having spent almost three month in the kurdish north of iraq, the impressions i was left with are those of many paradoxes: there is both unity and division deeply entrenched in the kurdish mind, secularism and religion live side by side, and modernity and conservatism do not seem at odds in this region. wrecking my brains about how to filter all this information and seeming contradictions without being too close minded by my own cultural background, views, values and understandings, while trying to figure out a way of how to unify the politically divided kurdish armed forces, it was only yesterday that i came to a first conclusion.
having the great pleasure of being the guest to a gracious host, i was invited to a concert in sulaymaniyah. at a big venue, thousands of people listened to the tunes of violin, daf, drum, tanbur and santoor. it was the perfect combination of personal pleasure and altruistic motive, since all the revenues from the enjoyment of music were dedicated to support the fighters in kobane.
more than the stimulating tunes and the soothing voice of adnan karim, however, i was fascinated by the dancing of the musical instruments in front of me. ‘what a perfect unity’, i thought to myself. yet, observing more closely, i realized that my observation was wrong. unity means that every person is doing the same thing at the same time – and preferably in the same outfit. but when i observed the musicians on stage, i saw violinists emphasizing different notes. even the two bass players did not play their instrument in the same manner. and the drum was doing something else entirely.
i was nodding my head when i realized how my constant focus on the unification of armed forces had closed off my world view on the idea that unity means uniformity. it was this concert that made me realize how i was wrong. unity in music is actually rather distasteful. instead, it is the merging of different but coordinated tunes that creates the pleasurable experience of harmony.
and there is unity in harmony as well: it is in the interplay of different notes and keys and tones that the entirety of the composition emerges as a whole. while each instrument can stand by itself, the greatest work of art is created in the merging of all of the differences in the instruments and tunes. this process does not even have to be coordinated step by step – we call this form of music jazz; all it needs is some basic rules and a feeling for balance and harmony.
at this point, dear reader, i am sure you wonder, what this ecstatic expression of my musical experience has to do with the goal of my blog to explain political ideas and processes. let me connect the dots.
we – and i say ‘we’ as i mean ‘i’ with the certainty that there is more people than just me who have or had a similar thought – tend to think of unity in terms of uniformity. military ideas have shaped our understanding. in unity we see marches and uniforms. we almost see no difference between the elements any more. and while there truly is something unique and special about the force of uniformity that eradicates all distinction, in the actual battlefield strict symmetry is dangerous. what you need instead is a commander that coordinates his soldiers like a conductor coordinates his orchestra. he leads them in the confident manner that all are aware of the basic, underlying rules, their individual tasks, and the perfect interplay in the coordination of their differences.
realizing the consequence this awareness had on my understanding of ‘unity’, a rethinking of ‘unification’ had to be undertaken: there is not one, but three different layers that need to be addressed.
first, there is uniformity. uniformity refers to the process of setting all soldiers on equal terms with each other. for the kurdish case this means that personal preferences, family relations, and societal standing have to be diminished to insignificance as soon as one puts on the uniform. the armed force is one body. and ever part of the body is needed in equal terms in order to make it function. no part is more important than the other. uniformity is the core and heart of all military unity, as it creates the most central value of the professional armed force: discipline.
second, there is symmetry. the notion of symmetry addresses the basic teaching and training in the policy, values, and mission for all soldiers. every man and woman has to understand the basic rules. only if all musicians learn to read and follow the rhythm of the notes in the composition, the concert hall can be filled with with music. a military example: the only value of merit of each soldier are the stars on the shoulder and the medals on the chest, both of which are awarded by training and distinction of effort in the battlefield only. and both in training and war one follows the position, not the person.
this underlying tune is the basis of the composition. but symmetry refers to more than that. building on this common ground, each soldier needs to learn how to play his or her individual instrument, and, above all, learn how to listen to the other instruments during the performance.
it is only then, in the combination of basic uniformity, underlying rules, individual perfection, and coordinated interplay that true harmony emerges. harmony therefore is what is created when the the officer has perfected the art of conducting his military orchestra and their tunes of bullet shells on the stage of war.