After posting the open letter to Uncle Omar online, an American wrote the following letter by way of his reaction. We asked him if we could make it public; he responded in the affirmative. It is his take on the Kurds and Kurdistan coupled with a response from the author of the letter to Uncle Omar.
December 8, 2004
I so much enjoy your updates; they provoke deep thoughts. I feel as though I get an insider’s look at a people seeking independence. I have always believed (well since the early 1990’s) that an independent Kurdistan is in the best interest of the region, and of America. At the same time, I feel a bit torn now. Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I see the potential for something larger than Kurdistan now. I hope that doesn’t offend you, but I think it might. Believe me, as a poor Tennessee boy just getting through life, I have no reason to want to offend you and that is the last thing I would ever want to do. But maybe my thoughts are in err, so please allow me some space.
I am torn about an independent Kurdistan because a world without one really isn’t really fair, and it lacks justice in the purest sense of the word… after all, I have my independence in America– or do I? The American understanding of independence is a bit warped I believe. After all, we committed genocide on the indigenous people of North America, brought African slaves here against their will and later made their great-grandchildren citizens. In a sense there was no real “we” to gain independence at all, at least not in the cultural sense. We were a hodge-podge mix, a melting pot or so our American history books tell us.
Our heinous and painful past behind us though, the most beautiful thing that has arisen out of wars and ashes is a place that America has ideologically become no respecter of country or creed and that instead (at least on her best days) she bears witness to a community of diversity. You, Kani are the perfect example. That you could find a temporary home here and have such a profound impact on some 35-year old man sitting at the foot of the Appalachian mountain chain is testament to that. Although it isn’t possible in the truest sense to understand with clarity, I and so many like me carry a newly found sympathy for the Kurds. The common American Joe really does care about the people of Iraq, all of them– including Kurdistan.
If only the world could forgive us our past and see the average American Joe for what he truly is: A man who only wants to see the rest of the world enjoy true freedom. I can only imagine that freedom to you and to the Kurds is likened to that of the Apache Indian of North America 200 years ago. And in my darkest nightmares I can imagine a similar and equally horrible outcome.
But at the same time I am torn. Because alongside that dark nightmare, I see potential– the potential for a nation that like America is no respecter of culture or creed and in that sense becomes a true respecter of all cultures and creeds. A nation that would create spaces for all the Kani’s of the world to sound the human alarm, to wake us from our sleeping.
It is always government that misrepresents the average American Joe to the rest of the world. We pick and choose where to “liberate” based on our economic interests. That is hypocritical and I doubt there are many Americans who don’t know it is hypocritical. We need you and others like you to remind us constantly of our hypocrisy. We desire you Kani as Americans. You appeal to the best that is in us and for that we are grateful.
But we want to appeal to the best that is in you, hence the emotional and ethical tearing I feel as I read your last letter. First of all Kani, I believe that God does take sides. He sides with justice first– righteousness even. He sides with the Kurds because justice must permeate your people– justice must invade and reconstitute the spaces where it has been wrenched from you with unspeakable sins from every side– Saddam, Turkey, America– we’ve all played a role in denying Kurdistan its God-given right to peaceful habitation. We’ve all been unjust, unrighteous, and negligent. We’ve all built dams to withhold God’s mercy and peace from the Kurdish people. We all must confess and be healed, be restored to Him and to each other. While Saddam’s sins are easy to see and point out, as are Turkey’s sins, America’s sins are not as visible. They are more subtle and in a sense more damning.
But our goodness, the goodness of the average American Joe is in his willingness to assess his sins, and where possible make atonement. While it seems clear that our government does not totally share this view, it is still possible to do good things for the wrong reasons. Removing Saddam seems to fit that category for me.
Now we are left with a political debacle. And the choice of sin and righteousness are once again before us all. On the one hand justice cries out for Kurdish independence. On the other hand, the beauty of the American way– that beauty of the cultural melting pot is also visible on the distant horizon. Maybe that is a pipe-dream of the average American Joe, but we somehow were able to do it.
