New Age Islam Edit Bureau
29 Dec. 15
Virginia Debate Champions Stand Against Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
By Erica N. West
By Bülent Keneş
Making War vs. Hearing Citizen Sentiments in the Arab World
By Rami G. Khouri
Global Common Allies and Adversaries
By Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam
U.S. Should Stop Supporting Likely Saudi War Crimes
By Ivan Eland
The Reality of Kurdistan
By Philip Seib
The Cost of Turkey's Self-Interest
By Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi
Virginia Debate Champions Stand Against Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
By Erica N. West
On December 4, 2015, following the San Bernardino mass shooting, Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. urged 13,000 of his students to obtain handguns, stating that "we could end those Muslims before they walked in... let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here," to loud applause from his audience.
While in a later interview, Falwell said that his reference to "those Muslims" was directed at Islamic terrorists, specifically those who'd orchestrated the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, his original comments drew ire from the McAuliffe administration. A spokesman for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) said, "Those of us in leadership positions, whether in government or education, must take care to remember the tremendous harm that can result from reckless words."
There may be no group more qualified to speak eloquently on the danger of "reckless words" than the decorated undersigners of an open letter directed to the Virginia High School League (VHSL) on December 27, 2015, taking a stand against the violent anti-Muslim rhetoric uttered by Falwell. Over fifty former competitors and award winners of the VHSL State Debate and Speech Championships united in the name of their sport and in solidarity with Muslim-Americans and their allies.
The debaters advocate for the VHSL to "strongly consider" relocating the venue for this year's State Debate and Speech Championships away from Liberty University in light of recent comments, and in acknowledgment of other statements made by Liberty and its chancellor Falwell, which have excluded other religious and ethnic groups. In addition, the debaters also stand in solidarity with the Virginia high schools who have decided to boycott the Championships if they are held at Liberty, and also "condemn any potential punitive actions the VHSL may consider taking against these schools."
They posit their support on the premise,"Debating as an activity rests on the open exchange of ideas, free from the intimidation of violence and fear. Speakers ought be able to engage in passioned discussion without feeling unsafe or unwelcome. These comments however, have the possibility of making visitors to the campus feel as though they are regarded as potential threats or otherwise not accepted." This pertains to Muslim-American debaters, sponsors, coaches and observers of the VHSL State Championship.
In a country where a front-running presidential candidate, pundits and religious leaders like Falwell have not only gotten away with inflammatory language against Muslims, but been celebrated for it, it is important for the country's brightest and best spoken to indeed speak out against such discriminatory language.
Primary organizer of the open letter, and Tournament Director of the William & Mary Fall Debate Invitational Venu Katta adds, "This isn't about being 'offended' or 'political correctness'. For many students, the State Debate Championship is the highest level of competition for them. If you were a star athlete, would you walk away from the big game just because you were 'offended'? This speaks to a larger feeling of being unsafe and unwelcome that many competitors and schools that are boycotting the championship perceive. It's important to not ignore or belittle them; creating an environment where individuals feel free to speak their minds is the cornerstone of debate."
Debate is a pure and direct by-product of the First Amendment. This country was founded and grounded through debate. Our laws are hashed out via verbal altercation on the floor of Congress to this day. Many of us have most likely engaged in some unpolished form of debate around the dinner table with family members this holiday season. There are few things more American than a good, hearty debate. In a country that has taken to harshly criticizing liberal college students for "limiting the free speech" , this open letter is a timely commentary in opposition to that narrative, by perhaps the most direct beneficiaries of free speech in America. As evidenced here, there is certainly a right in this country to free speech of one's thoughts and opinions, but by that token, there is just as strong a right to free response.
By Bülent Keneş
December 27, 2015
Although there is not a full consensus internationally about its definition, there is a common understanding of what is meant by "terrorism" and who and what a "terrorist organization" or a "terrorist" refer to. In despotic regimes, though, which are ruled by arbitrariness, not the law and where international law and universal practices are ignored, definitions of "terror," "terrorist organization" or "terrorist" vary from time to time and according to the individual and groups that are being targeted.
