An interview with Dr. Kamal Mirawdeli:
Interviewed by Aras Ahmed Mhamad
AA: What role do the youth of today have, in this technological age, compared to the youth of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s?
KM: They have the entire world on their laptop or iPhone, in which they have lost the whole world, their world. In other words, while it is universally assumed that the all omniscient all-pervasive modern technology has empowered people to control knowledge and improve quality of their lives, this is an illusion: virtual reality has replaced reality and real life experiences, illusionary power has replaced real power.
Youth of 1970s-1990s were to some extent involved in philosophy, arts, and music and real life political and social activities. Most of these have been replaced by social-media communities and activities or those inspired and organized by them.
This is positive in terms of quantity, easiness of access and involvement, but in terms of qualitative engagement and achievement it is not. What we may call ‘collective hysteria’ (millions liking the same single song or celebrity) has replaced individual taste and appreciation.
Though there are ample impressive individual exceptions, those who effectively use digital media for show-casing a cause or a rare activity demonstrating genius and genuineness, creativity and kindness.
Technology also extremely facilitates awareness of the injustices and atrocities of our time, individual clips by ordinary people challenging the monopoly of mainstream mass media; this is mostly positive but this may also lead to compassion fatigue, shock elimination, and normalization of the violent behavior which appeals to essentially brutish human nature. However, basic instincts remain constant: young people’s quest for work, love, peace, freedom and security.
AA: Why do you think the old describes the young of this era as lazy and laidback? And the youth describes the old as unaware and backward? How can we find a compromise?
KM: I do not know whether there is such a reciprocal perception. If you mean south Kurdistan, there is in fact no trace of any scientific statistics, analysis, research, polls, academic studies, etc. It is all chaos.
So it is difficult to see how people or generations think about each other, especially when party media and party organizations shape realities and attitudes positively or negatively.
As for laziness, it is the main achievement of the party system which has almost made the majority of people retired beings. In fact retirement is the main instrument that some parties generally use to de-mobilize and control people physically, ideologically and psychologically.
The best-paid people are retired people and you have an army of retired ex-ministers, minister-graded pensioners, MPs, general directors, generals, officers, party officials, etc.
As long as the party system remains as a totalitarian monster devouring society and deforming reality, we cannot talk about any separate spontaneous or natural, normal social phenomenon. Authoritarian backwardness is what the Kurdish political party is.
AA: Age is just a number. Wisdom, invention and love have nothing to do with bcoming elderly. What is your comment on that?
KM: On the contrary there is a logical relation. Getting old means having more wisdom, more experience and expertise in various fields of life and having given and received love.
Life is a process, the old are yesterday’s youth, the young are tomorrow’s elderly. In organized societies with operative economic, social and scientific systems, even the retirement age for many is still a time of giving: experience, love, wisdom and enjoying leisure.
AA: Everyone faces a host of challenges and addressing these challenges isn’t easy sometimes. What were/are the most challenging experiences and conflicts of your life? How did you handle them?
KM: For me the challenge was existential: being a Kurd. Until the age of 21 when I was a teacher in my town I could think of having had a relatively normal life and free-will choices, although even by then one of my brothers had died in an Iraqi bombardment of my village. But from then on, everything changed when, on 24 April 1974, the district town of Qaladiza was bombed by Iraqi Sukhoy warplanes.
I saw the death of many of my town people and students. My life was turned upside down.
From that point nothing I have done was in the context of my free choice. It was the question of survival, reacting to events and facing the challenge of being and remaining a conscious, conscientious Kurdish intellectual. Writing has been my main method of handling this challenge.
AA: How would you identify and differentiate between an idealized Kurdish youth and an idealized European youth? Why do you think Kurdish youth are accused of being disloyal towards their nations and land?
KM: Is there an idealized youth? This age is going global and the youth are increasingly individualized and digitized. While for European countries this happens within a strong national culture and within their historical process, for peripheral societies like Kurdish and others it is an imported or imposed phenomenon, rooting within the vacuum of their own national culture and against their historical realities and vicissitudes.
That is why it is all so virtual and illusionary reality rather than being genuine and productive. We do not have a government in Kurdistan region which can be described as ‘national’ or ‘patriotic’. They have created the cultural void and they are responsible for the political gap.
The Kurdish people are the greatest people in the world in terms of the antiquity and amazing richness and diversity of their folklore and national culture which has a special name in our language which is “Kurdawari”, meaning the culture (war) of Kurds. But it is all marginalized by some barbaric parties.
Hence we have a lost generation: young people separated from their roots, culture and nature. An ideal Kurdish youth is the one who keeps a reasonable balance between national culture and global influences especially of information technology and the Internet.
AA: The participation of Kurdish youth in politics and political discourse has increased in recent years? How would you observe and evaluate the impact of the Internet with regard to youth participation in politics?
KM: Again I take this as assumption as it is not supported by scientific data or studies. But yes, we can logically assume or conclude that to some extent the participation of youth in politics has increased for these reasons:
- The emergence of new opposition especially the Gorran Movement, which at least initially claimed a zealous drive for change
- Intensification of party political rivalry especially during elections and more importantly reflection of all these in social media especially Facebook communities.
- The role of social media is undeniable but unfortunately the role of the young people is still more in subordination to party politics and more precisely party personalities or leaders than participation in politics.
