The period 2019-2020 is characterized by important events that affected the lives of all Albanians and caused difficulties for all citizens without any exception not only at national level, but also worldwide. Especially the November 2019 earthquake and the outbreak of SARS COVID 19 flu pandemic constitute two of such events impacting the lives of so many citizens. The latter and the subsequent austerity measures on quarantine directly affected the normal functioning of mosques, which were closed for an indefinite period. The tremors of November earthquake in the area Tirana-Durrës-Fushë-Krujë and Thumanë had very serious physical consequences, includingthe damaging of several thousand residential buildings and the loss of 51 human lives. In such circumstances, the mechanism of human solidarity was immediately set in motion. Social networks, through photos and videos conveyed in real time, had a significant impact in informing about the needs of people,andthe entire society mad available all its possible meansto the victims. The charity network addressed the first needs of the injured and aid was sent to the most crucial places in those moments, providinginitially with food, blankets, clothing, and then with housing needs. Muslim charities in Albania, neighbouring countries and the diaspora were involved through local actors to send financial aid even for the construction of new houses.
While such circumstances were not yet left behind, the society had to deal in February-March 2020withthe period of SARS COVID 19 pandemic, still going on at this moment. This pandemic of a global scale was immediately followed by strict measures of a worldwide quarantine. The normal flow of human life was interrupted,and families were locked in their homes withvery little aid from the state. Beside this, the daily religious life was damaged despite the constant requests from believers to frequent the mosques and perform their prayers while implementingthe necessary pandemic protocols. The situation was significantly reflected in all social media networks, especially on Facebook, where the intercommunication between different social factors, individuals, and activists acting as spokespersons of the society, increased significantly. This difficult situation of a limited daily life, that lasted longer than 9 months, caused not only a violation of basic human rights, but also a lack of basic things, such as food and medicine,as the support schemes by state institutions turned out to be insufficient. All religious communities present in the country and abroad tookunder government’s influence the decision to suspend all their public functions, which led to an indefinite blocking of congregational prayers for all religions present in Albania. For these reasons, the annual AMF reports delayed, andthe actual document constitutes a joint reportfor two consecutive years, with a special emphasis on Islamophobia phenomena present in social media networks.
Islamophobia on Social Networks
Although we have paid special attention to social networks for a closer look at the reality, we must note that it is very hard to follow in the footsteps of anyone we can identify as an Islamophobic profile. There are several public figures already officially denounced by the AMF and other actors with whom we cooperate in this field, of whom we also have a list of public names known as such in recent years, and which has been enriched with new names. Meanwhile, the establishment of fake profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter as well as in many other applications that have been recently released, remains the most disturbing issue. Hate speech, cartoons mocking religion, Islamophobic (Turkophobic and Arabophobic) labels based on race, color and origin, etc. are common in such profiles. In this regard, groups with strong ultranationalist features are distinguished as characterized by a hateful language with deep racial connotations, seeking to have a racial purity in Albania based on an impossible racial homogeneity due to the minority composition already evidenced by the past censuses. One of the goals of the Muslim Forum of Albania is to conduct a study based on the language used in social networks and to establish a level or index of Islamophobia in social networks and society.
Islamophobia according to cases 2019
The massacre in two mosques of New Zealand was the focus of the analysis of today’s TV show “Ju fletMoska” by KastriotMyftaraj on Ora RTV. In the television broadcasts of Ora News on March 18, 2019, at 19:45, was broadcasted the show “Skanderbeg and the murders in the mosques of New Zealand”, the language and arguments of which constitute an open incitement of acts of terror against Muslim believers, as well as a civil conflict. The terror that took the lives of so many people was not condemned at any point in this show, but it was justified as instigated and a natural consequence of the New Zealand government’s defeatist stance in the face of the so-called Islamic threat. With a debauched fantasy, the show raised the alarm bell for a great danger coming from Muslim believers and the centuries-old practices of Islamknown in our country, embraced by that Muslim part of the country, of which they also the founding fathers of the Albanian nation have emerged. All this was done to arouse panic over the imaginary danger of violence by Albanian Muslims. In the end, with an openly threatening language, this TV show warned of much stronger reactions and terrorist acts in the absence of receiving proper responses from the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Prime Ministers of European countries.
There was a civic reaction to this TV show from a group of believers, who addressed a special petition to Ora News television and the National Audio-Visual Media Authority (AMA).
