Syria and Kosovo: Worlds apart?

This article originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian. 

American public opinion is divided on the question of intervention in Syria. The war between the government and opposition forces has claimed more than 100,000 lives so far, and an eventual end to the conflict does not seem evident. An alleged chemical attack by government forces killed an estimated 1,000 civilians last month, and has set the ground for a potential military intervention by the United States. Convincing Americans to intervene in yet another foreign conflict is no easy task, and the Obama administration has used the example of Kosovo as how a humanitarian intervention can be executed successfully. Does the comparison stand? Yes and no.

There are few striking similarities between the two cases: there is an armed opposition and a repressive governmental response. Civilian casualties are alarmingly high. The refugee situation is precarious, with two million Syrians seeking refuge at the country’s borders. Last month’s chemical attack is in violation of international law.

However, the differences between Syria and Kosovo are equally stark: In the case of Kosovo, there were only two real combatants prior to the intervention: the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian security forces. In Syria, the opposition is fractioned, containing progressive democrats, nationalists of all sorts, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda elements – none of which have a shared vision for Syria. Who takes control after Assad is ousted?

While Americans debate whether Kosovo is similar to Syria or not, Kosovars’ thoughts on the conflict are just as polarized. Prime Minister Thaci, President Jahjaga and Foreign Minister Hoxhaj have all made public statements urging the U.S. military to intervene in Syria – a bit of pandering that seems strange, considering the troubling trend of young Kosovar men being recruited to fight with rebels in Syria. Their motivation is not explicitly clear, but one can assume that religion could have a hand to play. In July, the son of Kosovo’s Grand Mufti, Haris Ternava, called upon Albanians to join the resistance in Syria, “for Allah’s sake.” A few days ago, 22-year-old Pajtim Olluri was reported dead in Syria. No presidential statements were made for Olluri or other deceased Kosovars in Syria, nor any message from Kosovo’s Islamic Community; which over the past few weeks has ousted moderate president of its assembly, Xhabir Hamiti, and changed the community’s laws to allow the more radical imam Naim Ternava to remain Grand Mufti for life (Muftis were previously limited to two terms)

Maybe instead of advising Obama on what to do in America’s wars, Kosovo’s public officials should make sure we’re not sending our own young men to die for extremists in the Middle East. It isn’t noble to simply be against Assad, if what one is for is the establishment of a shariat Syria. If Kosovars want to help ordinary Syrians, send food. Send medical supplies. Work with organizations like the International Red Cross, one of the few international aid organizations providing help on the ground to civilians. Syria is not another Kosovo, and Kosovars getting blown up in Damascus does little to ease the lives of ordinary, suffering innocents.

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