Scott Douglas Jacobsen’s interview with Nabaz Samad
Nabaz Samad is a writer and lecturer in Kurdistan. He is also on the editorial board of Culture Magazine, which is the print magazine, in Kurdish, of Culture Project.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You write for Culture Project. I framed the initiative as both a repository and incubator, storage and creator of Kurdish culture. How did you find it?
Nabaz Samad: Culture Project is a unique platform for writers, artists, and feminists to express their ideas freely. While at the same time Culture Project strives to introduce, develop and promote Kurdish culture.
Through the online digital as well as print (Culture-Magazine) which is the Kurdish section of Culture Project attempts to introduce western and non-western cultures, literature and philosophy to Kurdish audiences and readers through translation. The aim is to build a bridge between Kurdistan and the outside world, between the Kurdish culture and other cultures around the world.
Culture Project endeavours to analyse, criticise, and provide alternative interpretations and writing critically from different perspective on Kurdish culture.
Hence it promotes critical thinking, freedom of expression, and thought. It aims to raise gender equality and build an alternative culture in which women are no longer subordinated and objectified. Also empowering women to see themselves as human beings who have free will to act and decide.
To build such a culture, we should confront with patriarchy, Islamism and Tribalism because they stand in the way of women’s liberation. They are far-reaching Kurdish culture and they shape all the values and norms in Kurdish society.
Kurdish culture like any other cultures in the world is patriarchal, in addition to been tribal and dominated by religion, therefore politics, education, thought, literature, art, and language are all influenced by them. These three far-reaching attributes of Kurdish culture are interconnected and reproduce each other.
I conclude that any attempt to change Kurdish culture must stem from criticising these three elements and provide an alternative account.
We are in Culture Project trying to pave the way for an alternative culture in which humans are free and equal. And build a society without sexism and racism. A society with gender equality and women’s liberation, as well as freedom of expression, tolerance and coexistence.
We in Culture Project attempt to make an alternative culture and in the heart of this alternative gender equality and women’s liberation are its core, because women’s liberation is prerequisite for men’s liberation as well as the whole society’s liberation. As a result, Culture Project is a great place for asserting the importance of gender equality and feminism.
Jacobsen: How did you start contributing to the initiative and orient yourself to the creation of culture alongside Houzan Mahmoud?
Nabaz Samad: I have known Houzan Mahmoud for a long time thanks to her activism and writings concerning gender equality and feminism.
But when she announced the foundation of Culture Project and call to support, I took the initiative into account and responded to her call to participate in this amazing project, because it was in accordance with my work, opinions and worldview. Then, I contacted her and talked about the project, after that my first article was published on the Culture Project website.
It was a great opportunity for me to write in English. I was and still write in Kurdish and translating. But it was the first time to write in English after finishing my MA at the University of Manchester. From that encounter my working relation with Houzan Mahmoud started, she is really a wonderful colleague, she is kind and friendly.
I’m really happy to work with her. Houzan has a dream to make this project even bigger in order to empower Kurdish women, she takes women’s issues and gender equality into account seriously. For Houzan working on gender equality and feminism has been her true passion.
Jacobsen: In your written work on the Kurdish language, you speak to the sexism related to it (Samad, 2016). How is sexism related to the Kurdish language? How deep does that rabbit hole go? What makes the arguments valid within the context of the theme of the article of language and sexism, in particular, Kurdish language and sexism?
Nabaz Samad: Yes, in the article you have touched upon the fact that I have argued that the Kurdish language is sexist, bias and male dominated. I have built my argument on the relationship between language and thoughts.
Because you are thinking in your language, since language is a medium of thinking. You express your ideas, thoughts and beliefs through the language.Language is an important element of any culture and it carries the culture in itself, the whole culture manifests itself in language and transferred through the medium of language.
Therefore, if a culture is sexist, tribalist, patriarchal and religious, then it will reflect on the language and thinking of the people. Kurdish culture is a patriarchal and male-dominated one and tribalism and Islamism strengthens and empowers this patriarchy. Patriarchy is embedded in Kurdish language and women are subordinated and objectified through it. From this relationship we can understand how Kurdish language is sexist and male-dominated.
Kurdish culture is patriarchal, therefore patriarchal values, gender stereotypes, and tribal and religious values which are full of discrimination against women, are reflected in Kurdish language and manifested in the language seamlessly.
While patriarchal thoughts, worldviews and patriarchal values are dominated in Kurdish culture, then this dominance effects Kurdish language therefore sexism in Kurdish language has its roots in Kurdish culture. This male dominance worldview shapes Kurdish language.
While you think as a man or manly and patriarchal then producing knowledge, science, believes, literature, arts, philosophy, religion … etc become male dominated production and expressed and manifested through language.
Language is linked to our Being, we exist in our language and dwelling in it, while our Being is formulated as a man and patriarch, then our language will be patriarchal and male dominated. If we want to change Kurdish language into more neutral and less sexist, we must stem from changing our thoughts and patriarchal worldviews in Kurdish culture.
Jacobsen: What is the current state of respect for and implementation of human rights in Kurdistan?
Nabaz Samad: Human rights in Iraq is in a bad condition, this disrespect of human rights has a deep historical root in Iraq, because this country was governed by totalitarian and dictatorship regimes who did not respect human rights. In the time of Saddam Hussain’s Ba’ath regime human rights were in the worst condition.
Ba’ath regime wanted to create a shapeless mass society and dehumanise individuals especially those who stood opposite to its ideology in order to reach its totalitarian goals. Ba’ath regime has succeeded and its ideology is far-reaching on Iraq and KRG until now.
