I have been asked to introduce this anthology, which exposes and illustrates the Kurdish question and defends the Kurds' national demands. I feel privileged and honoured to do so. One may renounce honours and privileges because they confer an unfair advantage, but never because acceptance might entail assuming a responsibility and the risk of being exposed to attacks, calumny and misunderstanding.
Why does this anthology, which is in itself so penetrating, require such a preface? Perhaps it is because the national rights of the Kurds do not seem to enjoy that spontaneous support of left-wing opinion which has been so freely given to other national causes.
Yet the Kurds do deserve such support. I will not venture to plead their case before international conservatism or before the type of politician who weighs up the strong and weak points of every movement so as to estimate how its successes or failures will affect his own strategy. International conser¬vatism does not believe in the rights of people, and the opportunist will support the Kurds when it suits his own ends, only to abandon them when it does not. Indeed we have already seen this happening. Such an approach is at least coherent, if not moral. Kurdish politicians can perhaps attempt to estab-lish a political dialogue with such men. But as for myself and those who share my position, we can find no common language with them.
Things are quite different when it comes to talking to those who start from the assumption that peoples do have a right to an autonomous existence and to make their own decisions in the framework of their own political institutions, backed by forces whose allegiance is to a body established as its leadership by the people concerned. Our century has repudiated the naiveties of the past. We no longer believe in liberty granted at the whim of others, nor in verbal or written guarantees, however solemnly phrased. Every people, even every group, every corporation, believes only in those liberties which it has some chance of defending for itself.
But there are all too many individuals who claim freedom for their own peoples (or the peoples they consider as their friends) whilst denying it to others, or to some others at least, notably those who are dependent upon them. The well-known saying attributed to 19th Century reactionaries would seem to apply: `When we are in opposition, we demand freedom for ourselves, in the name of your principles; when we are in power, we will deny you freedom in the name of our own principles.' The parallel is obvious. In this case what is proclaimed goes something like this: `When we were dominated, we called upon you to struggle for our freedom, in the name of the right of peoples to independence. If you were citizens of the dominant nation, you should have rejected your leaders' appeals to your patriotism, to national solidarity and to the realistic defence of the advantages your nation had secured for itself. But now we have become independent, it is quite alright for us to deny freedom to others, in the name of our patriotism, our national solidarity, our realistic appreciation of our own self-interest. Your national feelings should have been subordinated to the universal ethic, ours came above everything else.' And so the slogans which were so violently denounced in others are readopted: My country, right or wrong! VaaterlandUber Alles!
Once again, there can be no common language with those who carefully manipulate this horrendous hypothesis, who are well aware that it is morally and intellectually incoherent but who are nonetheless willing to adopt it in order to further their political strategy. Having cynically manipulated the conscience of others in the past, they are quite prepared to despise such a conscience today, and with equal cynicism. Of course there are people who are taken in by the fallacious arguments, the coarse oversimplifications and the type of sophistic reasoning which plays on the fear of being accused of collusion with racism, imperialism, colonialism and what have you. People can be misled by a thousand and one different ideological ploys, and the militant is more susceptible than most.
Most militants originally chose a cause during their adolescence, and often the choice was essentially determined by emotive factors — although this does not in any way imply that the cause itself was unjustified. They have long forgotten the motivations of their choice, and have turned it into an absolute that is not open to question. Their faith is acquired and nothing can change it, not the fact that their leaders may have modified the original programme, nor the revelation of facts which they were unaware of when they made the choice, nor any new and valid objections to the motivations which impelled them to make it, nor even changing conditions in the relevant area. It is no easy matter to renounce a choice which has given meaning to one's life, a choice which has elicited great self-sacrifice or which has inspired fierce joy, a choice for which the blood of martyrs and hated enemies has been shed, above all a choice which provides intimate fellowship with a group of people who share one's orientation and provide the human warmth which is so agreeable and necessary to every one of us.
A cause is one choice amongst others. The choice of a nationalist cause is the choice of dedication to a given nation — usually one's own. But beyond that it is the choice of nationalism as a value which one adopts in preference to universalism or religious devotion. At this level the often sincere motives one can invoke to justify one's choice are often mixed in with unconscious drives of one sort or another. Given this jumble of impulses, the specific cause in question can draw upon a mish-mash of justifications, often contradictory ones, which are held up as models of rationality only because of one's drive to carry on with the course one has adopted, one's passion for the cause and, last but not least, one's acceptance of the authority of the leaders and cadres of the group to which one belongs. Should an element of doubt creep in, it can quickly be banished by invoking the support of the mass of one's fellows who, one gratuitously assumes, must surely be in the right, even though they themselves may in fact be having their own doubts. So the process is circular and doubt is eliminated by recourse to the seeming certainty of the doubters.
