Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2015

A trend I’ve noticed is that pro-Kurdish Americans tend to be right-wingers, often neo-cons, but never leftists or even centrists. Spengler and secular Iranian in exile Ami Taheri are just two examples of broadly “conservative” intellectuals who have recently written in favor of an American-backed Kurdish state.

Standing godfather to Kurdistan would of course mean creating another “banana republic without the bananas,” as Spengler enjoys saying.  A prudent Daniel Larison puts it this way: “A landlocked state whose independence would be opposed to one degree or another by its most important neighbors is not likely to be a very successful one, and in that case it would probably become a dysfunctional international or U.S. ward.” Larison then notes the terrible track record that America has in gifting “freedom fighters” with their own independent states:

Westerners have tended to pay little or no attention to the countries they have helped to create once independence has been achieved, which leaves the people in those countries at the mercy of their local rulers, and those rulers are usually much more authoritarian and abusive than they were made out to be during the earlier fight for independence. Those leaders are portrayed romantically as “freedom fighters” when they’re out of power, and then they prove to be heavy-handed and thuggish once they control their own government. Kosovo and South Sudan both stand out as examples of what can become of such countries whose independence the U.S. made possible. Eritrea is another experiment in self-determination that resulted in the creation of an awful authoritarian state. It’s possible that an independent Kurdistan would end up being better off than any of those, but that isn’t saying much and it isn’t a reassuring track record.

However, as Larison himself admits, Kurdistan might in fact turn out to be a special case. Why?

~~~

To answer that question, it helps to look historically at America’s position on Kurdish nationalists and an independent Kurdish state. It’s a complicated history, to be sure, but longtime war correspondent Greg Myre condenses it nicely:

If the U.S. is friendly toward a government (think Turkey), then it doesn’t support that country’s Kurdish nationalists. If the U.S. despises a government (think Saddam’s Iraq), then it sympathizes with that country’s Kurds. One exception was Syria, where the U.S. didn’t like the government or the Kurds.

In other words, the Kurds are stateless rabble-rousers whose rabble-rousing can either benefit or challenge the hegemony of American allies and of American influence. Their rabble-rousing (and manpower) was useful in Saddam’s Iraq but continues to be hazardous in Erdogan’s Turkey.

So what is the ideological tenor of that rabble-rousing?

The Kurds are an Iranian ethnicity who speak an Iranic language, but  unlike the Iranians, they seem to embrace their own secularism rather than hide it behind a fiercely theocratic veil. In fact, the main reason why America has been slow to support Kurdish nationalism is that historically its most ardent supporters have been an insurgent secular leftist group in Turkey known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK in their native tongue). Here is Wik on Turkey’s Kurdish nationalists:

The organization originated in the 1970s from the radical left and drew its leaders, members from other existing leftist groups . . .  The organization initially presented itself as part of the worldwide communist revolution . . . During the 1980s the movement included and cooperated with other ethnic groups, including ethnic Turks, who were following the radical left. The organization initially aimed to establish a fully independent Kurdistan covering land in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

While the KPP does the violence, the politics of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey are conducted by the Democratic Regions Party and the larger and officially affiliated People’s Democratic Party. Again, Wik on the Kurdish and pro-Kurdish face of Turkish politics:

The HDP is seen as the Turkish variant of the Greek SYRIZA and the Spanish Podemos parties, similar in their anti-capitalist stance. The founders of the HDP, Yavuz Önen and Fatma Gök, both emphasised the HDP’s fundamental principle of rejecting capitalism and labour exploitation for the benefit of all Turkish citizens regardless of race, gender or religion. The party in this sense is therefore secular . . . The party has long advocated the establishment of local ‘people’s parliaments’ to increase democratic representation and decentralisation of power. Much of the party’s attempts to unite citizens throughout Turkey is through the opposition to the governing conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), which the HDP has accused of being authoritarian, exploitative and discriminatory against religious minorities.

. . . Concerns have been raised whether the HDP respects or supports the unity of the Turkish Republic, especially due to its underground connections with separatist rebel organisations such as the PKK.

The HDP received 80+% of Kurdish votes in recent elections.

Turkey’s Kurds, in other words, are hardcore leftists who want to undermine their host nation state, reclaim territory as their own, and declare a workers’ paradise. An American equivalent might be a party of Mexican Americans who want to undo the Treaty of Hidalgo and claim the Southwest as their own socialist wonderland. (That party hasn’t actually appeared yet, though one can be sure that its basic outline exists in a post-colonial academic paper somewhere.)

What about the Kurds in Syria and Iraq?

Things get much more complicated there, especially in Iraq, because Iraqi Kurds are extremely divided. Nevertheless, as one probes into the ideologies of Iraqi Kurdish politics, one is sure to discover leftist thought before long. Right now, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is one of the political parties attempting to remove the current president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region from power (a legitimate attempt it is, too, as explained in this article at Foreign Policy). The PUK, however, is—wouldn’t you know it—a member of Socialist International. The vice president of Socialist International is Jalal Talabani, the first Kurdish president of Iraq and a former member of the Communist Party before joining the PUK.

