Saturday, May 27, 2017

Religion and Geopolitics Review: May 27

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

President Trump's visit to three sacred lands was a dramatic reformulation of the war on terror in a religious key. In Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca and Medina, President Trump addressed fifty Sunni and Arab heads of states. His major message was that civilized nations must form a coalition against "barbaric criminals." Religious language and national loyalties were unmistakable. "Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death." "If we do not stand in condemnation of this we will be judged not only by our people and by history [the Marxists' favorite line] but we will be judged BY GOD."  "The nations of the Mideast cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. A better future is possible only if your nations drive out the extremists and terrorists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM out of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM  out of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land. And DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH. " "This means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires." "Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: barbarism will deliver you no glory. Piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED."

This the exactly the religious message that must be delivered to Sunni nations and young Muslim men. For the greatest conflict within Islam is not Shia vs Sunni, but one type of Sunni against everyone else. In Trump's speech there was a specific condemnation of two Shiite groups: Iran and the Houthis of Yemen. However, this was a talk to a "coalition of nations" about Sunni jihadists (the Wahhabi salafists) who specifically reject the nation as a non-Islamic form of social organization. Especially when King Salman dies, what will it mean for a coalition of Muslim nations set against the Salafist death cult to "drive them out of your holy land"?        

In Israel he was the first President ever to visit the Western Wall and pray. He visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was buried, as well. He called Jerusalem "a sacred city" and the Western Wall "a monument to God's presence and man's perseverance." This was not lost on Israeli reporters who said it was the real-estate trader Trump who first brought God to land negotiations in the Promised Land.

At the Vatican he met with the Pope for thirty minutes and promised at the end, "I will remember what you said." The "great honor" of that meeting left President Trump "more than ever committed to peace in the world." Trump's peace platform set him apart from the huge Republican field of war hawks he defeated in the primaries. This is never mentioned in sophisticated conservative Catholic commentaries because long ago to win tepid pro-life support from Republicans like John McCain the Catholic "intellectuals" gave their considerably more fervent support to a Darwinist foreign policy agenda. Trump is still fighting the 'perpetual war' foreign policy neocons and their Fox news allies in the first months of his presidency. After Mr. Trump and the pope met, there was an equally important but longer discussion at the Vatican. The 50-minute meeting between Trump, McMaster, Kushner and Tillerson with the top two Vatican diplomats is a welcome signal that a US-Vatican Axis is being developed for the diplomatic peacemaking ahead.

Trump's speech to NATO leaders telling them to pay their share for defense rather than promising immediate war with Russia over border incidents was a great disappointment to Republican war hawks, the new Democrat war hawks, and the old Fox News Russian despiser, Charles Krauthammer.

Finally, the beautiful women of the presidential party wore no veils in Riyadh but respected the sexual segregation of worship at the wall in Jerusalem. They were looking quite modest and beautiful in their Vatican mantillas. In this year of Fatima, Mrs. Trump from Catholic Slovenia asked the Pope to bless her rosary. The world's oldest living cultures sanctify the separation of the sexes. They reveal in their customs and organization of space that a culture of life must be a culture of protection, and a culture of protection separates the mothers from the soldiers.


THE PATRIARCH AND THE POPE: Patriarch Kirill on meeting with Pope Francis emphasizes persecuted Christians.




IRAN'S ELECTIONBefore the Vote, After the VoteReformers win in Tehran and country.

TWENTY TWO YOUNG PEOPLE SLAIN -- CANDLELIGHT VIGILS MAY NOT BE ENOUGHThe righteous anger of citizensThe father of the killer in Manchester was a "salafist jihadist" who fled the Khadafi regime in Libya. The father said his son was headed to Saudi Arabia in a few days and everything seemed normal. This is a preliminary report but it reminds us that the Salafist jihadist form of Islam is particularly appealing to young males not in traditional Muslim villages raised under the three largest legal traditions in Sunni Islam. Fed by Saudi ideology, the "de-territorial" Muslim is especially ready for the Salafist murder narrative of Islam. This kid was not rebelling against his father. Once again the grand narrative and the ties of this terrorist will not be linked to Shia Iran but to the Hanbali school of Salafist jihadism taught in Saudi Arabia for export.

