After: “Always comes round to giving Turkey whatever-t-f it wants, no matter what”…two old posts

8 Oct

After a Guardian article about Trump’s new, erratic Turkey-Syria policy — leaving northeast Syrian Kurds to their fate (after, another “perfect” phone call, this time with Erdoğan?) reposting two posts from 2015 on Syria with lots on Kurds.

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Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything

7 Dec

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I’m going to have to write this post in bullet points of varying length, that I guess reflect the tragic fragmentation of my subject matter in some way, because putting it all together into a coherent “opinion piece” is as hard as finding coherent policy to deal with the problem itself has been. I was against talking about Syria in the beginning of its crisis as if it were an inherently fragmented and “artificial” colonial creation, as it had become the fashion to speak of most of the Levant at some point or another. I particularly objected to Andrew Sullivan’s obnoxious Syria [or Iraq] is not a country declarations. But since then, that’s become the reality – an insistent enough discourse makes itself a reality — so it seems to be more useful to take on all the regions, factors and players involved one at a time…and if I can bring them together usefully at the end, I will.

Russia and Assad: It’s obvious that Russia is pursuing its own agenda in Syria, but frankly — isn’t everyone? — so that’s no great cogent or original observation, and to be very frank, shouldn’t play into our response to either Assad or Putin, given the point to which things have reached at this point, because the degree to which you or I can stomach either Assad or Putin is not the point. The point is that right now I can see no great tragedy in an Assad-run — for how long can be decided later, with Russia (see below) — Russian semi-protectorate that would run from the Latakya Alawite coast down the Hama-Homs-Damascus-Dar’a, corridor, that would provide security and stability for even the region’s originally anti-Assad Sunni population, and even attract Sunnis from the rest of the country who could make their way there: such – I would think – is the ethical questionability of the various Sunni groups (aside from just ISIS I mean) into whose hands the original uprising has fallen and the degree of their war-weary victims’ terror; and — because I think it’s important to declare your subjective affinities before you can honestly put forth your hopefully objective suggestions or propositions – I hope such an entity would also provide a safe haven for part of what’s left of Syrian Christianity as well. (Yes, MESA girls, you’ve caught me again.) It would also be a good idea if we learned a little bit about the Assads and the Alawite past in the region (as it would be equally good for us to know something of Turkish/Kurdish Alevis as well), not to exonerate Assad for anything, but so that we know what we’re talking about before we start unproductively babbling about villains just sprouted out of the earth – like we did in Lebanon in the past about the Gemayels and Maronites or the Jumblatts and Druzes or southern Shiites and Hezbollah. This is homework one would like to assign to the Levant and the Middle East’s Sunni majority as well: a request that it examine its moral conscience, if such a thing exists, and its treatment of minorities in the past, but I understand that that’s probably a tall order that we can’t wait for them to comply with in order to bring some relief to the current hellishness.  Assad remaining on as President of at least part of Syria is an ugly proposition.  But more resistance is a luxury for Western intellectuals at this point.

So let Russia go for what it wants for now; it’s in most everyone’s interest and let’s try to turn it to everyone’s advantage instead of attacking her for every move she makes. ENGAGE RUSSIA. I beg everyone. A plea I will make later as well and repeatedly.

The Shiite crescent or triangle: This is the very real alliance of Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah in Lebanon, a largely Shiite entity that’s essentially what’s left of Iraq, and Iran. It’s not a product of Israel’s paranoid imagination, but only Israel thinks it has any real reason to be worried about it and therefore Israel should be promptly ignored on every point and aspect of those worries.

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Bashar al-Assad

Neither Iraq nor the Iraqi army are functioning entities, so we can temporarily remove them from our discussion. I think I’ve addressed the moral “problematicness” of Assad: that there can be no solution in Syria till he’s gone, though, is a moralistic pose and not a truly moral position — sadly, one even Obama is fond of striking — and is an excuse for doing nothing and a recipe for letting the current holocaust continue. As for Hezbollah: whatever we think of its origins or the nature of its religiosity or its political ideology, it’s a highly professional organization with a highly professional, well-trained and hardened army, and the only Arab or other force that has put Israel in its place twice – took a little longer the first time but was pretty snap the second – and has pretty much served as an Akritai line that has kept it there since and, whatever its political tactics are (I honestly can’t say), it seems to me to be the one force that has kept Lebanon relatively stable (yes, as had Syria) for the past twenty years or so.