~~~

So in the Kurds we find a group that is largely secular, historically oppressed, and dedicated to leftist principles. Why is it, then, that the Obama administration has not adopted them as a cause? They seem ready made to be a new kind of freedom fighter for the progressive 21st century, social justice warriors of the truest kind.

~~~

Problem is, the Kurds seem to be leftists of an early 20th century variety: the kind that wants to create a worker’s paradise for their own people but not the whole world: socialists who are also nationalists. “National socialists” we might call them. Their leftism is rooted strongly in the protection of labor within their own borders. Reading through Kurdish political writings, one gets the sense that Kurds care about justice for Kurds and the rest of the world can do what it likes.

Also, Kurds are Western Asians, not Arabs, so many of them look like a bit too much like gringos to be proper representatives of The Oppressed of the Earth.

kurdwomen

Those are female members of the People’s Protection Unit, the military arm of the Kurds. Many are self-proclaimed feminists. But once again, their brand of feminism is of an earlier variety. Not so much 20th century as, perhaps, 10th century. Straight from the lips of one of these Kurdish feminists:

“When we arrived at the front, it was dark, and al Qaeda was close to our position … we shouted to them that we were women with weapons in our hands, here to defend our people to the death,” says Nojan.

These feminists are currently putting their equality into practice by helping the men ethnically cleanse Arabs from Syria:

A new report from human rights group Amnesty International suggests that Kurdish forces in northern Syria, among the most significant US ground partners in the fight against the Islamic State, has committed war crimes with a campaign of displacement and home demolitions aimed mostly at the local Arab population. In the report released on Monday, Amnesty says it has found evidence that the local armed group known as the People’s Protection Units – better known by the acronym “YPG” – forced Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria from their homes on behalf of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political organisation that has held de facto control of northern Syria’s so-called “Autonomous Administration” since January 2014.

What’s more, Kurdish women are fighting for things like The Vote and The Ability To Speak In Public Without Being Laughed At. Their feminist causes would make Western feminist causes look a bit . . . well, I’ll let you find an adjective.

And remember, according to Western feminists, who are largely pro-Muslim and pro-Arab, wearing a burqa is a revolutionary act.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wonder what the Kurdish women in the photo above might have to say about the West’s brand of feminism.

~~~

In short, the Kurds are leftists from another era, an era the New Left would like to forget. They are not globalists. They are more interested in Kurdish rights than in some abstract notion of human rights. They like America. They like the West; and nothing is more right-wing in the West than liking the West. All of this might help explain why Obama has not made the Kurds a “cause,” why Michelle Obama is not tweeting in their favor, and why the Pentagon is still giving weapons to Erdogan without assurance that he won’t accidentally point them at the Kurds in the fog of war. Indeed, the Obama administration has made it clear that it does not want Iraqi Kurds to secede from Iraq.

Obama has spoken carefully in public, but it is plain that the Administration wants the Kurds to do two potentially incompatible things. The first is to serve as a crucial ally in the campaign to destroy ISIS, with all the military funding and equipment that such a role entails. The second is to resist seceding from the Iraqi state.

Resist your secessionist urges! There be dragons!

Zombie-like, the Kurds are undead revolutionaries from a pre-globalist era, an era when leftism still had use for blood and soil. That makes them as untrustworthy to the progressive and neo-liberal elite as any redneck with a Confederate flag and a cache of illegal firearms.

There are three arguments for mass Muslim immigration into Europe.

  1. It’s the right thing to do, you heartless racist.
  2. Neo-liberal growth, GDP, Keynes!
  3. The European Union has over 500 million inhabitants. It can easily absorb a few million Arabs.

I want to focus on that third argument because it demonstrates an interesting rhetorical tactic.

Whether or not a socio-political phenomenon counts as a “thing” or a “problem” or an “event” largely depends on the population, in a statistical sense, used to frame the phenomenon. It depends on the reference point.