Look at our last election– clear cultural divides. Red states, blue states… the differences between white votes, black votes, and Hispanic votes. We are internally divided, but one. We commit ourselves to the one through the political process, albeit flawed as it is. There is a higher good than a black nation, a Hispanic Texas, or new South rising again.
We have no desire to in your words, “let hell come.” Not here, not anywhere. On the one hand I too very much hate the linguistic game that is now being played by replacing Kurdistan or the Kurds with “northern Iraq.” But at least for the average American Joe, it is not a game we play with a malicious spirit. Instead, it is one played with hope– one that feeds on hope. One that prays for the mercy of God that Iraq will not have to endure the horrors of a civil war, like the one that we experienced at great cost to our souls 150 years ago.
On our best days, we are nation that allows imperfection, one that sacrifices personal interest, sometimes even State rights, for a greater good and for the whole. What we do not sacrifice is human rights, the pursuit of justice and liberty with the mixing of blood and sin. If my faith that such a place is possible in Iraq is misguided, then please believe that for the average American Joe we are misguided by hope, not unrighteousness. And perhaps a sin of ignorance is more forgivable by God than a sin of malicious intent. We love you Kani and we love the Kurds. I believe there are good people among the Sunni and Shiaa that love you too. I believe there are evil people who can know no love because they have been in darkness too long. To these, God does take a side and it is a side against.
Kani, please help us to best understand justice for your people… help us find atonement for our sins. If there is truly nothing bigger or more ideal than an independent Kurdistan, help us to understand why that is so. Remove the tear in the soul of average American Joe’s like me, who want the Middle East to be a place for all Kani’s in this world to illuminate the human condition so that we may act justly towards each other.
A wise person once said to start a fire, you must fan the spark. I see two sparks in Iraq right now. One of them is the spark of true freedom– freedom that allows for differences amongst peaceful cohabitation. The other is the ember of war and bloodshed for the purpose of waving a banner of difference in each other’s faces. Which spark are we to fan?
I am open to fanning the spark of war. As I sit here in my home among the pines, I smitten by their beauty. They wave in the December wind under a beautiful blue sky. But it was only six short months ago that one of these pines crashed into my house, destroying one third of it and nearly killing my 2 children, ages three and one. If the ideal of a unified Iraq is a similar beauty and a similar but potentially deadly ideal, I can accept that with enough convincing.
But I’m not sure as I sit here under these pines which of them is truly dangerous and which is only a manifestation of my fears. I could destroy them all just to be sure. But o my, what I would be missing in these moments of tranquility! My task is being certain of the threat, not based on what happened to my home six months ago, but what will inevitably happen again without proper care. Can I protect my children and protect the beauty here at the same time? I believe I can… my prayer is that you find a way too.
December 21, 2004
I appreciated your letter very much. It is obviously the fruit of love. Thoughtful, hopeful, caring, “torn” and overall reflective of your well wishes for the Kurds and Kurdistan. Grateful is my response to it; I am glad that we are, positively, a part of your life. Given our history, this is rather new for us.
Before I go any further, let me share with you a fact that I shared your letter with some of my biggest supporters — I sometimes get that feeling that people who keep me going in this expensive and jaded city think, heaven forbid, I am wasting their money and doing a lot of window shopping. You know I am doing something else. I thought they should know what you think.
I guess I will start with your analogy of the trees in your backyard. I am glad it was your house that got destroyed and not your children, that is, of course, if you had to let go of one. And I join you in saying that, yes, you could destroy those remaining trees at no time, especially if you knew they were a threat to your children. Your little ones come first. Ours, ideally, should have the same right. But do they?
We too have trees towering over Kurdistan. Ours have names and they are called Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran (SITI). They have conspired to deny our kind air, water, fertilizer and sunlight. I know some Kurds, given a chance, would destroy all SITI countries for the chance to see the sun. I say those Kurds are driven by hatred like Ataturk, Saddam, Khomeini, and Asad. They can’t be architects of a peaceful Middle East. We have got to find another way to peace.
