- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

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Voters head to the polls today after weeks of obsessive punditry, predictions and attempts to make broad statements about how various groups will cast their ballots.

Will evangelicals vote Republican? Will Muslims choose Democrats? How will Hispanics — with whom President Bush has made significant inroads — cast their ballots? Or will they choose to stay at home? What’s more, is it fair to focus on ethnic and religious differences of people to predict how they will make up their minds at the ballot box? Why is there such a growing trend all around the world?

In his article “The Hispanic Challenge,” Samuel Huntington sees a new clash of civilizations coming — but now he sees it happening in America. “The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages,” he writes. Hispanics are the only immigrant group to pose a challenge to the traditional American national identity, he posits, because they resist assimilating. “Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves — from Los Angeles to Miami — and rejecting the Anglo?Protestant values that build the American dream,” Mr. Huntington writes. “The United States ignores this challenge at its peril.”

If Mr. Huntington is right, no one can seriously think that Hispanics are choosing to align themselves based on their ethnicity because they are suffering economically. While the majority of the Hispanic population in America may be working for comparatively low salaries, they are most certainly better off than they were in their home countries. Here I see a growing parallel between Hispanics and the Kurdish people.

Until Operation Desert Storm, Kurds in Turkey enjoyed better social and economic status than their counterparts in Iraq, Iran and Syria. The war began to change the dynamics and benefited Iraqi Kurds, giving them not only military protection from the world’s only superpower, but also the opportunity for economic advancement with the investment of millions of dollars in their region.

Today, they seem to be better off than Kurds in Turkey, not because they are gaining economic superiority, but because most believe that the ethos to keep Iraq a united country behind one leader is dead. They believe that Americans will bring their long-awaited dream of an independent Kurdistan. Most perceive that the idea of a loose federation, in which the central government has little to do with their region, is the equivalent of “independence.” And they see U.S. support as equal to the Sykos-Picot agreement, which remapped the region — to say the least.

According to the Turkish constitution, a person is a Turk if he or she is a native and inhabitant of the Turkish Republic. It does not define a Turkish identity on religious or ethnic terms. Therefore, many in Turkey believe that the Kurds have played their “ethnic card” badly both domestically and internationally.

In his book “Turkey’s Ethnic Structure,” Ali Tayyar Onder writes that the number of Kurds in Turkey has been exaggerated, because the way Kurds have been counted has been over-generalized. He argues that how a person defines himself or herself is what determines ethnicity. He concludes with scientific research and numerous public opinion polls showing that the majority of the Kurds in Turkey, however, identify themselves as “Turks” — citizens of the Turkish Republic. And just like Hispanics, many Kurds in Turkey have no claim of land.

Mr. Huntington makes another observation about Spanish as a second language in this country: “[A]ll Americans should know at least one important foreign language … so as to understand a foreign culture and communicate with its people,” he writes. “It is quite different to argue that Americans should know a non-English language in order to communicate with their fellow citizens.” Iraqis accepted Kurdish as a second language in their fledgling democracy, but there are serious concerns that young Kurds and Arabs can barely communicate. The U.S. Congress conducts its business in one language. However, when Leyla Zana, a Kurdish nationalist deputy, attempted to take her Turkish parliament oath in Kurdish, many U.S. lawmakers had supported her — making it a human rights issue.

Mr. Huntington does not oppose Spanish as America’s second language — after all President Bush speaks in Spanish publicly. “A few stable, prosperous democracies — such as Canada and Belgium — fit this pattern,” he writes. “The transformation of the United States into a country like these would not necessarily be the end of the world; it would, however, be the end of the America we have known for more than three centuries.”

It seems the United States and the European Union are determined to bring that change in Turkey. It should, however, be a crucial part of the exit strategy in Iraq that playing the ethnic and sectarian card should come to an end. We’re all people.

So, as with every Election Day, it is time to talk about a new page in history.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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