Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Kurds

Michael Totten has an excellent article on the Iraqi Kurds in Azure.

There's much to learn from reading it and you won't find this kind of information many other places. Here are just a couple of excerpts:

Ethnic Kurds make up around 20 percent of Iraq's population. They, along with Persians, are indigenous to the upper Middle East, having lived there long before Arabs invaded from the south and Turks from the east....The majority live in the northern mountains, high above the dusty plains of Mesopotamia, in the officially recognized and constitutionally sanctioned Kurdish Autonomous Region. There, the war is already over. In fact, the war was hardly fought there at all.

Erbil, the largest city in Kurdistan, has suffered three terrorist attacks since coalition forces terminated the Baath regime in 2003. The second-largest city, Suleimaniah, was struck only once. The third-largest city, Dohuk, has never been hit at all. More people have been wounded or killed by terrorists in Spain than in Iraqi Kurdistan since 2003. No one has been kidnapped.

Indeed, it is hard to overstate how pro-American the people of Kurdistan are. They are possibly more pro-American than Americans themselves. If Bill Clinton was America's first "black" president, people in at least one part of the world say Bush is the first "Muslim" one: He is sometimes referred to in Kurdistan as "Hajji Bush" (meaning that he made the Muslim pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca), an undeniably high honor for a Republican Christian from Texas. No, Kurdistan is not a "red state," and Kurds are not Republicans. Nor does it occur to most of them to prefer America's conservatives over its liberals. Rather, their warm feelings of gratitude and friendship extend to all Americans and both political parties for having liberated them from the totalitarian dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

So Saddam launched the genocidal Anfal Campaign in 1986 to ethnically cleanse the Kurds from his country. "They wanted to remove all the Kurds from everywhere in Iraq," Rostam said. "They just destroyed whole villages and provinces and moved people into collective towns and concentration camps. Some of the Turkmen villages around here were demolished for the same reason. The point was to make it an Arab area, and no other."

Iraq's Kurdish cities were devastated by air strikes, artillery, and chemical weapons. Forests were clear-cut. Concrete was poured into wells. Between 100,000 and 200,000 people were murdered in massacres, and 85 percent of Kurdish villages were destroyed. Tens of thousands, including children, were tortured to death in prison blocks.

"We believe if the Americans withdraw from this country there will be many more problems," Colonel Mudhafer said. "The Sunni and Shia want total control of Iraq. We are going to get involved in that. Iran is going to be involved in that. Turkey is going to be involved in that. Syria is going to be involved in that. The Sunni and Shia fighting in Baghdad will pull us in. We are going to be involved. Turkey and Iran will make problems for us. It is not going to be safe. All the American martyrs will have died for nothing, and there will be more problems in the future. Americans should build big bases here." For obvious reasons, the idea of the American military garrisoning its forces in Kurdistan is wildly popular among the Kurds.

Those who work with the United States in the Iraqi government, the Iraqi army, and the Iraqi police are already on the hit lists of numerous death squads, terrorist cells, and militias. Doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, and countless others have already been singled out for extermination for choosing democracy and civil society over politics by bullets and car bombs. The terror that plagued Pol Pot's Cambodia in the 1970s and Algeria in the 1990s now stalks every decent person in the center and south of Iraq.

There's much more information on the Kurdish people and their role in Iraq at the link.


The Myth of the Naked Public Square

There is a myth that has circulated throughout our culture for over a generation now to the effect that we must be vigilant to keep our public-policy debates free of all religious assumptions. Religion, we've been told over and over, has no place in our public conversation. It's all about the separation of Church and state, don't you know.

This myth does great harm to our civic life because it essentially undercuts the possibility that any position one takes on an issue will be grounded in anything more substantial than personal taste. Consider a controversial social issue like capital punishment and imagine two people, Joe and Carl, debating it. Joe says he's opposed to capital punishment, and Carl asks why. What does Joe say?

He may respond by insisting that it's wrong to kill people, but, if so, Carl can simply ask him why killing people is wrong. Ultimately, Joe is going to have to rest his opposition to capital punishment on something other than his own subjective preferences, but the only solid ground he could rest it on is a conviction that God forbids killing. In the naked public square, however, that option is forbidden. The most that anyone can give as a reason for their position on capital punishment, or any of the issues we debate, is that "I don't (or do) like it," but that's hardly a compelling reason why anyone else should agree.

In other words, in a public forum which has been scrubbed clean of all religious references all debate comes down to a dispute over personal tastes and feelings, and in such a debate no one has any more moral authority or insight than anyone else. There's no possibility of appeal to transcendent objective values which could help inform our decision-making.

Indeed, the only way to prevail in public disputes is by amassing on one's side enough people who share one's feelings that one has the political clout to impose them by law on those who don't. In a world in which God has been banished from political discourse we don't win debates by persuasion, we win them by coercion. The person who can shout the loudest or who can gather the biggest mob is the victor.

Genuine public debates can only be carried out among people who share a common value system. If everyone agrees that God disdains killing then we can debate whether there may be reasonable exceptions to that principle. But if we expel God from our civic and social life we have no basis even for thinking that killing of any sort is wrong and, that being so, there's no place to stand if we wish to argue that capital punishment, or torture, or abortion, or gay marriage, or anything else, is wrong.

The irony of this is that the only people who can engage each other in the public square, the only voices anyone should bother to heed, are those of people who share a common belief in God. The atheist is really irrelevant because all he's doing when he says that X is wrong is telling us that he doesn't like X, and that may be an interesting biographical tidbit but it's nothing to build a policy upon.