Monday, August 11, 2014

Kurdish Katch-22

Just the other day, I received the following email:
I don’t actually read your blog, but here’s a good topic if you’re willing to take a break from Hamas and Israel.
from the NY Times: U.S. Jets and Drones Attack Militants in Iraq, Hoping to Stop Advance
So we dropped some more bombs in Iraq last night.. the article itself isn’t anything you haven’t heard on the radio already. The Times picks comments make me sad though – very split between doing nothing and doing more.  Do we let the IS run amuck in the region and keep killing everyone or start in with our forces again?  There’s no real good answer here.
My correspondent is correct, of course. There is no real good answer here. A whole lotta new questions, but not one comes with an answer. 

Caught in the middle of the Middle East, and with much too much exposure in this game of drones, the Kurds are getting it from all sides. They are not their own masters. There never was a single country called Kurdistan…it started with a bunch of small principalities, grew into an amalgam of emirates usually under the “influence” of a caliph-type overlord, and eventually a few bigger states. But endless war took its toll, and by the end of the 16th century, the country was divided up and taken over by the Safavids (Persians) and the Ottomans (Turkey.) Now, that area straddles Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Armenia. Despite their regional, religious, and cultural differences, the Kurds considered themselves Kurds and dreamed of being in charge of their own land. 

The jihadists fight under the banner of ISIS/ISIL:The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq / The Islamic State of Syria, Iraq, and the Levant. The group goes after the smaller, more diverse ethnic populations with a convert-or-die position. One group, the Yezidi, are clinging to the top of a mountain trying to escape. Some who remained in hiding below have been airlifted out, but the ones on the mountain are dying from hunger, thirst, and exposure.

While the attention of the world was focused on other battles in the Middle East, ISIS/ISIL were marking the doors of non-Sunnis and targeting them for death. There is substantial photographic evidence of crucifixions, beheadings, point- blank executions, and other barbaric practices that are impossible to fathom in the 21st century.

My mind keeps cycling back to gas chambers. And ovens. And mass graves. And silence. The world was very silent when news of the Final Solution emerged from Germany. There was no outcry protesting the murder of Jews at the beginning…or the middle, for that matter…except from other Jews. In America, we have  louder voice, but not loud enough to get President Roosevelt to let the passengers of the St. Louis disembark in the United States. On June 6th, 1939, the St. Louis sailed back to Germany.

Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor and outspoken foe of Hitler, is best remembered for a little poem he wrote. That poem has morphed into a thousand memes, but the original is quite succinct and sufficient:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Folks, I get the part about not getting in the middle of a civil war. I get the part about Muslim v. Muslim violence is a whole ‘nother bag of crazy. And I get the part about not getting in the middle of another Middle East debacle. I get all that and I pretty much agree with the “no boots on the ground” thinking. But how do we sit here in silence and let the Kurds die the same way the world let us die? How do we not get involved? We are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

My correspondent was spot on when he said, “There’s no good answer here.” There isn’t. As the governments try to navigate the morass, the one thing we can do is NOT be silent. 

6,000,000 Jews died because the world was silent when people were needed to stand up to genocide. Now, it’s our turn to stand up to be counted in the quest to get the would-be victims out of harm’s way. 

NEVER AGAIN applies to everybody.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If your neighbor refuses to stand up to genocide, make sure you do enough standing up for three people. A little extra never hurt. 


  1. The world’s silence was deafening when Iraq gassed Halabja in the 80’s. Condemnation eventually came in 2003 when it suited George W. Bush to cite yet another reason why the U.S. should invade Iraq, aside from capturing all those nasty WMD’s, of course. But, until then, America didn’t really care. The international community was pretty mute as well. Saddam Hussein was at war with Iran at the time and used gas in Kurdish regions of Iran. While he was at it, he thought he may as well gas his own Kurds to put down a pesky band of insurgents. When the U.N. eventually got around to condemning the gas attacks, the Reagan administration insisted Iran be included in the censure, by golly. Saddam was no boy scout, but at the time Iran was the Evil Empire du jour of the region. Meanwhile, Saddam’s chemicals killed over 100,000 Kurdish civilians.

