Monday, July 28, 2014

10 Steps for Combating ISIS Terrorism in Iraq and Syria

ISIS photo:  "Baghdad we are coming!"
As the Obama administration continues its assessment of the military situation in Iraq, the so-called Islamic State (formerly ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) consolidates its hold over newly seized territory in Iraq.  ISIS continues to brutally eliminate opposition, indoctrinate those who live under its control and extend its influence by using its funds, particularly access to oil wealth, to create a network of economic clients.  Defeating ISIS requires a long-term struggle. What can be done in the short term to fight the gains that ISIS has made thus far?

It is disturbing that, aside from Senator John McCain and a limited number of political and military analysts in the US and the West, there has been little discussion of confronting ISIS terrorism.  In scathing questioning on July 24th of Under-Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, Brett McGurk, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCain asked him why no attacks had taken place on ISIS forces, especially those operating on unprotected desert roads. Unfortunately, McGurk could not offer a meaningful answer.

With reports that ISIS has invited al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen  to come to Syria to try and build bombs that are undetectable and could be taken aboard commercial aircraft, the ISIS threat has global implications.  Clearly, the Obama administration should act with greater urgency to confront this threat and the positive example ISIS military successes are providing for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa.

The only military forces that have effectively stood up to ISIS thus far are the Kurdish Peshmerga (those who confront death) and Syrian Kurdish YPD forces in northeastern Syria.  However, with ISIS' capture of large amounts of US weaponry ( that the Iraqi army abandoned, including an estimated 1500 Humvees with TOW guided missile units, KRG and YPD forces are confronting great challenges in the battle against ISIS forces.

Indeed, in recent fighting in the town of Jalawla, in Iraq's Diyala Province, the Peshmerga captured 2 districts from ISIS, only to subsequently lose them after being forced to retreat when they ran out of ammunition.  Meanwhile, YPD forces have faced ferocious ISIS attacks in northeastern Syria that will only intensify as ISIS brings more captured US weaponry to bear in that military theater.
The following are 10 suggestions for initial steps that should be taken in the struggle to defeat ISIS:

Step 1:  The Obama administration should immediately ask Congress for a supplemental appropriation to provide the KRG with military assistance, including weapons and military advisers.   Every effort should be made to provide the Peshmerga with the weaponry and material support it needs to prevent ISIS from making any further gains in northern Iraq.  Further, efforts should be made to coordinate military cooperation between Peshmerga and YPD forces to more effectively fight ISIS and protect Kurdish civilians from possible massacre by ISIS forces

Step 2:   The US should provide the KRG with military advisers to help Peshmerga forces improve their attacks on and defenses against ISIS forces.  This should include providing US technical staff who can operate the most sophisticated means of intelligence gathering to improve the Peshmerga's military efficacy.
Step 3:  ISIS takes great pride in proclaiming its control of the areas it has seized through signs proclaiming its presence. Its logo is to be found everywhere in its so-called "caliphate." US drones and targeted air strikes should maintain a steady attack on all border crossings, administrative buildings, so-called "Islamic" courts, and weapons transfers (see photograph below of seized US Humvees being transported by ISIS tracker-trailer).
US Humvees being transported from Iraq to Syria - a perfect target for US air attacks
If border crossings and checkpoints are destroyed, it will make impossible for ISIS to assure the flow of goods and military materiel to areas under its control.  Strikes against ISIS buildings in urban areas should be conducted in early morning hours to minimize any civilian casualties.
Sign says: "The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (Greater Syria)"

