Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Appeal for Help

I've recently, unwittingly, become embroiled in an out-of-country dispute related to my religious community at large. As mentioned in a previous post, the Harabati Baba Teqe in Tetovo, Macedonia, is under siege by armed Sunni extremists, who want to bull-doze these grounds:

Beautiful, no? Since I came across photos of the place on Google Earth, I've wanted to go and visit. The fact that it is a Bektashi teqe made all the difference, too, as it the buildings belong to my religious community.

But the Sunni Muslim majority in the country want to tear down these buildings and build a 'mega-mosque' on the site instead; something totally unnecessary in a town with 24 mosques already. But Macedonian law recognizes only one religious organization per religious community, and it chooses to recognize the Islamic Community of Macedonia - all Sunni - and not my community, the Shi'i Bektashi.

Never mind the fact that it recognizes Roman Catholics and Macedonian Orthodox, rather than just one 'Christian' community.

My willingness to jump into the fray and do whatever I can to try to save the teqe has pushed me into some sort of ad hoc leadership role in the fight for the teqe. Some friends have been requesting the chance to bring Alevi supporters down from Germany to physically throw the Sunni invaders out of the teqe, but I have been trying to insist on a more Gandhian approach. Most of the invaders are young, poor, unemployed ethnic-minority Albanians - people without power, looking for people with less power to bully around, in an attempt to feel big about themselves. They're just puppets, really, of the Islamic Community of Macedonia in their bid to gain unfettered control over the entire Muslim community in Macedonia.

Meanwhile, the Slavic, Christian Macedonian majority is unwilling to interfere. Of course not: this is a squabble between Albanians and Albanians, Muslims and Muslims - the minority fighting with itself, leaving the majority to consolidate it's power.

The international community is no more open to helping. With the legal situation in limbo, journalists have no interest in it. Macedonia's relative stability by comparison with the rest of the Balkans has earned it favorable reports from the U.S. and E.U., and the country will likely reap the reward of NATO membership early next month. The U.S. Ambassador has, meanwhile, diplomatically refused to meet with the Bektashi community spokespeople - a shameful shunning on her part.

All of which leaves my little community with no real friends. I am trying to generate an interest in the Alevi diaspora community, as they share many features of Bektashi belief and are likewise shunned by the Muslim majorities, but running into a language barrier. I am remiss to appeal to traditional Twelver Shi'a in the United States, Iran, Lebanon or the like out of fear that doing so will either replace armed Sunnis with armed Shi'a, or that it will result in a violent confrontation. The Bektashi community appears to have asked that a non-violent solution be found, and I am in total agreement with them on this. The invaders may take our teqe, but we are refusing to let them take our honor.

They do seem to be taking our hope from us, though. Apart from my Macedonian counterpart and I, we seem to be poor on pure gumption.

So... I guess I'm turning here for some help, as well. I know that there may be a few Quakerly types who read this blog; can I appeal to that of God in you to lend a hand? We do not ask much: we are trying to organize an appeal to an authority, any authority that will listen, and all we are asking for that authority to do is to help us get our teqe back, and pressure the Macedonian government to grant us our autonomy as a religious sect.

It's weird; I've never been much for political activism. Yet here I am.

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