In the arts and media of communist Albania, Muslim and Turkish officials were commonly branded as anadollakë (Anatolians), prapanikë (backward), tradhëtarë (turncoats), dallkaukë (idiots), turqeli (little Turks), dylberë (homosexuals), aziatikë (Asians), fanatikë (fanatics), bixhozçinj (gamblers), përdhunues (rapist) and barbarë (barbarians). They were publicized as a people with a sinister mission, whose main objective was to split Albania from Europe and make it part of feudal Asia, through the process of Islamization. As Enis Sulstarova has shown, Ismail Kadare, Albania’s main architect of the national literature in the communist and present Albania; has and is one of the most significant promoters of cultural Islamophobia and Orientalism.[8]

Islamophobia in post communist Albania

With the opening of Albania to the West in the 1990’s, a rebirth of religion – including Islam – came to pass. During the first years of democracy, the Muslims of Albania managed to build a number of mosques and open few madrasas in the country. Their religious activities were organized by the Muslim Community of Albania, the World Headquarters of Bektashis and a number of other smaller Sufi orders (tariqats), which, with the help of overseas Muslim organizations, tried to rebuild their destroyed organizational infrastructures as much as they could.

However, with the opening of Albania to the West, a number of ex-communist apparatchiks who were instrumental in suppressing all types of religious beliefs during Enver Hoxha’s day, virulently protested against what they regarded as the “re-Islamization” of Albania. Well-known for his anti-religious sentiments during communism, Ismail Kadare,[9] led the campaign in opposing any rediscovery of Islam among Albanians. His hostility towards Islam now was transformed from militantly defending atheism, to his open desire to convert Albanians to Christianity. This was made clear since 1991 when he declared that:

Albania’s future is towards Christianity, since it is connected with it culturally, old memories, and its pre-Turkish nostalgia. With the passing of time, the late Islamic religion that came with the Ottomans should evaporate (at first in Albania and then in Kosova), until it will be replaced by Christianity or, to be more exact, Christian culture. Thus from one evil (the prohibition of religion in 1967) goodness will come. The Albanian nation will make a great historical correction that will accelerate its unity with its mother continent: Europe.[10]

As can be understood from the above, the conversion of Albanians to Islam is considered to be an historical “sin” by Kadare.

Kadare, who during communist and present days Albania is considered as a kind of ‘national father’ and the ‘public face’ of Albania in the West, can be considered without any doubt as the main architect of Islamophobia and Turkophobia of present Albania. The reverence that Enver Hoxha had for him, and the high political status that Kadare enjoys presently due to the powerful French lobbying and Sali Berisha’s public veneration for him,[11] have made Kadare a living saint of the post-communist thought of Albania. But his racist views towards Islam, Asia, Turks, Arabs, Gypsies, Vlachs and the rest, which often are used in the Albanian public school textbooks for educating the youth, have created many controversies and public outcries in Albania and Kosova,[12] since many people find them full of racism and Islamophobia.

In great part of his novels and writings, Kadare equates Islam with the sheer malevolence. While in his post-communist writings Europe has replaced the communist ideal that Kadare defended until 1989 and is used for projecting the ultimate good, Islam, Asia and the Turk remain his favorite malevolent. As Sulstarova has shown, in the works of Kadare the projected national enemy of the Albanians, during the era of communism but even after it is the Turk and his religion. In fact, Kadare divides the relation of Albanians with the Turks in these phases:

a. the moments of anguish – which are before the Turkish invasion.

b. the moments of barbarity – which start with the Turkish invasion and the Islamization of Albania.

c. the moments the revolt of civilization against barbarity – which start with the Albanian rebellions against the Turks.

d. the moments of dawn – which come with the separation of Albania from the Ottoman Empire.[13]

The Islamophobia that Kadare demonstrates in his treatment of the Turks is continuously connected to their religion: Islam. For example in his novel, Ura me Tri harqe, he describes the coming of the Ottoman Empire in Albania as: “…something dark …coming in the horizons: the Turkish state.’ The Turkish state which is portrayed as feudal and pure evil is connected with Islam. Kadare speaks of ‘The shadows of its minarets reaching us.”[14] Kadare portrays the Turks as people who bring a murky shadow upon Europe.[15] For him, the main aim that the Turk had against Europe and Albania (who is portrayed as its frontier guard) was to destroy the Albanians, make them Asians, and if they resisted, replace them with Arabs, so that the Albanian guards of European civility would cease to exist.[16]