In the context of immigration, that third argument sets the population at n=all. (Yes, I know n=sample size, not population, but I’m trying to make a point here.) Maybe a better way to put it is that the third argument above situates the population of immigrants within the population of Europe, thus reducing the scope of the immigration phenomenon. A million immigrants in the context of 500 million Europeans is a blip on the radar, at .2%. Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.

The immigration skeptic, on the other hand, would situate the population of immigrants within the population of those European cities and towns that are actually housing immigrants. For example, many of these immigrants would like to make it to London specifically. London has a population of 8 million inhabitants. A million immigrants in the context of 8 million Londoners is not a blip on the radar. Nor is 100 immigrants a minor thing in the context of a tiny dorf in GermanyThe impact of the immigration phenomenon is highlighted when the reference point is set in this more limited way.

We find the same expansion/reduction of impact when the discussion shifts to the social phenomenon of police killings (and killings of African Americans in particular).

It is probably safe to assume that the same immigration booster who set the population at n=all when discussing immigration would limit the population size when discussing police killings. (Likewise, the same immigration skeptic who limited the population size when discussing immigration might very well be the sort of person to set the population at n=all when discussing police killings.)

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that between 40-45 million Americans come into contact with the police every year (about 18-20 million of those contacts are in the form of traffic stops). If we place the ~500 annual police killings into the context of all 40 million police-citizen interactions, then the impact of this phenomenon is seriously reduced. I’ll let you do the math. The vast, vast majority of police interactions do not end in anyone—black or white—getting killed. Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.

However, most discussions of police shootings limit the population to those individuals who have been shot by police. Even this recent NYT article, which looks at the larger context of police shootings, limits itself to comparing police killing rates of African Americans to arrest rates of African Americans.

~~~

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. Likewise, in a large enough context, many social phenomena cease to be “things,” “events,” or “problems.” In the context of the universe, Earth’s destruction by a meteorite would be a molehill, not a mountain.

But on the other hand, in the context of my own life, getting a cold is a major event.

Whether a social phenomenon counts as a mountain or a molehill depends on your reference point. Changing the reference point changes the scope of any given phenomenon’s impact. Want to make a phenomenon disappear? Expand your reference point. Want to call everyone’s attention to it? Reduce your reference point.

The problem with the academic Left is its insistence that the history of the world and its near to middle-term future can be analyzed with the same categories and concepts designed to analyze a very particular time, place, and people: whites and blacks in America (and the American South especially) between 1865 and 1965.

Insofar as the discussion is limited to Americans and their dealings with a former slave population, critical race theory and other postmodern ideas are legitimate and illuminating. Once the discussion shifts, however, to Latin American immigration, to Japanese interment, to the West’s relationship with China, to British India, to the Arabic world, to the war on Islamic terrorism, or to just about any other subject involving power and nation-state policy, those same ideas tend to simplify rather than illuminate. They force those who wield them to reduce complex events and histories into a slave/master dialectic grounded in a white supremacist worldview, with Western Europeans cast as masters and all others cast as slaves. Post-colonial analysis of, e.g., British rule in India can read much like an analysis of American slavery because, again, categories and concepts used to analyze the former have evolved in part out of categories and concepts used to address the latter. Yet I would suggest that the history of Britain’s interaction with a people who built the Taj Mahal, invented linguistics, and are today launching a space program is deserving of an analysis (and a critical tone) quite different from that used to analyze the history of American slavery.

Looking within America’s own borders, it is obvious that a theory of race relations designed to talk about whites and their former slave population is inadequate to talk about whites and anyone else. Of the 146 ethnic groups categorized by the U.S. Census in its American Communities Survey, African Americans rank 136th in terms of median income, sharing space with recently arrived refugees from Iraq and Yemen. Race and class still intersect when it comes to African Americans, and that intersection is precisely what drove the development of critical race theory in the first place. However, looking at other ethnic groups, that intersection breaks down entirely. As I discussed in another post, America’s most economically dominant ethnic groups are Indians and Asians (Filipinos, Chinese, and Taiwanese). These groups, measured by median household income, are even more economically powerful in America than ancestors of the founding British stock! Iranians, Lebanese, and Japanese also appear in the Top 20 wealthiest ethnic groups in America, beating out the Scots, the Italians, the Greeks, and the Poles. Nigerians and Cameroons are also above the median American household income.

The world marches on. The era of Anglosphere dominance is in decline. You’re as likely to discover Middle Easterners as WASPs in Beverley Hills enclaves. The Chinese continue to play neo-colonialist in Africa, and the Chinese middle class is now larger than the American middle class, certain to grow even larger. India has satellites orbiting Mars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they complete their manned spaceflight mission sooner than America rebuilds hers. English is still the global lingua franca, but the forces that splintered Latin into the Romance languages are also at work splintering English into many World Englishes (though shared media and the internet are slowing that process to a certain extent). In Southern California, where half the population is Hispanic and about that same percentage speaks Spanish, it can be a detriment to employment not to be bilingual. I lost out on two jobs because I did not speak fluent Spanish.