For example there is no independent youth organizations, no youth theory or youth charter. That is because politics as political philosophy and theory, as political programs and policies, as political agenda, debate and dialogue has not born yet.
AA: Does our culture embrace and encourage youth participation in politics and volunteer work or does it restrict and condemn it?
KM: Yes, the culture that we had did, but now it is suppressed and superseded by some party politics. Herewezi: collective voluntary work was a major characteristic of Kurdish agricultural societies. Then there was reciprocal help on individual or family basis called destyar, giving a helping hand, and also xer, or charity donations, was a feature of Kurdish urban culture, especially in the cities of Slemani and Hewler.
And of course there always existed the noble idea and practice of xo-bexshin: self-sacrifice especially for patriotic aims and defending the homeland against occupiers and despots.
But now there is a deliberate plan to demobilize Kurdish people and under-develop Kurdish society and destroy its genuine culture and national traditions implemented by barbaric political parties.
AA: Who do you think is responsible for the marginalization of Kurdish youth: society or youth themselves?
KM: Of course it is the party system and its primitive backward government which aims to make every Kurd a retired soul: youth, old and children. In fact it sees every Kurds as potentially a retired and redundant creature, a young consumer/pensioner enjoying and re-generating nothingness.
AA: The clash between generations is perceptible in many societies. The influence and intrusion in personal business of the household, society, school, teachers, and fathers and so on are still noticeable in Kurdish society. Is that a good or bad thing?
KM: People’s thoughts and customs are influenced by the ruling system. The ruling powers based on family rule, like the Saudis, Kuwaitis and other Gulf family-systems need an absolute ideology that can control people and leave no space for difference, dialogue, debate or any sort of political challenge.
And this can only be achieved by the religious ideology whether it is evident as suppressive institutions or hidden as oppressive traditions. The ruling parties in Kurdistan are aware of the ideological vacuum and have been trying to change the cities, which should be the throbbing heart of civil liberties and open dialogues and ideas, into a bastion of reaction and intellectual retardation through the building of mosques, encouraging primitive religious practices and alliance with Salafist anti-Kurd trends.
The most dangerous and far-reaching aspect of this is their embracing of the Turkish Fethullah Gülen ideology and institutions which is creating a dangerous ideological and institutional infrastructure of Turkification that can pose a great threat to Kurdish nationalism and modernization in South Kurdistan and all other parts of Kurdistan.
Under the ruling parties, Kurdish society has completely changed. Primitive religious people are interfering in every aspect of Kurdish lives. Generally, individual freedoms are undermined, women are victimized and murdered, young people are brainwashed, national pride is ridiculed, social justice has disappeared. New technologies such as satellite TV channels and Internet are used to divide, control and de-educate people.
Of course all this is negative, oppressive and reactive. Unless free-thinking individuals are born and protected, no modern society can emerge and survive.
AA: Suppose you’re given an opportunity to turn back time and freeze your age, which age would you choose? What are the things you would like to change that you couldn’t while you were young? Do you have any regrets?
KM: Yes, I think a human being should have an opportunity to live twice or re-live his life so that he/she can benefit from his life experience. Alas, life is too short to answer any riddle satisfactorily and there are so many riddles, mysteries and uncertainties.
I wish I had time to write in detail my own understanding, that is, philosophy of life. I think the First Philosophy of Zoroaster still has offered the best answers for mankind’s problems of being and living.
I learnt from Zoroaster that in spite of many disasters, oppressive circumstances and contradictions that we face in our lives and are beyond our control we can still cling to our free will in the three essential unified responses that Zardasht (Zoroaster) has identified as the rule of life: to keep thinking good thoughts, saying good words and doing good deeds, that is to fight evil at its very source, at the level of thinking, of the generation of ideas.
Hence, children must be taught while they are babies and kids in family and school that thinking about harming others, stealing, aggression, discrimination etc. are bad thoughts that should be eliminated and must not be allowed to develop into bad words and bad actions.
In the hardest moments and challenges of my life I have been able to keep to good thought, good words and good deeds never supporting any aggressive and harmful ideas and actions whatever the justification.
For example, even though one of my brothers, an 11- year child, was killed by Arabs, and all my villages and town was destroyed in the Anfal Campaign, and even now I see Jihadists slaughter my people in Syria and kill children and civilians indiscriminately, I can never even at the level of thinking, think of revenge in terms of, for example, accepting revenge- killing of THEIR children.
In a recent letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron I wrote: “For me all born human beings until the age of 11 have only one name: children and they have right to life, peace, happiness and opportunities to grow in peaceful supporting environments. Why do you deny this right to Syrian and Kurdish children and conspire to destroy them?”
My ideal life or idea of ideal life is the life of and in Kurdish countryside, Kurdish mountain villages which alas were all destroyed by Saddam in his genocidal anfal operations, so nothing was and can be the same for me again, only in my dreams, now and then, I encounter the happy moments of my childhood inside our figs orchard in my village in Marga in the 1960s and 1970s.
I hope I can write my autobiography and share these moments with Kurdish new generations.
Dr Kamal Mirawdeli is a Kurdish writer and was presidential candidate in the KRG elections in 2009 (winning in the regions of Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Koye where no vote-rigging occurred).
Aras Ahmed Mhamad is an independent freelancer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012.He is a columnist for the Kurdistan Tribune and a contributing writer for the ekurd.net. He is the Cultural Analyst at the Kurdish Review Newspaper, the only Kurdish-American newspaper in print.