high tea with a terrorist

a few weeks ago in london, i came across a person – for the sake of the story let’s assume it was a man. over tea he expressed his sorrow of missing his home land turkey. but, he sighed, he can not return to it. maybe ever.

i was curious. if you can not return to the country of your family, birth and heritage, you must have done something bad. something really bad. it took him a while to tell me the whole story, but in the end it turned out, the man across from me has been in prison several times and was a fugitive in the united kingdom. shifting more uncomfortably in my seat, i asked him what he had done. it would not have been the first murderer i would have met in my life; visiting prisons in austria and reading nils christie had opened up a new view on this world and its crimes for me. still, there was some insecurity in my voice when i asked the question. but it was then that my mouth dropped wide open when he explained to me why he was treated like a terrorist in prison: his crime was to speak kurdish in public during the elections.

himself a public figure, and involved with a kurdish party in turkey that has not made it off the terrorist list from turkey, the united states and the european union yet, his show of resistance was to stand up for the recognition of the kurdish language, culture and tradition even it times when forbidden by law. quite a terrorist.

but even more interesting to me than meeting this person was the thought process that crossed my mind afterwards. eager to put my experience into words and share it with my readers, i started typing. i even had the perfect headline for it. but in the middle of it, i stopped. what would be the consequences of this action?

one, any application for public offices or international organizations requires a security check that includes the question of ‘contact with radical groups’. given that the pkk is still on the blacklist of terrorism, i could not help but wonder whether this story would hinder future career options.

two, even worse than that, i realized that posting on the very day of my experience would give a point of departure for anyone who reads my blog and is interested in finding out who i met; which directly threatens the security and identity of that person. a risk not worth taking.

and three, with me already preparing for iraq and having searched continuously on information on isis, weapon systems, and 101 survival tricks, i was wondering what an official blog about ‘having tea with a terrorist’ would trigger on an international watch-list – particularly with me already assuming that those people would not take the time to actually read the entire blog entry and find out that the ‘terrorist’ has never hurt a fly and that it is the respective terming of ‘terrorist’ that i aim to criticize in the article.

so why did i end up writing this entry now? first, given that the time of the meeting is further away, it is harder to track information on that person. two, i distorted ‘his’ identity in the writing. and three, because the issue of terminology and the political and social consequences that come around with naming something or someone ‘terrorist’ still have to be addressed; particularly with the information i came across just a few days ago:

on february 12 2014, a british journalist named crowcroft, wrote an article in the guardian about the iraqi kurdish president masud barzani refusing to meet us-president barack obama as long as the later would not take off the kurdish democratic party (pdk) and the patriotic union of kurdistan (puk) from the blacklist of terrorism. i was stunned. not only did i myself spend quite some time on searching for whether or not the kurdish ‘peshmerga’ freedom-fighters/militia/guerilla/now-official-regional-guards-of-the-kurdish-regional-government were to be found on any sort of ‘terrorist’-list or -data base (they are not), but i would have never even considered looking for the two widely recognized parties on this list! given the long cooperation between the united states and the iraqi-kurdish parties pdk and puk (cooperation in 1990, no fly zone in 1991, cooperation in 2003, cooperation in capturing saddam, official recognition and support after 2004) and the civilian aspect of these parties, i would never have guessed to find them on the list of ‘terrorists’. but there they were. so, what are the conclusions out of this? either, we have to establish that the united states cooperates with bodies they themselves define to be ‘terrorist’, or we have to seriously rethink the randomness of the naming and framing of ‘terrorists’.

this rethinking holds particularly true when including other kurdish parties and their military wings/ ‘militias’ in the picture. it is widely known that both the pyd in syria and the pjak in iran are sister organizations of the pkk. yet while the head organization and party is defined to be terrorist, the sisters are not? and if putting the name on the terror list is so easy and a question of political interest in that moment, why is the taking the name off so hard, even though the political realities have changed even to the extent of cooperating with something called ‘terrorist’? or, should we maybe just start to realize that the naming of ‘terrorist’ is a question of everyday politics and enemy-framing? wait, are you saying you knew that already? congratulations! but the question is what do you intend to do with this knowledge?

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