Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Unique Face Before Death

Hujam Surchi shown in a video moments before being killed by an Islamic State fighter.

This is a picture of Hujam Surchi, a man moments before being beheaded by an Islamic State (Isis) fighter. He has such a unique look that I personally have never seen before! A face that that no matter how hard I try I can’t accurately describe in words.

He hears loud words from his killer, speaking the same language as his: Kurdish. He understands every word his would-be killer says. He hears the man, who holds a big knife, saying that his defensless subject is going to die because he deserves it. Hujam doesn’t blink his eyes, just looks at the camera straight. He doesn’t utter a word to interrupt his killer. No attempts at arguing or begging for his life! He simply accepts his fate as if it’s destined for him.

But in his eyes, as you look deeply into them, they appear to be those of man deeply immersed in thinking. Anyways, that is the only freedom that even his captors fail to take away. In a series of flashbacks, he may think of his childhood, the rare peaceful days he spent in homeland “Kurdistan,” when kids discuss their future dreams. He could be thinking about the day he got married and the day he became a father. He may think about all the promises he gave to his 10 children, but probably failed to deliver them. He may be happy that a few months ago he was willing to put aside all the pride he is exuding in this picture in order to appear on a local station to beg the country's rich to help his handicapped daughter get a surgery abroad. “I am asking for help because my child is a girl not a boy,” he said on television, knowing the amount of value his society places on beauty and good health for women.

Was he not a good father? He may wonder as moments of his life are increasingly numbered. Another question that may cross his mind is why he should be killed by a fellow Kurd, the group he tried so hard and for so long to protect. As logic fails him, he may turn to God for answer: How could any religion justify the killing of a man who did everything he could to raise 10 children during multiple wars? Why would a man, who never had power to be unjust or wealth to abuse, face such a destiny? What can his children do without him in the faraway Kurdish village? The questions could become countless and forever unanswerable!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How It Feels To Be a Kurd

Let me speak my mind. Let me, for the first time, put it as clearly as I can how I feel being a Kurd. I can't hide this anymore.

I feel I am a person with no home and no identity.

I hold an Iraqi passport but don't dare to tell anyone in Kurdistan that I am Iraqi. Saying so would make me be seen as a TRAITOR by everyone including my friends and family members.

And I don't blame them.

As a Kurd, If I say I am Iraqi, It's like betraying my mother whose uncles were killed by the Iraqi government. What was their sin? They were Kurdish.

If I say I am Iraqi, I feel I am betraying my father who was robbed of his childhood and education- and chose to be rebel in stead- because, again, he was Kurdish.

If I say I am Iraqi, I feel I am betraying my siblings whose sister would have likely been alive should the Kurds have had their own state.

If I say I am Iraqi, I feel I am betraying everything I know including my birth-village, its beautiful trees and hills, the chickens and livestock that served as our primary source of living, the two dogs which were both pets and life-savers for my family. They all disappeared overnight as the Iraqi government bombarded the village and later used bulldozers to raze anything that was left standing in a beautiful spring of 1988.

But still, every time I meet a stranger, from a professor to a taxi driver, every time I write a piece to a foreign audience, I can't say just in one word where I am from. I have to explain where we live, where our border starts and ends, and what it means to be Kurdish.

Now I hope you have an idea why we are so adamant about having our own state.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Unwinding of the Arab Spring and The Resurgence of Extremism

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw

Tuesday, December 17th marked the third anniversary of the Middle East and North Africa popular uprisings or the so-called Arab Spring, which all started with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street against the harsh and humiliating treatment of his authoritarian government.

It was remarkably unprecedented for average Arabs to be able to topple their long-time dictators from the streets.

The ousting of Middle East dictators, who had long enjoyed Western support, made many argue for the emergence of strong moderate and electoral Muslim forces one the one hand, and the weakness, if not entirely irrelevance, of radical groups such as al-Qaeda, on the other.

It was at this time when Osama Bin Laden was killed. And earlier in May, after nearly a dozen years since the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Obama sought to narrow the scope of the so-called War on Terror.

“Al-Qaeda was on the path to defeat,” he declared at the National Defense University in his nation’s capital. But over the past few months, things seem to have been turning upside down. In Egypt and Tunisia, the first democratically elected Islamist leaders have been forced to resign.

Elsewhere, radical Islamists seem to have been on the rise rather than “ on the path to defeat,” as their militants have found new safe havens in Libya and Syria and continue to kill, kidnap and sow terror across much of Africa and the Middle East.

The attacks launched by al-Qaeda and its proxies have been powerful and indiscriminate. They have targeted shopping malls in Africa, government and rebel forces in Syria, and also broken into major prisons, setting their fellow fighters free in Afghanistan and Iraq.

- So as the Arab Spring hopes are fading, is radical Islamism resurgent?
 - How does Obama treat these developments?
Apart from the massive drone campaign, does the Obama Administration have a coherent counter-terrorism policy?