The US should create special operations units comprised of US, Peshmerga, Jordanian and Iraqi special counter-terrorism forces that the US has trained.  Their role should be to identify oil targets that are the lifeblood of ISIS finances. Oil wells used by ISIS should be destroyed through air attacks. US drones should destroy mobile refineries that ISIS uses to produce low grade gasoline.  
This counter-terrorism unit should be responsible for identifying these targets, especially ones that are mobile, so they can be destroyed on a continuing basis. If ISIS cannot obtain oil and provide gasoline to areas it controls, especially Mosul, then the city will collapse and discontent will spread.
An ISIS troop convoy - another target for US air attack
Step 4:  The US should start a massive public diplomacy campaign to isolate ISIS.  One method would be to drop thousands of leaflets that document the executions, mistreatment of women and expulsion of minorities in areas under ISIS control. The organization's corruption should be documented, including bank robberies, kidnappings, extortion of merchants, and the use of funds derived from oil wealth to pad the pockets of ISIS' leadership.
Another goal would be to disseminate this information on radio stations, satellite television and social media to bring it to the attention of people living under ISIS control, much as Radio Free Europe did during the period of Soviet communism.

Step 5:  The US and its local allies should create radio stations and satellite television channels that broadcast a 24 hour stream of pronouncements by Sunni Muslim clerics who document how ISIS has deviated from Islam.  These pronouncements should offer chapter and verse from the Holy Qur'an and the sayings (ahadith) of the Prophet Muhammad that demonstrate that ISIS' actions not only have nothing to do with orthodox Islam but actually contravene its teachings.

An example would be the verse in the Qur'an that says "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (Surat al-Baqara 2:256).  With ISIS forcing Iraqis and Syrians to conform to its distorted version of Islam, clearly it is contravening the word of God.   Another example: “Whoever kills a believer intentionally - his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally.” (Qur'an 4:93).  ISIS atrocities against innocent civilians again contradict the teachings of the Qur'an.

Step 6:  Just as the Iraqi government did in 2003 and 2004, captured ISIS members should be put on television, and their testimony rebroadcast on social media, to explain what terrorist activities they engaged in and why.  Muslim clerics should interrogate these terrorists by asking them what religious justification existed for their actions.

It would immediately become clear from the questioning that ISIS members know little or nothing about Islam as a religion beyond the terrorist slogans they learned through ISIS and other extremist indoctrination.  Such interchanges would undermine ISIS' claims that it in any way represents Islam.

Step 7:  Large monetary rewards should be posted for ISIS leaders, both political and military.  Rewards would be given for information leading to the capture or killing of these individuals.

Step 8:  Pressure should be placed on Turkey to prevent youth from Europe and elsewhere using its territory to cross into Syria to join the ISIS and other terrorist organizations.  The US should deliver a not so subtle message to the Erdogan government that its failure to interdict such traffic would force the US to publicize lax Turkish efforts at controlling its border with Syria.  Indeed, many Turks have already criticized the Erdogan government for its border policy with Syria.

Step 9:  The US should pressure the Saudi and Qatari governments in particular, and the Arab Gulf states as a whole, to prevent state funds or those supplied by their nationals from reaching ISIS forces.  Consequences for not acting to halt the flow of funds to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria would entail making public the times and dates of the delivery of funds as well as the names of the funders who provide support for ISIS.

Step 10:  The US should reach out once again to Sunni Arab groups in northern Iraq, such as the tribal network that Shaykh Ibrahim al-Ta'i recently announced to protect the Christian population of Ninewa Province.  Gradually the US should encourage the rebuilding of a new "Sahwa" (Awakening) movement that can be mobilized to fight ISIS forces.

As  there is a move on the part of ISIS to gradually implement stricter control over the Sunni Arab population that it rules, cleavages will certainly develop between it and Arab tribes, especially those that are not part of ISIS' patron-client network centered around the distribution and sale of oil and gasoline.

Because the initial US military assessment of the Iraqi army found that so many divisions are either penetrated by pro-Iranian or pro-Sunni extremists, only the units still trusted by the US, such as Iraq's elite counter-terrorism units, should be included in  American efforts to defeat ISIS.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has made clear that he will not reform the Iraqi army and thus, in its present form, it should not play a central role in the US' immediate plans for combating ISIS.

