Tue, 22 Aug 06

A while back on The Daily Show – maybe you saw it – Jon Stewart made fun of a promotional video created by the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan. The video showed buildings being constructed, grocery stores with well-stocked shelves, smiling children in colourful ethnic costumes, the usual schmaltz. The tag line was, “Come see the other Iraq.” Somehow Stewart turned this line – “the other Iraq” – into a joke. The gag, I guess, was that you’d have to be crazy to try to lure tourists to Iraq at a time like this. I thought the bit was sort of weak, although the Daily Show studio audience (which, it has been observed, bursts into sustained applause with less provocation than any other TV audience except Stephen Colbert’s) seemed to find it hilarious. Sometimes Stewart just uses the word “Iraq” as a truncheon with which to smack down the president, and the context in which the word is deployed doesn’t much matter.

I just read this article about Kurdistan, which I found particularly interesting in light of the fact that a couple years ago, Jenn & Kurt were trying to convince me to fly there with them on an aid mission. In the end I chickened out, and Jenn & Kurt vacationed in Vietnam instead. I would like to visit Kurdistan someday, though. Apparently, just as their promotional video asserted, the Kurds have managed to create for themselves a fairly secure and civilised little homeland, despite the inconvenience of being tethered to the self-destructing Iraqi state. The Kurds have kept their territory fairly free of violence by sealing off their border with the rest of Iraq and by obtrusively monitoring the few Arabs who are allowed into the region. (Muslim Arabs are automatically suspect; Christian Arabs, however, are welcome.) That’s a dicey method, but Iraq is a dicey country.

“It’s easy to imagine the place as a reasonably well-functioning conservative democracy, a moderately prosperous Utah of the Middle East,” the author concludes. It has also been proposed as a convenient spot for the Americans to withdraw their troops to, in the event that they’re forced to abandon the rest of Iraq to the crazies and anarchists. Funny how, despite their century or so of mistreatment by colonial and pseudo-colonial powers – shat upon successively by the Ottomans, the British, and Saddam’s Iraq – the Kurds wind up being the most peaceable and Western-leaning people in the Middle East. Maybe some cultures are just amenable to modernity, while other cultures just aren’t. But, given where they’re situated, how long can the Kurds hold out against the temptation to pious fury? Maybe the time to visit is now.

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