DUTERTE DECLARES MARTIAL LAW IN PHILIPPINES FOR ISLAND COMMUNITY OF 22 MILLION: A police chief beheaded, a priest kidnapped, the southern isles and the Salafists.  AOA background map and profile of the Philippines.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES - BETHLEHEM AND NAZARETHOne of these cities switched from control by Israel to control by Palestinians in 1995. Since then, the Christian population dropped from 20% to 2%.



SOLZHENITSYN, CHRISTIANITY, RUSSIA, AND THE WEST: By Joseph Pearce. "At another point in the interview, Solzhenitsyn declared that he no longer saw Russia as being distinct from the West but that, on the contrary, Russia and the West were essentially part of the same threatened Christian civilization, and that both had succumbed to the evils of post-Enlightenment modernity."

Our argument at AOA is that Russia and America are two parts of Christian civilization reemerging from godless Modernism which was an attempt to construct a civilization based on science and technology without God. The West elevated democracy and individualism while Russia fell to Marxism -- a form of science applied to social structure. Marxism is an utterly Western ideology and another bitter fruit of Modernists. Feminism has taken its place and settled over the "West"-- a polite word for the white peoples of Europe and the US with the old white dominions of the British Empire. A Christian Europe with Russia as a member allied with the Christian Americas could bring world peace. But we have to shake the godless paradigm. As A. Joseph Lynch wrote, "Weep not for the West, build global Christianity."

LEAKING SECURITY IS DEADLY -- THE CHINESE EXPOSURE AND EXECUTION OF US SPIES: The NYTimes is still a newspaper. This is good reporting of a deadly business. Does the Times see its own willingness to compromise present-day national security leaks may have dire consequences as well?

The national security leaks by Americans  to the NY Times about the name of the Manchester bomber, pictures of the early carnage and descriptions of the bomb were properly condemned by Britain's leaders as harmful to their ongoing police response to the terror. The Brits expected that intel to US agencies would not reach the US press and tip off terrorists about what officials knew about them. This national security official leaking to the press hurt an ongoing operation by our ally rather than their usual target: President Trump. Maybe this will wake government and press alike. This should be an ample trigger for patriots of both parties to understand the urgency of sealing presidential and top intel information from betrayal. Much more than "campaign collusion by Russians," this security betrayal by Americans is real news demanding that President Trump and our government get control of the ship of state.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday BookReview: "Grassroots Asian Theology" -- Simon Chan on perfecting the Body of Christ in Asia

[first published March 6, 2015]

by David Pence

Simon Chan is an Oxford PhD in theology, as well as a Pentecostal. He lives in Singapore, the city-state which under the unique leadership of Lee Kuan Yew developed an Asian model of economic dynamism and social order without losing its distinctive ethical and communal identity. Dr. Chan teaches at Trinity Theological College where classes are taught in English and Chinese. A member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, he immersed himself in Catholic and Orthodox traditions to write a book several years ago on liturgical theology (reviewed here). He lives in an ethnically-dominated Chinese city state with a strong interracial civic identity, at the tip of an Islamic peninsula (Malaysia) and in the midst of an island chain constituting the largest of all Muslim nations (Indonesia). He is a man who understands intersections.

Like Singapore's founding father and the Catholic Church's Holy Father, he rejects the individualism and rationalism of the Western Enlightenment as the inevitable blueprint for human development. Dr Chan criticizes the "elite theologians" who speak for Asia in the language of egalitarianism and structures of oppression. He calls the concerns of most third world theologians as "no more than social critiques which NGOs like Amnesty International and Greenpeace can do better." He echoes the pope who laments churchmen who would shrink the message of the Gospel to the agenda of a "pitiful NGO."