A complaint form was also compiled to be addressed to AMA by the AMF lawyer and it was sent via e-mail within a short time by about 500 people. In a special meeting, the representatives of AMFpresented at the AMA offices their objections and received information on the proceedings. After the complaints were received at the AMA Complaints Office, the board of this institution ascertained the violations committed and fined Ora News TV in the amount of 400,000 ALL, and they affirmedthe following: “The Board considers such statements asa violation of the amended Law no. 97/2013 “On audiovisual media in the Republic of Albania”. These statements incite intolerance among citizens, provoke and justify violence, do not respect the language and diversity of traditions, religious beliefs, culture, and morals of citizens. Violation of these legal principles during this broadcast constitutes incitement to hatred on religious grounds and, as such, it is punishable by law.”
The well-known lawyer SaimirVishaj has provoked debates with his statement by asking the following question to the panel of a show where he was invited: “Can you tell me a name of an Orthodox Christian having committed murder?”
Meanwhile, sociologist Alfred Halilaj intervened. “It is not an acceptable analysis to establish the religious belief as being responsible for the increase of crime. It cannot be, we cannot say that. It is absurd to say such a thing”, stated the sociologist in the show “Window with Rudina”. It is about the well-known TV journalist RudinaXhunga and her show.
Afterwards, Vishaj replied: “We are the ones who in our daily life encounter the contingents, the perpetrators, the suspected perpetrators. The theory is different, what we say is different.”
The show was focussed on the increased crime in the country,andthe panel was also discussing about the causes havingledto many successive murders in the entire territory of the country,as in the span of 120 days a total of 29 murders had been committed.
The statements were made on News 24 TV.
A photo was taken on the Facebook page of lapsi.al during the Eid al-Fitr prayerfrom the site where Muslim women were performing their prayers, and the following text was added: “After seeing this photo, do you feel like you are in Albania?” On a significant day for the Muslim community, such photo-news only provokes Islamophobia and aims to disrupt interfaith harmony. The photo was taken by Gent Shkullaku, while Mentor Kikia posted it on FCB. This photo caused a great deal of public debate, as well as significantly incited Islamophobic sentiment and discourse, especially in nationalist districts.
The Turkish memorial in Tirana broken
The memorial placed in Tirana in honour of the victims who opposed the coup attempt in Turkey has been broken. The plaque was damaged on its side, while the police surrounded the area where the memorial is placed. We are informed that the event occurred early in the morning (30/08/2019). The placement of such a memorial at the artificial lake of Tirana was accompanied by numerous Islamophobic reactions, mainly on social networks. The memorial is dedicated to the victims of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The coup failed, with President Erdogan blaming the cleric Fethullah Gulen for the attack.
Various persons belonging to the public sphere have recently often made statements promoting Islamophobia on social media. Anila Basha (journalist and head of the investigative and news portal newsbomb.al) and Taulant Muka (former Deputy Minister of Education) spoke from different perspectives, after the public debate on the Turkish Memorial, located in one of the city’s public areaswith the approval of the Municipality of Tirana, was closed.
Taulant Muka, former Deputy Minister of Education, has made about 12 posts on his official website, with the main topic being schools vs mosques. Here is the text of the first post made by him on September 9:
“Mosque/Church vs… school?
Along the road Elbasan-Tirana, almost every 5 km, you could see a mosque ON BOTH SIDE OF THE ROAD. The same situation on Tirana-Durres highway. But how is it possible that so many mosques have been built and not schools? And who is building these mosques? Even in villages of 5 houses only, mosques or other religious institutions such as churches are built. Why not to invest this money in schools, to educate the younger generation? I am sure that 90% of those who serve in these mosques/religious institutions do not possess even the minimum education of the religion they are supposed to preach!”
Islamophobia according to 2020 cases
Demolition of the building of Tirana National Theatre
During the civil protests that took place against the demolition of Tirana National Theatre, there were also a significant number of Muslim activists participating in the protection given to this facility for a period of two years by the Theatre Alliance. During the protests, two activists, namely S.Ç. and K.Q.,were detained and escorted to police stations in Tirana.From various testimonies delivered to news agencies,the police forces have exercised verbal violence and force against all the protesters, including S. Ç., whom the police officers especially used to provoke and ask him that what was he looking for as a fasting person in a protest. According to the other activist, who was held for days in Police Commissariat no. 1, those having arrested and dragged him were men without uniforms and distinctive signs. They had handed him then over to police officers of the Commissariat. We emphasize that exactly in those days it was the month of Ramadan fasting.
