A Historic Day for the Kurdish People

Source: rudaw.net

For too long, I have neglected the issue of Kurdish self-determination in my personal political view and wrongly so. The early formative years of my liberal viewpoint had been under the influence of false idealism that discourages nationalism on the basis of ethnicities. This approach could not have been more wrong as this is precisely the basis of several modern nation states adhering to the most liberal and democratic of values. Consider Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain as examples, but if the colonial powers are not a good analogy, then Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Macedonia should suffice.

Of course, not every nation can be as perfect ideologically as the United States of America is, which is supposed to welcome every liberty seeking human being to its shores. However, this does not mean that lower pursuits such as seeking sovereignty on ethnic basis instead of some lofty ideology take away the right of self-determination. Even though a liberal democrat could possibly see these influences as discriminatory and undemocratic, if not fascistic. Considering the trouble that the Kurdish people have been facing while divided in three of the most authoritarian countries in the world: Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

However, the 2003 Iraq War opened a new door of opportunities for the helpless Kurdish people `brutalized by the Arabization policies of Saddam Hussein. Resisting against such brutality and authoritarianism became the hallmark of the Kurdish minority in Iraq and elsewhere. Some groups even resorted to even more brutal measures themselves, with many of the Kurdish terrorist groups behind several bloody bombings in Turkish cities, some of which involved suicide bombers.

Since the fall of Saddam, the Kurdish people have been in control of a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq, their population stronghold which had been shattered by the Islamic State. As the Islamic State goes on the backfoot in northern Iraq, the Peshmerga has captured some additional territory other than the official autonomous zone rich in oil including the city of Kirkuk.

Currently only openly supported by Israel, the cause of the Kurdish independence has still a long way to go. The Iraqi government obviously rejects the referendum, and Iraq and Turkey have even carried out joint military exercises, reminding them of the consequences that they can face. Iran would not be happy with this either but we are talking about three countries who have been the primary oppressors of the Kurdish people.

However, this day of the referendum, with 92.7% already voting for independence, stands as a beacon of hope for the Kurdish people and all the liberty-seeking nations around the world. Perhaps, it is about time that some of other nations, particularly the United States, will join the right side of the camp and put their foot design especially if Turkey and Iraq threaten military action.

I wish them all the best for realizing their dream of independence.

Saudi-Iran Conflict: Just the Sort of Diversion the Islamic State Needed

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Despite an almost unanimous agreement about the evil that the Islamic State embodies, the world is still having a hard time forming a military alliance to take substantial action against the group. From lamenting the consequences of unrelated past foreign military intervention to equating ISIL with other Arab states, there is no shortage of absurd political opinions making excuses for inaction.

At a time like this, it was probably not surprising that the usual suspects of the region were busy making matters even worse in the Middle East. Through some very deliberate measures, Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to strain their already tense diplomatic relations seriously.

Things started getting worse when Saudis executed dissenting Shia scholar Nimr Al-Nimr, sparking violent anti-Saudi protests in Tehran during which protestors set the Saudi embassy on fire. As a reaction, Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Bahrain, expelled Iranian missions to their respective countries. The region started worrying about a new conflict and Islamic State found just the sort of relief they needed.

Of course, whenever relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer, you can expect increased pressure on Pakistan, both from the Saudi government and from the people at home. While the careful approach the Government of Pakistan has taken in this regard is the way to go, it must be warned to move a step forward in terms of its commitment to fight ISIL. In an ideal world, a military operation against ISIL with Pakistan’s participation should have been underway.

The Gulf states have been facing much criticism for their inaction against ISIL, which have been regularly resisted by Shia militia in Iraq. As a matter of fact, people have been speculating Saudi hand behind ISIL since the extremist group share the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom. Now that they have made a military alliance, it is being condemned by some for being meant for exclusively targeting Iran and its sponsored militant groups.

While protesting the Saudi-led anti-terrorism alliance makes little sense, this is the expected consequence of choosing to join a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Probably for spiritual reasons, the local Sunni and Shia population have linked their religious fervor with the terrible political entities of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This is why commentators with this concern have been calling for Pakistan to join a US-led alliance to fight the Islamic State.

