A Kurdish Perspective

Kani Xulam

September 18, 2001

If policy makers had looked at history as a rear-view mirror, the attack on the United States and its citizens might have been predicted. 13 years ago, on March 16, 1988, another, equally alarming, attack took place over the skies of Iraqi Kurdistan. Chemical and biological weapons were unleashed on a civilian population in broad daylight. If our collective humanity had moved us to the scene of attack to investigate the depth of human alienation, the suicide bombers of World Trade Center and Pentagon might never have been recruited.

America refused to acknowledge the horrific act in Iraq. The White House continued with its business as usual with the regime in Baghdad. Close to 5000 Kurds — a number that now matches the missing in the rubble of the World Trade Center — who dropped like autumn leaves did not enter the calculations of those who work at the State Department. The Middle East, the Americans thought, was not just an ocean away but also a continent. But when some spoke of it, it was usually superficial and sometimes in contempt. One “statesman”, Henry Kissinger, for example, when Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war, could note without a blush: “Their fight and misery should go on; we could only benefit from it.”

Now the misery has hit the American shores. Now there may be “statesmen”, an ocean and a continent away, who are wishing the citizens of this country the same thing. Americans may have chosen to keep a distance from the Middle East; but the children of the Middle East have found a way to unleash their anger and frustrations on the innocents at home. Unless a sane course is plowed for the future of the entire human family, our spaceship earth is bound to hit some rocky shores again. The hopelessly injured of the world, guided by the implacably zealots, will pull us in their direction. This is no time to let the zealots have a say — other than a temporary one — in our collective future.

The holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel notes that, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” America’s indifference or disconnect or less than savory relationship with the rest of the world culminated with the attack that unfolded over the skies of America this past week. If one could speak of one salutary lesson of this monstrous attack on the innocents in America, it is now that, we have all woken up to the miserable dawn of one world in every sense of the word. The violence of last Tuesday has brought us face to face with a new reality unlike anything ever known before.

There is no question that the fabric of consent between individuals, and peoples for that matter, has just suffered a massive shock whose reverberations will be felt for years to come. Not trust but suspicion will guide many of us in our encounters with peoples of other faiths or hues or even locations. This is no time to despair. It is the time for the lovers of humanity to close ranks, to muffle the trumpets of war, to shout the rule of law and the spirit of understanding and compassion for all the children of God or the earth.

A difficult task at hand is what to do about the individuals who unite depravity with heroism and seek death with the confidence of a sleepwalker and murder innocents en masse be they in New York or Halapja. Unless we try to understand the world we live in better, the next attack will be, again unexpected and again deadly, in ways that may defy even the writers of science fiction. For the problem at hand, however, we need a scalpel not an ax.

Future historians will hold the ultimate card on the sources of this nation’s greatness. This student of history believes that at its roots lies Americans’ cardinal attachment to their liberties and freedoms. The anger that is manifesting itself in heroic and wicked ways across this country is understandable. What is not understandable is to disregard the sources of the anger of those who have hit all Americans beyond the comprehension of some of the best-paid pundits. Americans can no longer live happy and secure if their policies generate, whether one sees that way or not, injured individuals. Only a generation ago, injured egos took us all to a place, known as holocaust. We should not let new ones to take us to that forsaken place again.

One thing has become abundantly clear: the people who speak for the earth have to bury their time-honored proclivity with indifference towards the injured in the world. Washington needs to engage the rest of human family rather than dictate to it. The greatness that it now enjoys can only be sustained if it is coupled with responsibility. Evil has struck the world previously. Human spirit has risen to its challenge before. The people of goodwill will prevail again. America can truly be a leader in this fight if it is guided with what has made it great at home.