In the first chapter of Grassroots Asian Theology -- Professor Chan's newest book -- he argues that "the living faith of the people of God (living tradition) is the locus of primary theology"... Professional theologians must "listen carefully what the spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through the people of God." This is precisely the message of Pope Francis, who rejected the Marxist version of liberation theology of French and Spanish intellectuals for the wisdom of the faithful holy people of God (santo pueblo fiel de Dios). The pope from Argentina and the professor from Singapore find the ecumenism of Pentecostal prayer a much more fruitful locus of the Spirit than theological conferences advocating for the third world. Chan repeats a favorite quote: "The theologians opted for the poor and the poor opted for Pentecostalism."
Phat Diem Stone Cathedral (Vietnam)

The book is organized by chapters treating particular Christian truths in an Asian context: 1)The Nature of God, 2) Humanity and Sin, 3) Christ and Salvation, 4) The Holy Spirit and Spirituality, and 5) The Church. In the epilogue he, then, ties these categories into a simple narrative. It turns out that an authentic Asian theology is not just for Asia but for the whole Church. He is also very clear that Christianity is not to be drowned in some "larger" cultural context. The coming of Christ and the establishment of the Church is not a particular pointing to a larger human truth. Human cultures are particular manifestations of vestigia Dei -- the footprints of God -- but they must be baptized and completed in a Church that incorporates the human species in the trinitarian communion as the Body of Christ. This inculturation will not sing of the anonymous Christians.  Simon Chan clearly says he is no Paul Tillich burying Christ in the ground of our being, but much more a Karl Barth confronting every culture with the reality of Christ. He goes further on the church:
“The church precedes creation in that it is what God has in view from all eternity and creation is the means by which God fulfills his eternal purpose in time. The church does not exist in order to fix a broken creation, rather creation exists to realize the church.”
Each chapter teaches several lessons, not only about Asian culture but the truth of the Christian religion.

The Trinitarian Nature of God                                                                                                                                                                                    

"Unlike the western church in the last two hundred years, the question has not been about God's presence or absence, or whether God exists or not. Especially in the world of primal religions, God's existence is never in doubt but always presupposed. The question is not about God's existence. It is about his identity and his nature." The task is "to commend the Christian view."

"In Islam, the primary attribute of God is power. In the strict monotheism of Islam, love could be actualized only after God created. In Christianity the eternal love of the Father for the Son highlights another important feature in the Muslim convert's experience of God: the decisive turning point is almost always a personal encounter with Jesus Christ as the Son of God; they almost always involve Jesus coming to them in a dream or vision or in some deeply existential moment."

In the Chinese context there are several aspects of the Trinity in both primal aspects and philosophical systems that are set against the Western egalitarian and feminist ideologies of the modern university. The "yin-yang relationship establishes a complementarity or the irreducible distinction of the male and female. The denial of gender distinction is an ontological sin, for God made man and woman to complement each other." Man and woman are both made in God's image. As Pope Francis has said, there is still great need to better  formulate a theology of the feminine. This is a deficit that cultures steeped in the Tao may help rectify. It will not be a solution to discover the feminine as the Holy Spirit though that is discussed in this provocative chapter.

The Trinity as a declaration of Patriarchy (the rule of the father) and Filial Piety (the obedience of the son) is another fundamental truth which might be understood at a much deeper level in societies that do not apologize for patriarchy or customs of primogeniture. Again, the Asian customs in which a domestic female serves the more public father-son axis is not to be scrubbed clean by western ideologues, but learned from by all Christians. The Patriarchal household is a cross-generational passing from Reverend Father to Beloved Son and brothers. The traditional biblical household looks more like the western ranchers of TV's 'Bonanza' (the father and his sons) than the suburban family (Ozzie and Harriet and brood). Patriarchal fraternity is the shared nature of both the ancient household and the Catholic diocese. Thus, Asian cultures don't have to be taught this but they will need to be introduced to the eldest brother of us all -- Jesus Christ, the first and only begotten Son of the Father.