It should now be apparent that individual cases of existential selfishness and machiavellian pragmatism are far from being the only aspect of the problem. There are also honest and devoted militants whose disinterested dedication has led them to forget the basic ethical motivations of their choice or the justifications for it. On this issue, I see little point in arguing with those who still believe that the choice of a cause has nothing to do with morality but rather stems from some sort of naturally determined scientific necessity, even though they constantly invoke the woes which one `must' remedy and the cruelty of the oppressors which one has `a duty' to fight against. We who are not blessed with such glorious simple-mindedness have to remember constantly that the real starting point is a choice of ethical values, and so attempt to understand the choices made by others, even if we think them incoherent.
For instance, one can understand why some people treat national rights in general as unimportant. Throughout history, many sections of humanity have held such a view. A religious person may deem that the doings of rulers are unimportant as long as God is given His due. A universalist may believe that the essential point is the battle to protect the rights of the individual against all forms of established power. In their own lights, those who adhere to such beliefs may indeed disregard the demands of the Kurds, given of course that they are quite sure that the service of God is not being invoked to camouflage much more down to earth and all too human interests, and that the rights of the Kurdish individual are as well defended as those of everybody else.
But if one has decided that national rights are essential and that individuals can only be truly free if they can develop their own language and culture, if the choice of cultural assimilation is theirs to make, rather than being imposed upon them, and if the aspirations and interests of their national group are not subordinated to those of an alien hegemonic ethnic group, then one has no right to deny to others what one has demanded for oneself. To claim other¬wise is to reveal that, behind the idealistic motivations one has invoked in the past, there was only sordid selfishness, communal rapacity and a lust for power. Such sentiments are just as despicable in groups as in individuals. By embracing them one loses the right to appeal to a universal conscience ever again. Who would be so naive as to rush to the aid of a wolf howling for help and decrying the cruelty of its tormenters while its chops are still gory with the blood of the lambs it has devoured? The only answer to such trickery
is to re-assert the basic truths which the very gates of hell cannot shut out.
Any political situation is infinitely complex, but most of the essential ethical options are quite straight-forward.
The rights of the Kurdish people should be obvious to everybody. We have here a specifically defined people with a language and a culture all their own (whatever people may say in Iran), living in a geographically coherent area, and refusing en masse the cultural assimilation which others seek to impose upon them. For more than a century this people has demonstrated time and time again its consciousness of being a specific ethnic or national group whose vocation is to form its own political institutions and to make its own decisions autonomously. One may argue about the strategic and tactical options chosen by past and present Kurdish leaders, which have indeed often warranted criticism, or about many other aspects of the question. But the characteristics enumerated above concerning the specificity of the Kurdish people are objective and indisputable premises which no serious commentator can deny.
Why then do we find such reticence amongst those who in the past have ardently defended causes which were in no way more justified? Why is it that, in this case, many people are prepared to accept assurances that the national rights of the Kurds are in fact fully safeguarded, when in any other case such assurances would be viewed with universal suspicion? Why is so much made of the past failings of the Kurdish leaders when in every other case it is accepted that the strategy and tactics of a movement's leaders are in no way relevant to the assessment of the validity of the cause which such a movement is defending?
The answer is simple. The Kurds have the misfortune to be demanding independence and autonomy from (amongst others) two nations which have in the recent past demanded equivalent rights for themselves, a demand in which these nations were naturally supported by international left-wing opinion. It was not long ago that a nationalist Turkey was defending itself against the efforts of the Western imperialist powers, and at the time the evolution of its internal policy had not yet made it unpopular with the left. In Iraq (and, to some extent, in Syria) the Kurds' demands came at a time when the Arab people as a whole could be cast as one of imperialism's main targets, and as the leader of resistance against it. In other words, the Kurds emerge as a people oppressed by the oppressed.
Now it is already hard to mobilize the international sense of justice in favour of the oppressed. Even when this is achieved, ideological modes of thought and behaviour constantly tend to displace the original ethical drive and its rational correlates. Ideology leads one to forget that the oppressed are not necessarily permanently endowed with every possible virtue. As Lenin pointed out, `The proletariat is not a saint'. Those who have been unjustly treated, and on whose behalf one calls for action, may also have grave faults, not to speak of the fact that once out of trouble their behaviour may become thoroughly detestable. This is all the more true of whole peoples, those collective entities made up of all sorts of individuals and thus marked by both the failings and the qualities common to all humanity, amongst which must be included a susceptibility to be manipulated by the various tricks of demagogy. Leaders often get caught up in the game of politics, which always implies some measure of dishonesty and misrepresentation, and the likelihood that forms of iniquity will be imposed, supposedly temporarily (and for the common good, naturally) but in practice tending to become much more per-manent.
