My Word: Independence and states of the mind

Some 150 countries are currently involved in territorial disputes. Israel isn’t to blame.

People wave Spanish, Catalan (known as Senyera) and European Union flags during a demonstration in favor of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/SUSANA VERA)
People wave Spanish, Catalan (known as Senyera) and European Union flags during a demonstration in favor of a unified Spain a day before the banned October 1 independence referendum, in Barcelona, Spain, September 30, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/SUSANA VERA)
I don’t want to start a fight, especially when there are so many already going on, but it goes with the territory. There are always two sides (or more) to self-determination efforts and if you back one (or are perceived as favoring one), you’ll inevitably upset the other.
Regular readers will know my family’s peculiar penchant for supporting independence movements largely overlooked by the rest of the world, which remains fixated for some reason on the Palestinian issue.
A few months ago, I expressed my support for the poor people of West Papua, whose plight seems to have consistently been off the radar, despite the horrific reports of persecution at the hands of Indonesian forces. Last week, according to Radio New Zealand, the UN’s decolonization committee refused to accept a petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans calling for an independence vote, saying West Papua’s cause is outside the committee’s mandate.
My son, meanwhile, has become interested in the fate and lack of state of Balochistan which seeks to (re)gain independence from Pakistan. The Balochi struggle is for some reason not nearly as famous as the Kashmiri one. I hate to think that the lesson is that Kashmiri violence against civilians works. Certainly the Palestinian struggle shot to fame in both senses of the phrase through terrorism.
I was hugely proud of the Orthodox Israeli rabbis and spiritual leaders, including Rabbi Benny Lau, head of Jerusalem’s Ramban Synagogue, who last month took a stand and called on the government to halt arms sales to Myanmar for its apparent ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim community from the area of Rakhine.
In an open letter to the prime minister and government, revealed by The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon among others, the religious leaders said that they were bound to fulfill the Biblical injunction to “shun evil.”
While acknowledging the importance of the country’s arms exports to the Israeli economy, the rabbis wrote that it was unthinkable that the Jewish state, “built on the vision of the prophets of Israel, will assist this regime.”
A Huffington Post article titled “Mapping the World’s Territorial Disputes,” updated last year, noted, “Nearly every major nation in the world is involved in a territorial dispute of some kind, though some more than others. At the top of the list is China (13 disputed territorial claims), followed by India (11), France (9), Russia (8) and the U.S. (7).”
It’s worth noting that four of those countries (all except for India) are permanent members of the UN Security Council. The fifth permanent UNSC member is the UK (which is involved in territorial disputes in places ranging from the Falkland Islands off the Argentinean coast to the Chagos Archipelago, which Britain separated from Mauritius in 1965, and the long-standing argument with Spain over Gibraltar. (This is not to detract from the aspirations of some residents of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, whose independence movement takes itself very seriously.)
The UN has been so focused on Israel and the Palestinians that either it missed what was going on elsewhere or it didn’t care. Incidentally, 137 UN member nations have already recognized the “State of Palestine,” despite its ongoing support of terrorism, lack of clear borders, and inability to independently survive economically. Talk about facts on the ground.
China, to which the world flocked for the Olympic Games regardless of its dismal record on human rights, is currently embroiled in bids to control the South China Sea, not to mention its hold over Tibet and its refusal to recognize democratic Taiwan as anything other than a province. (Balochis, by the way, also claim that China is colluding with Pakistan and stationing military personnel in Balochistan, and feel threatened by the construction of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that runs through the region.) Russia is still deeply involved in territorial disputes in Ukraine and Crimea. (It is also filling the vacuum in what’s left of Syria, while Iran spreads its control from Lebanon through to Yemen.) And, out of sight but nonetheless something that should be kept in mind, parts of the Arctic are claimed by Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark (or Greenland, the huge Danish-dependent territory with limited self-government whose cause I have taken up in the past).
As I’ve noted before, even the polite and peaceful Canadians, the type of neighbors Israelis not so secretly wish they had, are involved in a number of disputes, based on linguistic, ethnic and territorial lines.
The list of places whose cause we can earnestly discuss during family Friday night meals is not endless but we might have bitten off more than we can chew. Some 150 countries are currently involved in territorial disputes. Israel isn’t to blame.
More food for thought: I’d like to see the Roma receive some kind of homeland and rights. While Europe now agonizes over its policy toward refugees from the Middle East and Africa, it continues to ignore the Roma who live among them, and have done for centuries, in terrible conditions.
I’m not taking a stand regarding the move of English-speakers (one fifth of the population) to separate from French-speakers in Cameroon. Soldiers there shot and killed at least eight people on October 1 (according to the BBC among other news sources) during demonstrations surrounding the Anglophones’ declaration of independence.
You might have missed it. It was overtaken by the shocking massacre in Las Vegas (later claimed rightly or wrongly by ISIS) and the coverage of the nearly 800 people injured by Spanish riot police as Catalonia struggled to hold an independence referendum.
The violence surrounding the polling in Barcelona was deplorable.
The vote is non-binding and is unlikely to result in Catalonia being able to exist as a fully independent entity, although it would increase its ability to negotiate better terms regarding its autonomy.
(Incidentally, poor hurricane-hit Puerto Rico also held a non-binding referendum in favor of US statehood in June.)
It’s easy to see why Spain is concerned by the Catalans’ independence bid, which could set off a domino effect in other regions, the most obvious being the Basque country.
The lack of enthusiasm in the European Union possibly stems in part from its fears that more and more countries would see serious breakaway bids. (Consider France and Corsica, for example, or the UK and Scotland.) Indeed, the EU has a front-line view of identity struggles, being based in Brussels, which is torn between Flemish and French speakers.
MY HEART goes out to the Kurds, who overwhelmingly voted for self-determination last week and were shunned by the rest of the world. Iraq immediately closed the airports in the Kurdistan Regional Government while Iran and Turkey both threatened to retaliate for the vote. The global village didn’t object. Apparently the Kurds are good enough to risk their lives bravely fighting ISIS on the ground, but not to live according to their own traditions.
As the Post’s Seth J. Frantzman put it, shortly after returning from Erbil where he covered the referendum real-time: “Where was the international support? Where were the international monitors and observers, the former US presidents and senators? How could European countries that accepted the Scottish referendum not see Kurds as having the same rights as their neighbors? How could countries that stood with Kosovo in the 1990s not see Kurdistan through similar eyes?”
The Kurds have their own language and culture and have already proved their ability to rule themselves (while fighting and beating ISIS) yet they have not been granted international recognition.
As long as they continue to renounce terrorism, it’s time for the world to take a stand in favor of a free Kurdistan. This is no mere territorial dispute and the moral high ground should be clear.