The PKK and Turkey

24 10 2007

I apologize for my extended and unannounced hiatus. I was sick and also incredibly busy. If this were a real blog that people read I probably couldn’t get away with that, but fortunately it is not.

I’m going to start with the gigantic news that’s all over the U.S. press -that Turkey wants to cross its border with Iraq to take out the PKK.

This is not a real countryThe PKK is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. For the uninitiated, there is, in fact, no official Kurdistan – Kurds are spread out over Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and a little bit of Syria and Russia.

Kurds have been campaigning for their sovereignty since the early 20th century, and the PKK functions somewhat like the Irish Republican Army. Their activities are primarily focused on obtaining the independence of Kurdistan, and they sometimes engage in terrorism to that end.

As you can see on the map there, a significant portion of the Kurdish population lives in what is officially Turkey, and there has historically been a lot of tension between Turkey and Kurdish nationalists.

So, some Iraqi members of the PKK crossed the Iraq-Turkey border and killed several Turkish soldiers. I think it was 12. And Turkey wants to cross the border and retaliate.

The problem for the U.S. is that the Kurds are our only friends in Iraq, and we would prefer not to piss them off. It’s a pickle.


Places that are not Iran or Palestine

4 10 2007

If you take a look at the tag cloud over there you’ll notice that I’ve been disproportionately addressing Iran, Palestine and Israel. I figure that’s inevitable – those are places with a lot of conflict (Iraq obviously has conflict, too, but I avoid writing about it as much because it’s incredibly depressing). Also, the only person who has ever commented here is Iranian, and I have to address my audience’s interests. But I thought maybe today I could switch it up and see what’s going on in other places.

According to al-Jazeera there have been more than 200 forest fires in Lebanon over the past two days – they think someone set the fires deliberately, either to obtain coal as a cheaper source of fuel (most likely) or for political reasons.

In Saudi Arabia there’s apparently been a little loosening of taboos over women driving – that is, they’re discussing it. There was a question about this on my Reporting exam yesterday, and I missed it, which is maybe another reason why I should check out news in other countries.

Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country (a lot of the time pundits in the United States take laws or customs from Saudi Arabia and erroneously behave as if they apply to the whole Muslim world, which is annoying), so it’s always good to hear about taboos breaking down there.

Kuwait is predictably a little boring. The big headline on Kuwait Times today is that the king made a speech about how the legislative and executive branches should work ‘hand-in-hand’ for Kuwait’s future. Which means, as far as I can tell, exactly nothing. I suspect Kuwait Times is a government newspaper, because government newspapers love to report on boring speeches made by government officials.

And finally, almost a month after the fact, Israel has admitted to attacking northern Syria on September 6. Israeli officials had refused to confirm or deny that the attack had even taken place, but when the Syrian president went on record yesterday to say that the attacks had indeed happened, Israel had to say something. They wouldn’t say why they did it – the U.S. press is speculating that North Korea was shipping some kind of nuclear technology to the area, but a lot of people think Israel was targeting arms headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Everybody’s a terrorist

1 10 2007

A couple of months ago the U.S. Senate voted to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (a segment of the Iranian military) as a terrorist unit. I’m not sure what the surface defense for this was, but the underlying logic is obvious: we can do dirtier things to organizations we label “terrorist” than we can to state-sponsored militaries.

The word “terrorist” is already being thrown around so much by pundits it hardly means anything anymore – it’s the new “Nazi,” in that you can use it to describe anyone whose politics you don’t like. But we have to remember that it’s still a politically charged word, even while its definition is becoming broader. This vote in the U.S. Senate had bi-partisan support despite its inanity – why do you think that is?

Because every politician in the room knew that if he voted against it he could be accused of supporting terrorists, despite the fact that the organization in question is very obviously not a terrorist organization.

If we move away from the specific definition of terrorism they teach you in political science classes – attacks carried out by non-state actors against civilians, typically in order to coerce states into enacting a desired policy – the word loses meaning all together. We already have words for when states use force to coerce their own citizens – military rule, despotism, ‘police state.’ If Congress wants to propose acting against a state for such reasons it should go ahead, but it should use the correct and specific word. To label the IRGC – reprehensible though it may often be – a terrorist organization, is to lie.

Having said that, you can imagine how delighted I was to read about this:

Iran says CIA is ‘terrorist’ agency(al-Jazeera)
The Iranian Parliament has voted to classify the CIA as a terrorist agency, and the U.S. Army as a terrorist organization.

The parliament said the two organisations were terrorists for a number of reasons.

It said they were involved in dropping nuclear bombs in Japan in World War II and used depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It also said they supported the killings of Palestinians by Israel, bombed and killed Iraqi civilians and tortured terror suspects in prisons.

The resolution urges Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s, the Iranian president, government to treat the two as terrorist organisations.

