A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter takes a selfie with children after recapturing the Fadiliya village from Islamic state militants, in Nawaran North of Mosul. Photo: Reuters / Air Jalal
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter takes a selfie with children after recapturing the Fadiliya village from Islamic state militants, in Nawaran North of Mosul. Photo: Reuters / Air Jalal

By history and language, I am a member of a very old nation, one of the world’s oldest: France. And in spirit I am a member of a very old people – the Jewish people – who founded one of the world’s youngest states. Today, another old people, the Kurds, are preparing to replicate that experience.

The Kurds, like the Jews, have lived through countless trials, endured innumerable twists of fate, suffered domination again and again. Through it all, they held fast, resisting the forces that sought to extinguish them. And today, they are approaching a milestone: a declaration of self-determination in the form of a free state that ensures its citizens liberty, security, and dignity.

The Kurdish nation was forged over centuries of pain and pride. It was strengthened in the course of the war against Islamist terrorism, in which the Kurds have been the civilized world’s staunchest – and sometimes solitary – spearhead.

I know no Peshmerga fighter who, while waging our common battle, did not have in mind the achievement of that ancestral dream of Kurdish independence. Mosul will be liberated; the Islamic State will be defeated; and, when the moment comes for the referendum that Massoud Barzani, President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, has described as the Kurds’ inalienable right, the will of each citizen will be shared by all.

Even some of the Kurds’ closest allies worry that recognition of a Kurdish state might upset the regional balance and pose a threat to peace. I believe that the contrary is true: the Kurds will be a pole of stability in a region increasingly susceptible to fanaticism and terror.

To their eternal credit, the Kurds have defended against all odds the standards – respect for borders, for laws, and for fundamental human rights – that underpin stability, and that tyrants from Saddam Hussein to Bashar al-Assad have flouted. In a region where others create refugees, the Kurds provide a safe haven.

Indeed, the Kurds have forged one of the region’s few examples of a vibrant democracy that upholds tolerance, cultural coexistence, and the rule of law. In what other part of the Muslim Middle East does one find such a strong belief in a geopolitical order that tends toward peace, not war; favors reconciliation over ancient hatreds; and prefers respect for the other to a war of civilizations?

The Kurds will be a ‘shining city on a hill,’ a luminous lodestar for the dispersed Kurdish people and a source of hope for all of the world’s dispossessed and displaced

The Kurdish state’s small size will not make it fragile or weak. History offers many examples of small nations that are solid and strong because their people are united in the face of powerful neighbors. For their citizens, the sword has always been close to the plow when the time came to defend the nation. And, crucially, they are nations of citizens united by their shared history and spirit, not by ethnicity, a sense of superiority, or a distrustful, insular identity.

The Kurds are such a nation: a people of volunteers who know why they fight, a people who, from the humblest to the greatest, from the Peshmerga regular to the loftiest of Kurdish commanders, do not hesitate to take up arms to discourage or dismantle despotism – and not only on their own behalf. They have been soldiers of freedom who kept Christians from being purged from the last place in the world where the language of Christ is still spoken, while defending the principle of equality of the sexes, even in combat – a principle that is the hallmark of great civilizations.

For these reasons, I believe that the birth of a Kurdish nation-state will be a force for peace, not disorder, in the Middle East – an advance that will help drive out the genies of violent extremism, tyranny, and disintegration. Like one of the world’s greatest nations – though one currently debased by those who purport to lead it – the Kurds will be a “shining city on a hill,” a luminous lodestar for the dispersed Kurdish people and a source of hope for all of the world’s dispossessed and displaced.

As such, the Kurds should never be afraid to proclaim their ethos, which is both universal and, if the words have any meaning at all, truly internationalist.

The very voices of Kurdistan embody this. One thing that has struck me in the course of my frequent visits to Kurdistan is that the Kurds are a multilingual people. In addition to Kurdish, they speak the languages acquired in exile. Like the French nation, which was enriched over the centuries by immigrants and oppressed peoples, the Kurds are diverse in origin and cosmopolitan in outlook. And their provision of refuge for persecuted Yezidi and Christian communities is further proof of this.

Today’s populists in the West deny it, but “internationalism” is a beautiful idea. For two centuries, it has been the animating spirit of so many battles for freedom, and has inspired so much courage, resistance, sacrifice, and nobility. Despite the traps into which it has sometimes fallen, internationalism has nourished the best of what “the West” has represented.

One of Kurdistan’s merits is to have kept the flame of internationalism burning in a benighted region. Reflect for a moment on the Kurds’ battle against ISIS, which they have waged not only for themselves and their safety, but also on behalf of the rest of the world. The Kurds have acted as internationalists, while also being internationalists in heart and soul.

The new Kurdish state’s powerful neighbors will, one expects, be hostile to its example. Across the Middle East, free Kurdistan will be a living reproach to the false nations, anti-nations, and prison nations in which Kurds, among others, remain confined.

Confronted with the new tests and challenges that await them, the Kurdish people must recognize that they are likely to find themselves as alone as they have ever been in their long history. Charles de Gaulle once said that a people has no friends, and, alas, the Kurds will find out soon enough that today’s friends may prefer their supposed world order to friendship, justice, and the cause of true stability and peace.

The Kurds are preparing for this. And, fortunately, there are also millions of men and women abroad, in France and throughout the world, who believed in Kurdistan when governments wanted nothing to do with it. That sort of friendship – the support offered by so many of the world’s citizens – is much more constant. Friends like that will never fail.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.

Bernard-Henri Levy

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the Nouveaux Philosophes (New Philosophers) movement. His latest book is The Empire and the Five Kings.

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