Humanity and Sin

"The nature of humanity and sin needs to be defined against two forms of reductionism: the sociopolitical reductionism found in Asian and Latin American liberation theologies and the individualistic reductions of modernity found predominately in the West." The understanding of man as embedded in a relationship with God, the spirit world, our ancestors, our families, and our countries is a description of reality -- not a quaint quirk of the Asians. This reality is acknowledged in a several-thousand-year tradition of Chinese depiction of ordered hierarchical human relationships as a manifestation of an ordered Universe. "On the question of human relations, the modern tendency to read democratic egalitarianism into all aspects of human relations needs to be seriously questioned in the light of the larger Catholic and Orthodox traditions based on an ordered Trinity and the Asian concept of an ordered universe.

The concept of sin as shame and dishonor has New Testament affinities where sin is more an infinite affront against God's honor than a breach of a legal code, more relational and communal than private and juridical. The biblical concept of shame and honor shows that the Christian life is really about community and relationships and how they must be ordered, and as such it addresses wider concerns than the Asian context." Honor and shame behaviors and categories are the real parameters of any public culture. This is understood most acutely in the densest areas of human population where men must live together by public codes and ritualistic manners that indicate a sense of place and decorum.
Christianity was a radical new honor code which replaced paganism. At the summit  of this new honor code was the weekly public Word/Action of Eucharistic worship in which the whole community led by a big brother (the bishop) would gather in praise, adoration, and honor to the Living God who made the universe. Any oppositional cult to Christianity (like the modern-day sexual inversion ritual) seeks above all to replace our sensibilities with new definitions of public pride and forbidden utterances. Understanding Christianity as an honor code is not learning something new from Asia, but returning to more fundamental biblical categories which we had lost. This ressourcement will emphasize grandeur and primacy to our worship in honoring God, and secondarily point us to better strategies in cultural debates. In dealing with depravities masked as love or freedom, polite natural-law debates in which all involved strive to show how tolerant and personally sweet they can be to each other in the name of Christian love may not be the best honor/shame approach.
Christ and Salvation

"For elite theologians, liberation is freedom from poverty and political oppression. For the grassroots, liberation is physical and psychospiritual: healing of bodies and freedom from the fear of evil spirits and fatalism. The Christ of elite theologians is encountered in dialogues with religion, cultures, and the poor. The Christ of grassroots Christianity is encountered in Christophanies, healings, and deliverance from demonic spirits, big and small instances of answered prayers and other providences. Asian Christianity stresses the cosmic, corporate, and progressive nature of salvation while Western evangelicalism tends to emphasize the juridical and individual nature of salvation and depicts salvation as a crisis event. The most distinctive contribution of Asian grassroots Christianity is Jesus as ancestor mediator. This provides a theological basis for addressing one of the most intractable issues -- ancestor veneration and the communion of saints."

This whole discussion about Christ as the elder brother from the beginning -- the oldest ancestor --may help us offer a better description of salvation than snatching the living as saved from those they venerate as lost. Evangelizing a culture tied to the living dead provides a new impetus to reflect on the communal meaning of Christ's baptism. He was after all the new Adam. When He was immersed in the Jordan, who knows how far in time and space He swam to gather in his flock? We already ask the same questions of the meaning of His descent into Hell. The Asian understanding of mediator and rituals makes the culture particularly open to Christ’s sacerdotal priesthood as well as preachers who come with real priestly authority and status.

