Muslims from the Balkans should stay at home to fight with knowledge and politics for a better future instead of going to foreign wars, experts say.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 17/01/14
Thousands of foreign fighters have joined the rebels in Syria since 2011. [AFP]
Islamic extremists from the region who fight in foreign wars, such as the Syrian conflict, are using radical interpretations of their religious affiliations for political abuse, experts said.
According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, about 8,500 foreign fighters from 74 countries have gone to fight in Syria. The most important region for foreign fighter recruitment, outside of Western Europe and the Middle East, is the Balkans, with many foreign fighters coming from Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
The rise of rebel fighters in parts of Syria's north has left Turkey facing a new security threat on its already vulnerable border as many fighters travel through Turkey to get to the conflict.
Aida Corovic, a human rights activist from Novi Pazar, and the former director of local NGO Urban IN, told SETimes that the way Islamic extremists are promoting their faith is wrong and reflects badly on real Islam.
"To kill someone means to be a terrorist, which is a term that doesn't exist in Islam," Corovic said.
She said those who fight in Syria or other foreign conflicts participate for money.
"They have a chance to come back, but only in order to attract more people and take them to death. This role is extreme Islam, Wahhabism itself," Corovic said.
"People from the Balkans are a good terroristic force because they are very familiar with other Europeans, they look different from other Muslims and it is easy to place them."
Bekir Makic, an Islamic effendi from Novi Pazar, said those who travel to fight in foreign conflicts have misinterpreted the teachings of Islam.
"It seems that they didn't understand the message. The fight on God's path -- jihad -- is the fight for justice, the fight for truth above all, the fight for tranquillity for the creator and all who are on that path and live there. It is obvious that they don't understand what jihad is," Makic told SETimes.
He said those who are fighting in Syria or are following extremist ideas do not think about the future.
"These sorts of people do not think about coming back to their homelands, some of them plan to stay in Syria in areas they consider free. I cannot imagine that anyone here can support those people, bearing in mind things they are doing there," Makic added.
Fahrudin Kladicanin, co-ordinator at the Forum 10 academic initiative in Novi Pazar and a researcher of radical extremism, told SETimes that extremists use the internet as their main tool to spread propaganda.
"They use social networks like Facebook to attract and mobilise young people. For right-wing extremists, interactive platforms are ideal for recruitment because they are very popular among youth and this is the core of extremism. Cyberspace is free, which is also very important," Kladicanin said.
He said that almost all radical leaders have Facebook profiles with more than 5,000 friends.
Eldar Kundakovic, from Novi Pazar, died in Syria on May 12th, 2013. His father, Esad Kundakovic, told SETimes that his son was motivated to go to fight by pictures of Muslims suffering that he saw on the internet.
"Wahhabi ideology and their presence in the Balkans and Serbia is dangerous because they are promoting a call for jihad, a fight against non-believers, and they insidiously work on youth indoctrination," said Esad Kladicanin.
Makic and Corovic said education and efforts for a better future are crucial tools in anti-extremist efforts.
"Today's Muslims have to fight for a better future with political and scientific tools. Nothing can be achieved with guns, only through the influence of politics or science. Those who are fighting in Syria don't understand these messages and principles," Makic said.
"I call on people to stay here and make Novi Pazar and Sandzak a better place to live," Corovic said.
What can be done in Balkan countries to prevent Islamic youths from going to fight in foreign wars? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.