The spirit of racism and Islamophobia within Kadare’s works has not died even in present times. His most recent essay “The European Identity of Albanians” (published in 2006) is another example of his literary use of Islamophobia. Here, through the use of racism and fears of present war on terrorism, he tries to convince Albanians that as Europeans they must totally be disconnected from Islam. Kadare reprimands the participation of Albania in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the attempts of a number of Albanian intellectuals to describe Albanians as Muslims. He attacks those who want to see Albania as part of the Muslim World and even the very prostration of Muslims during their prayers! According to Kadare, Albanians are only Europeans[17] and being European for Kadare means being the opposite of Islam. By dividing the world into two parts – the West and the rest – Kadare declares that Albania cannot be part of both Asia and Europe, but only Europe, and by extension Catholic Christianity.

For Kadare the Islam that the Ottomans brought to Albania was a special brand of Islam. The Ottomans, as he claims, brought in Albania an Islam that was far inferior to Catholic Christianity. He observes the inferiority of this Turkish Islam in arts which according to Kadare, were filled with homosexual and pedophile perversities. Kadare sees the Ottoman Islam as reactionary, credulous and backward. And because of its reactionary nature he argues that Islam gives refuge to tradition and, at present, to terrorism, unlike his perceived Christianity.[18]

The notion that Islam is contrary to Europe and modernity and is the foremost cause of Albania’s stagnation has been repeated time and again for the past seventeen years principally, by many other ex-communist intellectuals of Albania. This is, naturally reflected greatly in contemporary Albanian politics. The Socialist Party of Albania (Partia Socialiste e Shqipërisë) is in the vanguard of countering Islamic expression in Albania. Their officials who are mainly Orthodox Christians from the south, during their campaign against the Berisha administration in mid-1990’s frequently accused him of wanting to Islamize not only Albania, but all of Europe. When they took power in 1997 they launched a hysterical anti-Muslim campaign against foreign Muslim countries,[19] Albania’s membership in the OIC and the reconstruction of old mosques and madrasas that were closed or destroyed by the socialists 3 decades ago. The hierarchy of the Socialist Party in Albania has continuously seen Islam as one of the main reasons why Albania is not accepted by the “Christian” Europe. Neshat Tozaj, a leading exponent of the Socialists, declared in 1995 that:

While Albania is knocking at the doors of Europe, it is entering the Islamic League…The anathema of being an Islamic Country is hanging over Albania, an anathema that we are stamping on ourselves with a hot iron standing in our foreheads…while [our Skanderbeg] fought against the Ottoman Turks for a quarter of century and prevailed, not only to save Albania, but at the same time, by becoming a barrier for the Christian Europe.[20]

Tozaj’s belligerent remarks against OIC were cross-reference to an article published in Paris which labeled Albania as a repository of Islamic fundamentalism. Because of his perception of Islam being a malicious force in the world, Tozaj proposed a national referendum that would prove to the West that Muslims in Albania were a small and insignificant minority.

The most outspoken Socialist Party politician attacking the Islamic identity of Albanians in the recent years, has been Fatos Nano, who was the on and off prime minister of Albania from 1997 to 2005. When his party seized power from Berisha in 1997, he declared that his government would reverse the effects of the last 555 years of history – referring obviously to the Ottoman period and its present supporters. A year later he declared that his government would stomp out, without mercy, ‘political, ordinary and Islamic criminality’,[21] candidly equating Islam with a crime. In 2003, when the Muslims of Elbasan protested against the take over of their namazgah[22] properties by Nano’s government, he inflammatorily appealed to the people of Elbasan to oppose it, stating that if left with the choice to vote, ‘for the new namazgah or for the political ferexhes that we left in the past, for Kostandin Kristoforidhi or Haji Qamili – choose the former!'[23] As it can be understood from this text, Nano sees the ferexhes (the modest dress of Muslim women) and the place of the pro – Ottoman warrior Haji Qamil as belonging to the past. While he portrays modernity as being anti-hijab and lead by Christian nationalists such as Kostandin Kristoforidhi.

