Bernard-Henri Lévy is a writer and documentary filmmaker. His film Peshmerga!, portrayed the struggle along the 1,000-kilometre front line separating the Kurds from Islamic State.
The opposition of the international community to the approaching Kurdish referendum is a shame.
We are talking about a people who have been deported, gassed and pushed into the mountains where, for a century, the Kurds have mounted an exemplary resistance to forces imposed on them.
Theirs is a region that finally gained autonomy with the fall of Saddam Hussein – a region that, when the tsunami of the Islamic State crashed over ancient Mesopotamia in 2014 and the Iraqi army took flight, was the first to organize a counteroffensive. Since then, over a front a thousand kilometres long, the Iraqi Kurds have held off the barbarians and, thus, saved Kurdistan, Iraq and our shared civilization.
And it was the Kurds again who, in the run-up to the battle of Mosul, went on the offensive on the Nineveh Plains, opened the gates to the city and, through their courage, enabled the coalition to strike at the heart of the Islamic State.
But now that the time has come to settle up, instead of thanking the Kurds, the world – and the United States in particular – is telling them, with thinly veiled cynicism, "Sorry, Kurdish friends, you were so useful in confronting Islamist terror, but, uh, your timing is not so good; we don't need you any more, so why don't you just go on home? Thanks, again – see you next time."
The timidity of the international community in the face of the Sept. 25 referendum on an independent Kurdistan is a trifecta of indignity, absurdity and historic miscalculation.
The referendum is thought to distract attention from the common fight against the Islamic State and interfere with the Iraqi elections scheduled for next year: but everyone knows, except when they choose not to admit it, that the military part of the battle ended with the fall of Mosul, thanks largely to the Kurds themselves; moreover, who can guarantee that the Iraqi national elections will take place as scheduled rather than being adjourned, just as we are asking the Kurds to adjourn theirs?
An independent Kurdistan, the commentators continue, would imperil regional stability: As if Syria, mired in war, Iran, with its revived imperial ambitions, and decomposing Iraq, that artificial creation of the British, were not dangers far greater than little Kurdistan, a secular and democratic friend of the West with an elected parliament and free press. Independence, the talking heads insist, would threaten the territorial integrity of the four countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey – across which the Kurd nation is spread.
But what about the reaction of Iran's Revolutionary Guards? What about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's reported threat to block the roads that connect the region to the rest of the world? The role of the West isn't to act as a media agent for two dictatorships that detest them.
Sadly, however, no argument is too feeble to be used to justify our request to "delay." It feels like an Orwellian nightmare, or a festival of bad faith, in which all arguments are turned into their opposites. That the Kurds organized themselves into an autonomous island of democracy and peace after the Peshmerga had not been paid by Baghdad for three years? That should be enough for them, claim the experts at the U.S. State Department and the other Western embassies, who cannot seem to grasp why the Kurds should want to take the last step from autonomy to independence. That the Kurds control oil in the Kirkuk region? Instead of seeing this as a good thing that should provide immediate assurance of their ability to finance the development of their new country, observers seem to think only of the covetousness that these riches might stimulate.
And when the two major parties, those led by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, scramble for votes – which anywhere else would be seen as a sign of healthy republican civic culture – this is suddenly viewed as the seeds of divisions and disputes to come. Here we are dealing with the old colonialist drivel about people who are never quite ready to govern themselves, not yet grown up, not adult enough.
It is the familiar tragedy that befalls nations that have no friends: Yes, services were rendered, vague promises were made when we needed you and when you alone stood between us and the barbarians, but now that the time has come to keep our word, the evasion begins –"Bad timing; not part of the plan; the world has an agenda and we regret to inform you that you are not on that agenda."
May similar sorry machinations not produce, in the case of the Kurds, the same sad effects. May the descendants of the survivors of Mr. Hussein's chemical attack on Halabja find the strength to resist the intimidation of all their well-wishers.
The Kurdish referendum is not an act of force. It is a right. It is a debt. It is a major landmark for a great people who have given immeasurably to the world. They have given us the Peshmerga, who liberated and protect the last Christian populations of the Middle East. For centuries, they have been one of the wellsprings of the enlightened Islam that, in the secret recesses of the soul no less than in the fury of battle, remains the best response in the Middle East and around the world, to the curse of radical Islam. The world must honour the Kurdish people as they have honoured us.