Kurds are from Mars, Arabs are from Venus

September 28, 2011

Last week I was asked to speak at a conference in a western capital to explain how the Iraqi identity of the Kurds has evolved since 2003 and whether federalism is working in Iraq or not.
After taking a hard look at the dynamics of the new Iraq, the title of this article was the only phrase that came to mind.
The title plays off “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Written by American author, and relationship counselor, John Gray, the book has sold more than 7 million copies and is reported to be one of the best selling self-help books of all time.
”Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” argues that women and men are as different as beings from different planets yet landed on planet Earth. Suddenly, they lost their memory but did not lose their ways of being, yet now have to figure out how to live together.
The book provides practical advice to both men and women and argues that gender can be understood in terms of purported differences in how they behave under stress.
Going back to our subject, we can clearly see that with every new crisis or development between Arbil and Baghdad, the reality of the above statement becomes increasingly clear and the need to find a functional formula becomes a necessity, if they want Iraq to work.
The Kurds and Arabs ended up with each other against their will, or at least against the Kurds’ will, and they are mindful of this. The differences between the two people were not that big at the beginning but the events that led to today shaped Iraq’s history and demonstrated that the two are completely different creatures. Each is looking toward or heading in a different direction.
Today, the differences between the two are fairly clear. One feels they own Iraq; that their vision for the future is the correct one that should be followed by others, just like the old days. The other is still fighting for his space in the new country.
One is looking east and one is looking west. One is trying to be as Islamic as possible and the other is trying to be as secular as possible.
One is trying to create a centralized state the other is trying to build a federalized one.
One looks at the Arab world or Iran for inspiration, the other looks at the United States and Europe.
One is looking at the past and the other is looking at the future.
The Arabs of Iraq are mostly locked in the past. The Sunnis are looking to the days of Sunni control of Iraq. The Shia are locked in the Shia oppression of the past. Their present day is defined by this way of thinking.
The Kurds, on the other hand, say and behave in a way that demonstrates their will to be part of the future and the modern world. Words like transparency, freedom of speech and human rights are often heard in Kurdistan and are entering the region’s political dictionary, even if those using the terms don’t fully believe in or understand them.
There is an added complication. The new generation on both sides does not know anything about each other and are held hostage by what occurred in the previous generations.
With all these differences, the two are trying to be partners in one country. It is a monumental task that requires shaking, questioning, changing and redefining the foundations upon which the country is built.
The starting point would be for both to admit that neither of them can be an Iraqi of the new Iraq on their own. Each one needs the other. For this arduous task to begin, both need to understand and acknowledge that in the new Iraq, Kurds are from Mars, Arabs are from Venus.

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