Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 25, 2006
By: Jonathan Dworkin

KURDS AND JEWS....When it comes to social decorum doctors in every country are the same. The old ones want their asses kissed, the young ones are waiting for the day when their asses will be kissed, and the medical students resent all the asses they are kissing. Kurdistan is no exception, and the social amenities of medicine mesh nicely with the local custom of showing deference to the wishes of older men. As a medical student I'm firmly in the should-be-kissing-ass group, but tonight I am fortunate to be present for an exception.

I sit down with Dr. Z at the Kameliati, a social club situated in Sulaimania's Azadi ("Freedom") Park. This area, a large section of town, is the site of a former Baath military base, a universally dreaded place where hundreds of city residents once disappeared without a trace. When I first met with Dr. Z he had been reserved and formal, and we spent ten minutes posing for photographs in front of a portrait of Jalal Talabani. But at the end he had invited me to the Kameliati, and I suspect what he really wanted was a drink.

The waiters most of them patients of the doctor bring out several courses of hommus, vegetables, and salads. The doctor drinks scotch and I have a few beers. The Islamic taboo aside, many Kurdish men enjoy alcohol when removed from the public gaze, and it helps break past the formalized behavior that the culture requires in public. As the conversation turns to politics, I realize that Dr. Z is liberal by Kurdish standards, declining to say anything derogatory about Arabs or Turks, even when we discuss the atrocities.

He then pauses for moment. "Let me ask you this," he says. "Is it true that the Jews escaped on September 11th?"

Dr. Z is one of the most educated people in Iraq. "No, it's bullshit," I say. I'm trying not to act irritated. I want badly to get further into this, but there are some things I'm still not comfortable revealing. "I think so too," he concludes.

In Kurdistan, unique amongst Muslim countries, there is a pro-Israel sentiment. This is by no means universal, and on some occasions Kurds that are working with me receive hostile comments because I am "not Muslim." But the Israelis helped the Kurds militarily as far back as the 1960s, and before I left New York I spoke with an Israeli doctor who had been with the KDP guerrilas in their mountain fortress of Rowanduz at that time. In Sulaimania I met one doctor who described Kurdistan as "the second Israel," though he intended the comparison as a gripe against the Americans for failing to support the Kurds more unconditionally.

Another friend, a KDP man, explained to me that he supports Israel because he believes chauvanism is an ingrained feature of Arab politics. "They have 25 countries," he said. "And still there is this talk of pushing the Jews into the sea. In Kurdistan we have been fighting this thinking for centuries, and believe me we are very tired."

Over kebabs and arak my KDP friend tells me a Kurdish parable. A man is crazy. He believes he is a flower and birds are trying to eat him. A doctor takes him to the hospital. After months of treatment he improves. "I am not a flower," he tells himself. As he is walking home from the hospital he looks up at the sky. "I know I am not a flower," he thinks. "But those birds still want to eat me. How do I convince them that I am not a flower?"

I thought about this for a few minutes, and it gave me a better understanding of both Kurdistan and Israel.


Jonathan Dworkin, a medical student in his final year at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, is travelling in Iraqi Kurdistan from January to March of 2006. Other posts in this series:

January 25: Kurds and Jews
January 18: At Home in the New Kurdistan
January 14: City of Refugees
January 11: First Impressions

Jonathan Dworkin 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

thank you for this continuing series.

but this is inexcusable: When it comes to social decorum doctors in every country are the same. The old ones want their asses kissed, the young ones are waiting for the day when their asses will be kissed, and the medical students resent all the asses they are kissing.

Posted by: contentious on January 25, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Best. Parable. Ever.

Posted by: Mysticdog on January 25, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Very encouraging to hear a doctor-type actually come out and admit this arrogance thing.

The arrogance thing might be great for, say, a football quarterback -- don't second guess, just throw the ball -- but for a scientist, and especially for a doctor, not so much.

FIRST DO NO HARM. Think. Think again. Think again. Then treat. Enough with the fancy clothes and cars and investment magazines with your name blacked out on the waiting room tables. SCIENCE!!!! CLARITY!!! CAUTION!!!!

There's a Fucking bastard Toledo Ohio doctor who should have been taught this in Med. school, but, apparently wasn't.