In 1998, when the Americans extradited a number of Arabs suspected for involvement in terrorist acts from Albania, the political Islamophobia reached a new crescendo in Albania, since the socialists used it for blaming Berisha as being connected with the international fundamentalism. The US administration’s war on terrorism was accompanied by an increase in Islamophobic tirades in the media, not only from the Socialist Party, but even from a number of American and Soros sponsored NGO’s that were operating in Albania. An example of this can be found in an article by Remzi Lani and Fabian Schmidt in Albanian Foreign Policy between Geography and History. [24] In it Lani who is director of the Albanian Media Institute[25] and board director of the Open Society Foundation,[26] and Schmidt, a German, give the impression that Berisha’s government is anti-American and anti-European since he placed Albania into the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The role of Soros-sponsored NGO’s in encouraging Islamophobia in Albania can be noticed even in other instances. Here we can mention the MJAFT organization which through its magazine Mapo published the cartoons of Prophet Muhamed in November 2006.[27] However the most obvious and disturbing Soros sponsored individual on inciting Islamophobia in post-communist Albania has been the case of Piro Misha. After serving for a long time as one of the board directors of The Open Society Foundation in Tirana, Misha, whose organization ‘Instituti i Dialogut Publik & Komunikimit’ runs on Soros’ money, has generated many controversies in the Albanian press with his blatantly anti-Islamic remarks over the last ten years. He has continuously attacked Albania’s membership in the OIC,[28] called for the isolation of Albania’s Muslims from the rest of the Muslim world, for the safeguarding of what he labels ‘Albanian Islam’ from the ‘Arab Islam’ and moreover for the isolation of those that rejected America’s invasion of Iraq.

Unlike Kadare, who despises the old ‘Turkish Islam’ of the Ottomans, Misha is concerned with the ‘Arab Islam’, which, according to him, is replacing ‘Albanian Islam’ and threatening the national security of Albania. Like Kadare, Misha was a communist apparatchik in the past and wrote novels demonizing the Ottomans and defending communism.[29] However with the fall of communism, Misha, like Kadare, underwent somewhat of a paradigm shift. And now, the ultimate good for him is no longer communism but rather the “Christian” West, which is being threatened not by capitalism as it was in the good old days of Hoxha, but by the “Arab Islam”. Because Misha sees himself as the vigilante of the correct European culture in Albania, he perceives the “Arab Islam” which is popping up in Albania; in the way how Muslim men grow their beards and Muslim women wear headscarves, as a threat.[30] His articles have been instrumental on inciting Islamophobic tensions in the Albanian media as well as politics and have caused a number of leading Muslim officials to condemn his attacks.[31]

For Misha, Muslim ladies that wear headscarves are not doing this for religious purposes but rather, he argues, as a political statement. He thinks that this is done in same manner as Gandhi started his independence movement, by throwing away his British-tailored suite and wearing the traditional Indian dress, or how Mao prohibited European clothing, and how Khomeini imposed the covering of the women. For these reasons, Misha thinks that the beards and headscarf of Muslims, aim the disjointing of Albania from the West.[32] According to Misha the scarf-wearing women are using their dress as an anti-Western and anti-European statement, and using “religion for political mobilization.” For this reason he suggests that the state has to take over the management of Islam in Albania, in order of preserving the “Albanian Islam” from being contaminated with the “Arabian Islam”.[33]

The political manipulations that exploit Western fears of the perceived “foreign Islam” versus “our Islam” have been a theme that has dominated the Albanian press during the last ten years of Socialist Party rule. Individuals such as Piro Misha, Ilir Kulla, Mustafa Nano, Paskal Milo, Fatos Nano, Fatos Tarifa and Damian Gjiknuri are some of the names that have been in the forefront of Islamophobic expression in Albania, especially in dividing Islam into an “Albanian Islam” and an “Arab Islam”. Damian Gjiknuri – a high ranking Socialist Party official who served as Chief of Cabinet for the Minister of Public Order in 2005 – even composed a defectively organized thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School in California in June 2004, defending a long played out thesis of Kadare’s and the Socialists that “Albanians have suffered equally from Communism and Islam” and that Albania should not be part of the OIC.[34] The idea that Albania’s membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference means the opposite of Europe is randomly expressed by high socialist officials of Albania, such as Fatos Tarifa,[35] who served as Ambassador of Albania in Netherlands and in the United States. But socialists such as Gjiknuri, claim even that the Islamic Community in Albania is suffering from an internal war for control – between the supporters of “Arab Islam” and those that want an “Albanian Islam.”[36] In his above quoted thesis, Gjiknuri suggests that Albanian authorities must intervene and prop up the “correct” version of Islam inside the Muslim Community of Albania – even that the Islam that people like Kadare, Gjiknuri and the Socialists want to create in Albania, is no Islam at all.