So far we have seen a lot of talk about the anti-terrorist alliance but little action. Only substantial military action by the Saudi led alliance would put the conspiracy theories to rest. The lack of action is yet another reason for Pakistan to wonder if it is in the right camp. But then again, fighting ISIL proactively is hardly a priority for nations around the world, and Pakistan seems to be no exception.

This is where the United States and other Western powers would have to lead and work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to focus on eradicating the Islamic State. Unless a comprehensive global alliance is formed for the purpose under the leadership of the United States, it would be difficult to organize the much required military efforts.

We are at a point in history when extraordinary measures are required for the elimination of the evil Islamic State. Global and regional powers, which are otherwise adversaries, need to come together to get rid of this common threat to human civilization, but the local Muslim population is busy squabbling about the power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia instead.

This will severely hurt any possible military campaigns that had any chance to be initiated by Muslim majority countries in the Middle and adjoining regions because everyone would need to take a side in this conflict. I appreciate the passion of everyone who wants their countries to remain neutral in the Saudi-Iran conflict, but that would not be the case for long if the situation escalates further.

The recent episode only proves the irresponsibility and recklessness of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers and goes to show that they should be the last countries leading other Muslim majority nations. While it is a good idea expressing solidarity with them and offering military aid for necessary defense and peacekeeping, it would be a disastrous mistake to follow their lead in shaping foreign policy.

This is why it is important for global powers to avoid the distraction of Saudi-Iran conflict and refocus their attention on the threat of ISIL by rallying a global alliance. Pakistan must also play its part as a responsible nation and must distinguish itself with significant participation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Saudi Authorities Need to Answer for the Mecca Crane Tragedy

Source: AP/Indian Express

Source: AP/Indian Express

There is a certain problem with dealing with Arab world in general and with Saudi Arabia in particular. You never really expect a complete, comprehensible answer about anything from them. Some would say the same is true for Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia, but you cannot help but observe that about Saudi Arabia, considering how closely they are allied to the Western democracies.

Now call me a bigot comedian, but that is almost always the case when the Saudis screw something up. No matter who the party that they are dealing with is, they never expect to get an answer from the Saudis, and they hardly ever get one anyway. That has been the sad history, and they really are hardly accountable to anyone. And I am sure it’s not because of the language barrier.

I am sure that the Saudi Kingdom is going to offer no explanations this time around either, or even any solid assurances, about the horrifying Mecca crane tragedy. I have heard that there is a probe going on though. Earlier in September, a giant crane fell into the massive courtyard of the Al-Haraam Mosque full of pilgrims on a stormy night, killing more than a hundred and injuring several. People of various nationalities died that day, due to an accident that clearly could have been avoided by removing all those cranes in the first place altogether, for example.

We all recall the time when scores of pilgrims used to die due to the regular stampedes occurring in Mina, where the ritual of the stoning of the Satan is performed. The administrators have made great arrangements to make the process become more organized, so that such disasters be avoided. Apparently, the measures have been a tremendous success as you hardly ever hear about such a problem anymore, and it is a tremendous relief.

It is unreasonable to doubt the concern and intentions of Saudi authorities about the safety and well being of the pilgrims and no one is doing so anyway, considering the billions they spend every year for the maintenance and upkeep of the premises of the mosque complex in Mecca and Medina. Of course, they cannot afford to risk their reputation for ensuring and promoting the safety, security, and comfort of the pilgrims, whether for religious or secular reasons. Surely, the religious pilgrims would not stop flocking to Mecca no matter how terrible the conditions are, as many of them would find it a blessing to die there without having any regard for the families they are leaving behind. But I hope the Saudi authorities do not share their religious fanaticism and would think otherwise.

They must ensure the world that the Hajj or the pilgrimage is safe, now that the great ritual for this year is only a few days away .

They need to explain to the world why they have turned the Mosque Al-Haraam into a constant construction site. And if they are hell-bent to do so, why are they allowing millions of pilgrim in the premises under such dangerous conditions.

Probably people in the administration have taken the advice of development and construction for pilgrimage safety a bit too literal, so much so that they have started exposing common pilgrims to the dangers that a construction worker in Saudi Arabia faces every other day.