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Of course, it does this with the massive organizational and material help of Iran. Which brings us to…

Iran: Get over Iran. It became a comforting cliché, with which the Middle Eastern Studies academic left aunanized itself for several decades: that the imperialist West had aborted every modern attempt at a democratic, civil society in the Muslim world and that that was therefore responsible for the rise of political Islam. Tell me which countries we’re talking about and who the leaders were who were going to lead them to this heavenly, secular modernity? The even more militaristic and fascist and statist successors of Kemal in Turkey? Look how that’s turning out and it’s still incomparably the best of the batch and, ok, there’s still hope recent setbacks can be reversed. Who else? Nasser and Egypt? Arafat or current Palestinian leadership?  The Ba’athist successors of the Hashemites in Iraq? Maybe in Jordan? Ben Bella and Algeria? Bourguiba even and Tunisia? The Saudis? Jinnah’s successors, further east, or even Jinnah himself? Maybe the Afghan royal family? Who?

The only country in the Muslim world that in my humble opinion seemed to have had many of the prerequisites for a secular, civil society, perhaps a constitutional, truly assembly-based government, and a leader with an appropriately intellectual, bourgeois background and education — and accompanying democratic inclinations — was Iran and Mohammad Mosaddegh. And the Anglo-Americans destroyed that experiment. And yet Iran still seems to be the country, which despite the powerful institutional obstacles, has, on a popular level at least, the temperamental prodiagrafes for the development of such society and is poll-wise the most pro-American in the region. What is the rationale behind continuing to villainize and sanction and isolate? Ok, maybe not “what is the rationale?” But I’m simply calling for the acceptance of the fact that allowing Iran to open up to the world would inevitably – no, don’t give me Russia or China as examples – lead to an internal opening up as well, and both Iranians and the rest of the world have only to gain, when, and not if, that happens. Let it happen faster. As fast as you can.

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Mohammad Mosaddegh

Turkey: There probably isn’t a country that, though never “officially” colonized, is a better object lesson in how to endure the machinations, infiltrations, exploitation, hypocrisies and pousties of Western manipulation – from the 18th century to this day – and how to then flip them to your advantage like a bad-ass judoka than Turkey.  In dismembering the Ottoman Empire, all the Great Powers did their best to make the process of our separating from our neighbours into independent nations as long and complicated and bloody as they possibly could. When after WWI, they realized the Turks weren’t going let them split even a remnant Anatolia into six or seven parts and give those away too…suddenly…Turkey…could…do…NO…wrong…and still can’t. It’s fabled “privileged geographical position,” which no Western power was able to grab for itself, allows it to do anything it wants: supress all and any pressures for democratic change; conduct a vicious decades-long civil war against – I dunno, can it still be called a minority when it’s one-fifth of your population – its Kurds; violently harass its supposedly Lausanne-protected Greek community till they all leave en masse, while invading Cyprus to protect its Turkish minority there…and on and on and on. And now that President-to-be-for-at-least-a-decade-I-figure Erdoğan has sat on the throne Turks themselves put him on, the anti-democratization process: the societal and governmental Islamization; the assassinations and imprisonments, the suppression of journalistic rights and other democratic voices; the bullying of neighbours and throwing around of irresponsible, expansionist language; the destruction of a painfully wrought peace process that Turkish Kurds showed remarkable maturity in struggling towards, and the unleashing of the formidable, American-backed and supplied power of the Turkish military on them once again; the probable aiding and abetting of the animals of ISIS in various ways, plus the shooting down of a Russian air force jet out of pure pissing-contest impulses; not to mention the ever greater and egomaniacal vandalizing of one of humanity’s greatest and most ancient cities – all continue. And the world breathes not a word. Obama did not even address the downing of the Russian jet: all I saw him do is rudely turn around in his chair at some banquet at the Paris Climate Change Conference and off-handedly say to some journalist: “Well, a nation has the right to defend its air space.” The next day six Turkish fighter jets flew almost two-thirds the way across the Aegean into northeastern Greek airspace , and we didn’t say a word and wouldn’t have had our call taken even if we had tried, since it happens on a practically monthly basis. NATO allies, you see…

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Nobody reported the story except the Greek press.

