Who is my neighbour? Who is my enemy?
I took these two questions - who is my neighbour?who is my enemy? - with me on a recent road trip through the Kurdish parts of south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. On reflection, they chose to come with me, unbidden but welcome.
There is a saying that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Scattered across four nations (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran) they are a people without a land, ethnically and linguistically distinct from their Arab neighbours.
The two questions were made more compelling for me by the fact that we were travelling through such contested and often blood-soaked lands. We travelled by bus for eighty miles along the border between Turkey and Syria aware of the deeply entrenched ethnic and religious schisms behind the appalling power-struggle playing out there.
And yet in all my travels in widely dispersed parts of the earth, I have never received so consistently warm and friendly a welcome. Never did I feel under threat and I encountered many acts of kindness. On the surface, of course, I was travelling among people from whom I was divided by language, ethnicity, religion and often economic circumstances. And yet I felt at ease even in the admittedly immersive and occasionally engulfing experience of such an outwardly different culture.
And it was in this landscape – both historically and currently marked by conflict, division and dislocation – that I found myself gently interrogated by the questions who is my neighbour, who is my enemy? The interrogation isn’t over even although I’ve been back in the UK for a month. In particular, two encounters – both in Iraq – deepened my experience of these questions. I’ll write about these in the second part of this pilgrim story.
Martin Buber: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware”.