Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kurdish questions

/ more trouble? /

As a crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Kurd armed revolutionary organization, that Turkey (and most of the West now) considers terrorist, seems to be (had been?) unfolding in Europe (possibly with US backing), and over 10.000 Kurds from all over Europe demonstrated recently in Strasbourg for the release of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan... I'd like to recommend an excellent article on the Kurds, Turkey and Iraq from the NY Review of Books (titled The Uncontainable Kurds), which provides a good idea of the forces and attitudes involved in the greater Kurdistan area, forces that include Turkey, the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, the PKK (or whatever it calls itself nowadays), its Iranian Kurdish offshoot, the US, Iran and possibly Syria - not to mention assorted islamist groups, Shia and Sunni Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi insurgency/anti-occupation struggle.

However the situation that is unfolding doesn't seem to have some sort of stable and peaceful long-term option...

... The problem being that the Kurds - many Kurds, I should say - all over the region, see the circumstances in Iraq as providing finally a historical opportunity for the creation of a Kurdish state (the Kurds being the largest stateless nation in the world, at possibly over 25 million). This is a development feared by Turkey, which - correctly I think- believes, that the creation of a bordering Kurdish state, will empower the more radical Turkish Kurds, and conceivably spearhead Kurdish nationalism in its Southeast. This will happen of course as long as Turkey refuses to seek a broader political solution for the Turkish Kurds. Thus, Turkey has threatened to militarily intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan. The flashpoint might turn out to be the city of Kirkuk, of which a Turkish diplomat has said:

"Kirkuk is the number one security issue and public concern right now...Kirkuk is a potential powder keg. For us it has special status. It is like Jerusalem. It belongs to all the people. We do not want to intervene in Iraq. But we have red lines - Kirkuk and attacks on ethnic minorities."

A referendum on Kirkuk's fate, is set to be held by December 2007 - although there are powerful voices calling for its postponement. Control of the area around Kirkuk would give the Iraqi Kurds possession of around 40% of Iraqi oil reserves, making a Kurdish state instantly viable - something that apparently it isn't without the Kirkuk fields.

The thing is that, indeed, the Kurdish areas of Iraq can only remain part of Iraq, if the country doesn't devolve into all-out civil war that would partition the Sunni and Shiia areas, or (more probably) make remaining within Iraq quite unattractive for the Kurds. This development however cannot be ruled out - and neither can one rule out the eventual dominance of pro-independence forces in Iraqi Kurdistan that would, at some not too distant future, opt for or threaten with full independence. This could of course ignite a renewed insurgency in SE Turkey and Iran. Especially in Turkey if the political leadership - and primarily the military who in fact run "national security" matters in Turkey - don't come to some form of viable political settlement on the Kurdish issue.

The other option would be for Iraqi Kurdistan to transform into a US protectorate, a Middle Eastern "base of operations" for the US military. This option is being actively pursued by the Kurdish leaders in Iraq. This doesn't seem probable however, given the fact that such an option would require either some sort of logistical support form Turkey (unlikely in the independence scenario) or its alienation (unlikely for geopolitical reasons). It seems to me a bit more likely that the US will suggest defining a diminished territorially and politically Iraqi Kurdistan, which would be an autonomous part of a confederate or federal Iraq (assuming that such an entity exists). If the Kurds show the required patience, this is the least bloody scenario. Otherwise the US will leave any overambitious Kurdish nationalism out to dry - at the mercy of what will be called "Turkish peacekeeping operations", or "antiterrorist actions".

In this scenario however, Turkey buries decisively its European prospects, and involves itself in a major war, facing the sum total of the Kurdish nation, including the battle-ready and relatively well-armed forces of the Iraqi Kurds, in conjunction with whatever destabilizing potential the PKK will have to offer. Turkey might then join ranks with Iran in its anti-Kurdish campaign... What would happen then is anybody's guess. But one thing is certain: it would be yet another historical catastrophe for all involved.

As US withdrawal becomes inevitable (the sooner the better I say - it is quite obviously fueling the civil war, which the occupation, again obviously, ignited), the Kurds will have to develop a new strategy. Denise Natali, an Arab and Islamic scholar rightly points out that:

...[Recent] political decisions and trends are not a signal of American betrayal, but rather, a wake up call for the Kurds that US support is not obligatory, permanent, or unconditional. Despite the progress made in the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish-American alliance, there is reason to believe that the US will assure Sunni Arab and/or Turkish nationalist interests over Kurdish ones. This possibility will become increasingly likely as the 2008 presidential elections approach, and the Iraq war - or ways to disengage from the country - becomes central to the election campaign.

