Politics, The World

The politics my parents gave me are painfully imperfect

At first, I didn't understand why my classmate instantly became so defensive whenever Kurdistan was brought up.

Our parents can give us a lot of things – a home, a sense of belonging, bushy eyebrows. We are lucky to have those things, especially the eyebrows.

But our parents also give us – sometimes, burden us with – expectations, assumptions and beliefs that aren’t necessarily valid. It’s not just religion, although religion can be part of that.

Politically, our parents and communities often pass on a sense of what is right, how the world should look like, and why that’s so.

I didn’t start to seriously think about this until my senior year in college, when I was taking a course about political transformations in the Middle East. One of my classmates was Kurdish. She was a very nice girl, but she became very defensive whenever the subject of the Kurds or Kurdistan was brought up.

At first, I didn’t get it. At that point I really didn’t know much about the Kurdish issue other than that there was a Kurdish issue, largely surrounding the formation of a Kurdish state. But her opinions and insight in the class piqued my curiosity, and I later wrote a paper on the formation of the Iraqi federal state, taking the chance to research the history of the Kurds and their struggle for independence.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but essentially, the Kurds were supposed to get their own state in the 1920s, when the Middle East was being divided up between Britain and France. Not surprisingly, their aspirations were run over by the bulldozer of colonialism, and the traditional lands of the Kurds were divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Since then, the Kurds have had it rough. Actually, that’s an understatement. As post-colonial states in the region attempted to build strong central governments, their emphasis on national identity meant that the Kurds were viewed as dangerous outsiders in lands they’d lived in for centuries. The result: uprisings, revolts, and lots of violence and bloodshed.

There were and continue to be lots of political issues that make the question of Kurdish independence a contentious one, not least of which is oil, but with Syria and Iraq collapsing under the weight of battling ISIS, the Kurds have developed a strong, successful government, particularly in Iraq, and their Peshmerga forces are on the front lines of the fight against ISIS. Their aspiration for independence have not been quashed, and not they actually have the means to make that dream a reality.

I don’t agree with the 20th century ideal of a state for every nation, but when I examine the history I can understand why so many Kurds feel that they are deserving of an independent state – if I were Kurdish, I would probably feel the same way. As a supporter of the Palestinian cause, I also see a lot of parallels: broken promises, decades under oppressive rule, violence – on both sides, undeniably, but established states have a much greater capacity to wreak destruction (one of the academic definitions of a state is that it has the monopoly of violence.

As an Arab, however, I feel like a traitor for even imagining a world where chunks of Arab countries are loped off to make a Kurdish state. Especially when you’re talking about Syria and Iraq, two of the largest Arab countries and powerhouses when it came to establishing the concept of Arab nationalism – the Ba’ath party, which ruled in both countries, was an Arab nationalist party.

It’s strange, because I don’t associate with Arab nationalism as an ideal or a philosophy, and yet I have sort of inherited a predisposition towards it from my parents, who grew up in during the height of Arab nationalist sentiment. Although both my parents are largely disillusioned by the concept now, some of the basic ideas have filtered through to me in a way, ethereal ideas of unity of purpose that mostly manifest themselves in moral support and a sense of a broader community. It’s definitely not a passionate, flag-waving, face-painting kind of belief, but it’s there, like an old piece of furniture that you don’t really notice until someone moves it, and then you find yourself disproportionately offended.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I think – no one’s asking for my opinion. And there’s still a lot of political complications – Kurds in Syria, for example, say they are content with an autonomous region within the country, and Kurds in Turkey have made major political gains. But it’s something I think about when I read the news. I wonder, vaguely, how I’ll feel if Kurdish independence comes to fruition in the coming years. Probably, I will be both happy for the Kurds’ accomplishment, and sad that it could only be achieved through the breakdown of Arab countries. Ultimately, what is truly depressing is that so much has had to go so badly for so long because we couldn’t learn to live together.