The Kurds: “I have a dream,” as they say, for Kurds: that they will recognize the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan with a capital at Erbil is already a de facto independent state and not complicate things in the neighbourhood by please resisting the urge to declare de jure independence.

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Kurdish-inhabited regions of the Middle East and Caucasus, according to tribal break-down.

This centrally located political entity can serve as the hub of a wheel of still-to-be-worked-for, autonomous, Kurdish regions encircling it, and by not insisting on independence and union, they will be able to put more resources and energy into developing what they have and not fighting to defend it forever. I don’t know; maybe the future of the world will involve the devolving of nation-states into affiliated groups of semi-autonomous units with perhaps overlapping or varying degrees of jurisdiction – Holy Roman Empire style – and the Kurds may be the first to experience this as a people and benefit from it: that is, to see diaspora (if that word really applies to a non-migrating group), or political “multiplicity,” as a finger in every pie and not as separation, and be able to reap the advantages of that. Plus, again, as vehemently secular-minded, it will hopefully remain what it has already become: another safe space for the remnants of Syro-Mesopotamian Christianity.

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The Christian village of Maluula in Syria

Saudi Arabia and the rest of them down there: I admit that for a very long time I didn’t get this one. The fear of Russian power and the resentment of the Iranian Revolution, the obvious reasons for catering to an obnoxious Israel’s every whim and demand and the kid-glove coddling of Turkey all make some sense, though my ultimate point here will be that they no longer do. But the Saudis…no clue. Did any-one need their oil in particular? Wasn’t the United States itself already energy self-sufficient? Why? That the West always does what it does because Jews control Washington and everyone wants Saudi oil seemed to me to be the political theories of Athenian taxi-drivers.

Yet I was just speaking to someone from the ministry of energy here in Greece the other night and it turns out that compared to that of other oil-producing nations, Saudi oil (and I guess other Gulf State oil as well?) is unusually high in quality, demanding minimal refining and easy drilling as well, since its gigantic reserves are all close to the surface. The price of oil can plunge to rock bottom and they will still have monstrous amounts of a desirable product with which they can undersell any other country in the world and that will keep them filthy rich into the foreseeable future. And capable of funding jihadism everywhere.  Including the spiritual “inner struggle” kind.

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So we’ve ended up here, with a nice neat circle drawn around ISIS territory because that is our major problem and that’s the entity we’re looking to eradicate plain and simple. And it can’t be done without a profound shift in how we – I don’t how we want to define “we:” the West, the civilized world, how about just humanity? – treat and engage each and every one of the players involved in the above scenario. Because while our objective is to destroy ISIS, almost all the above policies are based on either almost irrationally selfish and small-minded views, or even more so, on a Cold War logic that simply no longer applies, and that will do little to impede the danger ISIS presents, in almost anyway you take at it or from wherever you look at it.

First and foremost and again: let Russia in. ENGAGE RUSSIA. We all have everything to gain and nothing to lose if we stop treating Russia like a pariah nation. Russian power is not a threat and can instead prove massively useful to the world if we bring Russia into the fold instead of trying to desperately keep her out of everywhere and even foolishly try and fence her in. It may be a little more complicated than a simplistic “more flies with honey” theory but whatever it is we choose to describe as Russian aggression, Russia sees as defensive and that may not be an irrational response from a powerful nation that sees itself treated as an amoral being that is constantly excluded from all the West’s major moves.

And I’m talking about radical engagement: not just lifting sanctions and trade blocks and visa requirements. I’m talking about making Russia a part of the European family of nations, as laughably dysfunctional as that family may be looking right now. Why are Montenegro or Georgia on the list of candidates for NATO membership — Montenegro probably as some sleazy old promise offered to it if it seceded from Serbia; and Georgia, one of the oldest polities in the Russians’ sphere of influence (for better or worse and partly of its own initiative at the start) and with a complicated love-hate relationship between them – while Russia itself is not?  Too big to absorb. Well, yes, but my point is to stop thinking of her as an entity to control and absorb and start thinking of her as a political and especially military power that’s just too enormous to not have as an ally in the current struggle we’re engaged in.