I have always been skeptical of the safety of the entire process of the pilgrimage, though many would say that is precisely the point, always warning family members about it and anxious about their safety every time I hear someone is leaving for it or if one of those stampedes occurred. So yes, I know what it is like to come close to losing a family member to such a tragedy, not too different to learning about a plane crash that you suspect your relative is on. It’s not a good feeling.

So the Saudi authorities might want to assure the people of the safety of the construction-site like mosque they are offering for pilgrimage this time around, unless it is the theme for the year. They also owe an explanation not only to several countries the citizens of which lost their lives needlessly to an avoidable accident, but to the entire world.

But like always, there will be no one around to ask the question in the first place.

Besides, I have heard only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca.

In any case, go at your own risk.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Thoughts on November Gaza Strikes and the Middle East Conflict

Source: AP/Washington Post

You can’t expect people to act rationally or logically when they are being bombed, Israeli or Palestinian. If you think they do, then you know very little about humans. Though there are people out there who are paid to do so.

That’s why I think it’d take really smart people to handle the fragile Middle East situation. This is why I am worried that the Israeli policies could actually harm the Jewish people, even though they are designed to protect them, or offer the perception of protecting them.

Using force as a deterrent is probably a necessity there, especially in the early years when the memory of antisemitic fascist regimes was still fresh. It is relevant even today, but considering that Gaza does not enjoy that luxury would make you very concerned about their security too.

I believe the people living on the both sides have the same fears and desires. But thinking again from the Israeli perspective, I would be very concerned as an Israeli citiizen or diplomat about the image of the nation around the world. I know a lot of Israelis would prefer better security over a better world image. Who wouldn’t? I would too. Anyone would.

But this is something for the leaders to think about because it concerns the future. Unless we are hellbent to enact the Biblical or Hadith Apocalypse.

People often mention the wounded and the killed Israeli and Palestinian children and the propaganda about them. It’s not a question of whether a Jewish child dies or an Arab child dies. The question to ask is whether we would want a child to live in such a hostile environment.

Seriously, I would do whatever I can to prevent a child from living in a warzone (ideally anyone but why add more misery by forcing new people to suffer by shoving them into this world, though true in any other situation too). But can I, or can we? No.

If the Hamas regime is irresponsible, which I am convinced that they are, to the point that their policies don’t really reflect any sympathy for the security of their own people (if you ignore the fact that they are badly repressed by the Israelis), then what could be better ways to deal with them?

To a cynic, maybe build global consensus before bombing Gaza City. To a more rational person, maybe Israel and the US should stop blocking full Palestinian membership in the UN like civilized nations and lift the Gaza blockade and grant their states completely autonomous status like soveirgn countries and maybe give them a chance to prove their civilty once again.

But still if Palestinians are sensible, they would know that the intifadas are largely a lost cause today because the rest of the Arab world would rather really support Israel over them any time. Then again, is it a coincidence that the Palestinian resistance looks towards Iran? The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

I do think the Palestinian leaders could have done a lot more to ensure peace and are largely responsible for a lot of deaths over the years (Not because they should have as per their principles but because they lack political resources to fight Israel). But that’s politics. If only they were not obsessed with Jerusalem. Not that the Israelis are not.

The growing West Bank settlements and the policy of gradual Palestinian deprivation may have worked well for the Israeli occupation, but make a very poor case for Israeli peace efforts. In any case you would really want the violence to stop regardless of the political consequences. But in politics, land and power are more precious than life. Then again, there is liberty.

But the recent November strikes on Gaza have made an impact in some other way. The international community and media noticing the cruelty of the Israeli attack on Gaza this time for a change is significant. The image of the BBC photojournalist as posted above has shaken the West. Accussations of biased media coverage from both sides do not change the facts and the misery that both the affected people go through.

Therefore, both Israelis and Palestinians need to learn their lessons fast. Good luck to both of them for peace.

I know it almost sounds superficial, especially after these words echoing the conference halls on the conclusion of countless meaningless accords, but just in the memory of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, let us agree to stop the madness and say:

Shalom. Salaam. Peace.

Then again, it’s not important. Is it?

The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?