The Holy Spirit and Spirituality                                                                                                                                             
In this chapter, Chan generously quotes John Paul II and then makes some startling statements of his own as a Pentecostal. From JPII:  "The presence of the Spirit in creation and history points to Jesus Christ in whom creation and history are redeemed and fulfilled. The Holy Spirit's universal presence can never be separated from his activity within the Body of Christ, the Church."                                                                                                                                                         
And Chan: "The Spirit who, like the wind, blows where He wills, is at once the agent who universalizes the particular in its concreteness rather than reduces the particular to general and abstract principles. The cosmic Christ then is His Eucharistic presence in the Church. That is not to say he cannot be present outside the Eucharist but if He is present elsewhere, it is to lead men and women -- indeed the whole creation -- into Eucharistic Communion with the Church."
The Church                               

Of all the discussions in this intriguing book, Chan's ecclesiology best shows his ability to synthesize grassroots and ancient tradition. He shows his catholicity by coupling his respect for Watchman Nee's church planting with his deeply Orthodox explanation of the communion of saints as a communion of holy things grounded in sacraments. He ties all this to a very corporate sensibility of the Last Judgment. Like the Chinese lunar new year when there is a great return to founding households and villages, so he quotes the Book of Revelation describing the in-gathering in the new Jerusalem for the nuptial reunion. Integration in communion is not a ticket to salvation. It is the nature of salvation. Dr. Chan discusses integrating ancestor veneration in a set of rites centered on the communion of saints as he puzzles over the lack of ontology in most mainline church discussions of ecumenism. That deficit sends him to such contemporary phenomenon as Watchman Nee's local church and such ancient traditions as communio sancta (the holy things, not just holy persons, which unite the living and the dead in a sacramental church life).

Grassroots Asian Theology is a remarkable synthesis of the Christian Creed and the patrimony of Asian cultures. Reading this book is a pivot toward Asia which points one to Christ. The Church is very much like one of my nephews born with an out-sized head. It took him years to grow into that big head of his, but now we see him as a whole boy in perfect proportion. The Church had a perfect Head from the beginning. Reuniting with the grandsons of Noah who have shaped the nations of Asia is going to help us all live out our corporate human destiny as a more perfectly proportioned and fully matured Body of Christ.
Dali Catholic Church (southern China)

UPDATE: Here is Richard Mouw's take on the book.

And more insights from Dr. Chan on worship (as well as assorted links).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Principal Arguments of AOA

The principal arguments of Anthropology of Accord are presented below. Follow the links to a table of contents page for each series:
1.  Catholic Sociobiology: A New Paradigm
2.  Christian Realism for American Foreign Policy
3.  Masculine Anthropology and the Reform of the Catholic Priesthood
4.  Profiles of the Nations (Maps on Monday)                                    
5.  One Hundred Book Reviews
6.  Religion, Sex, and Politics Podcast

ASCENSION THURSDAY: Thus began “his participation, in his humanity, in God's power and authority”

[first published on May 29, 2014]

"Yea, angels tremble when they see 
how changed is our humanity; 
that flesh hath purged what flesh had stained, 
and God, the flesh of God, hath reigned."


Doc Pence writes on this feast of the Ascension:

An old nun reflecting on the Ascension said it had always been her least favorite mystery of the rosary. "We wait two thousand years for the Messiah.  He comes. He is killed, but he conquers death and rises victorious from the dead. He is back for just forty days and then He’s gone again—and we call that a joyful mystery?"

But it really is such a glorious feast. We should stop the work week and devote this 40th day after Easter to contemplate this very good news. For Christ finally brings Adam where he was meant to be – in communion with the Father through the Son. "The nature of our Humanity in Christ was raised above all the host of heaven, over all the ranks of angels, beyond the height of all powers, to sit with God the Father," said Leo the Great (d. 461). Christ the alpha male who constitutes humanity into a single organism shows humans our heavenly place in the divine Plan. We will be the body of Christ at the right hand of the Father.  

The netherworld of Death has been lit up. The Prince of this world witnessed the greatest prison-break in history, as the King returned and claimed as his own not only Abraham and Moses but Adam and Eve -- the Chosen People and the human race. Christ took back the nether-world -- all that space and time where man enters the land of the dead is now a place not to be imprisoned by the Devil but to encounter the risen Christ. 

One kind of earthly absence allows His Sacramental Presence everywhere else. One Divine Person goes behind a cloud and the host, while the Person of the Spirit becomes more prominent.