The fabrication of an “Albanian Islam” versus the “foreign Islam” is an invention that chiefly comes out of mainly Orthodox Christian controlling the Socialist Party of Albania nowadays. The “Albanian Islam” that the Islamophobes want Albania to have, is no Islam at all. As Fatos Tarifa declared in one of his interviews, where he was defending the attacks of Kadare against Islam in 2006, he described the Albanian Islam as a “Scotch or Whisky Islam”.[37] But while for Kadare, “Turkish Islam” is portrayed as the mother of all of evils who endangers to contaminate the “Albanian Islam”, for Piro Misha, Fatos Nano, Damian Gjiknuri and other socialist apparatchiks, the “Arabian Islam” is the dreadful jinny which must be contained in the bottle.

The temptation for creating the politically correct “Albanian Islam” led Ilir Kulla, who was the head of the committee of religious cults in Nano’s government in 2005, to openly express the desire of his government to isolate Albanian Muslims from the rest of the Muslim World in numerous occasions. When he began his work he declared that the Albanian state desired to no longer allow Albanian Muslims study in foreign countries which have cultural, ethnical and political differences with Albania.[38] While on another occasion he requested the state to take over the control of the Muslim Community of Albania,[39] even when other churches would have the right to operate as they desired.

While the above mentioned Islamophobes have dealt with the “Muslim Problem of Albania” by calling for the preservation or the creation of an “Albanian Islam” versus the so-called “foreign Islam”, Mustafa Nano, a socialist supporter and board member of The Open Society Foundation[40] recommended another solution in 2002. In an essay published in June 2002 he declared that there were no Muslims at all in Albania, and even the residue of Islam that was left in the country, will sooner or later be removed by the prevailing West:

‘Our Western rulers with little strategic effort and the help of some rewarding mechanisms, be them forceful and violent, could very sharply return Albanians into their ancient religion. But nowadays there is no need for Western action. The process of de-Islamization is naturally happening, not only because of an elitary desire for deleting this religious identity and rediscovering ourselves (in Europe), but also because of the lovely pressure of the rich and powerful West.'[41]

The feeling that Islam is something utterly malevolent can be appreciated by reading the productions that the Albanian media and political parties have produced in post-9/11 Albania. The Zëri i Popullit newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Socialist Party, has been continuously attacking the leader of the Democratic Party of Albania (Partia Demokratike e Shqipërisë), Sali Berisha with terms like “Muslim Berisha”. The mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, has also compared Tirana and the political situation of Albania as a process of ‘Kandaharization’ and accused Berisha as having his supporters, generals coming from Libya and Syria. While Sali Berisha on the other hand labels his opponents with names of Islamic terrorists. Thus he called the leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration (Lëvizja Socialiste për Integrim), ex-prime minister Ilir Meta, “Sheikh Metullah”, the director of the national television as “Mullah Omar” and the mayor of Tirana, Edvin Yassin Al Kadi. Ervin Hatibi, a well known Muslim publicist has called the negative connotations that Islam gets from the quarreling parties of our media, as the process of forceful Islamization of the opponent.[42]

Islamophobia is mediatically produced in Albania even by Catholic intellectuals of Northern Albania and their media, who perceive the fact that the majority of Albanians are Muslims as one of the greatest tragedies of their religion and nation. After 1991 they have continuously attacked the Islamization of Albanians and the membership of Albania in OIC. The range of the Islamic evil for the Catholics varies from their comparison of Islam with communism,[43] up to relating the Organization of the Islamic Conference with Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.[44] An accusation that the Catholics label against the Muslims of Albania very often is that they are not real Muslims, but victims of a violent conversion in Islam by the Turks, and thereby claiming that Christianity is the real cultural identity of the Albanians.[45]

The way in which Islam is equated with evil can be grasped even by the titles of several newspaper articles marketed aggressively in Albania. Titles like: “The Islamic danger for Albania”, “Islam has spread with terror and violence in Albania”, “Albania is a depot of Islamic ammunition”, “Albanian Muslims are descendants from the harems of the sultans”, “Allah destroys churches”, “The sons of Allah are divided”, can make even the most casual observer understand the towering level of ignorance and hatred about Islam, rooted in post-communist Albania, by Christian and ex–Communist fundamentalists.