There is neither a principled attitude nor consistency in these kinds of definitions and labeling. A perception is created as if what or who is referred as "terrorism," "terrorist organization" or "terrorist" by the unlawful administrators of that country who disregard people's rights, freedoms, dignity, honor and personality along with the laws really are a terrorist, terrorist organization or engage in terrorism. Then, based on this groundless perception, dozens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of innocent people become targets of investigations, operations and arbitrary punishments while the administrators avoid taking such steps against real terrorists in that country.
For instance, radical terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose inhumane acts of terrorism and violence are followed with fear and horror by the international community, and al-Qaeda are no longer seen as terrorist organizations in that country. Operations are carried out against these bloody organizations and militants eventually after a long-lasting refusal to do so due to a failure to resist the growing pressure from the international community and powers. Unwillingly, these organizations are described as "terrorist" or "terrorist organizations" at the rhetorical level in order to seem nice to international powers. A well-worked-on perception, which is a wonder of engineering, is created successfully in the international community, suggesting that the country is part of the war against those terrorist organizations through so-called operations against them and so-called detentions of their militants. However, when one takes a look at who is arrested in these operations and brought before the judiciary, it is understood at the end of the day that the operations are just aimed at perception management.
As a result, it becomes impossible to find any significant numbers of ISIL and al-Qaeda militants who are jailed pending trial, despite being one of the major countries where these terrorist organizations easily recruits their militants. Moreover, one cannot easily encounter an example of real terrorist who is a member of a real terrorist organization either waiting for trial or who has been convicted already. Interestingly enough, not many people except for handful of media organizations, independent journalists and opponents who still have the courage to raise their voices and dare to be labeled as a "terrorist organization," a "terrorist" or a "traitor" and dare to face unlawful and arbitrary operations to be made against them for revealing their views care about this weird situation. But sadly, the international media and community have already begun to associate the name of that country with real terror organizations and begun to see it as a country that supports terrorism.
There are also some groups that are defined as a "terrorist organization" or "terrorist" by the administrators of that country which ruled by arbitrariness in accordance with their periodical needs and circumstantial political interests. These administrators and their dishonorable cohorts who look like journalists and scientists could present a terrorist organization, such as the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), as the most peaceful civil society organization in the world in accordance with the administrators' needs. They could label the PKK and even people promoting peace and not directly related to the PKK as "terrorists" the moment their interests require this. They first make these people the target of defamation campaigns and then eliminate them very skillfully and successfully.
The PKK terrorist organization, with which they acted together for years to achieve some goals -- the content of which is not known by the public -- and whose activities and efforts to accumulate power they ignored, is no longer alone on their target board. Bypassing reason and with revenge as its motivation, which is hard to comprehend, they see people belonging to a different ethnicity as an enemy; for days and weeks, they flow winds of terror into cities that have a population of hundreds of thousands and disregard the safety of civilians. They simply ignore with great calmness the continuation of the killing of people including three-month-old babies and 80-year-old elderly people.
Leaving aside a serious fight against radical terrorist organizations such as ISIL and al-Qaeda, which are seen by the entire world as the biggest terrorist organizations, these arbitrary administrations are even suspected of supporting these terrorist organizations. In addition, they don't avoid explicitly mingling with radical Islamist terrorist organizations such as the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front (İBDA-C).
Then, by using all means of the state, they label a worldwide civil society movement known for its activities promoting education, dialogue, peace and charity such as the faith-based Hizmet or Gülen movement whose followers have not even held a gun in their lifetime as a "terrorist organization" and make it a target of every kind of arbitrary and unlawful operation, which they have avoided carrying out against ISIL, al-Qaeda, the İBDA-C and for some time the PKK.