I am for pushing back the branches of SITI trees that are making a shade over Kurdistan. I have lived in their shade and know first hand what a corrosive and debilitating experience it is. I don’t want a Turk or an Arab or a Persian to tell me what is good for me. They never bother, but if they do, what Diogenes told Alexander, we Kurds could repeat it for them and in unison: “stand out of [our] light, [please].”
Since the SITI countries, or trees if you will, do not withdraw their intrusive and malignant branches from our midst, are we wrong to find a semblance of solace in their miseries? If Iraq is hit by a hurricane, are we supposed to shed tears over its tribulations? While I will feel sorry for the people, i can’t say the same for their government. Long spells of slavery do strange things to human beings, including the new nonsense that is now emanating from Turkish Kurdistan, “Yes To Discrepancies (sic) [Diversity] / No To Separation.” How about a little bit of honesty in the dawn of 21st century: “Respect Kurdish Will / Now and Forever!” The Ukrainians are clamoring for theirs now and the whole world is applauding them for it; is it too much to ask for the same for us Kurds? Are we not human beings?
I wish I were as sanguine as you are David about our state of humanity especially in the Middle East. If you check the maps of your local libraries, Iraq is described as an Arab state. The maps that are produced in the Arab world go a step further and refer to southern Kurdistan as Arab land. Not long ago, this sentiment was also expressed by an Arab woman in Baghdad who, when asked about the Kurds and their place in Iraq, said, “Iraq is an Arab country; the Kurds are our guests. If you they don’t like it, they should just leave.”
Unless people of goodwill like you and me say, not on our watch, what she says may come to pass. It happened to the natives in this country and we are now sorry about it. Do we have to repeat it in Kurdistan so that succeeding generations will feel the same about us hapless Kurds what we feel today about the Native Americans?
Kurds and Kurdistan are nothing more than a nuisance in our world today. Imagine, I say this about your own children, David. Brighter minds, sharper pens, fearless tongues, resolute hearts, and maybe even violence, i.e. the break up of Iraq, are needed to get Americans see and side with the righteous cause of the Kurds. Should war be the midwife of Kurdistan? Can the lovers of peace coupled with liberty coupled with order stand up, please?
Iraq is not America for the Kurds to say we will forgo our identity for a greater good. It is an Arab state that believes in dominating the Kurds not coexisting with them. If the latter were the case, rivers of Kurdish blood would not have been shed. “Our past,” as Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, “is a rough draft of our present and our future.” Is it wrong for us to dream of alternatives? How about self-determination for the Kurds?
Freedom for the Kurds will make our world a better place and not the other way around as the prophets of doom are trumpeting. Those who don’t like it are the ones who are in the “darkness,” to borrow your word. Should those of us who believe in the light accommodate them? How about calling them with their real names, the disciples of hatred? How about banning them from Olympics the way we barred South Africa for decades for holding onto Apartheid?
I think you put your finger on the problem when you said, “America’s sins are not as visible. They are more subtle and in a sense more damning.” I am very happy that to borrow your words again, “an average Joe” like you knows this fact. To me it means America still has a reservoir of goodness. As an asylum seeker, I am all happy for it. But perhaps you should let me tell you a little known fact about the Middle East. Average Mehmet in Turkey, or Hussein in Syria, or Ali in Iraq, or Reza in Iran is clueless about the Kurdish plight and often sheds his blood to keep it under the proverbial Middle Eastern rug. I know you are routing for the team Kurdistan; your country, unfortunately, is doing the same for SITI. What do we have to do to get America stand up for the right?
I am a guest here and you are a citizen. Let us hope, together, we can change this country for the good. That is my preoccupation these days. I hope in due time it will become yours as well.
Again, thank you for the letter. And season’s greetings as well
I remain truly yours,