To discuss this subject, Rudaw's Namo Abdulla talk to:
- David Rennie, Washington Bureau Chief of The Economist magazine.
- Ahmad Majidyar, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative foreign policy think thank, is joining us.

Is Islam A Religion of Peace?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw

Washington, DC -The near-three-year-old civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people. It has also caused a refugee crisis, resulting in the displacement of millions of people.

For many, the conflict appears like a religious war between the Sunnis and the Alawites, who are an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Almost all Sunni countries support Sunni-dominated rebels, while Shiite-led nations and groups such as Iran, Iraq, and Hizbollah support and aid the Allawite regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

External support has only intensified the conflict, resulting in more bloodshed and deaths of more civilians. Every side of the conflict argues that Allah or God is on their side.

The intensification of conflicts in the Muslim world has prompted many to ask a more fundamental question: Is Islam a religion of peace?

Critics of Islam may say there’s no point in asking such a question: just look at all the killings and suicide attacks Muslims carry out across the globe.

The answer is clear. Supporters of Islam may say it’s utterly offensive to blame an entire faith for the actions of a small group of Muslims?

Can we blame Christianity as a religion for the conflicts of the medieval ages or more recently the genocide in Rwanda?

To debate whether Islam is a religion of peace, Rudaw's Namo Abdulla talks to:

- Dr. Sayyid Syeed, Director of Interfaith & Community Alliances at Islamic Society of North America.
- Dr. David Wurmser, a Middle East expert who served as an advisor to former Vice President Dick Cheney. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Have Privacy and Security Become Incompatible Goals?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw

Washington, D.C. – What the U.S. government now knows about our lives is unprecedented.

In this age of globalized modern technology, we seem not to have the ability to prevent the U.S. National Security Agency (or NSA) from tapping into phone conversations, reading text messages and emails, and monitoring all manner of online activities.

Even the leaders of European countries, America’s best friends, have become subjected to the NSA’s spying activities.

Just one of the recently leaked internal documents by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrates that each day the U.S. government is gathering nearly five billion records on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world. …without the cellphone even needing to be turned on.

President Barack Obama has defended his government’s spying activities as being necessary for the security of its citizens and allies. But, he says in this Internet age “it’s important to understand that you can’t have 100 percent security and then have 100 percent privacy.”

But how much has individual privacy been invaded? In this increasingly interconnected world, have privacy and security become incompatible goals?

To debate this subject, Rudaw’s Namo Abdulla talks to:

- Ray McGovern, a retired CIA officer and an intelligence activist.

- James Kirchick, a reporter, foreign correspondent, columnist and fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC.

- Richard Weitz, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In A Changing Middle East, Should the U.S. Support Kurdish Independence?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw
Kurdish leaders say they have no plans to secede from Iraq.

But in practice, their steps suggest otherwise. Over the past few years, they have taken increasingly bold steps to boost the position of their autonomous region in an otherwise war-torn country.

The most significant of which has been the multi-billion-dollar oil and gas deals Kurdistan has signed with Turkey and foreign oil companies in defiance of Baghdad and Washington.

Already, Kurdistan seems to have most of the pre-conditions of an independent state. It has its own foreign ministry. It manages its own army. It flies its own flag and has a Kurdish national anthem.

But to achieve de-jure independence- or legal status in the United Nations, Kurds need something else: the support of powerful nations such as the United States.

The U.S. has historically opposed an independent Kurdistan.

But in an increasingly tumultuous Middle East, where traditional borders and politics are challenged by a resurgence of ethno-sectarianism and religious extremism, is not an independent pro-Western Kurdish state in the U.S. interest in that strategic part of the world?

To discuss this subject, I am joined by

- Marina Ottaway, a scholar at Wilson Center for independent research.

- Douglas A. Ollivant, a Senior National Security Fellow with the New America Foundation.

- Ben Van Heuvelen, managing director of Iraq Oil Report and a contributor to the Washington Post. 

Is Turkey America's Trusted Ally?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw

Washington, D.C - Ahead of his November visit to the U.S., Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote an article about U.S.-Turkey relations.

"The partnership between the United States and Turkey is value-based," he wrote in Foreign Policy. 

This year, Turkish foreign policy has not really been one of “zero problems” with its longtime NATO ally, the United States. Firstly, Turkey continues to have strained relations with Israel, despite Obama Administration’s mediation efforts to mend ties between the two nations.

Despite being a NATO member, Turkey announced a decision in September to purchase long-range missile defense systems from China, angering the U.S. And despite Turkey’s aggressive push for regime change in its neighbor, Syria, the U.S. has been reluctant to take military actions against the Arab country’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

So where does the U.S. currently stand in its relations with Turkey, under the Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Erdogan?

As much of the so-called “Arab Spring” is unwinding, can Turkey pursue an entirely independent policy in the Muslim world? Joining the discussion :

- Gönül Tol, the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

 - Ömer Taşpınar, a scholar at the Brookings Institution specializing in Turkey, the Middle East and Kurdish nationalism. He is a professor at the National War College.