Furthermore, police officers and prosecutors who carried out an operation against a radical group named "Tahşiye" are being tried today despite the activities of this group having been monitored and reported on by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the General Staff since early 2000s, and despite security forces having repeatedly warned against the threat of violence and terrorism they pose. These police officers and prosecutors are being tried despite the fact that Tahşiye is referred to as an al-Qaeda-linked group in public sources and the operations against the group were supported with great enthusiasm by the administrators at the time because they saw them as being in line with their political needs back then.
Last Tuesday and Friday, I followed hearings at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court of what I can't say is a "trial" but rather "a comedy of foolishness," in which Samanyolu Broadcasting Group President Hidayet Karaca and police chiefs stand trial on the grounds that they conspired against the Tahşiye group. I am still overwhelmed by shame and shock at the fact that no suspects have been released despite concrete evidence presented by Karaca's lawyers and the police chiefs revealing their clients' innocence and documents that came from MİT and the General Staff at the last minute, which led to the collapse of the charges against the suspects.
It is heartbreaking that innocent people are kept as captives by a court that is suspected of acting on orders -- all despite the fact that they are accused of establishing a terrorist organization, ruling a terrorist organization and being members of a terrorist organization in an poorly-written indictment, which fails to present any concrete evidence to substantiate the charges directed at the suspects.
The head of a media group had been in jail pending trial for more than one year in connection with a single fictive sentence in the script for a soap opera -- the last episode of which had been aired in 2009 -- despite the fact that a court decided to release him on April 25, 2015. The police chiefs who launched a crackdown on an al-Qaida-linked Tahşiye network -- which had been designated as a terrorist organization in 2010 when the operation was conducted, but which the powers that be decided to market as an innocent network later -- and who were decorated with medals for their success are being tried on charges of leading and governing a terrorist organization in the same lawsuit. They have been held captive for one and half years.
The guns the state gave them for the fulfillment of their duties are now treated as elements of terrorism and evidence of crime. These police chiefs haven't been given even a single disciplinary action so far, but they are now accused of being terrorists just because they performed their duties lawfully. Laws are violated in the full glare of publicity and the judges who have lost their qualities as independent judges perform preposterous tyrannies at courts.
Every day any move is taken as part of the witch hunt and hate operations. Dozens of innocent people are tyrannized with police crackdowns as they are accused of providing scholarships to poor students or making donations to charities. One of these crackdowns occurred in Çanakkale on Saturday. A total of 28 people including Professor Sedat Laçiner, the successful former rector of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, were taken to custody. These charitable people were locked in an unheated sports hall in winter conditions in a way reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. What do you think is the charge raised against them? It is "providing scholarships to poor students."
Professor Laçiner is said to be detained for making a 150-lira ($50) donation. The Erdoğan regime and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which has lost its reason, conscience and spirit and turned into a machine of persecution, tolerate organizations such as ISIL and al-Qaeda, but call Laçiner a terrorist. You may take a look at Laçiner's long and impressive CV on Wikipedia to understand the career of a man who wrote 18 books in Turkey and five books in English. Suffice to say, he was the first and only Turk who was inducted as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2006.
Making War vs. Hearing Citizen Sentiments in the Arab World
By Rami G. Khouri
BEIRUT — The most extensive regular poll of Arab public opinion that was released Monday in Doha, Qatar, provides timely new insights into the sentiments and values of men and women across the Arab world on issues such as the “Islamic State” (ISIS), the Arab uprisings and the role of foreign powers in the region. The immense value of such knowledge begs the question of whether any of the leading forces that now engage in military and diplomatic battles to shape the future of our region actually take into consideration the views of the beleaguered Arab citizens whose lives are most impacted.
The voices of ordinary citizens seem largely absent from events in both war-ravaged states like Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and other countries that do not suffer active warfare, terrorism, and ethno-nationalist violence, like the Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt. This almost absolute absence of linkages between citizen sentiments and state policies is one of the major reasons for the uprisings that erupted five years ago and persist today.
