Monday, May 19, 2008

Hot-sour-chilly religious chorba

A very old topic returns to people’s attention creating a vary kind of provocation and some degree of irritation

By Gjergj Erebara in Tirana

Ben Blushi, 39, is a journalist turned politician and now, had presented itself as a novelist. As a politician and journalist since 1991, had never blow up such debates as he have done with its first novel, “Living in the Island”. The book have caused fervor debates during last weeks in Albania, attracting critics, offenses, eulogies and praises, not only by them who had read the book, but also (and almost) by them who have not read it.

The topic chosen by Mr. Blushi is the conversion of Albanians from Christian to Muslims during the Ottoman rule of the country.

Albanians are oversensitive on this topic. There are some widespread believes that the country had remained slack-backed because of Turkish rule and that conversion to Muslims had created slacker peoples, bribes culture ecc. A lot of intellectuals are openly worried about conversion. Some of them believe that Albanians should change religion again and that these peoples cannot be Europeans and Muslims at the same time. Some goes beyond the intellectual thinking of what is good and what is bad. One of those, the painter Maks Velo, wrote in the daily Shekulli at 2006: “Those who descend from the traitors of the Nation, [Muslims] should shut up now”. Another had been push under formal investigation for “religious offences”.

The book of Mr. Blushi contains some details that can be considered offensive against Muslims, but it is also balanced in terms of violence described as exerted by Christians and Muslims as well. “If all humanity will have the daily life of animals, they will be all Muslims”, Mr. Blushi puts in the mouth of Ibrahim, (in absence of his Christian name) the Christian farmer converted to Muslim “to chance it”. Blushi wrote also that Christian highlanders burned houses of Muslims and raped their children “to save Christianity”.

The most important TV-shows had organized debates about the book and Ottoman rule. Some Muslim organizations declared that they feel offended. Panorama daily newspaper wrote an article that the author of the book and Arjan Cani have received a letter containing threats from Muslim extremists. Mr. Cani is presenter of the most popular TV-Show in the country and a fervor supporter of the book. Shpetim Nazarko wrote at daily Shqip in the response of Mr. Blushi’s book: “Is seems to me a flat joke, Blushi”, concluding that “Albanians had not suffered because of changing religion but because they are ruled by a crowd of political gangsters who steals their country continuously and snigger with the tragedies created by themselves”. Mr. Nazarko is a publisher and a columnist in Tirana.

Mr. Blushi’s book dealt with any kind of popular and historical beliefs about why Albanians have not a medieval nationhood, why they had not schools, why they have changed religion and about the consequences. Much question and a great one: Why Albania is an undeveloped country today? But since 90% of the Nations in the world are considered, undeveloped countries, the questions sound me like: Why Albania is not the center of the world?!

It is a nice book at all, and tense discussions were partly caused by media oversimplifications.

At TV Klan, historians, writers and representatives of Muslims discussed about the book. Most of them declared that have not read the book but they can discus about the issues raised by the book. The supporters of Mr. Blushi were also eager to create hot discussions so they were part of this oversimplification. This had created a strange environment. Mr. Blushi’s character, Ibrahim, who has been the first in his village to change religion, had been secluded by the rest of the village. No one had asked him why had changed, but was seen as pestilence and was isolated in his home, living in an island. This gives the idea of Albanians who lives now in a Muslim Island surrounded by a Christian Sea. Now, is Mr. Blushi itself “Living in Island” surrounded by critics and fierce supporters of religious tolerance in Albania?

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