There has been a righting of the spiritual universe with the Son reunited with the Father allowing human beings to come into ‘theosis’ with the Son. Christ now with the beginning members of his new body is returned to the right hand of the Father with these new "creature persons" allowed to participate in their Divine Communion. This restoration of the Beloved Son to the Father after his great battle creates a huge magnetic field penetrating the biosphere where men are meant to form ourselves into the patriarchal fraternity of the apostolic church. This will create a central protected space for the Marian Church where virgin mothers receive the Holy Spirit and work their works of mercy.

But even as Christians exalt in our sanctified humanity, St. Augustine in his Ascension Day sermon reminded us: "Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but He still suffers all the pain that we the members of His body have to bear. He showed this when He cried out from above,  'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' and when He said, 'I was hungry and you gave me food'."

The angels (who seem to appear whenever a ladder is extended from Heaven for them to ascend or descend) have the final word. As they assured Jacob that his descendants would be blessed and restored to this very Land, they designate the Apostolic Church as the site of the Lord's Return:
"Men of Galilee...This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The largest Christian pilgrimage in Russia

Cathedral of the Holy Dormition (Kirov)

Board an eastbound train in Moscow and ride for eleven hours: you'll arrive in the Kirov Oblast. Each year in June that region of Russia hosts a 90-mile pilgrimage to celebrate the discovery of an icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonder-worker.

(He is the 4th-century Greek bishop whose legend came down to us, via Dutch culture, as Santa Claus. He was present at the Council of Nicaea and was vigorous in his defense of Orthodox Christianity against the Arian heresy. Legend says he slapped the mouth of Father Arius at that famous Council. Throughout his life he was a giver of secret gifts as well. Born in present-day Turkey, this Greek-speaking defender of orthodoxy and giver of gifts links the mystic chords of memory tying Russia and Europe to their common Christian origins.)


To give you some idea of the scale of this event, five years ago the number of participants was 35,000 (making it larger than the Boston Marathon).

Patriarch Kirill recently remarked, "Almost all houses in the past -- and Orthodox people today -- have three icons at their homes: the icon of the Savior, the Holy Virgin, and St. Nicholas."

Here are some more pictures of the pilgrimage.

Russian believers have been celebrating the past few days as precious relics of Saint Nicholas arrived in Moscow from their permanent home in Bari -- an Italian city on the Adriatic Sea. The photo shows the procession from the airplane.

Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CATHOLIC SOCIOBIOLOGY: Getting the universe right

[first published April 12, 2016]

All of physical reality is in some way a sacramental expression of deeper spiritual truths. There is so much violence and dissipation in the Universe that, often, scientists (especially physicists) take a dim view of the Creator's Benevolence or any notion that mankind's eventual outcome is anything but another extinction event.

Dr. Pence had teaching licenses in Earth and Space Science, as well as Life Science. He thought the depressed physicist was seeing something very real in the violence of the Universe. At the same time, many Catholic apologists downplay the radical divergence in the fate of most of the physical Universe and the election of the biosphere and earth for mankind. Here is  Dr. Pence’s essay: We must get the Universe right.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Map on Monday: KURDISTAN

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Kurdistan

By. A. Joseph Lynch

There is an important distinction to be made between a nation and a state. Where “state” refers to the authoritative governing body over a specific people, land area with specific borders, and natural resources, a nation is the a deep union of people often characterized by a shared culture, religion, language, and ethnicity. In most cases, a nation has a state, or governing apparatus. But sometimes many nations are bound within one state, as is often the case with empires. The lands that once were governed by the empire of Austria-Hungary, for example, are today many distinct nation states. Other nations, however, have been kept from forming their own states due to stronger neighboring nation states who use their political and military strength to make sure a nation never gains an independent state. Such is the case with the Kurds.