Posted by: yesh on January 25, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm enjoying this series a lot. And the lede was great.

Posted by: shortstop on January 25, 2006 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

"They have 25 countries," he said, referring to a mass called "Arabs". If there is one man today I would like to shake and say "will you listen to yourself?" Does he not realise that all around the world Kurds, Persians and Arabs are understood to be part of an undifferentiated group called "Arabs"? Why then should Kurds have a homeland? "They" have more than 25 countries already!

Perhaps chauvinism is an ingrained feature of human politics, wherever you go.

Posted by: derek on January 25, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Again, this whole series reminds me that we could do worse than force Americans, post high school, to spend a year abroad. It wouldn't even have to be in places like Kurdistan. Just 12 months living in Stockholm would do a world of good for everybody.

Posted by: craigie on January 25, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

(Completely OT)

I read this wonderful tidbit by Daou, and naturally thought immediately of Mr. See-No-Evil. It might be nice if he read it - particularly the part about "internalization".

http://daoureport.salon.com/synopsis.aspx?synopsisId=59f92c44-e7ec-48c4-91c7-b51768df79a3#

Posted by: cdj on January 25, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

'Jews' did not 'escape' (death, I guess is the criterion) on 9/11, but ISRAELIS did, by and large. President Bush in a national address had cited Israeli deaths at about 120 in the events of that day. Evidently, the actual number is 3: 2 who were passengers in the planes, one at the WTC itself.

Posted by: sofla on January 25, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Good series. Still hoping for a writeup on the work "Shameless Hussy" did in Darfur.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 25, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

cdj

Do you know the number of jewish deaths on 9/11?

I undestand they were forewarned - a bicycle messagig service spoke of being forewarned - but there were no follow up stories to that very startling bit o information.

gosh and golly

Posted by: Ashley on January 25, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

oh, look! Ashley/Arsenia/TJ/Mike/wenn/Karen is back with his/her message of love and vicious paranoid anti-Semitism! Take a hike, you psycho bitch.

Posted by: shortstop on January 25, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

OK. I admit it, I got a message saying not to go the WTC on 9-11. Granted, I had never been to the WTC, and I live all the way across the country, but in a good conspiracy all the is are dotted and all the ts are crossed. Being a good little conspirator, though, I did convince a few non-Jews that the best time to see the WTC was on September 11 when the pigeons were making their annual pilgrimage to Times Square.

Posted by: cactus on January 25, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

This series is very good. So good, in fact, that I wonder if a website devoted to this kind of news --- the particular reports of people making their way in domestic and foreign locales, in their own words and with their own opinions --- wouldn't be a worthwhile project. Seriously, it is often more informative than the cautious, generalities-based reporting we get in most media, as well as the analytic fantasizing or political hackery that makes up the bulk of blogospheric activity. A collection of such projects, with regular updates, from well-ntentioned persons in a variety of situations would be very enlightening.

BTW, Ashley, conspiratorial beliefs are strong empirical evidence of lunacy. I suspect you are a crazy person. Built by microscopic dwarves. And made of disposable toner cartridges.

Posted by: Monstertron on January 25, 2006 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, I didn't expect to see "The Israeli's were warned about 9/11!!" crackpot conspiracy theories tkaen seriously here of all places.

Posted by: Dustin Ridgeway on January 25, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Watch the Israelis use Kurdish air bases for an attack on Iran, and watch Baghdad come unglued about it.

Posted by: Mr No on January 25, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

"conspiratorial beliefs are strong empirical evidence of lunacy."

Another American who lives in a fantasy world full of 'lone nuts' and 'accidents' where conspiracies never occur. Except that they have occurred repeatedly throughout history.

Posted by: King in Yellow on January 25, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Ashley, the birds are trying to eat you.

Posted by: wil on January 25, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

I can't stop splitting personalities! Somebody turn the hose on me!

Posted by: Ashley on January 25, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

I can't stop splitting personalities! Somebody turn the hose on me!

It's those microscopic dwarves.

Another American who lives in a fantasy world full of 'lone nuts' and 'accidents' where conspiracies never occur. Except that they have occurred repeatedly throughout history.