Ideology always goes for the simplest solution. It does not argue that an oppressed people is to be defended because it is oppressed and to the exact extent to which it is oppressed. On the contrary, the oppressed are sanctified and every aspect of their actions, their culture, their past, present and future behaviour is presented as admirable. Direct or indirect narcissism takes over and the fact that the oppressed are oppressed becomes less important than the admirable way they are themselves. The slightest criticism is seen as criminal sacrilege. In particular, it becomes quite inconceivable that the oppressed might themselves be oppressing others. In an ideological concep¬tion, such an admission would imply that the object of admiration was flawed and hence in some sense deserving of past or present oppression. It is essential for all of us to reject this spurious logic, which leads to so many desertions from the struggle against injustice. It was quite appropriate for all progressive 19th and early 20th Century people to defend the cause of an oppressed Poland. It was equally appropriate for them to attack the fascistic or out- rightly fascist policies of the various governments of independent Poland, both on the level of domestic and social policies and in terms of the oppres¬sion suffered by the non-Polish minorities in the country. It was appropriate to denounce such tendencies even before independence had been achieved. The struggle against the Polish people's national exclusiveness with all its con¬comitant excesses has always been, and always will be, a justified struggle. This is just one example: the list is all too long.
`A people oppressing another cannot itself be free.' When Marx wrote this phrase his intent was more strategic than ethical. By invoking the example of Ireland he sought to show that the oppressing people's burden was not just a moral one; he demonstrated that England's colonization of Ireland supplied the English ruling class with means whereby to perpetuate the oppression and exploitation of the English people themselves. A similar argument holds in many other cases, but I do feel that one can conceive of instances where the oppression of another people is to the advantage of the entire dominant nation and does not hamper the struggles of the disadvantaged classes in that nation. But even in such cases there can be no justification for a reluctance to establish forms of solidarity with the dominated people, unless of course one is prepared to fall back on the hypocritical `realism' which one was originally fighting against.
To be an anti-colonialist, an anti-racist or an anti-imperialist does not mean, as many people apparently assume, that one must treat the Jews, the Arabs, the Blacks or any other group as sacrosanct and flawless. If such groups were so impeccable in every respect, they would be in some way essentially superior to the rest of human kind. How does this differ from the racialist theses which claim that it is right and good for supposedly superior peoples to exercise domination over all others? Anti-colonialism, anti-racism, anti- imperialism is quite different: it is the struggle against the oppression exer¬cised by one ethnic group, people or nation over another, a struggle against those who exercise such oppression, whether their victims are Jews, Arabs, Blacks or Kurds. Similarly, to defend justice is to commit oneself to fight against all iniquities, even those exercised in the name of the oppressed ethnic groups and exploited classes of the past and the present: there is no reason to assume that such ethnic groups and classes cannot go from being oppressed and exploited to themselves becoming the oppressors and exploiters. Today's persecutors have often enough been the persecuted of yesterday.
We need to keep an especially critical eye out for arguments which seek to justify such procedures. In particular, it is essential to reject the sophistries and doublethink based on the supposed necessity to preserve `national unity'. I recently noticed the following bizarre sentence in a text issued by a Third World left-wing movement: `The principle of self-determination must be sub-ordinate to the principle of national unity.' What amazing things one can do with words! One can only assume that those who accepted the assertion were reacting to some conditioned reflex triggered off by the authoritativeness with which it was made. Such sheeplike receptivity suggests a complete loss of analytical ability, for the sentence can only mean that entire groups must be forced to remain within a national formation they do not recognise as their own. There are people who would defend such a principle, but in that case for heaven's sake let them say so outright, rather than camouflaging it under eloquent and hypocritical formulations so as to trick their followers into accepting it. Let them stop pretending that they are keeping to the ideals of freedom, which they constantly invoke whenever they expect to gain from doing so. One should always enquire as to whose national unity one is talking about, who has fixed the frontiers, and who gains thereby?
The Arabs have been oppressed by the Western powers. They still are, in some measure, the victims of iniquities. To that extent, they are entitled to the support of those who love justice. But they are no more a chosen people than are the Jews. Both they and their leaders are quite capable of treating another people unjustly. Indeed if their leaders were such paragons, it would be difficult to understand why they are constantly and virulently criticized by the numerous Arab dissidents. It is quite clear that the Arabs of Iraq are denying the Kurds certain elementary national rights. This book is full of examples, at least some of which seem to me to be absolutely indisputable. The deportation of a great many Kurds from areas of Iraqi Kurdistan which have been marked out for Arabization is unfortunately a definite fact. Any¬where else such a practice would elicit the most vigorous protests. There is no moral or rational reason why such protests should not surface in this case as well.
One could, of course, apply a similar argument to this issue as the one Marx developed when talking about Ireland. But in this case at least I would prefer to insist on the duty that exists to resist hypocritical schizophrenia. We must defend both the Arabs and the Kurds against injustice to the precise extent that they suffer injustice. Nothing more, nothing less. Vigorous protest against injustice does not imply that the one who protests must also wear a blindfold. Honesty is essential if our protest is to be credible and convincing enough to arouse a significant degree of support. Sincerity and rectitude are obviously not all it takes to win a battle, even the battle for public opinion. But they are nonetheless significant weapons, and we would do well to remember it.