Military, political, and diplomatic activity in our region today is shaped by uniformly non-democratic and unaccountable Arab governments, many of which actively make war in neighboring Arab states; local armed parties and smaller militias with assorted religious, ethnic, ideological, and tribal identities, some of which (as in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen) are stronger than their governments; foreign and Arab governments that wage warfare at will inside half a dozen Arab countries; and, some United Nations and other officials who seek to mediate diplomatic agreements to restore order and national integrity in broken lands, like Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
These dominant players operate within an orbit of narrow local and national elites that has changed very little since the retreating European powers tapped into many of these same groups to create new countries around 1920. Public opinion surveys across the Arab world allow us to penetrate beyond these narrow elites, and know precisely how masses of ordinary people feel about important issues of the day, and what they seek in their future.
The 2015 Arab Opinion Index that was released this week by the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies is the largest public opinion poll of its kind in the Arab world (18,311 face-to-face interviews in 12 Arab countries, representing around 90 percent of the entire Arab population, with a margin of error of 2-3 percent). This fourth consecutive survey since 2011 confirms again that Arabs overwhelmingly oppose ISIS, with 89 percent of respondents viewing it negatively, and just seven percent positively. More important, there is no significant correlation between support for ISIS and religiosity, since “favorable views of ISIS are equally prevalent among respondents who are ‘very religious’ and those who are ‘not religious’, and also equally prevalent amongst opponents and supporters of the separation of religion from the state.”
This supports the view —widely ignored in the West — that political and socio-economic grievances, rather than religious sentiments, explain most of the support that exists for radical extremist organizations like ISIS. No consensus exists on how best to fight ISIS, but it is fascinating that the most effective means mentioned are: supporting democratic transition in the region (28%); resolving the Palestinian issue (18%); ending foreign intervention (14%); intensifying the military campaign against ISIS (14%); and, solving the Syrian crisis in line with the aspirations of the Syrian people (12%).
A solid majority of 62 percent of the Arab public sees a change in the Syrian regime as part of ending the Syria crisis, indicating, “sympathy to the aims and objectives of the Syrian revolution.”
Yet Arabs broadly are concerned about how the original Arab uprisings allowed the region to plunge into civil wars, instability, and state fragmentation, including foreign military involvement. Just 34 percent are positive on how the Arab revolutions have turned out, and 59 percent are negative. But only 5 percent of those with negative views generally oppose the revolutions; 48 percent feel the Arab revolutions face a series of challenges and obstacles, but will ultimately succeed in achieving their aims. One-third of respondent feel the uprisings are over and the old regimes have returned to power.
Dr. Mohammad Almasri, Coordinator of the Arab Opinion Index, notes that Arab citizens have lost confidence in all political movements whether Islamist or secular/nationalist, partly due to, “the discord and disarray among Arab political movements and the partisanship and conflicts between them.”
He found that 57 percent of respondents fear Islamist political movements, while 61 percent fear secular movements. This lack of consensus between these two broad categories of political movements, Almasri says, “can be exploited by anti-democratic forces to agitate for a return to authoritarianism, and will therefore prove to be an obstacle on the path to democratization.”
Those people in our region and abroad who seek real insights into Arab people’s views and values, rather than the fantasy and racism that define much of the public discussion of our region, would do well to read more about these findings on the website of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @ramikhouri.
Global Common Allies and Adversaries
By Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam
Many countries around the world call terrorism a common enemy, but there is not a common definition for that. Terrorism is against the peace, stability and development. Their mission is to murder, demolish and spread fear. Abuse and misinterpretation of any faith in their favor are their mutual interest and shared goals. They support each other globally and they have a common definition of their foes. It is like a cancer in the world and besides the symptoms, we need to fight the causes of this illness. We should ask ourselves, what do we do to defeat them fundamentally and defend ourselves?
