October 6, 2002
For months now, I have been waiting for someone — either from the left or the right, from somewhere — either from America or Europe, to rise up to the defense of freedom, which came under a merciless attack in Istanbul, Turkey. The man who engaged in this wicked act was no other than a representative of the United States. The “scholarly” hawk, as the Time Magazine described him, could not have chosen a better venue for his harangue. The assembled Turks — who would not have recognized freedom if it hit them on the face — gave him a rapturous applause and were especially moved to hear him utter a couple of Turkish words expressing his government’s appreciation of its relationship with his hosts. Thank God, his pronunciation was grotesque; otherwise, he might have easily been hailed as a Turk. And the honor, having read most of his statements on Turkey, would have tickled him to death. And if that had happened, the Kurds would have had no tears for him, but knowing the Turks, the American representative would have been declared a martyr for the fatherland, and his statues would have gone up all over Turkey, including the place of my birth, the Turkish misruled Kurdistan. No one would have respected them though. Everyone would have jeered them. The marble or the rock that would have been used to chisel his likeness would have been a definite waste.
Paul Wolfowitz is the name of this man. He is the second in command at the Department of Defense. His staff describes him as an up and coming new star in the firmament, one whose luster — hold your breath — should soon match, nay, surpass the likes of Henry Kissinger. Journalists who have spent time with him describe him as an affable man. He is said to hold views that oppose the torturing of al Qaeda members in America — the only good thing that I have read about him. He himself describes himself as a mathematician first and a professor of political science second. His journey from the world of numbers to those of words came as an undergrad when he shared a dorm with the visiting scholar in residence Allan Bloom, best known for his books, “the Republic of Plato” — an authoritative translation, and “the Closing of the American Mind“ — a biting commentary on the American education system, at Cornell. The political philosopher urged his student to take up the world of ideas. The young Wolfowitz took the advice to heart and plunged himself, it is now obvious, with his heart, and not his mind, into the realm known as humanities.
But perhaps the meeting should never have taken place. The man who spent a lifetime teaching Plato only changed the direction of his student in terms of a career, but failed miserably to implant the love of truth in his bosom that cost Socrates, Plato’s teacher, his life. People versed in human nature have long observed that not all constitutions are capable of truth. The content of his address in Istanbul makes this abundantly clear. The operative word in his lecture was expediency. He conveniently forgave the Turks for their past and ongoing sins — the man thinks highly of himself and forgives as well as consigns entire peoples to pedestals or oblivions as he sees fit — and hailed them as paragons of virtue, freedom, and democracy. Such pandering or begging is rare in the annals of human history. When one runs into it, it is usually in the form of a modest address from the representative of a weak nation to a great one for need out of desperation. In Istanbul, it was America that stooped before Turkey. Why it did so goes beyond Washington’s need for allies in the coming war. Most of it, I suspect, has to do with Mr. Wolfowitz’s own insecurities, such as his involuntary need for cringing, his subsequent penchant for domination, and his love of instant gratification. With such captains in the poop, the future bodes ill indeed for the ship called America as it now makes forays into the heart of the Middle East.
It was in the course of one of those forays through the Levant and Afghanistan that Mr. Wolfowitz found himself in Istanbul to address a crowd of Turkish leaders with his venal lecture on July 14, 2002. 10 days earlier, America had celebrated its 226th birthday. It was a poignant one coming as it did on the heels of 9/11. Not a state, nor a combination of states, but a group known as al Qaeda had humbled the greatest military power on earth, nay, had insulted her and despoiled her in front of the whole world. Some, among them a few spoiled Europeans, had taken joy in the misery of America, because they could never match her creativity, diversity and equality before the law. Others, especially victims of absolute tyrannies such as the survivors of Halapja, the only ones who could truly relate to the survivors of 9/11, commiserated with Americans for the loss of their loved ones, and prayed as well as hoped that Washington would learn something useful out of this awful tragedy. That something useful wasn’t a mystery, but freedom. America, they hoped, would see and seek its future in the expansion of liberty, the source of its greatness, and stop coddling the dictators, the authors of its present misfortune.
