Kosovo and the Clash of Civilizations
Richard Fernandez argues that the rioting by Kosovar Serbs was entirely predictable:
The wider impact of the Kosovo crisis is the precedent that it sets for many of the “frozen conflicts” of the world, ranging from Azerbaijan to the Basque region. Remarkably, many Muslim countries have refused to recognize Kosovo. And their reluctance is fueled in part by the desire to avoid stirring up separatism. Therefore Kosovo has been sold by the EU and the US as an “exception” to the general rule.
The problem is that the Serbs are taking the cue from the Kosovars. If Kosovo can split from Serbia why can’t Serbian regions split from Kosovo? The EU believed that by throwing a protective blanket of “suits” around the Serbs in the north that Kosovo might be held together. But as the experience of Iraq shows, stabilization can only occur where security is guaranteed. The crisis that will face Western policy in Kosovo is whether they are up to providing “security” which is another word for military force, to back up their “army of suits”. The suits can’t deploy without the uniforms.
Commenter Peter invokes Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis.
If the Clash of Civilizations occurring along Islamic fault lines is indeed the defining civilizational issue of the 21st Century then recognizing the extra legal independence of Kosovo is a major bonehead move.
Ideas mean something. Every confrontational success or failure validates the ideas of one side or the other in a zero sum game. What do we benefit by handing a victory of any kind to Islam? There are many arguments that could be made about the vicitmhood of the Kosovors but the creation from nothing of a new Islamic state in Europe is the real story. How many times have we heard of the necessity to fight jihadism on many levels? How is shooting Taliban in Afghansitan while surrendering at the state creation level a good thing?
As I see it the USA is again trading its goodwill with the Orthodox countries, which are at least in a position to help put the squeeze on Iran and limit long term Islamic influence in the Caspian Basin, for the illusion of goodwill with Islam which has a proven value of exactly zero. In 1999 Sandy Berger admitted that NATO was intervening “for the Muslims.” What did that goodwill get us?
On the more personal level many Serbs consider Kosovo the birthplace of their unique Serbian identity. One of Huntington’s intriguing thoughts was that you could more easily grasp the concepts behind the Clash of Civilizations by overlaying today’s maps with a political map of Central Europe in the 1500s. What we are doing today is kicking the Serbs, and indirectly the other Orthodox countries, in the teeth to expand the Islamic empire. How does that make sense? Do we say “poor little misunderstand Kosovors” and just watch them start (continue) tearing down 1,000 year old Christian monasteries?
While I agree that there is such a thing as Christendom and that it is at odds in parts of Europe with Islam, it seems like more than a stretch to conflate the Albanian Muslims of Kosovo with the Taliban of Aghanistan.
As to the rhetorical question, “What did that goodwill get us?” it’s not entirely clear. Certainly, intervening on the part of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo didn’t make al Qaeda like us any more; indeed, it was likely not on their radar screen. But who knows what would have happened in Bosnia and Kosovo — or among Muslim communities elsewhere in Europe — had we not intervened? Perhaps tensions would have exploded and Christian-Muslim relations would now be much worse? (And I say that as one who opposed intervention in both instances.)
During the Cold War, we mistakenly presumed that because nationalist leaders in places like Vietnam and North Korea and Cuba and China deemed themselves “Communist” they were part and parcel of the same global threat as the Soviet Union. To some extent, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as our behaving as if that were the case isolated them and sent them scurrying to the USSR for support. But Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro and Mao Tse Tung didn’t give a damn about Karl Marx or Joe Stalin; they were nationalists looking for a message with which to rally the support of a nation.
Let’s not make the same mistake again. While there are jihadists who dream of restoring the Ummah, they are a relatively small subset of Muslims. The vast majority of the latter are, as with non-Muslims, more concerned with their daily lives and communities than global aspirations.
As to the particular question of an independent Kosovo, I’m rather torn. As an American — and a Southerner — I’m predisposed to sympathy towards claims for national self-determination. But, as my colleague Dave Schuler frequently asks, “What’s the unit of measure of national sovereignty?” Aside from attempting a case-by-case analysis as with Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography, I don’t have an answer.