The worst take on the Kurds

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Debate continues to rage about the rights and wrongs of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw a handful of US troops from their posts along the Syrian-Turkish border, where they have acted as de facto human shields, preventing the Turkish military from striking at the Kurdish forces they accuse of aiding Turkey’s own domestic insurgents (or terrorists, depending on your point of view). There are powerful and emotive arguments on both sides, and some that are of much lesser quality. But I think I have just managed to locate the absolutely worst take on the whole situation, from Dyah Abou Jahjah, the founder and former leader of the Arab European League and somewhat a public intellectual in Belgium where he resides:

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Bravo to the propagandist that he is for picking a picture of two relatively light haired Kurdish young female fighters to illustrate this point. “The Kurdish blond female warrior” might indeed be a face of something but for the fact that she isn’t as she doesn’t exits outside of Jahjah’s fertile imagination. Think hard as I might of the thousands of images I’ve seen over the years of Kurds and Kurdish fighters I can’t think of any where they look “white”, by which I presume European, and least of all blonde or “Aryan”. With apologies for the “visual racism”, and barring any useful context, most people aren’t able to tell an average Kurdish face from an average Arab or an average Turk or an average Persian or an average Azeri one, which is also another way of saying that no one will mistake them for an ethnic Swede or an Italian.

But Jahjah will no doubt argue that he’s talking about the image within the “Western imagination” rather than an objective reality – the Kurds are coconuts, white on the inside, to borrow a (genuinely) racist trope. Which, firstly, begs the question why not use a more typical photo of Kurdish female fighters like this:

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The answer being that it would show Jahjah’s “Edward Said meets SJWs” thesis to be ridiculous from the outset. But, secondly, even framed as a “perception”, it is still, to use an academic term, bullshit.

There are no doubt many different reasons why people in the West might be supporting the Kurdish cause.

The left has traditionally been fond of the Kurds because of the prominence of various left-wing political currents in their society, ranging from moderate to Stalinist. The anti-Turkish PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers Party, has been a typical Marxist-Leninist Third World liberation movement in the waning years of the Cold War; it is now designated as a terrorist organisation across most of the West. In that sense, the Kurds are perhaps the most secular and most progressive of the Middle Eastern peoples. But I don’t know anyone on the left who wouldn’t be offended by the implication that their support for the Kurds is therefore racially based, unless you’re so woke that you think that socialism is a white thing and as such has no place among brown people.

The right has generally supported the Kurds because despite their left-wing tendencies they are probably the most pro-Western group in the region (certainly now that the communist bloc doesn’t exist anymore as a source of inspiration and support). The Kurds say they have no friends but the mountains, which in a pragmatic sense has always made them seek allies and assistance outside of the Middle East, or among other Middle East outsiders like the Israelis. The Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly welcomed and supported the American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein and created the most peaceful and prosperous part of the post-Saddam Iraq. Both in Iraq and in Syria they have been staunch allies against the Islamists of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. There is little surprise that the right feels fond of people who desire good relations and links with the West, who oppose extremism, who treat women as equal citizens, who don’t detonate themselves in Paris and London, who don’t embrace Sharia, and who are not anti-Semites. “White, westernised and anti-Islam”? Definitely not white, anti-Islamic extremism rather than anti-Islam, but yes, westernised if, as Jahjah, you seem to associate being relatively open, liberal and progressive with the West. As if there was something wrong with such qualities, which Jahjah otherwise seems to much enjoy and benefit from, living and working as he does in Belgium and not his native Lebanon. By the way, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Hong Kongers are westernised too by that definition while not being white. Are the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong also “the new face of the Arian superior race”?

The centrists or more apolitical people might support the Kurds simply because they are the largest nationality in the world without their own state, which they have been promised in 1918 and are still waiting and hoping for. Instead, over the past century, they have been repeatedly persecuted in the countries where they constitute an ethnic minority, most notably in the pre-2003 Iraq, and have been targeted by jihadis ever since both in Iraq and in Syria. An average person would see Kurds as underdogs, worth supporting for the sake of fairness and justice

Jahjah is the only one here talking about whiteness and Arians [sic]. And it’s very dangerous, because if you choose to see things like democracy, human rights, liberalism, market, freedom, civic and legal equality, and progress (and indeed even socialism) as “white” instead of universal aspirations and institutions that anyone can share and benefit from, you are by extension forcing the non-Caucasian, non-Western majority of the world population to embrace the antitheses of all these things to remain “genuinely” brown, black, yellow or whatever they see themselves, and in order to resist the pernicious “white supremacy”.  And that’s a dark (at the risk of being called a racist by Jahjah) future indeed.

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