There is no doubt that some state sponsors terrorist groups, yet I have not heard of any government, which publicly backs or defend terrorism. While every state agrees on the threat posed by these groups, yet we do not have a common definition of terrorism, which should be widely accepted or adopted by every country in the war on terror.
Globalization has advantages and challenges. Pandemic, proliferation of WMD, climate changes, migration and terrorism, are the challenges we face universally. We live in a global village and one of the mentioned concerns in any country can affect another country or the entire world.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and since the launch of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) hundreds of thousands of people died around the globe. The war is not over yet, insecurity and threats have increased. The ongoing war and refugee crisis may last for years and decades. Though, the world community can reduce or hinder these issues by a comprehensive, strategic and long-term unified vision.
One propaganda message of an extremist, radical or terrorist spreads among their friends, associates or enemies instantly and globally, but what about the good news? Do the countering propaganda and good stories get enough coverage? Is this against our values to search for and share good stories? These are the questions that we should ask ourselves.
Of course, it is not mandatory to report and share only good news and stories, but everyone has rights, responsibilities and obligations. Are we practicing our responsibilities and are we doing enough? Should we remain indifferent or we should also engage through all possible means against terrorism? These are the vital matters that we should debate.
Terrorists are not aliens and they are not mushrooms to grow overnight. They have a family, friends and relatives and any suspicious activity, extreme and harmful ideology could be detected and reported by a family member, friend and colleagues at an early stage, which may prevent many lives, including the lives of our loved ones.
Unfortunately, various terrorist activities remain unreported. So, there is a gap and there are some people who forget their responsibilities. Military and law enforcement fight terrorism every day, but they cannot win this war alone unless people support them. So families and communities play a vital role in countering terrorism, by observing and reporting any suspicious activity.
Terrorism does not belong to a particular race and religion. Warfare, crimes and terrorism existed before Islam and other religions, but today Muslims mostly blamed for most of the terrorist acts. Lots of people oppose generalizing this issue and criticizing a faith community for the actions of some individuals and groups. Many Muslims may refute the claims and oppose the misuse of Islam by terrorism, but their voice is not heard.
We should seek the best instant and long-term resolutions to end terrorism and extremism. Meanwhile, we should fight the hate crimes and segregation, which is a major factor of radicalisation and a recruitment tool for terrorists. We should not live in fear, isolation and separation. That is what the terrorists want and we should not contribute to their primary goal.
There are more than a billion Muslims around the globe and most of them have nothing to do with the terrorism. However, it will be difficult to introduce every true Muslim to the world. But it is easier and better to fight and stop terrorism who abuse the religion and faith to carry terrorist attacks under the name of Islam and Muslims. Muslims are the largest and primary victims of terrorism, so it is the right time for the Muslims to unite and stand against every violent, extremist and terrorist to protect lives of millions of humans and their religious values.
Double standards in any relation, particularly in the war on terror would not be in the interest of anyone. Muslims and non-Muslims should end the blame game and they should leave their differences aside and unite against this common enemy, that pose immense direct or indirect threat to every nation. The western allies are the primary target of the terrorism and they should reduce all the gaps and support the ideological, economic and military warfare of Muslims against terrorism and extremism. It is not a war of a particular nation and a faith group, but a global war. So, failure of a state in the war on terror is a victory of terrorism against every state.
U.S. Should Stop Supporting Likely Saudi War Crimes
By Ivan Eland
The United Nations top official on human rights recently told the U.N. Security Council that the U.S.-supported, Saudi Arabian-led coalition of Sunni nations fighting Shi'ite Houthi rebels in Yemen bore a disproportionate responsibility for attacks on civilians. Since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed and dozens of hospitals and schools have been attacked, leading the United Nations to warn of violations of international law.