Thus, just as the US is rethinking its policy on Iraq, so too, must the KRG renegotiate its strategies, alliance structures, and forms of leverage. The Kurdish elite must create a ‘plan B’ as an alternative path to ensuring Kurdish autonomy in the long term...

...Instead of waiting for the Americans to resolve the Kurdish problem, the Kurds will have to assume a more proactive role in determining their own political survival. If these necessary preparations are not made then local populations are likely to be taken by surprise once again, although this time they will have a lot more to lose than they did 15 years ago.

This "proactive" role however, should very clearly be understood for what it entails: limited autonomy inside Iraq and "antiterrorist" campaigns with broadened cultural rights in Turkey. I fear that current expectations far exceed the realistic.

Cross-posted in the European Tribune

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fighting the relativist right

/ science wars / rewound /
In a piece written by Seed magazine's Chris Mooney and Alan Sokal, of Sokal Affair fame, they discuss how the torch of science relativism was passed from the Western academic "left" (or indeed left), to the rather non-academic folks in and around the White House:

"HOW AND WHY did the science wars move out of academia and reemerge in Washington, with political poles reversed? During the Clinton years, many of the worst science abusers — such as anti-evolution fundamentalists — remained politically out in the cold, at least at the federal level. That began to change in 1994, as the Gingrich Republicans, highly sympathetic to the party's emerging socially conservative 'base' and to the interests of private industry, laid claim to Congress.

They proceeded to attack evidence demonstrating a human role in climate change, all as well as in the depletion of the ozone layer as part of a sweeping attempt to undermine environmental regulation. Simultaneously, they dismantled Congress' world-renowned scientific advisory body, the Office of Technology Assessment, which had provided our elected representatives with reliable scientific counsel for more than two decades. "

The piece refers to Bruno Latour's doubts about the whole science studies field, in light of the use that some of its tools have been having (Latour being among those in "Science Studies" most mercilessly ridiculed by Sokal's and Bricmont's work). In an impressively self-critical article of his, published in 2003 (it seems) in Critical Inquiry, Latour has this to say about the kinship of modern conspiracy theories' core mentality with the kind of critique he quite rightly identifies as part of the arsenal of the science studies field:

...Let me be mean for a second: what's the real difference between conspiracists and a popularized, that is a teachable, version of social critique inspired for instance by a too-quick reading of, let's say, a sociologist as eminent as Pierre Bourdieu–to be polite I will stick with the French field commanders? In both cases, you have to learn to become suspicious of everything people say because "of course we all know" that they live in the thralls of a complete illusio on their real motives. Then, after disbelief has struck and an explanation is requested for what is "really" going on, in both cases again, it is the same appeal to powerful agents hidden in the dark acting always consistently, continuously, relentlessly. Of course, we, in the academy, like to use more elevated causes–society, discourse, knowledge-slash-power, fields of forces, empires, capitalism–while conspiracists like to portray a miserable bunch of greedy people with dark intents, but I find something troublingly similar in the structure of the explanation, in the first movement of disbelief and, then, in the wheeling of causal explanations coming out of the deep Dark below. What if explanations resorting automatically to power, society, discourse, had outlived their usefulness, and deteriorated to the point of now feeding also the most gullible sort of critiques?8 Maybe I am taking conspiracy theories too seriously, but I am worried to detect, in those mad mixtures of knee-jerk disbelief, punctilious demands for proofs, and free use of powerful explanation from the social neverland, many of the weapons of social critique. Of course conspiracy theories are an absurd deformation of our own arguments, but, like weapons smuggled through a fuzzy border to the wrong party, these are our weapons nonetheless. In spite of all the deformations, it is easy to recognize, still burnt in the steel, our trade mark: MADE IN CRITICALLAND.

His are of course valid concerns: the sort of boundless social constructivism that was brought to the academic forefront during the past few decades in western universities, was indeed a rather blunt and indiscriminate tool, a weapon that obviously fit perfectly with the sort of religious and market fundamentalism, conspiratorialism and the likes that was far more a dominant feature of the modern Western societies than any sort of commitment to "scientific rationality". But, I have to add, what was obvious, was that the more vapid sort of relativism that became immensely popular in the Anglo-Saxon and French universities (mostly), was the perfect philosophy for advertisers and the PR industry - and not incidentally it was widely taught in most of the US communication schools: certainly not because of its emancipatory qualities but rather for its quite comfortable fit with the marketing ethos and the spin generation that a substantial part of corporate communications requires.

Although there is an interesting debate waiting to be had somewhere about this, let me suggest that the reason of PoMo's academic dissemination and popularity was the fact that it served as a perfect ultimate and literate philosophy for the many Pepsi generations and their consumer habits and addictions, as well as a pretentious and revered excuse and justification for bold, shameful lies.

Because of course, as someone said, it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness - and their ideological roles I might add.