The Official Soundtrack of Kurdish Independence

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It looks like we’re about to have a new state on this planet soon – an independent Kurdistan. It’s not going to happen in a couple of days, but it could happen quicker than you think.

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The Iraqi Ship is sinking. Cartoon by The Economist.

Now Iraq, as a state, is falling apart already. What is known as ISIS (they have now changed their name to IS for ‘Islamic State’), has taken over a significant portion of Sunni Iraq. In the meantime, Iraqi flags are no longer flying in the northern Kurdish part of the soon-to-be-excountry. The Kurds who have had a semi-autonomous region to begin with want a referendum soon.

With Turkey in favor of Kurdish independence (which was pretty unlikely for a very long time), Israel and the US will follow giving support, too. By the look and smell of it, Kurdistan will be a reality, sooner than we all expected.
As a Kurd myself, I am extremely thrilled about these new happenings. To think that the world is now collectively debating Kurdish sovereignty, this was on top of most Kurd’s wish lists for too many Christmases.

Speaking of lists…

Watching and reading the news lately for me feels like a Thriller, a dramedy (drama coupled with comedy) and sometimes a romance, too. If I were to make a movie out of what’s been happening, to explain to you clearly, Westerner, what really is happening, this is the track list of the official soundtrack of Kurdish Independence. I put it into a Spotify list for you to subscribe to it.

Let me justify my selection by commenting on the tracklist:

(Hint: I took lyrics that fit and put them in Italic or in direct speech)

1) Destiny’s Child – Bills, Bills, Bills: Kurdistan realized, it needs someone to help it out, instead of a scrub like Maliki, who don’t know what a man’s about.

2) Frank Ocean – Bad Religion: ISIS came, wanted to convince the Kurds, they’re the better custodians of the Kurdish land: “Allahu Akbar”. Kurdistan said: “Don’t curse me.”

3) Disclosure – When a Fire Starts to Burn: Kurds know how to play this game because “when a fire starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread, she gon’ bring that attitude home”. They know, they have to be quick now.

4) Jazmine Sullivan – 10 Seconds: So, the Kurds started to really become determined and angry at what was happening all of a sudden. It was enough. Enough was enough. “You really should look for an exit, ’cause you’re running out of time. You know that I can get crazy. When I go off, ain’t nobody to tame me”, Barzani told to Maliki.

5) Eamon – F**k it: Barzani continues, “F**k what I said, it don’t mean shit now. F**k the presents, might as well throw ’em out.”

6) Medina – Lonely: “I guess I have to admit, I was afraid to end up lonely”, he says and wishes for him to feel lonely from now on.

7) David Guetta – Love is Gone: It really is gone. Nobody can’t “deny that simple truth” now.

8) Gotye feat. Kimbra – Somebody That I used to Know: The whole world is now remembering how it was like when Iraq was still together. A real couple. Political commenters were kind of addicted to a “certain kind of sadness”. With the recent numbers of death due to terrorist attacks in Iraq, everybody’s kind of “glad that it is over”.

9) Puff Daddy feat. Rick Ross & French Montana – Big Homie: They’re all glad because Kurdistan is kind of a ‘big homie’. You can go to any hood, everyone now knows about Kurdistan because they be calling all the shots.

10) Kanye West – Stronger: Kurdistan knows it really is stronger. After all what’s happened, all the political oppression, they can’t wait for this referendum to happen soon enough. Everyone’s chanting: “I need you to hurry up now, ’cause I can’t wait much longer.”

11) Miley Cyrus – We Can’t Stop: Because then, they can do whatever they want with the oil money they sit on. “This is our house, this is our rules and we can’t stop”, Barzani reassures.

12) Christina Aguilera – Fighter: Really, ISIS, Kurds are thankful for the opportunity you gave them. After all what you pulled them through, you think the Peshmergas would despise you, but in the end, you made Kurds so much stronger, you made them work a little bit harder and a little bit faster in pursuing independence.

13) Nas – I Can: “I know I can be what I wanna be if I work hard at it, I’ll be where I wanna be”, this mantra has almost been forgotten in the Kurdish political arena. All these years, they’ve been trying to move towards independence but unfortunately efforts didn’t result in successes. Now, things look different and Nas was right after all.

14) Valerie June – Wanna Be On Your Mind: Now, Kurdistan wants to be independent, be its own state. And to the international community it sings: “Wanna be on your mind, stay there all the time, you can call my name!” And the name is Kurdistan.

Here is the complete Spotify list, enjoy!

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Poison Penmanship and Politics: Twitter and The Armchair Activist

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The ever growing number of online freedom fighters has been an issue since the advent of the notorious Kony campaign by Invisible Children. At first impression, you must be wondering why it would even be an issue. Why would the increase in conscious citizens using Twitter to tackle real world issues be an issue? Romance.