It also paves the way for the resolution to become legislation which, if ratified by the country’s constitutional watchdog, would become law.


“America’s Diplomatic Fig Leaf”

29 09 2007

I’m becoming very fond of this columnist at Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri. His latest column, “America’s Diplomatic Fig Leaf,” is about Condoleezza Rice’s push for the upcoming Middle East Peace Conference in November. He says when political leaders don’t know what to do, they hold international conferences, which become figurative fig leaves to cover their political nakedness – and often subvert the causes for which the conferences are held.

Anybody who has bought a carpet in a Persian bazaar would know that the larger the number of participants in a haggling session the less the chances of a deal being made.

The history of the Middle East conflict illustrates the point.

After the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Palestinians who were most directly affected by the conflict were inclined to accept their status as losers in exchange for a space in which they could build their nationhood. The Arab states, however, would have none of that. They could afford to appear heroic at the expense of the Palestinians. Overtime, the cause of Palestine became an ideological toy and a political subterfuge for all sorts of people. The overexposure of the issue on the international scene made its resolution that much more difficult, especially during the Cold War when both blocs used the Middle East as a battleground for proxy wars.

“War is one of the most intimate of human relationships, something similar to love,” says Taheri. “It brings two sides together in extreme proximity, excluding all others.”

Later I want to talk about how many people have been screwed over by the tug-of-war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the Middle East and its oil.


29 09 2007

I updated the “About this Blog” section, which I’ve retitled “About MidEastPress” because I really don’t like the word blog. I re-wrote that section because I wrote it very quickly last time, and it was kind of stupid. Now I think it more effectively describes the goals of the blog.

The most important part, for those of you who aren’t into clicking:

“…as an American I feel that the best way for me to address this gap in understanding is to address Americans about news in the Middle East, taking a few things into consideration that Americans often forget about, including

  • the history of Western interference in the region
  • the interaction of governments with the press
  • the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its current implications
  • and maybe most importantly, the fact that the Middle East is not a monolith, but a region composed of many varied cultures, and that discussing it as a monolith is rarely conducive to understanding or productive dialogue.”

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

28 09 2007

Iran Press Poll: Do you agree with the way Columbia University treated President Ahmadinejad?

(here’s the way they treated him, in case you haven’t heard.)

Iran Press Service is an organization that exists primarily to disseminate information that the Iranian government won’t allow in the country – it is essentially anti-Iranian government – so it’s telling that 41.4 percent of the people who have taken the poll disagree with Ahmadinejad’s treatment at Columbia.*

Here’s how I feel about it: Whether you like him or not, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the President of Iran. Being so disrespectful of him

A. wastes a valuable opportunity for dialogue, and
B. is just unconscionably disrespectful of Iranians. He is, for better or worse, representing Iran, and treating him like some kind of wayward teenager displays a very ugly kind of American arrogance.

200 Lawmakers Hail President’s Speech

From Iran Daily, a government newspaper (you’ll be able to tell it’s a government newspaper when you read the article).
Americans Made Ahmadinejad a Victim, Strengthen Him At Home
Editorial from Iran Press Service. Quote from the article: “I’m ashamed of myself to feel that because of the insults he ushered to Ahmadinejad, I share the humiliations made to him, a man whom I don’t like at all.”

I know I’ve pretty much only talked about Iran and Palestine in the past few days, and am running the risk of being labeled an anti-Semite, so I feel it’s necessary to clarify: of course Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust never happened is ridiculous, and I’m a huge fan of Semites. It’s fair to say I’m anti-Zionist, but so are a lot of Jews.

*The number has gone down since I took the poll – at noon on September 29, the number of people who disapprove of his treatment is down to 39.4%

Mahmoud Abbas recognizes Israel as “a state of and for the Jews”

27 09 2007

For those who wonder why many people refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel – it goes beyond ideology.

Abbas: Don’t cross the red-lines
An editorial from AMIN. Khaled Amayreh discusses Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent recognition of Israel as “a state of and for the Jews,” and the implications of that recognition.

Recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state,” let alone “a state of and for the Jews,” implies that the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians citizens of Israel have only a “temporary” or “transient” but not “permanent” right to live in their homes and towns, and that sooner or latter, these “goyem” would have to either emigrate, willy-nilly, or be brutally expelled because they are not Jews.

Israel currently considers the West Bank and Gaza territories, which means that the people who live in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of Israel (and can’t vote).

Israel is in a pickle with the West Bank and Gaza. It can either A) officially incorporate the territories and their citizens into Israel, thereby making the majority of the population Arab and negating Israel’s status as a Jewish state, B) give the territories back to Palestine, or C) incorporate the territories, but institute official apartheid (rather than unofficial apartheid, which is what they have going now). Given those options, it’s obvious why they’ve kept the West Bank and Gaza as territories.