I. The Physical Ecology of Kurdistan

Worldwide the Kurds number over 30 million living largely in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey (see map above). Kurdish hopes for a potential independent nation state are centered in what is known as Iraqi Kurdistan. This northern region of Iraq, already treated as an semi-autonomous region, is home to just over five million Kurds. The physical geography of Kurdistan is in many ways as different from the rest of Iraq as its Kurdish inhabitants. Kurdistan is situated along the Zagros Mountains (which also form much of the Iran-Iraq border), which, combined with the slightly higher latitude, makes it a much wetter and greener region than the areas to its south. Kurdistan’s mountain terrain is also home to many mineral resources: coal, copper, gold, iron, limestone, marble, and zinc. Kurdistan also has the world's largest deposit of rock sulfur. Like the rest of the region, however, Kurdistan has access to large deposits of energy reserves. In addition to the four billion barrels of proven oil reserves, it is estimated that Kurdistan has another 45 billion barrels of unproven oil reserves.

II. The Communal Loyalties of Kurdistan

The Kurds are a distinct ethnic group in the Middle East. They have a long heritage and history in the region, claiming as their own the great military commander: Saladin. Saladin defeated the medieval Crusader states and eventually ruled over lands stretching from upper Mesopotamia (modern day Kurdistan), through Syria, to Egypt, and along the Red Sea coast to Yemen. Like Saladin, the Kurds follow the largest branch of Islam called Sunni Islam. Despite belonging to the largest branch of Islam, the Kurds are a minority ethnic group distinct from the larger and stronger Arabs to the south. This has placed the Kurds outside of the pan Arabic movements that bind many of the Sunni Arab states. The Kurds also speak a form of Iranian, making them linguistically closer to their neighbors to the east. But here deeper religious divisions come to the fore: where the Kurds are Sunni, the Iranians are Shia. Looking to the north, the Kurds are both ethnically and linguistically different from the Turks, who see their minority Kurdish population as a threat. There are multiple military and governing structures that bind Kurds across the region. The Iraqi Kurds are governed semi-autonomously from Irbil under the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government), protected by the Peshmerga (a Kurdish military force numbering nearly a quarter million soldiers). They are led by the KDP’s (Kurdistan Democratic Party) Massoud Barzani. In Syria a Kurdish political party known as the PYD (Democratic Unity Party) is aligned with military forces called the People’s Protection Units (or YPG) to fight against ISIS. Complicating this is a banned Kurdish political party from Turkey known as the Kurdish Workers’ Party (or PKK) which has been at war with the Turkish government for four decades. They are left wing and one of the few fighting forces with a substantial female component(15-30%). The PKK, aligned with the PYD in Syria, and based in areas near Iraqi Kurdistan, have created a complicated geopolitical situation between Turks and Kurds.

III. The Geopolitics of Kurdistan

The physical ecology and communal loyalties as outlined above play a crucial role in Kurdistan’s geopolitics. International attention first came to the Kurds during Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical attacks on Kurds lands, but the important role the Kurdish Peshmerga played in toppling the Saddam regime and now fighting against ISIS has made many to consider full Kurdish independence. The Kurds have increased in strength, fought off a relentless attack from ISIS, captured much of the Syria-Turkish border, and is now working to conquer the ISIS capital at Raqqa, Syria. The Trump Administration is now prepared to arm the Kurds directly rather than doing so through Baghdad. Where Kurdish gains have impressed many on the international stage, however, they have struck fear into Kurdistan’s neighboring powers who do not wish to see an independent Kurdistan. The great fear of a Kurdish state would be to see international pressure placed on countries like Iran, Turkey, and Syria to allow Kurdish borders to expand from northern Iraq into their territories where large numbers of Kurds live. Despite this threat, Iranian-Kurdish relations are good, both sharing a common linguistic heritage, minority status in the Muslim world, and working together in the fight against ISIS. As noted in the communal loyalties section above, Kurdish-Turkish relations are at a low. Turkish involvement in Syria, for example, has focused almost exclusively on fighting the Kurds and making sure the Kurds do not capture the Syrian-Turkish border region. In April 2017, Turkish warplanes also struck Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the Kurds, but the eyes of the world will be on them in the months ahead should they successfully conquer the ISIS capital.