Freedom fighting has often been romanticised as something heroic and courageous, filled with grit and bloodshed, something noble. The camaraderie, the union of men and women bound by oppression and fighting for a single ideal, freedom. Now this may be a cinematic description of what the Syrian rebels or PKK soldiers may be doing but nonetheless it paints a picture that does not exist. Now I do not doubt nor am I talking ill of those around the world in these political positions – however the fusion of the Internet and the romance of anti-establishment has created a new battleground for these online Guevara-influenced guerillas.

Social media was at the forefront of the Arab Spring and the ones I speak of bear no resemblance to them. I am talking about those who tweet excerpts of The 48 Laws of Power, nationalistic views and the odd picture of Karl Marx or Fidel Castro smoking a cigar with an abstract comment like “the ashes fall like my comrades in battle”. For the readers who get the impression I am a right wing nut with a disdain for anything red or left – no, I am quite the opposite. I was born and bred in London to Kurdish refugee parents. I’ve been submerged in politics, completely out of my control, since I can remember. Now rather than parade what I believe in and what I have learnt, the point I am making is that these armchair activists take themselves too seriously and honestly believe they are waging a necessary war via the Internet.

One click of a hashtag on Twitter and you are sent into a warzone of regurgitated facts and angry polemicists seemingly trying to build a nation with 140 characters. The romance of it attracts the superficial ones. Some do like being oppressed, most may not know it but they are driven by it, they like fighting for a cause and without it, feel redundant. So what do they do? They fight fire with fire. An endless war that they initially tried to end by taking up arms online and as a result they unknowingly become a victim of their own circumstance. The oppressed and oppressors are no different in this case, just two sides of the same coin. For people who are supposed to believe in the welfare of mankind and basic human rights, they are very quick to incite violence on their oppressors or those who disagree with them.

Now I get the same response over and over: “They’re raising awareness, it counts for something”. Yes it does but where does awareness end and action begin? The internet is a great tool and a great tool must be utilised, it is not intended to just add ease. It is easy to tweet a 140 character war cry from your armchair. However, I am not suggesting you get the next flight to Tibet and spearhead an independence movement. My intention is for you to be critical of superficial tendencies that get in the way of something so integral as peace and safety for your neighbour.

There is an undeniable romantic appeal towards freedom fighters and anti-establishment. As a result, people become so concerned with the supposed flashy and glamourous life of a guerilla. They do not act like thinkers and builders on Twitter. They act like the very same soldiers they “fight” against. Thus the internet is another battlefield and everyone is equipped with weapons ranging from Twitter to Facebook. People need to understand that the revolution will not be Youtube-d. Actually, it already has.

Why I Love Studying Political Science

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My job and interest require me to read a lot on Iraq. As the 10th anniversary of the war came and went, concluding, apologetic and criticising articles, essays, opinions and let’s-take-a-look-at-what-we’ve-done-heres dominated the internet press. I read so many of them, I’d dare to say that I read them all.

Like Jennifer Rubin, I was surprised by the lack of effort on the part of those who backed the Iraq War to defend it, but I was probably more baffled by the amount of confidence with which the authors answered the most interesting question of the last decade: “Was it worth it?”

A general view of Firdous Square at the site of an Associated Press photograph taken by Jerome Delay. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

4 400 Americans died while the Iraq Body Count documented Iraqi Civilian deaths up to 122 326 until now. But does this answer the question? It would have maybe, if the world didn’t wage wars in the first place. We did and that means, we expect death. Anti-war protestors are rarely represented in a government that is prone to waging wars. They are more likely to be thought of as endlessly bickering about petty and trivial questions such as “Do we really need violence?”

But if our conscience doesn’t have an answer, what can possibly tell us if we’ve done right or wrong? How do we measure its worth – the success of a war?

We measure success by our own motives, more concretely: we compare the current outcome to goals which we’ve set at the very starting point and then we take a look at how similar they are. A lot of people waged the Iraq War and they had many motives, too. Some were known, others not so much. But that is collateral, in this post. To fully grasp the responses to the 10th anniversary, I took the liberty to divide them into two motives groups: (1) Bush administration and defenders and (2) Bush administration critics.

Group (1), as Rubin already stated, was surprisingly silent. You might ask, what could they possibly say?

Saddam Is Here, Jamal Penjweny 2010, http://www.jamalpenjweny.com

Group (2) would probably argue, group (1) had a lot to say back then and no time to answer to accusations of mendacity. Bush administration critics love to criticise not only the entire government and most of its officials. The entire society is to be blamed here, too. Because, yes, back then, willingness to resist the stampede for war was dire and the public debate was practically non-existent. There is a lot to be criticised, indeed. Iraq was a strategic disaster, it was a financial disaster, and for far too many it was a human and humanitarian disaster.  Yes, yes, yes, the intelligence was faulty, the pundit class failed, Judith Miller was wrong, and the New York Times screwed up.  In short, a lot of  “I supported the Iraq war, and I’m sorry.”  and “Look at that mess”.  (Even though not everyone thought invading Iraq was a good idea. In September 2002, thirty-three senior scholars who specialize in security affairs published a quarter-page ad on the New York Times op-ed page, declaring, “War with Iraq is Not in America’s National Interest.” (You can read the original ad here. Walt and Mearsheimer also put out a Foreign Policy piece against the war in January 2003.)