Doses of Islamophobia highlighted by Arbana Osmani and Top Channel
The painful story of a raped orphan has shocked social networks after her claims that she was regularly raped in the premises of the Orphanage in Shkodra. The 27-year-old, named Adriana, who grew up in an orphanage in Shkodra, has made a shocking confession. The girl confessed that in the orphanage in Shkodra, there was a teacher of Islamic religion who abused the orphan little girls. During the show “I want to make you happy” on Top Channel, Adriana said that the teacher put the little children in the basement, lined them up,and sexually abused them. This story, presented in this show, has been rejected by the employees of Shkodra Orphanage, who stated that there has never been an official religion teacher at this institution. It is also the second time that Arbana Osmani provokes Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslims and their community with her show “I want to make you happy”, for which the Muslim Forum of Albania has submitted an official complaint to the People’s Advocate.
Imprisonment and acquittal of Roland Kryemadhi
“The court of Tirana has appointed today (07/06/2020) prison arrest for Roland Kryemadhi, for whom it is alleged that during the action for his arrest, he threatened the police officers with a weapon. He should appear in court as he is under accusation of ill-treatment of minors, as he is not allowing his three daughters to be educated in the lastone year, he has also opposed the police and pulled out a gun threatening them.”
This is the story of Roland Kryemadhi, living in Kamza, as offered by the law enforcement agencies. He is said to have prevented his headscarves wearing daughters from attending school.
200 police forces moved to arrest an only person and over a year they brought him around the courts having created uncertainty and pushing Roland Kryemadhi (37 years old) for worse in his reactions. A problem that the school directorate in Kamza and the social services of Kamza could have solved very calmly, taking under the current law the administrative decision provided by Law No. 7952, in the chapter Sanctions in articles 59.1 and 59.2, instead ofchoosing the path of confrontation and inciting the subject to a dead end, while they should not be pushed further than the law provides. The allegations of illegal possession of weapons by police turned out to be unfounded, because in the Tirana Court, in the session of 07/06/2020, no firearm was presented by the police directorate or the prosecution of Tirana, as claimed by the police reports given to various media. Roland Kryemadhi has denied the allegations that he had a weapon and at the same time his poor economic and social situation did not allow him to have a good knowledge of the situation despite the various advice given to him. It is consequentlyclear that the institutional bodies involved in solving his problem have not shown understanding towards him and his family, and from the way the Kamza incident was presented in the media, all local actors involved in this incident have had deep doses of prejudice and Islamophobia.
Muslim Woman Veil
During this period, individual public attacks on veiled girls or women have been very sporadic. They belong more to social networks and are followed by a hate speech already known from profiles created through networks. Various teachers in the pre-university system have expressed themselves indirectly against the veiled girls, showing dislike for their dress in general, while in meetings with the children’s parents they have denied having any confrontation with such an issue. Although there has been a significant sensitization in the society towards veiled women and their dress, it is felt in various social and administrative settings an opposition coming mainly from the secular-atheist mentality embedded in the state administration since the period of the Communist regime.
Issues that have not yet been resolved:
- Friday time in public administration also wearing military uniforms.
- Persons in military or police uniforms are not allowed to exercise their right to perform religious rites (whether Muslim or Christian) during their service.
- Hour of religious belief teaching in pre-university education.
- Large doses of Islamophobia in the law enforcement apparatus.
- The Muslim women veil as a part of her identity and daily life.
List of Islamophobic analysts of Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia – 2017
This list was first compiled and released on September 13, 2017 and it was updated in September 2021, while it will remain open to be supplemented with other names.
The Muslim Forum of Albania aims to increase the attention of Albanian politics and public in fight against Islamophobia and racism, to monitor incidents of Islamophobia and racism, and to work to eliminate religious and racial discrimination, as well as to lobby for issues of interest to Muslims in Albania, as well as other communities of the country, based on the Constitution of the Republic of Albania, as well as the International Conventions on Human Rights signed by the Albanian State. All cases identified above have been reported and followed step by step by representatives and lawyers at the AMF and they are already documented in more detail at the AMF office. Certain names have not been made public due to privacy protection of those interested.