Human rights in KRG are under threat and in bad condition, because political parties in government especially KDP and PUK attempted to dehumanise Kurdish people, and deprive them from their free will and use them as a tool to reach their political parties interests.
Now we are living in a dehumanization process. PDK and PUK could not offer a good or even a content governing in KRG, because they do not have any ideas about good governing therefore they imitate Ba’ath and take Ba’ath regime as a model for governing.
As a result, respecting human rights in the KRG is in the worst condition and human rights organizations both local and international had reported about human rights violations in KRG.
Freedom of expression is under the threat of KRG as a result several journalists had been killed and demonstrators had been killed by PDK and PUK’s forces. The state of human rights in respect to the KRG are not in a good condition, because there are various human rights violations which are recorded and reported by human rights organizations.
The freedom of expression is under threat since we have seen TV channels were closed, news agencies were censored as well as journalists were killed. In addition, women’s rights are violated, they were killed in the name of honour, and in many cases the killers had not been sentenced or imprisoned, they are free.
Patriarchy, tribalism and Islam dominated Kurdish society and they are against women and don’t see women as a human-being. The main source for making law is Islamic sharia and Quran.
Islam and Islamism is a major obstacle for achieving women’s rights, because sharia law and Quran directed against women, in many Quran verses women were objectified and subordinated and women have been seen as a sexual objects.
In KRG Salafism is dramatically growing and promotes ideas and propaganda against women and pursuing women to cover themselves and wear hijab, niqab and burka.
Individual liberties are under threat and oppression for instance two lovers could not meet each other in public and they have to keep their relationship in secret because if their love is disclosed their life will be under threat and especially the girl’s life and her very existence will be at stake, because she will be perhaps killed in the name of honour. Also leaving Islam is illegal and forbidden therefore atheists and non-religious people have no rights and they have to keep their faith in secret. In addition, rights of +LGBTQ are violated and they have been subordinated. Because Quran and Islamic Sharia law are main sources for legislation and anything not in accordance with Sharia, then it is rejected. Several writers, scholars and intellectuals face violence and their lives are under threat by Islamists and Salafists therefore they leave Kurdistan.
Women’s rights and children’s rights are violated and are not respected. Women face different kinds of violence verbal and non-verbal such as rape, FGM, Harassment and honour-killing. And children forced to do hard works which do not fit with their age.
In the end, I conclude that the state of respecting human rights in Kurdistan is in a horrible condition and is constantly violated.
Jacobsen: What has been the consequence of the Western interventions in Iraq and Kurdistan?
Nabaz Samad: The consequences of Western intervention in Iraq and Kurdistan is both negative and positive. When in the 19th century Western imperialists and colonialists came to colonise the Middle East and Mesopotamia, they came in the name of “civilising the natives”.
The reason was that they saw Middle Eastern people as uncivilised and wild, as a result they see eastern people as subhuman and ignorant all together. Therefore, they must be “civilised” thus their colonisation and looting of wealth and properties are justified.
Kurds have been divided between four post-colonialist nation-states Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria; as a result, Kurds became wordless, stateless and right-less and oppressed people. These countries committed genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing against Kurds and other minorities.
Furthermore, in the end of Twentieth and early Twenty-First centuries, western countries in particular USA return to the Middle East this time in the name of democracy and human rights invaded Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in particular and caused the crisis of Syria now.
Perhaps overthrowing Saddam Hussain’s regime was the positive dimension of interventions of the West in Iraq, although those regimes came after are not so different and Iraq did not become a democratic country and rights of all the groups were not protected. For instance, Kurdish people are still treated as second-class citizen and face oppression and genocide as we have seen in Shingal, Kirkuk and Khurmatu.
Jacobsen: In the examination of the dominant classes in the region, what are their characteristics? Why is this so? How do art and culture influence the transition towards respect for human rights and diminishment of unjust authority in power?
Nabaz Samad: The dominant class in the region, in the middle east are the minority of some dictator families who govern their countries and have power on everything. They see the country only as their own property, therefore they justify looting the treasures of the country, and they oppress any rebellion and protest against their dictatorship regimes.
In Kurdistan region of Iraq, KRG Barzani and Talabani families took power since the uprising of March 1991 and they monopolise everything from security forces, oil, economy to media and education. KDP and PUK colonise everything in the region, they colonise families, mosques, schools, libraries, universities … etc.
They have intelligence agencies and security forces to suppress any rebellion, protest or demonstration against their family interests. As we have seen in the demonstrations and protests on the 17th February 2011 and subsequently the latest protests in the December 2017, PDK and PUK forces killed a number of protesters. Also they killed journalists such as Sorani Mama Hama, Zardasht Osman, Kawa Garmiani, and Widad Hussain.
In my point of view, art and literature can have a great influence on changing society but of course indirectly, because if art participates directly it will be an ideological instrument. Art should criticise society, culture, religion and ideology and art should be autonomic. Unfortunately, in Iraqi Kurdistan, art is not autonomous and it became an ideological instrument in the hands of political parties.
The majority of artists, musicians and singers belong to one or another political party, and they are not independent. They work for their parties and their interests. They use art as an instrument and a mean to reach their personal goals. As a result, Kurdish art could not had a big influence on the changes and promote respect of human rights.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Nabaz Samad: In the end, I would say we are in the Culture Project attempt to promote an alternative culture. Also to encourage the young generation to have a critical thinking towards the Kurdish culture to promote gender equality values among young people. Also encourage young artists to criticise the Kurdish culture and society through their artworks.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Nabaz.
Nabaz Samad: You are very welcome Scott, it’s my pleasure.