The problem is that the United States is supporting the Saudi-led coalition's air strikes by providing intelligence for targeting and also by refueling coalition's war planes, thus extending the range of their bombing. Domestically, Saudi Arabia has a horrendous record on human rights that it is exporting to Yemen via bombing civilians there. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein exacerbated the Sunni-Shi'ite division throughout the Islamic world, and the war in Yemen is actually a joust for influence in the Persian Gulf between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran, which are bitter regional rivals. Saudi Arabia does have substantial interests at stake in Yemen, which borders the autocratic kingdom, but the United States does not and should cease providing weapons and the aforementioned support, which is tainting the U.S. with support for a country that very well may be committing war crimes.
Yemen is a small, poor, and insignificant (from the perspective of U.S. vital interests) country just South of Saudi Arabia. It doesn't even produce much oil; but of course Saudi Arabia does -- and that's why the Saudis are getting so much U.S. support, despite Saudi Arabia's despicable foreign and domestic policies. The U.S. government ousts dictators in Iraq and Libya and loudly criticizes Iran's bad human rights policies; in contrast, the United States mutes its criticism of Saudi Arabia's atrocious human rights record, sweeps under the under the rug that the 9/11 attackers were mostly Saudi nationals, and ignores that Saudi Arabia is the biggest exporter of militant Sunni Islamism by its support for radical schools around the Islamic world. Why does the world's only superpower tolerate a major ally supporting potential U.S. enemies (the U.S. has the same toleration for Pakistan doing a similar thing)?
The reason dates back to World War II, when Saudi King Abdel Aziz bin Saud traded U.S. access to Saudi oil for U.S. protection of that oil. Yet although Saudi Arabia is the anchor of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel, the country does not have the control over the world's oil market that both policy makers and the public believe. OPEC, like most cartels, has failed to achieve long-term control over the price of its commodity. For example, right now, world oil supply exceeds demand--because of new non-OPEC sources of supply, such as from new fracking technology in the United States and because of slack demand due to sluggish economies around the world--thus driving the price down. In fact, Saudi Arabia has even given up trying prop up the price by reducing production. The Saudis, who produce oil very inexpensively compared to other producers, are afraid of losing market share to those exporters and so are keeping production high, despite the low world price. And forecasts for the oil market estimate that such factors--including increased Iranian oil output into the world market due to the lifting of international sanctions against that country because of its nuclear agreement with the great powers--will continue for some time.
But once upon a time--in 1973--didn't Arab oil producers launch an embargo and production cutback that brought U.S. economic ruin and lines at gas stations? No, subsequent economic studies of the 1970s have shown that U.S. stagflation (inflation plus slow economic growth) was caused by poor U.S. government economic polices rather than by the Arab oil embargo and production limits. Gas lines in the United States were caused because the U.S. government still had price controls on oil. (Japan had no price controls, thus allowing price rises to naturally curtail demand., and thus no gas lines.)
Moreover, if the oil embargo and production cutback were so successful, why haven't the Arab countries ever tried it again during other wars in the Middle East. Similar to what brought about the fracking technology recently, higher oil prices in the 1970s just increased supplies--non-OPEC sources of energy were found and conservation practices became more prevalent. Finally, industrial economies are much more resilient to oil price hikes than is commonly perceived and have become even more so since the 1970s, because oil consumption accounts for a smaller percentage of developed nations' GDP.
Contrary to official and popular belief, oil is only strategic when needed to power military forces in a war. Fortunately, as I note in my book No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, the United States produces enough oil domestically to supply its military in a fairly large war several times over; this ability is rising as the U.S. substantially increases oil production via fracking. As for getting oil supplies to the United States during a war somewhere in the Middle East, if oil production is reduced from one or more countries in conflict, increased prices will cause non-affected producers to produce more oil. Moreover, in the past, valuable oil exports have traveled around and even through wars.
If the United States had a truly vital interest in holding its nose and supporting an autocracy like Saudi Arabia, that would be one thing. However, ignoring the despotic kingdom's domestic oppression and likely international war crimes--in the erroneous belief that Saudi Arabia can successfully trump global market forces to manipulate long-run oil prices--is unnecessary, ethically questionable, and only increases the likelihood of blowback terrorism against the United States from the victims of Saudi aggression.