~~~

Brown Pundits links an article on the prescience of Joseph Conrad to recognize that idealism is the breeding ground of radicalism and, ultimately, terrorism.

Idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational.

Idealists breed their own tyranny and radicalism when their ideals are put into practice in a less than ideal world. This result can arise because the idealists themselves turn into tyrants—so convinced are they that their order is the right order—but it can also arise in the form of a backlash against a doggedly and irrationally pursued ideal.

I have no doubt that the academic Left and its low-brow puppets in the media are idealistic in their pursuit of what they see as racial justice in a world dominated by white supremacy. I would even argue that they are right to be idealistic in the context of black Americans whose ancestry in this land stretches as far back as any of the Daughters of the Revolution. However, the idealistic impulse to apply the language of justice willy-nilly to every other relationship between Anglos and “others” is bound to produce a backlash among middle and working class whites who are skeptical that wealthy Indians attending elite, expensive universities are somehow less privileged than they are.

(Think of the historical absurdity of applying critical race theory to the mundane discriminations faced by well-to-do, recently arrived Nigerians. It is possible that the ancestors of these immigrants were Oyo Empire elite involved in the Atlantic slave trade.)

~~~

There are theories as true today as they were a thousand years ago, capturing recurrent, implacable processes written into the fabric of the universe. There are other theories that are more contingent, useful for making sense of things at one time or place but not at another time or place.

Critical theories of race that emerged to diagnose the ills of America’s former slave population, in an America that was 90% white and 10% black, cannot be expected to diagnose anything else. To do so is to assume that master:slave::White European:everyone else. It oversimplifies history, misrepresents the present, and obscures future likelihoods.

Like all politicians, Merkel has a knack for speaking yet saying nothing, a knack for talking policy without committing to—much less detailing—a plan of implementation. The goal is that her audience hears what they want to hear by focusing on certain sound bites and ignoring the others. Here she is saying not much at all in a recent interview, with translation and commentary:

Das heißt natürlich, dass wir Flüchtlingsursachen sehr viel stärker werden bekämpfen müssen, dass wir unsere Außengrenzen besser schützen müssen und dass wir zu Vereinbarungen kommen müssen, wie wir in Bereichen helfen können, wo die Not heute sehr groß ist und wo Menschen nicht ihre Heimat dann verlassen müssen. Denn wir müssen sehen: Niemand verlässt jetzt leichtfertig seine Heimat, sondern möchte natürlich in seiner Heimat auch leben – die allermeisten jedenfalls. Wir müssen bei uns zu Hause diese Aufgabe so angehen, dass wir sagen: Die, die Schutz brauchen, bekommen diesen Schutz und auf der anderen Seite müssen wir denen, die diesen Schutz nicht unbedingt brauchen, die aus anderen Gründen, zum Beispiel wirtschaftlichen kommen, die müssen unser Land auch wieder verlassen.

We must address the root causes of the refugee crisis in order to stem the flood of refugees. (Quite right.) We must protect our borders better. (You wouldn’t be a sovereign nation if you didn’t.) However, I do not believe that people leave their native homelands recklessly; most people would prefer to live in their native lands. (No, most people would prefer to live in first world comfort.) So, we need to tackle the refugee problem here at home by saying that most of these refugees need protection. Those who need protection, get protection. However, those who do not need this protection—those who come for economic or other reasons—must leave our country. (How to sort the deserving versus the undeserving refugees is of course never addressed in detail.)

Later in the same interview, Merkel continues to waffle:

Und ich habe für mich eine klare Haltung: Ich glaube, dass es keinen Sinn macht, sich darüber zu ärgern, dass wir jetzt dieses Problem haben oder zu sagen: Wo kommt das jetzt her und ich will dieses Problem wieder los werden, sondern dass wir es annehmen müssen, gestalten müssen und gleichzeitig dafür Sorge tragen müssen, dass Schwächen – und das ist zum Beispiel die Sicherung unserer Außengrenze – behoben werden. Das wird einen langen Atem brauchen, das wird auch nicht von einem Tag auf den anderen gehen. Das hängt von Gesprächen, das hängt von Vereinbarungen ab. Und wir werden auch mehr Geld in die Hand nehmen müssen, um die Lebenssituation der Flüchtlinge – zum Beispiel in der Türkei, zum Beispiel im Libanon, zum Beispiel in Jordanien – zu verbessern. Die Türkei hat bei fast der gleichen Größe wie Deutschland seit Jahren 2,1 Millionen syrische Flüchtlinge und noch irakische Flüchtlinge dazu; Jordanien hat Flüchtlinge, Libanon mit 5,4 Millionen Einwohnern über 1,5 Millionen Flüchtlinge. Und da ist einfach eine sehr bedrängte Situation und da müssen wir viel mehr helfen, als wir es bisher getan haben.