ISIS (and Turkey to some degree) ticked off the Russians bad and they have already done more to weaken the “caliphate” in the past few weeks than all other Western actions combined. Is it escalating the conflict? There is no escalating this conflict: when your enemy is sworn to escalate it to the maximum, and there’s no reason to think they’re bluffing, you’re already there. Yes, there’s reason to fear that Russia – which uses Powell-Doctrine-type “overwhelming force” more than the United States ever has – will go too far and turn central Syria and Raqqa into a Chechnya and Grozny, but the best way to limit those kinds of excesses are to enter into some coordinated action with Russia and not just allow her to act alone. Because we’re going to need Russia when the air campaign needs to stop, when at some point it will. And that’s when I predict that Russia will also be willing to send in men on the ground and I don’t mean just a few special operations groups. While they’re certainly not eager to send their young men off to die in another Afghanistan or Chechnya, this has already – again, for better or worse – become a sort of Holy War for Russians and they will be far less squeamish about sending in troops than any other European society or even the United States at this point. And working with them on such an operation will not only increase its efficacy but limit the risks and excesses.

In the end bringing Russia in from the outside will also change it from the inside; as the nation itself feels less like it has to be on the constant defensive, then so will the Russian government adopt a more open and progressive attitude to its own internal political life.   This is what we saw happening in Turkey in the early 2000s when European Union accession was still a negotiable reality; much of what Turkey and Erdoğan have turned into since are a result of those cards being taken off the table. Do it for everyone then, for us and for them. Engage Russia; it’s a win-win proposition.

As for the rest…

I’m sorry to say this, since being or acting or thinking positively about Turkey and Greco-Turkish relations has been one of my intellectual and emotional priorities for most of my adult life. But something when I got to Istanbul the day after the elections this November felt like a massive internal, tectonic shift for me — like something had snapped.  Slap just half the sanctions and forms of isolation we’ve imposed on Russia and Iran on Turkey instead and let’s see how quickly Erdoğan’s tough guy stance lasts. And cut off military aid completely. As long as its going to a state that buys ISIS oil (which is the least we know of in terms of aiding them), as long as its being used, again, to terrorize its own Kurdish population into submission – cut it off completely. I would say take some of that aid and channel it into civil funding and assistance to Demirtaş and his HDP (Kurdish People’s Democratic Party), but that would probably be illegal, make them an even more vulnerable target and generally backfire. I would say do the same for Alevis in Turkey, whose agenda overlaps with both Kurdish and generally those of all democratic impulses there, but that would backfire even more horribly, since Alevis are a much, much more vulnerable target. (See: “Turkish Alevis and Syrian (or Lebanese…or Turkish?) Alawites — a Twitter exchange)

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Demographic distribution of Alevis in Turkey

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And distribution of Alawites in the Levant, which, aside from Syria, clearly shows major concentrations in Turkish Antakya and also northern Lebanon.

The Kurds: Give the Kurds EVERYTHING they need. They’re creating a society, both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the internal socio-political life of Turkish Kurds that is nothing short of revolutionary in its civic-mindedness, democratic tendencies and secular steadfastness. Yes, nothing’s perfect there either but it’s by far the best we have. And the loose confederation of Kurdish regions that I spoke of earlier may have perhaps an even more strategically valuable position to offer the rest of the world than Turkey does. Beg Turkish Kurds to swear to abide by ceasefire terms despite all provocations by the Turkish state; insist that Iraqi Kurdistan not declare independence. And then give them everything they need, even if it means billions in aid. Because, along with the Russians, they’re the ones who’ll probably have to do even more of the ground fighting when the airstrikes campaign reaches its inevitable limits – and starts harming civilians, which it unfortunately already has — even though they now insist that they’re not spilling any more of their own blood for anything outside of Kurdish-inhabited regions.