The Reality of Kurdistan
By Philip Seib
Just about the only good news that emerges from the war in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State is about the military prowess of Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga - which means "ready to die." They have had more success against IS than anyone else, even though they are fighting for a homeland that appears on no maps except their own. It is time for the rest of the world to acknowledge the courage and importance of the Kurds and recognize an independent Kurdistan.
For the past century, the Kurdish story has been one of betrayal by the great powers. After World War I, a Kurdish state was planned, but Winston Churchill, among others, decided it wasn't really necessary. More recently, the Kurds were the targets of Saddam Hussein's air strikes and poison gas attacks, while the world watched. During the Iraq war that began in 2003, the Iraqi Kurds supported the U.S.-led coalition, and emerged with a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq that has had a turbulent relationship with the central government in Baghdad.
The Kurds number fewer than 30 million and they are spread out, with the largest clusters in Turkey (where they are viewed as subversive by many Turkish officials), followed by Iraq and Iran. Most of the Kurds in Syria who are not on the battlefield have fled to the Kurdish part of Iraq.
That's the background; the complete ethnic and political story of the Kurds - as with so many others in the region - is complicated by internal and external rivalries. But the United States, in particular, and others who would like to see even a semblance of stability in the Middle East should recognize that the Kurds, brave and pro-American, are a pillar of strength and their home deserves the legal status of a nation.
The principal problem involves determining boundaries. The Turkish government becomes livid at the mention of any Kurdish part of Turkey seceding to join its neighboring brethren in Iraq, and the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad feels much the same. At some point, however, the United States will need to do more than pat the Kurds on the head and tell them not to annoy the powers that be in Ankara and Baghdad.
The Kurds are no longer interested in being docile. They believe, correctly, that they have earned the right to be more than a virtual state. Because of their enterprise and their oil, they are economically viable. Before the current war began, cities such as Erbil and Sulaimaniya were flourishing and their residents could see a still brighter future.
By giving a little, the nations with Kurdish populations would gain a lot. In return for ceding relatively small amounts of territory - already inhabited by Kurds - Turkey and Iraq would gain a strong ally, and an independent Kurdistan could be a stabilizing force within the region.
Someone must push this process forward. The United States would be an appropriate broker, as it is a NATO partner of Turkey and the most powerful backer of Iraq. Aside from the strategic benefits, recognizing an independent Kurdistan would fulfill a moral obligation n to people who have suffered so long and fought so hard.
For their part, the Kurds need to be more assertive in their public diplomacy. Many people, particularly in the West, have only a vague, albeit positive, knowledge of the Kurds' story.
I have oversimplified the transition process from quasi-state to real state. Difficult negotiations will be required, and Iran's influence in a new Kurdistan must be pondered. But if this transformation does not take place, at some point the Kurds, strengthened by their impressive showing against the Islamic State, might act on their own, adding yet another conflict to this troubled part of the world. Regardless of the outcome of such an upheaval, the stability that an independent Kurdistan might help create would become a lost dream.
The Cost of Turkey's Self-Interest
By Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi
By the end of 2015, Turkey is expected to host as many as nearly 2 million Syrian refugees. The country opened its doors to create a "safe haven" for those fleeing persecution, many of whom ended up moving to cities on the Syrian-Turkish border, such as Hatay and Gaziantep.
The Turkish government has strongly criticized Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whom it blames for the deaths of up to 350,000 people since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011. However, Turkey's policy of accepting Syrian refugees -- as well as allowing arms shipments and rebel fighters to pass through its borders -- is taken advantage of by foreign jihadists intent on joining ISIS.
The influx of refugees has also put a strain on the country's resources, as seen in its increasingly frequent food shortages, poor housing and a lack of other necessities.
