Free Kurdistan

"Do you know that your son is going to Iraq?" That was only comment I remember emerging from the fug of a hangover this past Christmas. It was made by my older half-sister to our father with the hush-hush travel … Read More

By / March 26, 2007

"Do you know that your son is going to Iraq?" That was only comment I remember emerging from the fug of a hangover this past Christmas. It was made by my older half-sister to our father with the hush-hush travel plans that I'd just confided in her. Going to K-stan is a major goal of mine, and if I can scrounge up the scratch and rolling freelance opportunities, I plan to make good on it by next fall.

How batpiss insane must I be to want to visit the north of a country on the verge of civil war and where Muslims are daily being beheaded, let alone atheist Jewish Micks from New York?

Well, Hitch took his kid to Kurdistan this past holiday season and a good time was had by all. As Michael Totten has been chronicling for some time, cities like Erbil, Dohuk and Sulemaniah are ever-expanding metropolises with booming real estate markets, shopping malls, universities, and excellent opportunities for foreign investment. A democratic statelet cordoned off from Saddam Hussein's horrific dominion after the first Gulf War, Kurdistan is — or should be — a major tourist attraction for Westerners curious about what a microcosm of secularism, pluralism and peace might look like in today's Middle East. Why aren't more leftists taking up this theme as one of a failed war's only redeeming qualities? 

The Kurds are the largest nationality in the world without a state of their own. The King of Bahrain has, in effect, his own seat at the United Nations, but the 25 million or so Kurds do not. This is partly because they are cursed by geography, with their ancestral lands located at the point where the frontiers of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria converge. It would be hard to imagine a less promising neighborhood for a political experiment. In Iraq, the more than four million Kurds make up just under a quarter of the population. The proportion in Turkey is more like 20 percent, in Iran 10 percent, and in Syria perhaps nine. For centuries, this people's existence was folkloric and marginal, and confined to what one anthropologist called "the Lands of Insolence": the inaccessible mountain ranges and high valleys that bred warriors and rebels. A fierce tribe named the Karduchoi makes an appearance in Xenophon's history of the events of 400 B.C. Then there is mainly silence until a brilliant Kurdish commander named Salah al-Din (Saladin to most) emerges in the 12th century to unite the Muslim world against the Crusaders. He was born in Tikrit, later the hometown of Saddam Hussein. This is apt, because Saddam actually was the real father of Kurdish nationhood. By subjecting the Kurds to genocide he gave them a solidarity they had not known before, and compelled them to create a fierce and stubborn Resistance, with its own discipline and army. By laying waste to their ancient villages and farms, furthermore, he forced them into urban slums and refugee centers where they became more integrated, close-knit, and socialized: historically always the most revolutionary point in the emergence of any nationalism.

Courage and stoicism in the face of historic omni-national betrayals (continuing to the present day) attending a collective philo-Americanism not seen in Israel, England or France… What's not to love about the Kurds? 

Actually, plenty, if the only people without a homeland you're concerned about is the Palestinians.

In the wake of all this recrudescent AIPAC nonsense, it's occurred to me that much of the selective and exclusive condemnation of Israel is not rooted in antisemitism but a kind of denatured inverse of it: the high expectation people have for Jews to do the right thing all the time. (A corollary of condescension is the free pass Muslims have to kill civilians in the name of social injustice, which, when such a pass is not taken advantage of, is so unexpected as to precipitate no comment from "activist" types who can rationalize anything else away.)

Those who argue that history's perennial victims, the Jews, have now become "aggressors" are really saying, "We knew they had it in them all along. Now it's time to catch them up to the empowered bad guy status the rest of us having been enjoying forever."

This turns the antique Jewish Question into a fetish that's not quite as pathological as antisemitism, but not quite as objective as universalism, either.

The Kurds are a standing rebuke to the notion that grievously maltreated Muslims cannot soldier on without resorting to suicide-murders or the election of fascistic religious parties that promise civil services at the price of civil liberties. The left is scandalized by the persistence of the Kurds for the same reason it's dejected about the plight of the Palestinians. If only another Halabja were still possible, and if only Saddam were still in power, then protesting crimes against humanity while proposing to do nothing about ending them would be a no-brainer. You might then even see a banner or two in the streets of New York, Paris and London that read, "Free Kurdistan."

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