Maliki's pronounced, when being initially informed of the large ISIS mobilization outside Mosul in early June, that he would only authorize KRG Peshmerga forces to reinforce the Iraqi army in Mosul if he received assurances that they would withdraw after the battle.  His reaction indicates that he viewed the imminent attack through his personal political lens rather than through the lens of a leader of all Iraq and commander-in-chief of the Iraqi army whose main job is to protect national security. (

With the probability very high that Maliki will be replaced as prime minister, the Iraqi army may then be reorganized to become a professional force.  Only after that eventuality has begun to take shape, should the US rely on it to fight ISIS forces.

Finally, it should be noted that hundreds if not thousands of ordinary Iraqis are actively trying to combat ISIS.  The US government should join them as quickly as possible in addressing not only an existential threat to Iraq  but one that threatens the entire Middle East and the world beyond as well.

"Without you (the Christians), we Muslims cannot celebrate the Eid" (end of Ramadan)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

شهادة أولية عن الأوضاع في مخيم الخازر A Preliminary Account of the Situation in Camp al-Khazar

This report was written by Dr. Faris Kamal Nadhmi, a Professor of Social Psychology at Salahiddin University in Arbil, KRG, Iraq.  Dr. Nadhmi is part of a group, Nasuna (Our People), that is working to improve the conditions of refugees from Mosul and other areas seized by the ISIS terrorist group this past June and refugees all over Iraq.
In this photograph, we see Suhair al-Jazairi, Asma Jamil, Faris Nadhmi and Sarmad al-Ta'i
لكي يطلع كل المهتمين على حقيقة الأوضاع في مخيم (الخازر) لللاجئين القادمين من نينوى وصلاح الدين، والواقع على الطريق بين أربيل والموصل، أدرج إليكم بعض ملاحظاتي الأولية التي دونتها عند زيارتي للمخيم ضمن وفد مبادرة غوث النازحين والمهجرين (ناسُنا) في 19/7/2014م. وإن أغلب هذه المعلومات مستقاة من إفادات النازحين أنفسهم دون أن يتم التحقق التفصيلي من صحتها:

·        المنظمة السامية للأمم المتحدة لشؤون اللاجئين UNHCR  ومؤسسة بارزاني الخيرية هما المسؤولتان عن إدارة المخيم.
·   يبلغ عدد الخيم حوالي (700) خيمة بمعدل (5 – 6) أشخاص لكل خيمة، أي حوالي (4000) نازح من الجنسين ومن مختلف الأعمار.
Children at Camp al-Khazar on Ninewa-KRG border
·   أغلب اللاجئين نزحوا من مدن الموصل (حي النبي يونس والرشيدية ووادي حجر و17 تموز وحي التنك)، وقضاء الحضر والشرقاط والقيارة وتكريت وبيجي وبلد، هرباً من قصف القوات الحكومية للأحياء السكنية والمستشفيات. كما أفاد بعضهم بأنهم ينتسبون للشرطة المحلية أو قوات "سوات"، ولذلك اضطروا للنزوح مع عوائلهم خوفاً من انتقام داعش.
·   يفتقر المخيم إلى: أدوية الأمراض المزمنة/ برّادات لحفظ هذه الأدوية خصوصاً الأنسولين/ أدوية الصرع/ مواقد صغيرة للطبخ تعمل بالكاز أو النفط/ حفاظات للأطفال الرضع.
·        في المخيم مستوصف واحد يعالج الحالات البسيطة، أما الحالات الصعبة فلا علاج لها.
·        الولادات تحدث بدون تخدير وبدون وجود طبيبة نسائية.
Members of the "Our People" (Nasina) organization
·        امتناع النساء المريضات عن مراجعة الطبيب في المستوصف بسبب التقاليد العشائرية.
·    عدد المرافق الصحية البدائية لا يزيد عن (25) تواليت يستعملها ما يزيد عن (4000) شخص، أي بمعدل تواليت واحد لكل (160) إنسان على الأقل، مما يضطر الكثير منهم للوقوف في طوابير، أو للذهاب إلى القفار المجاورة لقضاء حاجتهم.
·        يفتقد المخيم إلى الحمامات، ويضطر اللاجئون إلى الاغتسال داخل الخيم.
·   نصف عدد النازحين فقط يحصل على طاقة كهربائية وعلى مياه الاغتسال في الوقت الحاضر بسبب
Children of al-Khazar Camp
الازدياد المستمر في الأعداد.
·   يذكر بعض سكان المخيم أن التبرعات أو المعونات النقدية التي تصل إلى المخيم لا توزع بشكل عادل إذ يحصل عليها من يستطيع التزاحم وله صلة بإدارة المخيم، أو يتم الاستيلاء على جزء منها لصالح جهات خارجية. وأفاد البعض أنه لم يحصل على إعانة مالية منذ (40) يوماً.
·   يجري تسريب كميات كبيرة من المساعدات الغذائية التي تصل إلى المخيم وتهريبها بواسطة سيارات إلى خارجه لصالح جهات خارجية. وقد أمكن التأكد من ذلك بواسطة تسجيل فديوي لدى أحد النازحين.
·   تقوم إدارة المخيم يومياً بتوزيع وجبة غذائية مطبوخة واحدة فقط عصراً بمعدل وجبة واحدة لكل عائلة مهما كان عددها. تتألف الوجبة في العادة من صحن رز وصحن مرق وخبز.
·   ساكنو المخيم يحصلون على مواد غذائية جافة (الرز والطحين والزيت وغيره) بكميات كافية من إدارة المخيم، غير إنهم لا يستطيعون الاستفادة من بالشكل المطلوب بسبب عدم توافر أدوات الطهي ومواقد الطبخ والوقود.
·   القادمون الجدد إلى المخيم يبقون في العادة بلا خيم أو معونات غذائية أو نقدية لمدة تزيد عن عشرة أيام. فيضطرون للمبيت في خيم الآخرين وتقاسم الغذاء معهم.
·        تكدس الأزبال والنفايات إذ لا يجري رفعها بواسطة السيارات المخصصة إلا مرة أو مرتين في الأسبوع.
·        ارتفاع أسعار الثلج، إذ وصل سعر قالب الثلج الى 6 آلاف دينار.
·   عند توزيع المواد الغذائية من قبل حرس المخيم، كثيراً ما يقومون برميها بشكل مهين على النازحين من بوابات السيارات المحمّلة بالمواد الغذائية. كما إن بعض هؤلاء الحرّاس يقومون بالاعتداء ضرباً بالكيبلات على بعض النازحين وشتمهم أثناء توزيع المساعدات طبقاً لتسجيل فديوي جرى الاطلاع عليه لدى أحد
View of Camp Khazar
·        الخيمة الحالية هي مكان للنوم والطبخ والاغتسال، ويصل عدد سكان بعض الخيم إلى (14) شخصاً.
·        انتشار الأفاعي والعقارب والجرذان دون وجود جهود لمكافحتها.
·   يسكن في المخيم عدد من ذوي الاحتياجات الخاصة (المعوقين)، ولذلك يتطلب الأمر اهتماماً خاصاً بهم بتوفير الأدوية والتجهيزات والملابس التي تعينهم على التعامل مع حالات العجز لديهم.
·   ليس من الواضح أن هناك خططاً لتوفير خدمات تعليمية أو ثقافية قريباً، إذ تبدو الأوضاع مرتبكة وفوضوية، تفتقر إلى أدنى حدود التنظيم والانضباط.
·   بيئياً وعمرانياً، فإن أقل ما يمكن قوله أن المخيم يقع في بيئة كارثية، إذ يتمركز في هضبة قاحلة تصل درجة حرارتها إلى أكثر من (45) درجة مئوية، وتتعرض يومياً إلى عواصف ترابية، فيما تبدو خيامه (بالرغم من حداثتها) في حالة رثة وبائسة داخلياً وخارجياً. أما عمرانياً فهو ليس أكثر مسارات ترابية موحلة، تتناثر فيه أبنية بدائية يشغلها إداريو المخيم.
·   نفسياً واعتبارياً، فمن خلال الاتصال المباشر بسكان المخيم، يمكن توصيف حالتهم بثلاث مفاهيم جرى تكرارها بينهم على نحو منتظم: اليأس والذل والصدمة. وقد عبّر عدد منهم على نحو منتظم بقوله: ((نحن أسرى، نحن بلا كرامة!)).
·        نعم، ناسُنا هناك في الخازر أسرى ضمن مخيم كبير إسمه "الوطن المهجّر"، يعفر وجوههم الألم والتراب
Another view of Camp al-Khazar
·   الضوء الوحيد في هذا المخيم هو وجوه الأطفال التي كانت تصر على الابتسام رغم كل شيء. كانوا أليفين وحميمين ومسالمين. وكانوا يتطلعون إلينا بوصفنا قادمين من خارج المخيم، أي من الوطن الذي ينتظرون العودة إليه. والحقيقة إننا ذهبنا إليهم لكي نبقى في الوطن!