Shhhh.... They're listening. They might send rabid mechanostriders to peck me to death.

Seriously though, there's a reason people are called "conspiracy nuts." And it's not because their bodies are shaped like cashews.

Posted by: Monstertron on January 25, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, that's a lovely story. I guess the lesson is: When will Israel stop treating Palestinians much as Iraq treated the Kurds?

Posted by: Paint a target on my back on January 25, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

And there's a reason why the no-conspiracy crowd loves to engage in name-calling and ridicule; because it's the only weapon in their arsenal.

Posted by: King in Yellow on January 25, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Wikipedia: Kurdish Jews

Posted by: godoggo on January 25, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you for the report. Let's hope that others will continue to report without fear...on this, our floudering Enterprise.

Posted by: parrot on January 25, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Another friend, a KDP man, explained to me that he supports Israel because he believes chauvanism is an ingrained feature of Arab politics. "They have 25 countries," he said. "And still there is this talk of pushing the Jews into the sea. In Kurdistan we have been fighting this thinking for centuries, and believe me we are very tired."

Chauvinism does indeed seem to be an ingrained factor in the building of ethnic identity, as the Kurds have not been 'fighting this thinking for centuries' - rather until the late 19th century the Kurds made up key portions of the Islamic elite fighting classes. Salah eddine al-Ayoubi being an illustrious example, but Kurds featured prominently through the period.

Now, post emergence of Euro style language based nationalism, Arabs, Kurds, Turks are going back and "rewriting" history, in a rather ahistorical manner.

I would frankly caution the Kurds love Israel tripe as a political statement intended to garner support for current, and very recent, ethno-political projects and not anything deep. Watch what happens if, say, exiled Iraqi Jews claim lands in Kurdistan. It's bloody naive to believe this swallop.

Posted by: Collounsbury on January 25, 2006 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

I've read a lot of comments about the Kurds over the past few years that say "Kurds are Sunnis".

This isn't actually true. Kurds follow the Sufi tradition. If I were God*, and were trying to pick out which Muslim factions should be eradicated because they're too radical, violent, hatemongering, etc. the Sufi faction would be the one I would preserve.

* I am not God.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 25, 2006 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Watch the Israelis use Kurdish air bases for an attack on Iran, and watch Baghdad come unglued about it.
Posted by: Mr No on January 25, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

That would be fucking AWESOME!
But now that the US is Israel's bitch, Israel won't need to attack Iran. Plenty of American boys left to die for Israel.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 25, 2006 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget to eat at the local Madonals in Sulymaniyah before you leave. I'm still waiting on McDonald's lawyers to slap that place with papers sometime soon.

Posted by: aaa on January 26, 2006 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

A bit of ignoraqnce:

I've read a lot of comments about the Kurds over the past few years that say "Kurds are Sunnis".

Most Kurds are indeed of the Sunnah, in particular of the liberal Hanafi and Shafa3i schools.

This isn't actually true. Kurds follow the Sufi tradition.

No, it is true, you simply don't understand the terms.

The tussaouuf, Sufism is not a school in and of itself in most of the Islamic world. It is an approach. Like, say, evangelicalism. One can be an evangelical Protestant or Catholic, for example. So to you can follow a Sufi 'path" [tariqa] and be a Sunni of the Hanafi, Shafa3i or Maliki schools. Or more rarely, Hanbali, which is far more conservative.

The contrast is false, in other words, and arises from ignorant New Agey hijacking of the word Sufi.


If I were God*, and were trying to pick out which Muslim factions should be eradicated because they're too radical, violent, hatemongering, etc. the Sufi faction would be the one I would preserve.

If you were God, I would hope you would be less of an ignorant git blithering on about something you don't bloody grasp.

collounsbury
aqoul.com

Posted by: Collounsbury on January 26, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Collunsbury,

I also suspect that Kurdish pro-Israel sentiment is highly conditional, which is why I am trying to uncover the motivations behind each comment. There is certainly a good deal of anti-semitism in Kurdistan.

Nonetheless, pro-Israel sentiment - be it shallow or meaningful - is common in conversation here. This is particularly true amongst secular people. And perhaps more to the point of my post, the experiences of the two communities have some common features.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin on January 26, 2006 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FF30Ak07.html

There have been some alleged deals in the past, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". And the Kurds were not Saddam's friends.

