A Friendly Drink in a Time of War

A friend leaned across a bar and said, “You call the war in Iraq an antifascist war. You even call it a left-wing war-a war of liberation. That language of yours! And yet, on the left, not too many people agree with you.”

“Not true!” I said. “Apart from X, Y, and Z, whose left-wing names you know very well, what do you think of Adam Michnik in Poland? And doesn’t Vaclav Havel count for something in your eyes? These are among the heroes of our time. Anyway, who is fighting in Iraq right now? The coalition is led by a Texas right-winger, which is a pity; but, in the second rank, by the prime minister of Britain, who is a socialist, sort of; and, in the third rank, by the president of Poland-a Communist! An ex-Communist, anyway. One Texas right-winger and two Europeans who are more or less on the left. Anyway, these categories, right and left, are disintegrating by the minute. And who do you regard as the leader of the worldwide left? Jacques Chirac?-a conservative, I hate to tell you.”

My friend persisted.
“Still, most people don’t seem to agree with you. You do have to see that. And why do you suppose that is?”
That was an aggressive question. And I answered in kind.

“Why don’t people on the left see it my way? Except for the ones who do? I’ll give you six reasons. People on the left have been unable to see the antifascist nature of the war because . . . “-and my hand hovered over the bar, ready to thump six times, demonstrating the powerful force of my argument.

“The left doesn’t see because -” thump!-“George W. Bush is an unusually repulsive politician, except to his own followers, and people are blinded by the revulsion they feel. And, in their blindness, they cannot identify the main contours of reality right now. They peer at Iraq and see the smirking face of George W. Bush. They even feel a kind of schadenfreude or satisfaction at his errors and failures. This is a modern, television-age example of what used to be called ‘false consciousness.'”

Thump! “The left doesn’t see because a lot of otherwise intelligent people have decided, a priori, that all the big problems around the world stem from America. Even the problems that don’t. This is an attitude that, sixty years ago, would have prevented those same people from making sense of the fascists of Europe, too.”
Thump! “Another reason: a lot of people suppose that any sort of anticolonial movement must be admirable or, at least, acceptable. Or they think that, at minimum, we shouldn’t do more than tut-tut-even in the case of a movement that, like the Baath Party, was founded under a Nazi influence. In 1943, no less!”

Thump! “The left doesn’t see because a lot of people, in their good-hearted effort to respect cultural differences, have concluded tha...

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.