Statement by the al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation in al-Najaf al-Ashraf on Recent Events in Iraq and the Dastardly Expusion of the Christians بيان مؤسسة الإمام الخوئي الخيرية في النجف الأشرف حول الأحداث الاخيرة في العراق وتهجير الوحشي للمسيحين.

Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation
مؤسسة الإمام الخوئي الخيرية 
  انطلاقاً من المفاهيم الدينية الصحيحة التي جاءت بها جميع الكتب السماوية والروح الوطنيّة 
  والقيم الأخلاقيّة  والإنسانيّة، والمسؤولية الملقاة على عاتق ابناء الشعب الواحد من قيادات دينية وسياسية وثقافية واعلامية ومؤسساتية، في مواجهة التذويب المقصود لبعض المكونات في مجتمعنا من قبل بعض الجماعات التي تحمل المفاهيم المريضة واللادينية والتي لم تكترث بحرمة دم الانسان من اعداء الدين والأنسانية معاً .. ومن يقف ورائهم من مخططي الفتن الطائفية والدينية والعرقية نؤكد على مايلي :

  1-     ندين ونستنكر ونشجب كافة الاعتداءات على دور العبادة من مساجد وحسينيات وكنائس وغيرها، والمساس بالرموز الدينية المقدسة عند اتباعها من كل الديانات والمذاهب .

2-     نعلن استعدادنا التام لاستقبال الأسر النازحة والمهجّرة من العراقيين سواء المسلمين منهم او المسيحيين وغيرهم .
3-    ندعو جميع العراقيين لتقديم المساعدات وبكافة انواعها للأُسر النازحة وحمايتهم من المعتدين عليهم، وفقا لمبادئ الاخوّة الأنسانية والوطنية .
4-     التزاماً بدعوات المرجعية الدينية العليا في حوزة النجف الأشرف المتكررة بالدعوة الى التسامح والعيش المشترك والمطالبة بتعزيز المواطنة ومساواة الحقوق لكافة العراقيين، ينبغي على من يهمهم الأمر من رجال دين ومبلّغين وخطباء ومثقفين واعلاميين، تحمل مسؤولياتهم الدينية والاخلاقية بهذا الاتجاه .
5-     على الجهات السياسية والتشريعية والحكومية تحمّل مسؤوليتها اتجاه الخطر المحدق بالمكونات والاقليات الدينية والعرقية، كالشبك والتركمان والايزيدية والصابئة المندائيين وآخرها ماجرى على المسيحيين وغيرهم في مدينة الموصل والمدن الأخرى، واتخاذ الاجراء الفعلي والعملي والفوري لحماية الارواح ودور العبادة والآثار التاريخية التي تخلّد حضارات عراقنا الجريح  .
6-     مطالبة الامم المتحدة واليونسكو والمنظمة الاسلامية وجامعة الدول العربية بتحمل مسؤولياتها الانسانية والتاريخية واتخاذ الاجراءات السريعة والعملية قبل فوات الاوان .
7-     تحت شعار (نتعاون ونفكر ونعمل ونخطط.. لننجح ) تعلن مؤسسة الإمام الخوئي الخيرية في النجف الأشرف عن استعدادها التام بالتعاون مع جميع المنظمات الدولية والانسانية والمجتمعية في هذا المجال، وسيجدون القلوب مفتوحة قبل الاذرع .                                              والله ولي التوفيق  ...