The rest will – if it hasn’t already – cause the reader to accuse me of fomenting a Middle East wide Sunni-Shia war, with my sympathies, both personal and ideological, firmly Shiite and that I’m proposing Russia and the West join in on the Shia side. Perhaps it is. Slap down Erdoğan (for whom this is certainly a Sunni-Shia struggle) and keep doing so till his ego is under control or he becomes a lame duck political force. Hard, but not impossible, if Turks start to see the real price they have to pay for so stupidly supporting him. Ignore Israel for now and let the Saudis (for whom this is also certainly a Sunni-Shia Struggle) stew in their own juices and cut off oil purchases if they try anything more radical. And as part of the inevitable opening of Iran and the inevitable growth of its role on the world stage, let it, Hezbollah, the, yes, despicable Assad and the, yes, still dubiously motivated but driven and highly motivated Russians all go to work on ISIS, Da’esh, whatever, and its ridiculous, vicious “caliphate.”

Sound risky? Yes, I know it does. It is. Got a better idea?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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“Syria, Russia, etc.” – a dialogue between me and a friend

20 Dec

In response to : Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything:

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“i agree with you that “no peace with assad” is bullshit rhetoric—even though, morally, i agree with it—but you’re right. and that kind of self-righteous sloganeering has really hurt the syrian opposition.”

Hurt them in the sense that it’s an ultimatum in which you get stuck and then can’t get yourself out of, even when an opportunity presents itself?  Because once you’ve issued that kind of statement, the all important “face-giving” becomes impossible unless you get exactly what you want?

“…but the phrase “i can see no great tragedy” in an assad/russia protectorate struck me as callous. i think perhaps because of that phrase “no great tragedy.” talk to the refugees. seek them out, they won’t be hard to find, and a lot of them speak english. you will see great tragedy, on a great scale, and you will see why leaving him in power is in fact a tragedy. (you’ve seen the caesar pictures, right? there’s a lot to say about the horrors of the regime, but the pictures pretty much say it all.) what will strike you, if you talk to the refugees, is that this is very much a sunni tragedy. Have you read Deb Amos’s book The Eclipse of the Sunnis? it’s a prescient look at the disenfranchisement of the sunni people (not leaders, that’s a different matter). she does a good job of setting the stage for the massive rage, displacement, and revanchism that’s happening now with isis. it’s really important to understand the rural poverty and genuine grievance of the sunni majority in syria. likewise, the supremacism of the minority elites, and how it expresses itself: through a sneering contempt for peasants, through disastrous economic policies—read Suzanne Saleeby’s Jadaliyya piece on the drought, it’s great—and through a kind of neoliberal bootstrap rhetoric from the regime, aimed at the sunni masses, that is truly savage and surreal.”

Really?  Did I really have to say “no greater, horrendous, nightmarish, tragedy” for what I wrote to not have been considered callous?  Do you think I don’t find and seek out refugees in Athens?  They’re everywhere here too — not just in Mytilene or Idomene – and that I don’t talk to them?  They’ve taught the vendors at the farmers’ markets some necessary Arabic: “Wahad euro, wahad kilo,” said one the other day, a farmer from Corinth, like a good Greek who will learn any language with lightning speed if it’s about making a buck, or just satisfying his curiosity about who this new foreign person is or where he’s from, to a hijabbed woman as she perused his stuff, adding, “κι αν δε σ’αρέσει πήγαινε αλλού,” “and if you don’t like it you can go somewhere else.”  To which she replied: “Θα  πάω αλλού” “I’ll go elsewhere” with a smile.  And then they bargained some more and she bought quite a bit of stuff from him and ended up being kinda chums.  OK, two Levantines who will immediately learn any language when it comes to a buck…  Talked to her afterwards; she’s learned that Greek in the month she’s been in Athens, Sunni from somewhere near Aleppo, estimates that nearly half her extended family, including her husband, is dead or scattered all over the world at this point.

I know she just wanted the war to end, with or without Assad was not important to her and I got the feeling it never was, and she swears she’s never going back.  No matter what peace they put in place, because her country “doesn’t exist anymore.”  And what I meant by “no great tragedy” is that the democraticness of Assad or the Russians might have to take a back-seat priority-wise right now.  You hear from everywhere, even from among the most passionately anti-Assad Sunnis, (“They are animals and they are animals; Syria go from bad to more bad…” said another Syrian kid I was talking to on the subway, echoing the Saddam-was-bad-but-this-is-worse you hear from so many Iraqis), that even leaving Assad in place at this point would be preferable to continuing to wage the war as it’s being waged by all sides.  If a Russian-backed Assad can bring a solid, frigid peace to that western, most populated, most urbanized strip of the country right now, do we have the right to be “choosers”?