Turkey's role in the Syrian crisis cannot be refuted. As David Ignatius wrote in The Atlantic, Turkey, in failing to tighten its southern border, became a gateway for ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda In Syria). The conflict is prolonged by the support extremists enjoy from neighboring countries. It would be prudent to peg the blame for this support on Turkey's poor border control.
Turkey's assistance to the Islamic State goes beyond providing open borders for ISIS militants. Recently, Turkey was accused of being one of the main sources of financial backing for the Islamic State, as well as of providing the majority of the group's training and weaponry.
The Islamic State, for its part, has been making a profit smuggling oil across the border into Turkey. ISIS makes between $1-2 million a day from oil revenues, and Reyhanli, one border village, made a profit of more than $800 million in oil sales over the course of 16 months. Residents near the Syrian border reported witnessing Turkish ambulances going into combat zones during clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State. These ambulances would evacuate ISIS casualties and would treat them in Turkish hospitals.
The ISIS commander Abu Muhammad, for example, was receiving treatment in a Turkish hospital in Hatay.
In the past few years, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS or Da'esh) has shaken the world with its ruthless tactics. The United States and its allies are determined to contain and ultimately defeat the Islamic State. But Turkey is prioritizing its own national interests in the region -- that is, the removal of Assad and the destabilization of Kurdish militias -- and has assisted ISIS to these ends. The The Turkish government's indirect support of the group, as confirmed by a former ISIS sympathizer, enables ISIS fighters to walk freely through Turkish territory. This privilege serves to strengthen them in their fight against Kurdish forces, and in so doing, further Turkey's own goals.
Turkish military activities in Syria have been solely geared towards toppling the Assad regime, namely by openly supporting the Syrian opposition. Under the sponsorship of Turkish non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Mazlum-Der, and with the approval of the Turkish government, these opposition groups have been allowed to gather in Istanbul.
Turkey's indirect support for the Islamic State has raised concerns amongst the country's politicians. In alleging that militants and weapons shipments have been allowed to pass through Turkey into Iraq and Syria in order to topple Assad, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party, said that
Erdoğan's hands are bloody.
The United States, like Turkey, has also been a zealous supporter of ousting the Assad regime, and has made it clear that it only supports moderate rebel groups. But Turkey does not have any reservations in achieving this goal. It allows itself to be used as terrorists' main route into Syria, and jihadists from all over the world now enter Turkey to fight in the Syrian conflict. Turkey's doors are open to any militant who pledges to fight against the Assad regime.
As a rising hegemonic power in the region, Turkey is an important player in Middle Eastern foreign policy, specifically with regards to Syria. The situation in Syria would be better now if Turkey had been persistent with holding diplomatic talks with Assad, even if a mutual consensus was never reached. Instead, by keeping its borders open, Turkey allowed an influx of foreign fighters to enter in Syria and cause further destruction.
Political stability in Syria is essential to achieving peace in Turkey. But Turkey's noted financial backing of paramilitary activities in Syria is disturbing. Fighting terrorism in any country or region requires a unity of purpose, rather than each faction acting in its own self-interest. Turkey has supported ISIS in Syria and Iraq without considering the socioeconomic consequences that would befall it.
The Turkish government gave firearms to rebels, allowed them a route into Syria and let them traffic oil in through the Syrian border. It is clear that violence and unrest in Turkey, including that seen during the the recent Turkish elections, stems from resistance against the government's stance towards ISIS, its support of the Syrian opposition faction and its actions behind Syrian borders.
The public perception that Turkey supports ISIS through intentionally negligent border control -- and the subsequent discontent amongst Turkish citizens, who are now competing for resources with refugees -- was bound to cause civil unrest in the country.
The Syrian Civil War, which began as an uprising to overthrow the Assad regime, has devolved into a proxy war, with Turkish-backed jihadist forces serving as the main anti-Syrian opposition. Could the Islamic State have become this powerful without Turkey's assistance?