It makes no sense to get angry about the fact that we now have this problem or to ask where it comes from and to say I want to get rid of this problem. (Learning from one’s mistakes makes no sense!) No, we must accept the problem. (You are getting sleepy, very sleepy . . .) At the same time, we must ensure that weaknesses—for example, the security of our external borders—will be corrected. That will take a long time. That depends on talks, and on agreements. (In Germany, as in America, secure borders are “problematic” . . . some might say fascist.) We will also have to give more money to improving the lives of refugees in other countries, for example in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Turkey has 2.1 million Syrian refugees; Jordan has refugees; Lebanon has 1.5 million refugees, and Lebanon has a population of  only 5.4 million. It is simply a distressing situation and we have to offer more help than we have offered so far.

So here’s the takeaway:

Merkel pays lip service to improved border security, but then says that such measures are a long time coming, and there are some debates Germany needs to have about that whole “border security” thing. Got it?

Merkel says that Germany must protect those refugees who need protecting, but that some of them don’t need protecting, and those refugees who don’t need protection need to go home. The icky problem of determining which refugee is which and the even ickier problem of how to send the undeserving refugees packing are,well, icky problems, and Merkel doesn’t want to talk about icky problems.

Merkel points out that certain Muslim states are already bursting at the seams with refugees, and Germans need to send them more German money, the unstated assumption being that maybe those refugees won’t come to Germany if Germans make life better for them in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Of course, measuring the success of this policy is a tricky problem, and Merkel doesn’t want to talk about tricky problems.

In short, Germany can expect to continue exerting no control whatsoever over the movement of refugees into and out of her borders.

Scrolling through the many brigades and groups participating in the Syrian Civil War is like scrolling through all the football clubs in the UK, except in this case, team members are always swapping sides, team names are constantly changing, sometimes teams come together to form a single team, sometimes they disband and everyone joins other teams, and sometimes the teams abandon the league altogether to go play in Latin America.

Putin has been tsk-tsk’ed by the White House for dropping bombs on the wrong football teams, but can anyone keep track, given the tenuous nature of “teams” in a region built on consanguinity and religious zealotry? The real teams consist of people who are most related to you and who think most like you. All other social aggregations are ad hoc affairs.

For example, Joshua Landis has recently profiled the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, who were at one time affiliated with the Southern Front, who are affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the “good guys” Obama is supporting against Assad and members of whom Putin bombed.

But the YMB, it turns out, has begun to align more closely with ISIL. So perhaps Putin wasn’t bombing American-supported Syrian rebels. Perhaps he was preemptively bombing future ISIL combatants who haven’t announced it yet.

Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge YMB. They are, after all, also fighting al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria), a designated terrorist organization.

Then again, al-Nusra Front also happens to be fighting both ISIL and Assad’s forces, which is what Obama is doing, too, along with his buddies in the Free Syrian Army.

Then there’s the fact that YMB has also been in conflict with Jihad Army (which sounds like a punk band but isn’t), which has also been suspected of ISIL ties. So maybe YMB are the good guys after all?

But wait. Didn’t we start with YMB’s close ties with ISIL? How can YMB and Jihad Army both have suspected ties with or affinities for ISIL but also be in conflict with one another?

Confused yet?

The Western elite in all its wisdom is surely not confused, because it continues to send money and arms to the region, confident that said dollars and munitions will wind up in the hands of the “right team,” a winning strategy for many decades now.

Osama

I would very much like to claim that USG and her European handmaidens are simply following a plan in the Middle East that was devised in 2001: exacerbating all the ethnic and religious tensions in the region, then sending money and arms to all sides until all the jihadists and potential jihadists have killed one another.

But that would be too brilliant a strategy. In the end, we have to accept that Western political and military leaders are just stupid. We have to accept that out there, right now, living and breathing and calling the shots, are men and women who think more dollars and bullets sent to the Middle East is really the best possible strategy for regional peace and the spread of global democracy. It hasn’t worked before, but maybe this time, we’ll get a different result.

What is that saying about insanity . . . ?