- Kurdistan on the Global Stage: Kinship, Land, and Community by Diane E. King
In Kurdistan on the Global Stage anthropologist Diane E. King examines “social and symbolic life” in Iraqi Kurdistan post-1991, when it emerged as an autonomous political entity (p. 2). Specifically, she analyses how Kurdish symbols and social relations are sustained, reformulated, and questioned in the age of globalization, a time when the autonomous region engages with the outside world economically, culturally, socially, and politically. Employing “connecting” as her guiding concept, King explains how Iraqi Kurds relate to each other and the world patrilineally and through patron-client relationships. She draws on fieldwork she conducted intermittently in the areas ruled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), especially in the cities of Dohuk and Zakho, over the past two decades.
The book is divided into seven chapters, each of which can be read separately. The book commences, as one might expect given the title, with a discussion of Iraqi Kurds’ experiences with globalization, though the theme remains confined to the first and the seventh chapters. The first chapter points out observable changes in Iraqi Kurdistan such as the introduction of technology (i.e., the Internet and mobile phones), the flow of ideas and foreign labor, and Western-style toilets (p. 32). In the second chapter, King reflects on her fieldwork experiences in a place that is currently relatively peaceful and stable, though it is also prone to “geopolitical threats” on the long run from the rest of Iraq and its neighbors, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
Drawing on the notions of patriliny and patrogenesis, the third chapter explores the relationship between collective identity, memory, and land. King elucidates that Kurds trace their decent through a specific patriline that is associated with a particular location. She argues that patriliny, apart from enabling symbolic and social [End Page 646] connections, also contributes to the seclusion of women. In the fourth chapter, King claims that honor killings and female genital cutting (FGC) are both products of social and political expressions of partiliny.
The fifth and six chapters discuss “politicking” and “refuge seeking” in the KRG and the ways in which both sustain and are implicated in patrilineal and patron-client relationships. King defines politicking as both a common political and economic “activity in form of conversation and action” (p. 138). Increasingly practiced by new businessmen, politicking serves as a counterweight to the patrilineal social and economic order represented by tribal leaders. Politicking not only cuts across tribal boundaries, but also adopts patron-client relationships reminiscent of foregone times. Similarly, the process of seeking refuge and granting asylum reinforces the patrilineal structures since the state “concerns itself with whole patrilineages of refuge seekers, not just individuals” (p. 183). As such, the state disrupts old patterns of refuge seeking and reproduces patron-client relationships on a national scale. In the last chapter, entitled “Kurdistan in the World,” King studies the KRG’s interaction with the global world and its gradual integration into the international community despite the fact that it is not recognized as a state and lacks international recognition.
The concept of patriliny proves fruitful and appears repeatedly throughout the book. However, it tends to mute men’s voices and assumes that all men unequivocally seek to maintain the patrilineal social order. For example, the author’s argument that FGC is an outgrowth of patriliny absolves women of all agency and responsibility, even though FGC is predominantly performed by women in the absence of men. Also, the claim that society discourages women to drive in the KRG chiefly because it will increase their chances of having sex, and hence threatens the sovereignty of a lineage, overlooks other circumstantial factors such as safety and security.
Despite its drawbacks, King’s book is a valuable addition to the anthropology of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Its attention to diachronic changes in Kurdish society makes it particularly useful. Scholars interested in gender, globalization, state-society relations, and kinship in the Middle East will find it thought provoking. Both graduate...