Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Does Kosovo Get Religious Diversity And We Don't

Yesterday, I arrived in Prizren, Kosovo, for a documentary film festival. Crossing the border to Kosovo was the first time I saw an image of Kosovo that was not connected to the Balkan War, only this time with my own eyes. My facts about Kosovo outside of my obvious study of said war was also lacking conviction. However, the first thing I noticed about stepping across the bridge to Prizren town center was the ability to catch sight of a mosque right to an identical building with a cross on top of it right next to it in the middle of the main town square. Hand in hand with that picture came one person veiled chatting to another in hot pants and a spaghetti shirt. Needless to say, I'm not used to this sight.

The Mosque has not become a regular feature in the Western European countryside yet. Neither has promiscuously dressed girl become an inherent part of the Islamic landscape. Instead, where I have lived so far, there is either an aspect of Islamophobia or criticism of the culture associated with the West predominant in society. My two most recent countries of residence, Germany and Egypt, were either critical of the burqa or the spaghetti shirt, afraid of the Muslims or the bad influence of Western culture on Middle Eastern tradition or looked at either the church or the mosque as their official place of worship. Evidently, in Kosovo there is no choice but a variety, and neither camp seems to oppose the other.

Why is it possible for Kosovo, a relatively small country with one hell of a history, to accept religious diversity, and most other places are still butting heads over who's going to heaven and who's not? That hell of a history might be an indicator: Kosovo's many years of communism, when Kosovo-Albanians were still belonging to the state of Yugoslavia, sheds light on the role of religion in the state to begin with. During communism, of course, all religion was non-existent. Today, Albanians being able to practice any religion is testament to freedom of speech and worship. It seems to me that, rightfully, Kosovo just seems to be happy to be practicing religion at all...

Kosovo also has one more rather big event predominant on its memory: war! In the West, we fight and hate and jeopardize our futures because we are unaware of the destruction. Most of us never had to endure the consequences that come with extreme measures against hate, and hating each other's religion is only the beginning. If we continued our courses, we would sooner or later experience war first hand, and without knowing war, it's safe to say that accepting a religion that's not ours is the lesser of two evils when comparing it to death and destruction. Kosovo knows war, and they will not follow a course just 15 years after that will lead them back to destruction. What they need is recuperation.

And if you really put your hand on your heart, and think about being a rational person for a second, then I believe it's hard to actually come up with a reason why acceptance wouldn't work. Both the Ottomans and the Christians were in the Balkans at about the same time in the past, and obviously, just as history demands it, they didn't like each other. In this day and age, however, we have overcome both the terror rule of Christianity and the Ottoman radicalism, as well as World Wars and corruption during communism, so it seems silly to not unite over something so easy to agree on: "all religion allowed" is better than "no religion allowed". Never mind, that the principal idea of almost all religions is love, and acceptance is part of that.

It is a beautiful experience for a person like me, home in both the West and the Middle East, as well as most other places there are, to sit in a cafe with a glass of wine with my hot pants because it's hot and listen to the prayer call. Culture is what we make it, and it would be a shame if any part of culture would get lost because it doesn't coincide with the restraints of religious correctness. Kosovo likes listening to church bells and minaret speakers because for a long time all they heard was bombs exploding. And maybe we should learn from their experience before we have to make it ourselves... maybe! 

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