Michael Totten is visiting Iraq, specifically Kurdistan (the northern region where terrorists almost never operate).
Yes, it’s Iraq. But the war is in a different part of the country. There are no Kurdish insurgents. The Peshmerga guard Kurdistan’s de-facto border with ruthless effectiveness. Those who attempt to cross away from the checkpoints and the roads are ambushed by border patrols. Anyone who doesn’t speak Kurdish as their native language stands out among the general population. Iraqi Kurds, out of desperate necessity, have forged one of the most watchful and vigilant anti-terrorist communities in the world. Terrorists from elsewhere just can’t operate in that kind of environment. Al Qaeda members who do manage to infiltrate are hunted down like rats. This conservative Muslim society did a better job protecting me from Islamist killers than the U.S. military could do in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
I did what I wanted and needed to do. I threw myself into their society, without a gun and without any bodyguards, and I trusted that they would catch me. And catch me they did. I trusted the Kurds with my life. No trust in the world is greater than that, especially in an extraordinarily dangerous blood-spattered country like Iraq.
Reading that makes me want to go. What do you guys think? Anyone want to come? I'm thinking either really soon (difficult to get time off work though) or around October, when the temperature should be moderate (see the average monthly temperatures of Mosul, which is pretty close to Kurdistan).
Update: Someone asked why I want to go to Kurdistan, suggesting that it was idiotic bravado. That's a fair question. First let me emphasize that my desire to go is contingent on it being safe (Michael Totten asked a man from the Kurdish Regional Government about safety, and he replied "you are safe here. You are as safe here in Kurdistan as you are in any American city."). I want to go to Kurdistan because it has a culture very different from the one I'm used to, because of its relevance to current events, because of its fascinating history (some major events of which are recent), and because of its relevance to the hopeful future direction of my life.
I want to experience different cultures and see - and experience - how other people live. There are numerous benefits to this:
-I can better understand human nature, seeing the differences and similarities across different cultures and situations.
-I might see ideas that I can apply to my own life.
-I can better understand myself, by watching how these new experiences affect me.
How different is Kurdistan? It is a conservative Muslim country, a infant democracy, with electricity for two hours a day, and it's been at war for fifteen years. That's about as different as it could be from what I'm used to.
Kurdistan has relevance to current events - this is obvious.
The history of the Kurds is fascinating to me, and the interesting stuff is all recent. Somewhat like the Jews used to be, they are denied a homeland. They were persecuted by Saddam Hussein in an unprecedented way (genocide by, among other things, chemical attack). It's the possibly the most heartbreaking place on the planet that might actually be safe to travel to.
March 16th was supposed to be Muhammad's wedding day. "Every preparation was done," he said. His fiancée, a woman named Bahar Jamal, was among the first in the cellar to die. "She was crying very hard," Muhammad recalled. "I tried to calm her down. I told her it was just the usual artillery shells, but it didn't smell the usual way weapons smelled. She was smart, she knew what was happening. She died on the stairs. Her father tried to help her, but it was too late."
Death came quickly to others as well. A woman named Hamida Mahmoud tried to save her two-year-old daughter by allowing her to nurse from her breast. Hamida thought that the baby wouldn't breathe in the gas if she was nursing, Muhammad said, adding, "The baby's name was Dashneh. She nursed for a long time. Her mother died while she was nursing. But she kept nursing." By the time Muhammad decided to go outside, most of the people in the basement were unconscious; many were dead, including his parents and three of his siblings.
Nasreen said that on the road to Anab all was confusion. She and the children were running toward the hills, but they were going blind. "The children were crying, 'We can't see! My eyes are bleeding!' " In the chaos, the family got separated. Nasreen's mother and father were both lost. Nasreen and several of her cousins and siblings inadvertently led the younger children in a circle, back into the city. Someone—she doesn't know who—led them away from the city again and up a hill, to a small mosque, where they sought shelter. "But we didn't stay in the mosque, because we thought it would be a target," Nasreen said.
I want to spend most of my effort in my life promoting freedom and democracy, and defeating tyranny. As an impoverished Muslim infant democracy at war with fascists, Kurdistan is my kind of place. I bring this up to explain why Kurdistan is so compelling to me - I'm not asserting that my going to Kurdistan would actually be useful (though it might). But it's guaranteed to be interesting.
I think it just makes me happier to have wildly new experiences. I literally live in the office. I've spent only three nights outside in the last three weeks. Sometimes I don't leave the building for days. I am starved for stimulation. Kurdistan, with its long-suffering people and their rarely told tragic story, is so romantic.
Oh, and maybe there's some kind of bravado/narcissism involved.
Anyway, about safety: if it's as safe as Michael Totten claims, there's no reason not to go. Despite what I've written above, I'm not very serious about going to Kurdistan (I'm mercurial. If I'd been blogging last week I'd have mentioned I want to travel to the most forgotten parts of Russia, after reading about them.). I can't get time out of work any time soon, so it's academic at the moment. If I reconsider it later, I'll email Michael Totten and some Kurdish bloggers and ask them.
Meanwhile, Michael Totten has a new post up, describing the hopeful future of Kurdistan.
In no country are Kurds closer to realizing their dream of freedom and independence than they are in Iraq. They are wrapping up the finishing touches on their de-facto sovereign state-within-a-state, a fact on the ground that will not easily be undone. And they’re transforming the hideously decrepit physical environment left to them by Saddam Hussein – a broken place that is terribly at odds with the Kurdistan in their hearts and in their minds – into something beautiful and inspiring, the kind of place you might like to live in someday yourself.