But what was sounded in Istanbul was onward with the dictators, semi-dictators or anybody else who would cooperate with Washington to make the world safe for America, not freedom and liberty. Mr. Wolfowitz had the temerity to say, “A separate Kurdish state in the north [Iraq] would be destabilizing to Turkey and would be unacceptable to the United States.” Freedom, if history has to serve as a guide, has only destabilized the tyrants. But in Istanbul, an American, speaking in Orwellian language, stood, defending Saddam’s rule, or his successor’s, over the Kurds. If I were Saddam, I would have raised a glass of champagne for the unexpected support from Mr. Wolfowitz. As a Kurd, I could not help but ask the obvious, what was the source of this paternalism? Can a man, be it the representative of the United States, really set a timetable for another people’s freedom? Can anyone on the face of the earth tell the sun not to glow, or a river not to flow, or a sapling not to grow? The Yankees threw the yoke of taxation to establish the United States without taking into considerations the views of the power brokers in Paris, Vienna and Moscow. The Kurds saddled with cultural genocide in Turkey, subjected to gas attacks in Iraq, sorry Mr. Wolfowitz, are not going to look for your permission, nothing personal, or anybody else’s for that matter, to secure a future of freedom and peace for their children.
It looked like, Mr. Wolfowitz was in Istanbul not just to express his opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish state, but also, solicited or unsolicited I don’t know, pass a grade on the Turks and their state. Referring to the recent Turkish victory over Senegal to qualify for the semifinals in the World Cup 2002, he alluded to watching it in the dead of the night at Pentagon — wow, and noted, “[it] was a game worth losing sleep for.” Speculating on the possibility of the United States doing the same against Germany, he then took up the prospects of Turkey playing against the United States for the world cup and said, “… don’t ask me to predict who is going to win.” Wow, again! I don’t know about you, but I think the sentence is worth becoming a proverb, as an example of how two nations, one Asiatic — which administers torture to infants as well as adults as a routine matter — and the other from Occident — that says it will not even torture Osama Bin Laden even if he is captured — can almost become ONE. I can’t help but ask the question, did Mr. Wolfowitz really lose sleep over the Turkish game with Senegal or did he watch it on tape, the next day, in the midst of his briefings on the war on al Qaeda? Also, by wanting to remain silent to the question he himself posed — remember the maxim, silence means consent, was he not consenting with the wishes of his predominantly Turkish audience that a victory by Turkey over the United States was equally acceptable to him! If that was so, was it proper for him to imply it?
The deputy Secretary of Defense loves Turkey. His performance in Istanbul was like a teen on a first date, making a fool of himself in trying to woo the object of his sleepless nights. Mixing football with politics, he noted, “I can’t help noting, though, that whether you call it football or soccer whatever name you call it – is a team sport. So is democratic government. And Turks have shown a passion and an aptitude for both.” Now the name Turks and violence or Turks and intolerance, and only lately, Turks and soccer have appeared side-by-side, but Turks and the democratic government, is something new, at least for me, and I am sure glad to see the two things come together in my own life time. But would the deed follow the pronouncement? I then found myself thinking about the waning days of the USSR and how its last leader Michael Gorbachev began using the words glasnost and perestroika every time he mentioned Soviet Union. At first, the juxtaposition of these things felt and looked surreal. Soon though, the words had their intended effect. People feeling free dumped the Soviet Union, the decaying and corrupt prison of nations, need I invoke the famous Marxian maxim, to the garbage heap of history, and reclaimed their identity. A truly democratic Turkey would certainly be open and open to restructuring. Could it be that a similar fate is awaiting Ankara what eventually befell Moscow? I know that is not what Mr. Wolfowitz would like to see happen in Turkey, and it was not what Mr. Gorbachev had hoped to see in the Soviet Union, but I am waiting for the same result, for another … .stan to be born, and this one will be my country, with a birthday of its own, Kurdistan.
