Humanitarian Concerns and Weaponization of Minority Discourse in the Middle East: Turkey, Syria & the Kurdish Betrayal in Historical Context

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Despicable and depressing that most won’t realize the outrage they feel over the abandonment of the Kurds stems not from humanitarian concerns over loss of life — but from the “betrayal of necessary allies.”

Despicable and depressing that most won’t realize the outrage they feel over the abandonment of the Kurds stems not from humanitarian concerns over loss of life — but from the “betrayal of necessary allies.”

It’s only genocide if we can use you.

Worse yet is the deployment of “minority” discourse as another, secondary “concern” for outrage over the Kurds’ betrayal — here is the implication (one of many): the vast majority of Arab and Muslim lives simply don’t register as “human enough” to save.

Troubling also with the “minority discourse” is the framing — as a pretext for sudden humanitarian concern and regional interest (out of nowhere, for many) is a zoological image: endangered species. Among domestic US opposition to Trump’s decisions on Syria, Turkey, and the Kurds — it is also well worth asking: had Obama made this call on foreign policy, would your outrage be the same?

He sure felt fine leaving more than half of Syria’s population massacred or displaced.

“Concern” for minorities in the Middle East is commonly weaponized by:

  1. colonial regimes for “divide-and-conquer” imperial expansions, with disastrous effects.
  2. regional despots who maintain autocratic control by tactical terrorism discourse (après moi, le déluge).

How much of this outrage stems from “minority-like-us” thought paradigms of so common to colonial divide-and-conquer strategies? I am thinking here in images: the unveiled Kurdish women fighters, as well as rhetoric that frames them as “loosely following cultural Islam” (thus less devout).

Many reactions to the Kurds’ betrayal (and underlying thought paradigms) reveal Mahmood Mamdani’s “culture talk” : the division of “good Muslim” vs. “bad Muslim” along the lines of not devotion, but “acceptable” political alignment. ‪

To cite an older example of the same phenomenon: France’s 1870 Crémieux Decree, which granted Jews French citizenship — but not occupied Algeria’s Muslim majority. Yet Vichy France abolished this measure in 1940, and Nazi collaborators, such as Maurice Papon, were happily sending Jews to death camps.

As I mentioned before, the weaponization of “minority discourse” (and its imperial divide-and-conquer roots) has disastrous consequences that echo into the present (deliberately planned outcome in colonial regimes) — instigation of lasting and devastating communal tensions.

I could easily mention rising sectarianism post-2003’s of Iraq, or Jewish-Arab hostilities after the Crémieux Decree — but consider a parallel beyond the Middle East. 1994’s horrifying genocide in Rwanda arose, ultimately, from Belgium’s divide-and-conquer ethnic policies.

In addition, does the fact that among ISIS fighters, there are also Kurds (members of the same ethno-linguistic minority) alter your framework? Are the roots of your concern truly in response to concerns over minorities in peril — or unconscious internalization of outrage for lives endangered if those lives fall into acceptable political alignments?

It is perfectly possible to find the Kurdish betrayal unconscionable, while also remaining cognizant of the troubling implications in discourse that surrounds the issue. These positions are not mutually exclusive — but deeply intertwined: concern for universal human life.

The fundamental point here: claims to value human life demand that concern apply universally, not only geopolitically useful contexts. There is a troubling history behind such claims — with lingering consequences in the present and catastrophic implications for the future.

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