Planted For Another Climate

I can’t speak for the tens of thousands of people who were hurt very badly by Hurricane Sandy and who are still in need, several months later, of a government that is big, strong, effective, and genuinely committed to the well-being of its citizens. New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, testified to President Barack Obama’s efforts to provide at least the appearance of a government like that and to deliver some of the benefits that such a government can bring. But the truth is that we don’t have a government like that. The government we have hasn’t begun to plan for the effects of climate change, and it isn’t able to deploy enough of the resources—trained men and women, machines, and material goods—that people suddenly without homes or without heat, light, and water desperately need. And there is little prospect, even after Obama’s victory, of a government fully committed to the well-being of its citizens and, first of all, to the most threatened and vulnerable among them.

Our experience of Sandy (in Princeton, New Jersey) was frightening for a few hours but, in the end, relatively easy. We lost what apartment advertisements used to call “all mod. cons.”—and the results were certainly inconvenient. But it turns out that you can live without modern conveniences so long as all you have to do is live, so long as you can postpone work. Life itself becomes a full-time occupation. Preparing food; finding a store with a generator that sells ice, to keep the fridge going, at least for a while; trying to read by candlelight and then waiting in line at the darkened hardware store to buy flashlights and a radio and batteries for both; hauling wood, making a fire, and huddling beside it.

Trees and wires were down everywhere, and there were damaged houses and smashed cars in many parts of town. Princeton is full of trees, and a lot of them have shallow roots; they were planted for another climate.

Cell phones (recharged at the public library) kept us in touch with children and grandchildren in lower Manhattan and Long Island, who were hit harder than we were. The cell phone is the truly modern “mod. con.”—and smarter friends had smart phones and were actually roaming the Internet in their cold, dark houses. On the phones, we told each other that we were okay, it was an adventure, the grandkids had no school and were delighted. But they had to climb unlit stairs in their apartment build-ing, and there were old folks on the upper floors who couldn’t manage the stairs and had to be helped with supplies of food and water.

At first, we were told that this was a once-in-a-lifetime storm. But it’s clear now that that’s not true. There will be more hurricanes like Sandy; life here in the Northeast will be more dangerous than it has been—more like life in New Orleans, say, or the south Atlantic coastal towns. And who will deal with the dangers? Who dealt with Katrina? Once we all knew that we were o...

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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.