As if lecturing the Turks was not enough, Mr. Wolfowitz also raised his voice, to taunt the Europeans for going slow in accepting Turkey as a member of their union, and said, “They fear competition from Turkey. They fear diversity.” Now here one must stop … and take a good measure of the man who would offer Turkey to Europe as a specimen of diversity. I found myself wondering, either this man doesn’t know what he is saying or doesn’t think the Kurds are human beings. I knew he was smart, he had been the Dean of School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University before assuming his present post, so I quickly ruled out the remote possibility of him not knowing about the Kurds. That left me with the tasteless conclusion that he, like his hosts, the Turks, didn’t believe in our humanity or dignity or presence on the face of the earth. Is this any different than what Hitler thought of the Jews?
Perhaps the cold and passionless nations of Occident can’t be bothered with the plight of the Kurds. Perhaps when the German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin compared Bush with Hitler, I shouldn’t have felt surprise. But I wondered to myself as well as aloud, why the minister did not compare Hussein to Hitler. The latter had gassed or murdered 150 thousand Germans, some perhaps her relatives, who had genetic malformations. Saddam Hussein unleashed his chemical and biological weapons on the Kurds not only killing thousands, but science now tells us, mutating the DNA of the hapless survivors that will live with us till the end of time. Mr. Wolfowitz and Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin may be on the opposite sides of the coming war, but one will sell the Kurds to the Turks and the other, well, will not let them stand in the way of, is it oil? Perhaps a Kurdish mother will one day give birth to a monster that will put an end to these monstrous machinations.
It was a European, John Stuart Mill, who noted that there is no worse tyranny than that of majority. In Turkey, the tyranny of Turks over Kurds is absolute, unequivocal and abominable. 20 million Kurds have to, on the pain of death sometimes, call themselves Turks. Article 66 of the Turkish constitution has assured them of their Turkish-ness by dictate — notwithstanding the obvious observation of many that the Kurds have nothing in common with the Asiatic Turks of Mongolia — physically, linguistically, and temperamentally. The Kurds, an indigenous people of the Middle East, have to forgo their language and culture as well, Article 3 of the Turkish constitution dictates it, “The language of the country is Turkish and there can be no changes made to this article.” These articles of faith as well as practice are the laws of the land, even though Ankara, last August, took some reluctant steps to offer some lukewarm acceptance to the Kurds. People of shallow understanding have hailed these moves as revolutionary in nature and have began cautioning the Kurds to wait. They would do better to join the Kurds to free another people from the clutches of tyranny for the cause of liberty.
Too much was said in Istanbul that should have been left unsaid and I find that addressing the adversaries of the Kurds, the so-called friends of the Turks, though important, but rather time consuming and often at the expense of the work that I could do to cultivate Kurds and the lovers of humanity, the ultimate arbiters of freedom in Kurdistan. So I will end my incomplete rebuttal by noting that historians have long observed, and politicians have hardly noted it, that tyrannies are the real threat to the stability of the world and a menace to the future of humanity. Societies that are ignorant of equal benefits of law and liberty are fertile grounds for leaders to engage in flashes of arbitrary power. When and if that power is used, it is meant to dazzle the subjects and showcase the justness of the chiefs. Myths are born and legends are created. People are encouraged to indulge in their perceived or real hatreds as opposed to seeking glory in the pursuit of peaceful occupations. Clearly, our times can be cited as an example of one of these times.
It was an American president, Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of one of the worst calamites in the history of this nation proclaimed to the world that the United States of America couldn’t be half free and half slave. We would do well, in this moment of another trying time, to revisit his words again, and ask ourselves, can this world, after 9/11, be home to both freedom and tyranny? Another American, a true genius, Benjamin Franklin, was even more on target when he said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In Istanbul, the harangue was for temporary safety; it should have been for essential liberty for all the children of God.