President Alfred Moisiu and the Muslim Forum of Albania

The greatest Islamophobic assault yet launched against the Muslims of post-communist Albania was that of the November 10th, 2005 made by the then President of Albania, Alfred Moisiu, during a speech given at the Oxford Forum entitled: “Inter-religious tolerance in the tradition of Albanians”. In his speech, the president said among other things that “Islam in Albania is not an original religion, but rather was brought into the country by the Ottoman army…” and, “Islam in Albania was not spread at the time of its origin and it is not a residing religion, but a notion inherited in the languages and religious literature of those who brought it” and still further, “as a norm, Islam in Albania is a superficial one. If you dig just a little into any Albanian you will uncover his Christian roots.”

The president went on saying that “You will find fifteen centuries of Christianity in every Muslim of Albania” and that “it is not true that in our country there is a majority Muslim population” but “from the viewpoint of a religious timeline, all Albanians are Christian”. The president also said that “one can conclude that until the appearance of the Ottoman political, military and religious factors, for the average Albanian, the important thing was being a devout Christian”.

President Moisiu’s affront against Islam in claiming it nothing more than a remnant of Ottoman administration, his declaration that the Muslims of Albania are not Muslims at all, and that all Albanians are Christians at heart, infuriated the newly formed advocacy organization – the Muslim Forum of Albania. The Muslim Forum protested Mosiu’s speech in all the major media of Albania and requested an immediate apology from the president.[46]

Despite the outlandishness of such statements coming from the head of state of a multi-religious nation, Moisiu never expressed regret for his insensitive words but said that he was misunderstood. However the protests of the Muslim Forum of Albania were a new development on the fight against Islamophobia and discrimination in the history of post-communist Albania. The protests of the Muslim Forum were accompanied by an enormous number of letters, articles, emails, and phone calls directed at all media outlets in Albania, the president, international organizations, embassies and mailing lists. However the American State Department[47] and other western organizations that claim to defend religious freedoms in the world, failed to take note of Albanian Muslims’ concerns with their devoted pro-Bushist president.

Because Islamophobia reached such intolerable levels in the years 2005, the Muslim Forum of Albania has initiated a process of monitoring anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobic speech in the Albanian media and has continuously set the agenda for responsibility and change in the Albanian public opinion. The Muslim Forum of Albania continuously condemns Islamophobic assaults, such as Ilir Kulla’s desire for the state to break its laissez-faire approach to religion and intervene directly in the internal matters of the Muslim Community, rejected the verbal abuse of Edi Rama – Tirana’s mayor – with the late Hafiz Sabri Koçi[48], denounced the Danish Cartoons,[49] the blatant racism and Islamophobia of Ismail Kadare[50] etc.

Given that after 9/11 a number of foreign citizens of Muslim origin residing in Albania have unjustly been abducted, held without charge and deported from the country, the Muslim Forum has appealed to Muslims living in Albania through its website and conferences that be they Albanians or foreigners, to contact the Forum and seek justice.[51]

The Muslim Forum of Albania has been resolute in monitoring Islamophobia, even when it comes to the behavior of international organizations, such as the European Union. On June 8th 2007, when an Albanian journalist based in Brussels, alluded that the European Union is not fond of Albania because of its Muslim population and that Albania will never be allowed to join EU, the Muslim Forum reacted resolutely.[52] Its affiliated journalists contacted the offices of European Union and the chairperson of the European Parliament’s Delegation to Southeastern Europe and asked for their reassurance that the religious identity of the Albanians is not a problem for the European integration of the Albanians.[53]

The Muslim Forum has raised its concerns even with the American Embassy in Tirana over the attempts to transform the Fatih Mosque into a church by the Institute of Cultural Monuments with funding from the United States Embassy.[54] And lately it has raised concern with the present Democratic government over the issue of the identity cards and the preservation of separation of church and state in the face of certain attempts to Christianize the Albanian national identity.[55]

With its conviction that Islamophobia is a bigoted and ill-educated viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims as well as a violation of basic human rights, the Muslim Forum of Albania is dedicated to fight racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia in all forms, throughout Albanian society. Since its formation and its public reactions, the Muslim Forum has noticed a decrease in Islamophobic harassment in Albania. It believes that by engaging Muslims and Islamophobes in peaceful public debate, and demanding that those who break the law be brought to courts of law, and calling for an immediate end to the political usage of Islamophobia, the Muslims of Albania will live as free citizens, without the fear of being labeled as terrorist fanatics, anti-European and anti-American bigots and made to feel as unwelcome aliens in their own homeland because of their faith and origin.

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