  2. Silent=No Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
    Released in 2009: I'll See You in New York City


  3. This is one of the situations where we need to set aside politics and do the right thing. Unfortunately, in today’s America, that is nearly impossible to do. Not that it has been easier in the past – Roosevelt didn’t quickly attack German to save the Jews, and modern administrations haven’t acted quickly to stop atrocities in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe or elsewhere.
    But really, must politics overwhelm every decision? Can’t we do the right thing because it’s right? Apparently not. POTUS clearly does not want to go back into Iraq, no matter what shape or form the engagement may take, but he’s doing something. Would he have taken action earlier or done more if it weren’t for the politics? Maybe.
    There are those on the Right who say we should be doing MUCH more in Iraq. Whatever Obama says, we need to do a lot more than that. Do they espouse those positions because they believe in them? Or are they simply trying to position themselves opposite their political adversaries?
    We need statesmen and women who will do the right thing because it’s right. Not because of the polls or the PACs. Unfortunately, “politician” is now a career, not a description of a person. A politician should be someone of honor with morals and values that a majority of the people trust. He or she should be able to vote their conscience and know that they can stand up and explain why they took action and believe that people will support them. Politics should be a higher calling, but alas that is not the world we live in. A lot has to change for us to get to that point. Today, people become politicians which means they don’t make a move without looking at the polls, considering the election consequences and tweeting about what they did and the outrageous actions of their opponents.
    Perhaps we can change campaign finance laws and make some ground. Maybe term limits will get people into the politics because they want to help and allow them to act based upon what they think is right and not what they think will get them elected. It’s a lot of pie in the sky, big ideas that aren’t likely to go anywhere quickly. So, all that’s left is to watch situations spiral until the brink of horror and hope that someone is willing to cross the line and act. Those that pray, please do so. Those that don’t, keep space in your thoughts.
    This is our world. Unfortunately, running it has become a game.

    1. I wish I knew what the right thing was.

      Had we armed the rebels against Assad, we would have unknowingly been arming the group that has become ISIS. The US and other allies provided billions of dollars in aid and supplies for the development of the economy and infrastructure for Gaza...and that money and supplies were never used for the Palestinian people, but for the tunnels and bomb storage bunkers. Is humanitarian aid enough? Even that is not guaranteed to reach the neediest.

      But you are dead to rights about leadership. It's not something we have a lot of these days because it's hard to lead when you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

      It's hard to develop leaders when just being one requires one compromise his/her values every time one accepts a campaign donation. The money has become the root of all evil and there ain't no one out there that can do a thing about it when SCOTUS supports big money funding. It erodes the very base of democracy when buying power is political capital.

      If you figure out _what_ the right thing is, let me know.

  4. WP,
    Like you I admire the Kurds & can't help sympathizing with their predicament & aspirations for nationhood. At the same time I believe that such Wilsonian (WW1 14 points) thinking is the root of the problem in the middle east (& elsewhere). No matter where we draw those pesky lines there will always be minorities within them & unless they learn to respect cultural, ethnic & religious diversity these problems will persist. I think President Obama knows this too. We cannot impose these principles on other people especially when we are still struggling with the same matters ourselves (e.g. Ferguson).

    In Yorkshire, England, where I come from originally, there is an old saying: "If in doubt - do nowt (nothing)". Sometimes, doing nothing is the correct course of action & the most difficult. Obama is not a Kenyan, he is a Yorkshireman. It is a pity his predecessor & Tony Blair were not also. In this whole mess, the targeted strikes on ISIS have been the first clear opportunity to do something.

    As an aside, I have always found it ironic, that Saladin, one of the most revered heroes of Arabia, was himself a Kurd.

    I enjoy your thoughts.