مؤسسة الإمام الخوئي الخيرية
   العراق _ النجف الأشرف
الثلاثاء 23 رمضان 1435
المصادف  22/7/2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Is Another Middle East Possible? Hope, Negation, and the Rebirth of the Individual

Dr. Saladdin Ahmed
Guest  contributor, Dr. Saladdin Ahmed, received his Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa.  He taught in the Political Science and Sociology departments at the University of  Duhok during the 2013-2014 academic year.  He is working on a book entitled, "The Destruction of Aura and Totalitarian Space."

In the most hopeless of times, seeking hope becomes ever more meaningful.

Whose hope, or hope for whom? Obviously, in a world so divided, after such long histories of suppression and exploitation on racist, male chauvinist, and economic bases, one group’s dream could very well be another group’s nightmare. The unity of a nation from one perspective could translate to genocide from others, particularly for those whose existence or general will for whatever reason does not correspond to the imagined unity.

However, and regardless to the ethical plausibility or implausibility of any form of statehood, some forms of genuine peaceful co-existence must be kept alive as an Ideal to inspire a sane discourse in the midst of so many exclusionary discourses of hatred and denial. That is to say, there must be some hope for humanity as such, hope for peaceful coexistence without any specific group dominating other groups politically and economically in the name of a state, religion, sect, or nationality.

How could that hope be born? Hope should not be based on a dogmatic or psychological denial of the existing reality. Inevitably, however, in times like these, the more one, from a universalist point of view, familiarizes oneself with the reality, the less hopeful one becomes. Yet precisely because of this hopelessness and the subsequent need for hope, we need to be inspired by a philosophy of negation – as opposed to a mentality of denial.

In today’s Middle East, it is hard to find any group whose members do not feel underprivileged politically. Of course, that is not to say all groups are equally wrong or equally right in their outlooks. There are groups who have historically been on the oppressive side and other groups who have been unfortunate enough to be repeated victims of colonial borders, imperialist and nationalist enterprises, and racist or religious politics. 

Needless to say, these categories, oppressors and oppressed, are not mutually exclusive. Within each group there are oppressors and oppressed. Moreover, there cannot be a group of people who are metaphysically oppressors or oppressed. In fact, oppressors often legitimize their exploitation of Others on the basis of self-victimization drawn from some historical or mythological/religious circumstances.

After the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and the Arab uprisings of 2009, some shifts in ethnic and sectarian relations of domination took place. As a result, the superficial stability and security that had existed under the respective dictators in Iraq and Syria came to an end. 

From there, unlimited enmities that had previously been contained within the systematic violence of the state surfaced, and fanaticism fed into more fanaticism. Some found their historical opportunity for emancipation, others found their opportunity to take collective revenge, and still others tasted victimhood for the first time. The result, in short, has been something of a Hobbesian nightmare of war of all against all.

The only real way out of this climate of distrust and hatred in the Middle East does not involve borders, flags, gods, or the lack thereof.  A peaceful Middle East will only be possible when an individual’s sense of justice is not rooted in his or her sectarian identity and when each defends the rights of the Other.  Rather than submitting to collective self-victimization and demonization of the Other, individuals must learn to think autonomously and to hold themselves accountable for their own deeds.

Unless a day comes when Arabs defend the rights of Kurds, Turkmen defend the rights of Chaldo-Assyrians, and Muslims defend the rights of Christians, Jews, and other minorities, everyone will be a loser in the Middle East and barbarism will continue to thrive at the expense of the values of life and diversity.

