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Sinds juli 2014 verschijnen hier geen nieuwe stukken meer. De artikelen worden *) heringedeeld in acht categorieën: zie de knoppen links. Met uitzondering van de categorie 'Islam(itische ideologie)' is de indeling nu niet meer naar thema, maar naar aard van de stukken. Vier jaar lang lag het hoofdaccent op het voeren van de noodzakelijke ideologische strijd: zie het motto hierboven. In de komende jaren zal ik (initiatiefnemer en belangrijkste leverancier van teksten voor me meer richten op de noodzakelijke politieke strijd. In termen van deze indeling: veel meer nadruk op Voorstellen, Politieke organisatie en iets meer op Opinie. LEES VERDER »
The sad history of the Kurds, people with no nation or country
Only two stars at Amazon, but a recommended read if combined with the right choice of other books

One and a half year ago I compared Kurds and Palestinians in an article; in Dutch. Here is the English translation of it by Google. You'll get an idea, but the trans­lation is far from perfect. Differen­tiating between the con­cepts 'people', 'nation' and 'country' turns out to be really tough for Google Translate, apart from their problem with negatives.
Recently I read some books about the history of the Kurds. The reason why I read them right now is the lecture I will be giving May 12 about The Ottoman Empire, Muhammedanism, Turkey and Israel (more here, incl subscription). In my lecture I will focus much more on the Kurds than one would probably expect with this title. It turns out, however, that some misconceptions about muhammedanism, the Ottoman Empire as well as (the birth of) modern-day Turkey, can be tackled fruitfully by taking good notice of the unique history of the Kurds.
Below the fold you will find the review I wrote for Amazon of the book by McDowall *) A Modern History of the Kurds.
In his 'Afterword' McDowall too, relates the Kurdish and Palestinian cases. The difference between his comparison and mine could not be greater.
The cover of the third, revised edition, of this book, proudly carries a remark
More enthralling than enlightening
from the reviewer of the Washington Post informing us that this is "the best single narrative history of the Kurds".
After reading the book I had some doubts about this claim. But then I realised that, being a Dutchman with limited knowledge of the English language, I had to check for the exact meaning of the word 'narrative'. This turned out to be a good hunch. After consulting the Oxford Dictionary the words from the WP-reviewer seem well chosen, indeed:
a spoken or written account of connected events; a story: the hero of his modest narrative.
• the narrated part or parts of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue.
• the practice or art of narration : traditions of oral narrative.

While McDowall's book really provides a wealth of information, indeed it is not very strong when it comes to analyzing on the other hand. More enthralling than enlightening. Because of this limitation of course this book does not get five stars from me. But why only two?

Lets embarrass the West
That is a little bit complicated.
When it comes to political visions, especially the ones on muhammedanism, McDowall's is the opposite of mine. While I estimate his vision to be a bit like that of Barack Houssein Obama and his many wishful thinking fellow-admirers of Edward Saïd, mine is a bit more old fashioned, more like Winston Spencer Churchill's.
McDowall's vision most clearly shows at the end of his Afterword and at the very beginning of the book.
This is the last sentence of the book proper:
Like the Palestinians, the Kurds must find ways of embarrassing the West regarding its profound hypocrisy regarding human rights violations in the Middle East when these are committed by its so-called friends.

"Embarrassing the West" as advised strategy… In this review I will not even begin to express my feelings about the attitude contained herein.

The first chapter of McDowall's book is titled 'Kurdish identity and social formation'. It is about the challenges of defining Kurds on aspects like culture, ethnicity, geography and language. It also contains a paragraph named 'Religion'.
This is the weirdest paragraph of the book. It starts like this:
The vast majority of Kurds, approximately 75 per cent, follow Sunni Islam. But the religious particularism of the remaining Kurds may point to longstanding differences in origin. Take, for example the Alevi religion which is strong in central Anatolia, particularly in the Dersim region. While claiming devotion to the Imam Ali, the Alevi (or Qizilbash) religion -like Baktashi beliefs- lies on the extreme edge of Shi'i Islam. It is a mixture of pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian, Turkoman shaman and Shi'i ideas that became the basis of a religious sect during the fifteenth century CE.

Very strange. Vague. What about this (only?) 'claiming?', what about this 'extreme edge'? Differences in origin of what?

Islamic conquest
There is not a word in this paragraph about the origin of muhammedanism as such among Kurds.
The lack of even the slightest hint of an answer to this questions
The next paragraph however starts with "At the time of the Islamic conquest, the term 'Kurd' had meant (…) ". So, apparently as part of a subordinate clause, McDowall has no problem in identifying that origin. Did the Kurds fight back against this conquest? Did they differ therein from the Armenians or Persians? When and how did they give in?
The lack of even the slightest hint of an answer to this questions is extra remarkable while the greater part of the paragraph on 'religion' consists of suggestions that these are very interesting questions indeed. Not only does McDowall mention the many shia Kurds in (sunni) Turkey and the many sunni Kurds in (shia) Iran, but he also acknowledges that sunni Kurds in an environment of sunni non-Kurds are often adherents of the Shafi'i school instead of the Hanafi school. McDowall identifies this as a testimony of "the independence their amirs enjoyed vis-a-vis the sultan".