I understand that this may be “very much a Sunni tragedy,” though I’d be terribly cautious about speaking like that – like Syria is any one group’s tragedy over another’s.  And “revanchism,” S., like the prefix “re-“ indicates, comes from somewhere.  Yes, I’m Greek, and technically Orthodox; yes, I have a special affinity for Shiism, for Turkish Alevis and Bektaşis and for minorities in the Muslim world everywhere, groups whose beliefs and their affective nature seem to undermine mainstream Islam’s arid legalism and moralism.  But when the Western media started explaining to an ignorant Europe and North America who “Assad’s” Alawites were, the first analogy that came to my mind were Lebanese Maronites, whom that same Western media, thirty years earlier, especially any left-leaning kind, had portrayed as the purest, most vicious and by far most responsible for the Lebanese Civil War group at that time — even as it was discovering these newly horrid Shiite “terrorists” in the south and their suicide bombers.  (Yugoslavia and Serbs still come to mind; choose a bad guy and run with it ’cause it’s a simple story that’ll sell).  And maybe if you had cut the 70s and 80s out of Lebanese history and spliced them into a specially edited documentary version of that history, then maybe Maronites do carry a special responsibility.

But you can’t look at an ethno-religious map of the Levant and Mesopotamia, find all non-Sunni and non-Muslim minorities concentrated in the safety of the region’s most inaccessible highlands and not wonder why.  Or find them suffering as a downtrodden, peasant – practically serf – population in the south of Iraq and the south of Lebanon and not wonder again.

And if members of those groups chose a different fate and gathered through history into the safety of numbers in cities, where, because they were excluded from access to other forms of power by the centuries of Sunni hegemony, they acquired the survival skills necessary: the mercantile and financial knowledge; the language skills; the ease with which one emigrates and leaves a city over an ancestral village where the ties are stronger, and knowledge of the broader world that creates and the émigré networks throughout the world it forges, which then reinforce your mercantile and financial strength back home…all of which generally make you more ready for modernity when it comes knocking at the door…  To accuse those groups, whether in Syria today, or Lebanon in the 80s, or in the Balkans and Anatolia in the Ottoman past, of ‘elite minority supremacism’ comes a little uncomfortably close to blaming Jews for anti-semitism.  Your explanation of why Christians don’t number among the refugees because they have a more accessible émigré network that takes them straight to Europe or North America may have sounded callous to me too — like leaving their country doesn’t hurt them.  And if they do — like Jewshave those networks, good for them.  It’s called survival.

In any event, you don’t even have to look so many centuries back, just at the vicious outbreak of Sunni anti-Christian violence, which first made “our sweet mother France” step into the Syro-Lebanese scene in the mid-nineteenth century, to see why an Aleppo Armenian or a Syrian Christian in Damascus is not thrilled with the idea of a largely Sunni revolt against Assad. And I don’t condone it, like I don’t condone it even in a poor, old, lonely Greek lady in Istanbul when she talks about the rural Turks who have taken over “her” city as barbarians, but I, you, we shouldn’t forget that there’s probably a DNA-inscribed fear of the rural “masses” written on these people’s genetic make-up.  ‘Cause when the killing came, it wasn’t the Sunni leaders or paşas or generals even sitting at their desks who did it; it was their neighbors.

And especially  — if all this is about Sunni anger at not being on top anymore, like maybe most Muslim anger in the 20th century is about not being on top anymore — I’m sorry, callous or not — my sympathies are limited.

“re: leaders, what about abdul-karim qassem? what about faisal? what about abdelkrim al-khattabi? what about rashid rida and the 1920 Syrian constitution? i would read libby thompson’s book on constitutionalism on the middle east (justice interrupted), and ali allawi’s biography of faisal (faisal of iraq) and anything on abdelkrim (not sure if there’s been a good biography of him, but if there isn’t there should be) before weighing in on this so definitively.”

