On liberal Kurdistan

Michael Rubin writes, after news of Kurdish journalists being arrested and harassed by the KDP: “Success in Iraqi Kurdistan could have been one of Bush’s greatest legacies. Unfortunately, it appears just one instance of how his administration has squandered its chances.” This has been one of the major myths of the Iraq War. The vision of a liberal Iraqi Kurdistan, free of the backwardness and religious fanaticism of Arab Iraq, is one many Western journalists have loved to cover. Westerners could travel with relative ease in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the people are broadly pro-American, and where pervasive military and militia activity discourages “Arab” terrorism. This is a land where women are routinely burned alive, non-Kurds have their movement heavily watched and regulated, often by gangs of militiamen, Christian churches are violated and the identity of their congregations forcibly reconstructed from Semitic ones to “Kurdish” ones, and where political actors suffocate dissent by intimidation and force. That isn’t to deny the stability and prosperity that has come to Iraqi Kurdistan since the invasion; that much is certain. And the Kurds have made more political progress in the years after the invasion; but this is not the result of Kurdish culture, as many Western writers like to suggest. The Kurds are not exceptional. Their culture is no more liberal than is Arab culture. And as much as some would like to blame provincialism and social conservatism in Kurdistan on the Ba`th Party or Arab influence, their condition remains and by all accounts predates the Ba`th regime and the British Mandate. Their politics have had more time to develop than the rest of Iraq’s, because Saddam’s authority was limited there. And, indeed, that development allows for Kurdish women especially to fight back against social and institutional pressures such as those I mention above. But the superficial coverage of its development, often laden with less than subtle anti-Arab and anti-Shia bigotry, that is so common in American news and magazine reporting has to stop. It must be remembered that Kurdistan’s success is only relative success within the context of a fragmenting Iraq.

3 thoughts on “On liberal Kurdistan

  1. Shouting at the top of my voice: “Someone show this to hitch!!”

    Hitch: Christopher Hitchens a.k.a Mr I-Love-Kurdish-Democracy.

  2. Maybe journalists in the area are just so stunned by people telling them “I love Bush!” and “Thank you America!”, as a friend who went traveling through the area a month ago related, they lose all ability to be critical. Or maybe they want to thank them back by reporting on Kurdish “liberal culture”.

    I personally think it must be the first, as the first time I met a Kurd who told me he loved Bush, the liberator of his people, I was speechless.

  3. Kurdistan is neither democratic nor a particularly tolerant society. Without coming back to their instrumental participation in the genocide of Armenians during WWI, their current system is a pure oligarchic one, with strong elements of tribalism. They are Sunni, and if this brand of Sunni Islam is relatively less backwards than the mainstream Iraqi one, it is still one that violently suppress dissent (namely other Islam sects and Christians). Last but not least, their tribal leaders are as greedy as any others, as their murky activities around Kirkuk’s oil fields show well enough.

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