The interim constitution in Kurdistan states that Islam is the source of legislation. In the hours ahead of the referendum on independence, is religion on the back burner? What does it mean for Israel?
With all the Euphoria surrounding the referendum of the Kurdistan referendum just a day away, countries and entities – both for and against the referendum – each hardens its stance. The KRG (Kurdish regional government) has said this would be the benchmark for negotiating a divorce from the Shia-led government in Baghdad. In the third world, there are never guarantees, particularly in the Islamic world, where alliances change and are ever changing. Yes the Islamic world! The most unstable and burdensome region in the world. There are numerous articles and blogs by emotionally charged individuals, promoting the Kurdish cause as a beacon of the middle east. Right wingers often tout Kurdistan as a place where people are free to practise their religion, freedom to critique any ideology, including Islam and their own national aspirations. Leftists do the same, but additionally, tie the Kurdish cause to the plight of the Palestinians, along with Kashmiris in India, Rohingyas in Myanmar, all with Islamic national aspirations.
Naturally the left gravitates towards Islam, but at crossroads, the right argues that the Kurds have a secular outlook and cites the stability of the KRG as the base of their support. But are they right? Is religiosity on the back burner when it comes to law and order in Kurdistan? Soon after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there were claims that a growing number of Kurds were converting to Christianity,and this wooed the evangelical Christians in the United States and beyond, since there were no reports of reprisals against apostates – not yet anyway. Until Mariwan Halabjee rose to prominence. He is dubbed the Kurdish Salman Rushdie, due to his criticism of Islam in a book that was published, titled Sex, Women and Sharia in the History of Islam. This caused an uproar, prompting the largest charity organization, Islamic League in Kurdistan, to issue a fatwa against him, subsequently backed by the government. At around the same time, Dr. Omar Miran, a historian opposed to a separate Kurdistan, claimed that the Kurds have no history or civilization, and a few days later he was assassinated, allegedly by the president, Massoud Barzani. Haj Abdul Qadir Miran Agha was assassinated in the 40s at the hands of Mullah Mustafa al-Barzani (the father of Masuad Barzani) personally, in front of many eye-witnesses because he as well rejected the Kurdish separatist movement. Old habits die hard or is it a culture beyond rehabilitation?
The Muslim clerics have a lot of influence on social issues, much like they did in Iran did before the infamous Islamic Revolution in 1979. It comes as no surprise that the constitution in Kurdistan states that Islam is the source of legislation and that anything that goes against its principles is quashed. This could explain why, in 2013, photographer Kamaran Najm had to go into hiding after the picture of him kissing his Dutch girlfriend went viral. The LGBT community have not been spared either, keeping a low profile to stay out of the radar, for one of many taboos in the Kurdish society. The economic situation is dire, tourism is down, university lecturers, along with civil services, and the Peshmerga forces, haven’t been paid in months. If this carries on, it would be fertile ground for an Islamic revolution, to unseat Barzani, who’s been in power since 1992, unofficially, his term in office expired in August 2015.
How Would an Independent Kurdistan Affect Israel?
So where does this leave Israel? Politics makes strange bedfellows, it seems, but if an independent Kurdistan was to become another post 1979 Iran, then the chances of maintaining diplomatic ties would be slim. Not forgetting the infamous incident in 1999, after an anti Semitic rumor, started off by the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), claimed the Mossad was behind the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, a vitriol anti Semite, which resulted in a riot of hundreds of Kurds at the Israeli embassy in Berlin, in which a junior diplomat was falsely imprisoned, forcing Israeli security to shoot three Kurds dead. This prompted Israel to temporarily shut down its embassies across Europe.
This wasn’t the first time Kurds waged an aggressive campaign against Israelis. During the civil war in Lebanon in 1982, Abdullah Ocalan sent Kurdish fighters trained with Palestinian terrorists and couldn’t wait to join in to attack IDF soldiers, they fought and lost to the Israelis. Communists yes; religious, no. But that only demonstrates the fact that secular Muslims, are not only never thoroughly secular, but the secularism is guaranteed to be temporary, and religiosity is bound to take over sooner or later, like a ticking time bomb. Turkey, like Iran, had warm ties with Israel for decades, thanks to secular reforms by the Godfather Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. However in the late 1990s, the economy faltered, and inevitably in 2002, Erdogan rose to power; fast forward to 2010 and the orchestrated flotilla attack on Israeli forces. That same year, Hezbollah arrested three PKK members with the bogus allegation of spying for Israel, the silence from the Kurds, worldwide was deafening.
A fully fledged theocracy of Kurdistan won’t not happen overnight, it may remain limited to internal affairs. There may never be a Mullah in complete power, there could be a coup by the PKK (they already have camps and cells in Iraqi Kurdistan) or other political rivals, or even a revolution of some sort, there may even be civil war, like the one in the 90s. One thing is certain, it can never be a democracy, as democracy is an alien concept to their culture. Supporters of the Kurdish cause may have eggs on their faces, and will naturally start pointing fingers, playing the blame game on countries such as Turkey and Iran. Regardless of the outcome, they, along with other enthusiasts, will be back to square one and revert to the old slogan ‘Free Kurdistan’ – but when the seeds are sown for a theocracy, sympathy from the powers that be would be nullified, and credibility lost forever.