Sunday, February 17, 2008

Is this true?

If Kosovo declares its independence today, I think it will bring into existence the first majority-Muslim European* state since the end of the Spanish Reconquest in the 15th century. Bosnia is plurality but not majority Muslim; in Albania proper, a majority are avowed atheists.

I know that the late 19th-century Balkans saw a number of new independent states as Ottoman power gradually crumbled, but I don't think any of these were ever majority-Muslim.

If true, this seems to me noteworthy-- a sign of European and human progress. The Battle of Vienna wasn't so terribly long ago. The idea that some European states would fight for the freedom of a Muslim people on European soil would have been unthinkable for centuries; one of the defining facts about "Europe" as a cultural and political space was that it wasn't Islamic.

NB: This does not mean that I think anyone should proceed with anything other than the greatest caution right now. Kosovo should be independent, but then so should Taiwan; and sometimes there may be a legitimate place for deference to the views of a local great power, even if those views themselves are illegitimate. Even if the western states all recognize Kosovo immediately, they should view that as the beginning of ongoing negotiations with Serbia and Russia, not the end of them.

*Yes, for these purposes I exclude Turkey or the Ottoman Empire from being a European state.