January 13, 2004


Via the always interesting KurdishMedia.com comes an Open letter to Arab intellectuals by Shahin B. Sorekli, who addresses his letter to

those of you who have a conscience based on reason and fairness, to those of you who consider themselves a part of a broader human society that changes with time, to those of you who believe in the fundamental rights of every person in our world regardless of their ethnic and religious background for I know it would be a waste of time to address those who think Arabs belong to a race that is independent of the rest of the world, who believe God must be called Allah, who believe only a “truly Arab Islamic” system can eliminate misery and backwardness currently visible in many Arab and Islamic countries. I am not addressing my letter to those intoxicated by tribal nationalism or unknowingly drowned in fascist forms of nationalism.

The whole thing is worth reading -- Sorekli offers a ringing defense of federalism, and he doesn't ignore the Islamists entirely. I was a little disappointed by his paragraph on Israel -- surely Sorekli could understand that if the more militant Palestinians achieve their ends, and Israel ceased to exist as a state, the fate of the Jews living in the Middle East would be far worse than that of the Kurds, but I digress. I was particularly struck by this passage:

Before ending this open letter allow me to present two contrasting pictures, one showing some of the rights Muslim Arab migrants enjoy in Australia, a country some fundamental Islamists may call “infidel,” and another portraying what more than two million Muslim Kurds do not enjoy in Syria:

Australia: The Arabic speaking people came to Australia as migrants. Most of them came from Lebanon after the start of the civil war in the seventies (the majority of them live in Sydney and Melbourne). They have radio programs, including those financed by the Australian government, and radio stations that broadcast 24 hours. They have Arabic satellite TV channels. The Australian SBS TV broadcasts news in Arabic and often shows films and other programs in the Arabic language. There are more Arabic newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne than in some Arab countries with some directly or indirectly financially supported by government agencies. There are several Arabic and Islamic schools. The Arabic language is accepted as a subject at schools and children of Arabic speaking families are taught Arabic at government schools if they so wish. There are hundreds of Arabic organisations and welfare agencies with many financed by government funds and grants. Members of the Arabic community have the right to demonstrate against government policies or to express themselves in any regard…

Syria (where more than two million Kurds live): Kurdish identity: Not recognised / Kurdish radio, TV or newspapers: No / Teaching in Kurdish: No / Even one single Kindergarten where Kurdish is accepted as the second language: No / Kurdish representation in parliament: No / Kurdish organizations or agencies supported or recognized by the government: No…

Has there been one Arab government, organization or group that has approached the Syrian government regarding the rights of the Kurdish population? I leave the answer to your conscience.

Speaking of conscience, Mark Steyn has reprinted his wonderful December 2003 Atlantic Monthly piece on the great Elia Kazan, whose convictions and conscience led him to name Hollywood figures who were allied with Moscow in the Cold War:

Amid the herd-like moral poseurs, Kazan was always temperamentally an outsider, and his work benefited after he became one in a more formal sense. But, both before and after, his best productions concern themselves with a common question: the point at which you’re obliged to break with your own – your union, your class, your group, or, in Kazan’s case, your Group. The 1947 Oscar-winner Gentleman’s Agreement strikes most contemporary observers as very tame, square Kazan. But, in a curious way, that’s the point. When you start watching and you realize it’s an issue movie “about” anti-semitism, you expect it to get ugly, to show us Jew-bashing in the schoolyard, and vile language about kikes. But it stays up the genteel end with dinner party embarrassments, restricted resort hotels, an understanding about the sort of person one sells one’s property to. Dorothy McGuire and her Connecticut friends aren’t bad people, but in their world, as much as on Johnny Friendly’s waterfront, people conform: they turn a blind eye to the Jew-disparaging joke, they discreetly avoid confronting the truth about the hotel’s admission policies, and, as Gregory Peck comes to understand, they’re the respectable face of what at the sharp end means pogroms and genocide.

That’s what all those Hollywood and Broadway Communists did. They were the polite front of an ideology that led to mass murder, and they expected Kazan to honour their gentleman’s agreement. In those polite house parties Gregory Peck goes to in Kazan's movie, it’s rather boorish and tedious to become too exercised about anti-semitism. And likewise, at gatherings in the arts, it’s boorish and tedious to become too exercised about Communism – no matter how many faraway, foreign, unglamorous people it kills. Elia Kazan was on the right side of history. His enemies line up with the apologists for thugs and tyrants. Whose reputation would you bet on in the long run?

Posted by Ideofact at January 13, 2004 11:52 PM

I can't help but notice a parallel between communism and Islam in that both start with very appealing ideals that historically haven't translated well into practice. And I am not sure myself that were the multiple universe theory true that there isn't a world somewhere where either a good Islamic or good communist country exists.

I know this is slightly off-topic, but having read "People of the Lie", I was wondering what your thoughts are on the nature of evil?

Posted by: Mahsheed at January 14, 2004 11:54 AM

Yikes -- that's quite an off-topic question, probably one that can't be answered in a blog comment. I think I'm somewhat Augustinian when it comes to evil -- but more because I think the fall works metaphorically than out of any theological conviction. I remember reading -- or perhaps seeing in a three-hour movie of conversations with him -- Jean Paul Sartre telling of an encounter he had with an American in the 1950s. The American said something along the lines of, "If only all governments were led by reasonable men, there would be no evil in the world." Sartre was horrified, and said that this American couldn't understand that evil was a force in the world.

I don't think I agree with Sartre -- evil, I think, is a particularly human category; it's very difficult for me to conceive of it as an abstract force like gravity. Some of Shakespeare's plays come much closer, for me, to defining or isolating it than the works of philosophers.

Posted by: Bill at January 14, 2004 11:33 PM

Ah, I'd suspected that you would think that way about it (but I didn't know how to say that without sounding presumptuous), as from your writings which don't seem to come from a religous person's perspective. Even if you don't think it's a separate force, do you think it's something recognizable? Can you look at something no matter how insignificant and recognize that it's evil, even if you are not religious? Please write at least one post on this, I'll guarantee you at least one attentive reader.


Posted by: Mahsheed at January 15, 2004 12:06 AM