I think when I say the Ba’athists that followed the Hashemites in Iraq, it’s clear I’m talking about Faisal.  Ok, maybe Ba’athists per se didn’t follow immediately on the Hashemites in Iraq.  But abdul-karim qassem, S?  Are you for real?  The general who deposed Faisal’s grandson or greatgrandson, had the royal family shot, played around with an attempt at a constitution that got nowhere and then essentially resparked animosity with the Kurdish north that the Ba’athists only took to the next level?  This is the model of the democratic leader who I’m supposed to think was going to bring true constitutionalism to Iraq?  abdelkrim al-khattabi, I don’t know that I can consider anything but the leader of an ethnic rebellion against the French, since he didn’t get a chance to do much else and I don’t know that if he had succeeded, his new order wouldn’t have involved a potent element of Berber “revanchism” against Morocco’s Arab-speaking population.  Rashid Rida I know nothing about, so I won’t cheat and assail you with Wikipedia info.  And yet Wiki calls him a Salafi.  Ok.  I’ll get Libby Thomson’s “Justice Interrupted” – it genuinely sounds like what I’ve always needed to read — and we’ll talk.

“also, finally: i would cool it with the “mesa girls” thing. i know exactly the type, and they bug the shit out of me too, but the phrase is bad because a: the phenomenon you’re describing is just as common among mesa men, if not more so, than women, and b. it makes you sound petty, like you hit on some mesa scholar, and she rejected you, and now you won’t let it go. I KNOW that’s not what happened, but that’s how it sounds, and it undercuts your knowledge and the point that you’re making.”

Point taken, S.  And I’m glad you “KNOW” that what happened wasn’t my hitting on some chick at a MESA conference and not being able to deal with the blow off.  Because what actually happened was far worse.  What happened was that people I was very close to and considered friends for life just severed ties with me, because after 2001 and/or 2003 I just wouldn’t fall in line with their party policy of finding “explanation” for any and all expression of Arab anger, no matter what form it took.  It shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  All through the years of our friendship, the sense that I wasn’t quite “correct” enough ran as an undercurrent of disapproval in their attitudes toward me.  And, like I say, these types weren’t even Middle-Eastern born, weren’t even ethnic-Americans who learned Arabic at home. They were super-assimilated types that discovered their “Arab-ness” as undergrads and had to learn the language in college.  I was more an Arab than any of them.  And when we all met in Istanbul because I was doing the fieldwork for a documentary on the Greeks of the city that never got anywhere, the one who was most obnoxious to me and suspect of my “Christian” academic interests was the only one regionally-born, but not even Muslim, but from a very prestigious Lebano-Palestinian intellectual lineage of Protestant converts who apparently had to treat me that way to keep her claim to her clan’s laurels fresh.  So when the early 2000s came around I had to either be silenced or cut off, and since I wouldn’t accept the former it was the latter.  And it made me very angry, in the vein of: “Look at us, you assholes, you can’t find a way to accept the differently inflected views of someone essentially on your side, and you expect any-body to be able to productively communicate in ‘our parts.’”  Plus, it hurt, personally, and I’m Albanian and a past master at keeping and nursing a grudge — an often violent one — and don’t forgive shit like that.  I might lay off the “MESA girls” stuff – but I’ll still be lying in wait.

“re: hezbollah, that’s a longer conversation. you’re right about their military prowess, but to say that they’re the only thing keeping lebanon stable is a statement i wouldn’t make.”

I don’t know enough about Lebanon to make a statement like that: “…the only thing keeping Lebanon stable…”  In fact, that’s not what I said.  I do kind of think that, as unfortunate as both phenomena might be or have been as the source of Lebanese “peace,” that it was the Syrian occupation on the one hand and Hezbollah’s very intelligent (or brutally intelligent) conversion of their military prowess into political hegemony that essentially stopped the ugliest part of the ugliness in Lebanon.  Answer that.  Isn’t that kinda what happened?  What the always creative Lebanese — a country and people I love with an unusual urgency though I’ve never even been there – did with those two — one north and one south – factors afterwards is another question.  But wasn’t it the two of them together that kind of put a stop to the the hellish laying waste of the place?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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