Unless a day comes when men learn to become self-critical in terms of the male dominated present, that is a product of thousands of years of gender inequality, and to defend the rights of women precisely because they are not women, there can be no real hope even if racist and religious domination fade away.

Unless equality for all is guaranteed, there will always be an industry of collective identities to justify the economic exploitation of huge numbers of people.  As long as such exploitation continues, flags, holy books, and borders will continue to be organic parts of what sustains the current nightmarish reality.

As a mentality, the denial of the Other or her right to exist suffers from both ethical and intellectual deficiencies.  Ethically, it is based on sheer selfishness and egoism.  Intellectually, the mentality of denial strives for a one-dimensional world flattened by force, which is arguably the worst possible world for the intellect.

On the other hand, a philosophy of negation necessitates the existence of the Other as the only path to the sublimation of the self.  The Other is the mirror through which the self realizes its potentialities and its innovative role in the world.  As a mirror of the self, the Other is both the reflection and the negation of the self. By the same token, the self is the Other endlessly reflected and negated.  The result of this movement is a third entity that is neither the self nor the Other, but a more complete mode of existence capable of being a conscious creator of history, a bridge to better spaces and times.

As much as power is a cult in the Middle East, resisting its exercise, its sick creations, its culture, and its hierarchies is the essential method to demystify its cultic allure and begin imagining a freer world.  In traditions that value power in its most controlling and patriarchal versions, it is, of course, the most controlling individuals – those who fully submit to the power relations and the culture of oppression – that ultimately become the dictators of social space.  In short, bullies rule.

During my year in Iraqi Kurdistan as a university lecturer, I noticed a pragmatic bond between bullies on all levels, and with such a network of bullies in place, individuals with critical or simply autonomous personalities are systematically bullied in everyday life. These bullies use and are used by the ruling political party in each region, and these parties have therefore become the hub of individuals who seek special social privileges with minimal individual effort. As a result, the dominant social and political systems are structurally oppressive, anti-critical, and patently totalitarian.  In their normal functioning, these systems reward the worst and punish the best.    

When I started teaching at the University of Duhok, I quickly realized that the only way to avoid being a sustaining element of the existing totalitarian system was to methodically resist dominant social norms.  From day one, the bullies amongst the student body made their presence clear in their ingratiating behavior towards me as an instructor and their habit of speaking on the behalf of their classmates. 

These bullies were always male, from the ethnic and religious majority, and usually from families with ties to the ruling party accompanied by wealth and prestige. Whatever individual merits they possessed were never cultivated in their own right or for the sake of acquiring knowledge; their skills were rather reserved for playing power politics. 

Gradually, I also noticed that most of the rest of the student body sought to curry favor with the bullies in order to get by.  More disturbingly, these bullies were most of the students’ only effective communication channels to department heads and other administrators on various levels who themselves played the same games according to the same unspoken codes of domination. 

Being an uncritical educator in these circumstances simply would have led me to directly supporting a discriminatory system that was structured to punish free minds and reward bullies.  Vulgar forms of the exercise of power dictated all human interactions, so it would have been impossible to miss the structural violence the first victim of which was education itself.  As in most oppressive cases, I could not afford being hopeless.  Being hopeless would have meant being submissive to the existing reality, and giving up.

Being a Kurd and a man, in an environment where Kurdish men are the majority in terms of power relations, I found an ideal opportunity to put my philosophy of negation into practice. In spite of the historical atrocities and injustice Kurds in Iraq and elsewhere have faced, I openly criticized the shortcomings of Kurdish society, especially in terms of gender relations, refugee and minority rights, and freedom of expression. 

I rejected the common assumption that for a nation of victims, Kurds in Iraq are doing well.  By negating the common Kurdish discourse of victimhood and turning it on its head through self-critique, I was able not only to undermine dominant social norms, but also to create a space for self-reflection and creativity.  Through empowering the marginalized, including women and minorities, a different dynamic began to shape the learning space.  Fanaticism, sectarianism, male chauvinism, and racism – the plagues of today’s Middle East – gradually gave way to autonomous individual voices.