Posted by: McA on January 26, 2006 at 3:58 AM | PERMALINK

Nonetheless, pro-Israel sentiment - be it shallow or meaningful - is common in conversation here. This is particularly true amongst secular people. And perhaps more to the point of my post, the experiences of the two communities have some common features.

Spin. Spend ten years in MENA and you'll get used to it. Your position implies to your interlocutors that you'd like to hear it.

Just ask about Kurdish Jews getting their lands back.

Posted by: Collounsbury on January 26, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

To all the antisemitic trolls: F**k you. Go back to stormfront where you belong.

To Jonathan: I enjoy your columns!

Posted by: fiat lux on January 26, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Vladmir from KBU (kurdistanblog.blogspot.com) referred me here.

aaa, there is no copyright or trademark laws to be useful for McDonald lawyers besides they have made enough money and ARE longing for a proper McDonald to be built there anyways.

Jonathan, I hope you will not be tempted or frightened to tell the truths and support the people rather than the ministers or the political party figures.

when you visit Halabja, please tell them (any official you meet) to remove the Iraqi flag on it(the Halabja Monument)OR remove the sign which says(NO ENTRZ FOR BAATHISTS) and please pray for the ALIVE people's future NOT for the martyre's otherworld wellfare.

Posted by: hiwa on January 27, 2006 at 6:31 AM | PERMALINK

Hi Jonathan, Glad to see you arrived safely and are being treated well. I have never traveled in the South of Kurdistan so it is wonderful to hear how it is going for you. Keep your spirit strong and take the time to explain even when people say something so crazy- if you give them better information, perhaps they can pass it on in other circles.
Best wishes Diane

Posted by: D. Edgecomb on January 27, 2006 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

Many thanks Jonathan

I went to Sulaimaniya last Summer , I must say it frankly it was too emotional for me, and a life time experience !I almost lost all hopes to see my family again, after all those misery years of longing , at last wow it was a joy above all joys to see them again . Iam looking forward to go there shortly ....about the previouse comment by our friend ,Years ago I was employed in the northern part of London(Hendon) it has a large jewish comunity there ,one day I met a lady with her young son talking in Arabic Iraqi accent , so I started talking to them when she realised I am a kurd she kissed me with tears pouring down ...she said afew words ,if it was n't for your people we would be all dead by now...thank you many times .. got out of Baghdad to kurdistan then to the UK.
When I was in Baghdad I tried my best to help all Iraqis no matter whatever they are ..one day I met a boy in the university ,we became friends he said that he is jewish ... I replied it is ok I have all sort friends Armenians, Assyrians ..etc one day he invited me to his home ...when we went there I had the shock of my life !they were so poor ! I never thought the existance of such a level of poverty in Baghdad as myself from a poor family, but not like this ...they lived in alittle flat 2 room ,no furnishing just an old mattres with a sick old lady laying on it (his mother -suffering from pain in the chest) with a near by a little parafine cooker !man I felt realy bad , he had a sister about 16 years old with turn clothes on (for a second I thought she is mad !then clicked in my mind very poor) I could n't stay and take it any more , I run to a friend Christian Doctor was next to Mackenzi book shop in the al-Tahrir sq. asking and begging him for medication (Heart problem)...after some time I managed to get some medicine from the UK !, but to no use ...thinks got too explosive to stay any longer ,my friends disappearing like flys ....I had an offer from the highest ! strongly I declined it as against all what I believed in ....hours trust me falk I distroyed my entire family because of the help to the needy Iraqis in all their colors !
What upset me most that jewish friend F...al they had a small jewelery shop (hardly any thing inside it )run by his elder brother , but the business was so low hardly any earning out of it . survival in a hostile enviroment, but they had a pride ! no matter how desperate they never asked for help ,and lowering their heads ...this is difused there !
I always thought and still thinking of my friend F.and his sick mother ,Z.Shu..a , and all my friends !
I and my family tried our best to help others , and we did pay dearly for that .
Beside all the doom and gloom I see a dim ray of recovery .

Posted by: A.B on January 28, 2006 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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