Kosovo and the `umma

After the declaration, America and most European Union countries began the process of recognition. Muslim states will follow. Like the people of Albania, Kosovars are that rare combination, a majority Muslim people who are also passionately pro-American. Russia, and of course Serbia, reacted angrily. Russia argues that Kosovo’s independence will open a Pandora’s box of secessions and so it will block it from joining the United Nations.

These were the words of The Economist on February 21, shortly after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The United State, much of the EU, and Russia did precisely as The Economist predicted. But the Muslim states have bucked the trend. Thus far, only five Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Albania, Senegal, Malaysia, and Turkey). Instead of welcoming Kosovo to the family of Muslim nations, most have opted not recognize it. Those countries who have long standing ties in the Balkans as a result of ideology — such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and some of the other Gulf states — or have especially strong ties with the United States or major EU states like France (as do Morocco and Tunisia) are slated to recognize Kosovo sometime in the near future. Pakistan and Bangladesh will too. Malaysia already has. Albania, the motherland with which many Kosovars hope to eventually merge, also recognized the new statelet.

But why are so many other Muslim states abstaining from the recognition festival?

One needs only to look at who’s recognizing and who’s not. All the Muslim states that have or are slated to recognize Kosovo have strong ties with the West. Turkey — the successor to the caliphate for which much of the ethno-religious troubles in the Balkans is often blamed — hopes to join the EU. Aside from satisfying its own national interests in that field (the most powerful EU states have recognized Kosovo), this also fits in line with Turkish policy in the region which has tended to side against Russian prerogatives and with the former Muslim populations in the area. Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia will recognize the new state because of their close ties to both France and the United States; Morocco’s military is almost wholly the result of this relationship and would like to keep it that way; Mauritania tends to support French policy generally and its ties with the United States have done nothing but grown over the past decade. Tunisia and Senegal are in the same boat. The Gulf Arab states and Afghanistan will recognize it in order to support the United States and under the pretensions of protecting the `umma.* All of these states, save for perhaps Malaysia and Bangladesh, are governments that are and have been in the Western camp. They are states that either could not function or persist without Western support, and their recognition of Kosovo is a part of fulfilling their end of the bargain.

Those who will not, briefly and broadly, have strong relations with Russia. Algeria, Syria, Sudan, the Central Asian states, and Iran all have strong economic, political, military, and geopolitical ties to the Russian Federation, the strongest critic of Kosovar independence outside of Belgrade. Russia, along with China, has been the main international backer of so-called “rogue” regimes as Sudan and Iran and has been one of the largest sources of arms for such other states as Algeria, Syria, and several other major Muslim states. They are the states on the opposite — though not necessarily opposing — side of the fence from their brothers recognizing Kosovo.

On the economic side, many of these nations enjoy FDI from Russia. On the political and military side (the more important one), Russia provides cover in the Security Council and international forums for regimes finding themselves under scrutiny from the West. Russia, with China, is often seen as the international guarantor of national sovereignty in the face of Western interventionism. Russia’s problems with the “Kosovo precedent” is the same as Sudan’s, Syria’s, Algeria’s, Iran’s, Indonesia’s, and a variety of other Muslim states with ethnic and sectarian tensions. Militarily, Russia provides high-tech weaponry to all of the major Muslim states that will not recognize Kosovo. The arms trade is Russia’s chief interest in most of the developing world, and its most prized customers do not want to jeopardize that relationship.

In both cases, recognition has very little to do with sympathy for the Muslims of Kosovo, though such sentiments are felt throughout much of the Muslim world. If recognition had much to do with philosophy, Morocco would withhold its recognition and Algeria would recognize it. Morocco is a state occupying another one (the Western Sahara), by some estimates illegally and unjustly and the “Kosovo precedent”‘s effects are very much understood in Rabat (as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic’s embassies in Africa and Asia have proliferated and Morocco’s membership in the African Union has been a casualty of the Saharawi movement). Algeria, a poster-child for national liberation/independence movements (especially among Muslims), would have been among the first states to recognize Kosovo if it were operating on its foundation principles. Such concerns may be why some of the Muslim states that have pledged recognition have been hesitant to do so.**

* [ The Saudis pumped millions into Kosovo and Bosnia during the 1990’s in an effort to protect the embattled Muslim populations there. Such is the responsibility of the custodians of the Holy Cities and a regime whose legitimacy is based on its championing of Islamic causes and providing for the `umma. Palestinian leaders have expressed interest in following Kosovo’s model of unilaterally declaring their independence. Such as a move would be ideologically consistent, but would be less practical than Kosovo’s. While Kosovo’s infrastructure is decrepit and its political system as thoroughly corrupt as can be, the Kosovars can claim that they control their country. This is not the case in the large majority of the Occupied Territories. ]

** [ Of course, there are exceptions to these dominant trends. Iraq has not recognized Kosovo, perhaps out of fear of the Kurds aping Kosovo’s example. Jordan has not either. Many states are taking a “wait and see” approach, out of fear of potential blow back. ]


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