McDowall looks away from the political role of muhammedanism.
On page 53 he writes about one of the many times somebody calls for holy war, -yes he uses the correct term jihad-, and adds that this time, in 1880, it is
a Sunni cleric declaring jihad upon the Shi'is". On page 55 he still writes about Shaykh Ubayd Allah and his sons. Most of his fighters "had gone home laden with booty". When the Iranian shia fight back seriously they "perpetrated ruthless revenge on the non-Shi'a population, slaughtering with scant discrimination between the innocent and guilty. More [Christian] Nestorians for example (sic) perished at the hands of the army than at those of the insurgents.
On page 56 the narrative shifts back to 1877-78. Shaykh Ubayd "had proclaimed that war [which one?] a jihad, one which the tribal chiefs took as a green light for attacking Armenian villagers." An interesting read indeed, but one gets the impression that the obscurity is introduced on purpose.

In the abovementioned paragraph on religion McDowall mentions the Kurdish Jews too:
A few Jews remained in Kurdistan in spite of the Zionist exodus of 1948-52, and many of those who migrated to Israel still consider themselves Kurds.

Ah, that Zionist exodus! McDowall 'unfortunately' fails to mention that most of the Jews lived in the Iraqi
he writes about some 'Christian threat' without any indication of the nature or substance of this threat
part of Kurdistan, where in those years Zionism was declared a capital crime. Not an unimportant detail in my opinion. Neither does he mention the relatively good relations between Israel and the KRG nowadays (although this developments might be to recent for the book).

Throughout the book McDowall's self-evident anti-western, anti-Christian vision trickles through via the numerous times he writes in a matter-of-factly tone about some 'Christian threat' without any indication of the nature or substance of this threat: the threat of resistance against being pillaged or murdered, the threat of befriending Christians in other countries that might come to their rescue, the threat of employing missionaries who win respect by practicing medicine, the threat of avenging previous attacks they had endured or simply the threat of insulting muhammedanism by disagreeing with its claims?

His vision trickles through, but McDowall is a serious historian: his book also contains loads of facts. Facts that are in agreement with his views but also facts that do not.

The history of the Kurdish people knows many very dark clouds: they have been both perpetrators as well as victims of horrible crimes against humanity both among themselves and towards or from neighbouring peoples. They have been both perpetrators as well as victims of betrayal both among themselves and towards or from other peoples, countries and great powers. McDowall's book is very convincing about this two claims. Although it seems to me that he would like to suggest that all the instances of betrayal by the French, the Russians, the Turks, the Persians, the Arabs and the Brits are interchangeable, he fails to substantiate this: he does not effectively obscure the fact that generally speaking the Brits played a seriously different role. I applaud him for that.
McDowall also identifies the many dimensions of the different struggles of and among the Kurds. To be honest I appreciate the fact that he does not rise above the level of simply mentioning them.

The amount of useful information in the book put my judgment at five stars to start with: McDowall even has an appendix on the Kurds in the Caucasus. He lost three of them because of his politically motivated omissions and things like casually writing about 'the Prophet' with a capital P and paragraphs like this one:
By 1906 he [Daud Khan] had 12 wives and his son Jawan had five -numbers which do not suggest that they were particularly assiduous in either the spirit or letter of Muslim law.

I really can not come up with a better example of contradicting the letter of the sharia while simultaneously embracing the spirit of Muhammed!
The book lost another star by
not even if you had memorized all the pages before 134
failing to introduce all kinds of concepts, events and persons properly before mentioning them casually. According to the index "Mudros, armistice of" is mentioned on page 107, 109 and 134. And indeed on page 134 one stumbles upon:
The length of interval between Mudros and Sevres proved a hostage to fortune: the Greek and Armenian attempts on Anatolia, the rise of the Kemalists and quibbling between the Allies.

Well, when you read the magnificent book A Peace to End All Peace, but still forgot the little-known name of the insignificant location of the non-illustrious negotations, you might still be able to deduce that Mudros must have been the Greek location where the armistice was signed in 1918. You could not have done so by reading McDowall's book: not even if you had memorized all the pages before 134.
Page 107 does not mention Mudros at all and from 109 you could only have remembered:
…the city [Mosul] was occupied on 8 November and the rest of the vilayet on 10 November ten days after Mudros.

However, I really like it that accusing the author or book of 'islamophobia' would be so much more absurd than accusing me thereof (read my e-book essay Islamophobia. Defying the Battle Cry **) to learn more about this concept).
So the book superbly combines with a book like Empires of the Sands by Efraïm Karsh and Inari Karsh.
The Karshes argue convincingly that the main impetus for the developments came from the local actors.
The exact opposite of the angle of advising to capitalize on victimhood by "peoples from the Orient".

Hence two stars.
*) Other books I read on the subject: Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence by Aliza Marcus, The Kurds Ascending by Michael M. Gunther and, less specific but as useful as those: Empires of the Sand by Efraïm Karsh and Inari Karsh.
**) A Dutch version can be found here on the site

Frans Groenendijk,  28-04-2013          

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