What Turkey can teach Israel

Mustafa Akyol describes what led to the resolution of Turkey’s decades-long struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): Reaching this tenuous peace wasn’t easy. First, Turkey had to overcome its own nationalist establishment, which had always dismissed liberals’ calls for a political solution. Their preferred method was a “military solution,” which meant, in the words of a prominent general, “killing all terrorists one by one.”

That was the strategy of the Turkish top brass throughout the 1990s, when military-dominated governments led a brutal counterterror campaign that included extrajudicial killings by death squads and the destruction of more than 3,000 Kurdish villages.

Supporters of this military solution claimed that the P.K.K. survived only because foreign governments supported the insurgent group to serve their own interests, and because of the P.K.K.’s violent fanaticism. But where did that fanaticism come from?

Their answer was that the Kurds were a people prone to violence by nature. They had a crude, harsh and militant culture. Why, otherwise, were some Kurdish mothers raising their sons to be guerrillas, and not doctors or lawyers? The state had no choice but to speak to them with the only language they understood — force. It is a very similar refrain to what one hears when Hamas is discussed in Israel.

Yet, in Turkey then, as in Israel today, there was a gaping hole in this argument: It did not take into account Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, which was of course the primary cause of the P.K.K.’s militancy. The Turkish state for years denied this oppression, insisting that Kurds were Turkish citizens with equal access to government services. However, Turkey had still banned their language, denigrated their culture, and responded to their political grievances by authoritarian diktat.

The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.

If Israel is ever going to achieve peace, Israelis will have to overcome their own self-righteous hawkishness as well — and abandon the intellectually lazy reflex that explains Palestinian militancy as the natural product of Arab and Islamic culture’s supposedly violent nature. [Continue reading…]

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