Critics certainly outweigh the defenders, that means, the war must have been wrong, right?

I don’t know. I was born in Iraq, I grew up there until I was ten, and I still have family left in the northern autonomous region, Kurdistan. I can’t tell you if it was worth it, unnecessary or – especially because I’m Kurdish – an act of liberation or not. Maybe I’m speechless because I don’t think wars are ever worth it, necessary or liberating, because I had no authority, power or enough information to wage this war, on any side of the equation, and unlike authors of all the articles I gave you to read, I didn’t have a motive. In my four years of studying Political Science, I found it troubling that so many people can have such big opinions, regardless of their expertise. But this is exactly why I loved studying it so meticulously: reading the news is like reading the psychology of politics.

Why memoirs are no autobiographies

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Studying politics ruins reading books for you because just about anything has to be interpreted in the light of the social and political circumstances of the surroundings.

One of the deficits of research on interwar Iraq, for example, is that most studies rely on records in Western, mainly British and American, and also a few German and Italian archives. Why? Not because Iraqis didn’t know or didn’t have the time to write, it is because Middle Eastern memoir literature is doubted to have the same interpretative character as autobiographies in the West. (Thanks to Edward Said for this ugly orientalism.)

It is self-evident that the information from personal memories cannot be taken at face value, which holds true for both Western and Middle Eastern memories. Literary studies teach readers to distinguish clearly between the author, the narrator, and the subject of narration. The author and the reader enter a pact, a ‘let’s pretend’, in order to provide the illusion of confidence in the information given. Hence, autobiographies and, less obviously, memoirs remain a construct.

They are essentially narratives with no direct claim to “truth”. Every statement by an autobiographer is made in a framework of contemporary discourse and has to be interpreted, as I said, in the light of the social and political circumstances of the surroundings. Many factors such as age, new experiences, and the confrontation with new socio-political demands make the individual filter, reassemble, and adapt remembered images according to “modern” requirements. Memoirs serve to explain the course of events up to the “now”-time, in an apologetic and affirmative manner. Shared memories create identities, and vice versa, adopted identities shape, if not even create, memories. As far as individual memories of incidents are concerned, they tell more about the quality of experience rather than about facts. The emphasis on specific topics, the narrative structure, as well as the occurrence of allusions and associations give hints at the perceived importance of the impression left by a certain experience at a certain time. Memoirs are written in the light of what happened afterward rather than of what happened before. Hence, the single account mirrors the whole. Furthermore, autobiographers can follow a didactical intention which is implicit in the process of singling out one’s own life to be worthwhile for public inspection: to set any sort of example. In the light of these assessments, it is hard to classify which of the texts treated in any kind of study on a subject, or even for yourself, would be a memoir and which would be a full-fledged autobiography with a high self-reflective value.

This classification is extremely important as it sometimes decides on a nation’s image to people not reading its own national literature but rely on international authors and reporters to give them a full view on things and positions.

There have been some grave decisions made on nation’s images throughout human history. Because there are not enough English books written by different perspectives. I call that ‘bad marketing’ for each nation. Let’s continue with our example:

Iraq has forever been linked with totalitarianism throughout the Nazi period in Germany. And this grave, very very bad image was very hard to rebut since ‘all’ research alluded to its truth. With Western media to draw conclusions only from Western authors, it is particularly difficult for anyone interested to find out about the ‘truth’, or the other sides of the story, as I call it.

What is fact though, is that Arabs, here: Iraqis were pro-fascist. In the Iraqi debate, images of leadership, references to a mythical past and subordination of the individual sounded quite fascist to British and US beholders in the wider framework of suspicions about a spread of fascism. For instance, the US Ambassador Knabenshue back then described a youth rally in January 1939 and reported home that the new Minister of Education, Salih Jabr, had given a speech ‘from a platform surrounded by microphones and with ‘other trappings familar to similar meetings in Germany and Italy.'” This quote in itself has no information value about Jabr’s intentions in the use of these signs or about the meaning that the audience attributed to the scenery. The quote only indicates that the event reminded Knabenshue of fascist practices. Nevertheless, quotes like this were used to prove that Iraqi Arab nationalism of the time was close to Nazism – when in fact, Germany was only one point of reference among many, many others in the nationalists’ discourse.

Also, what was their nationalist discourse for? They were pro-fascist to gain anti-imperialist support from their enemy'(Britain had occupied Iraq in that time)’s enemy (Germany & Italy). For them, being pro-fascist was a fashion, and their ideological commitment was superficial. But you don’t hear about these things, usually. Not if you don’t dig deep enough, that is.

If you study politics, history, sociology, it is imperative to take a look at the second narrative, always. The way knowledge is ordered and put into a hierarchy is ridiculous business, and I shall write about that in my next post.

But know this:

There is always another side to everything.