Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Biggest Loser: Middle East Version

Some of you may have seen NBC’s reality television show, The Biggest Loser, where overweight contestants attempt to shed pounds with the help of personal trainers in front of a national audience. I think that this game should be adapted for ethnic minorities in the Middle East; specifically groups with laughably unrealistic national aspirations. Though the Palestinians and the Kurds would qualify as the main contenders for this title, there are a number of smaller players such as the Baloch and the Copts who would keep the competition interesting. However, my guess is that the small size and obscurity of the Baloch nation would force them to demonstrate the viability of their cause through an elaborate, coordinated tribal dance on the Pakistan-Iran border. (Given reports that the CIA and Indian intelligence agencies have been supporting the Baloch separatist movement Jundollah, the dance would have to include a hybrid bhangra/square dance sequence).

Though the main competition would not involve an official declaration of independence or a pathetic exhibition of whatever conventional/unconventional military force these groups maintain, the competition for the least viable national cause would instead be based on current lack of progress towards recognition and would adjudicated by veteran Middle East analysts such as Thomas Friedman (author: The Palestinian and his Olive Tree, The Kurdish Cause is Flat) and Jimmy Carter (author:, How to Love America’s Enemies: A Primer, Jesus loved Palestine: Therefore, So Do I ). In such a competition, each ethnic minority group would be paired with a viability trainer who would be able to coach the groups on how they can shed their ideological weight (read: Hamas) and promote their cause without relapsing into an abysmal state of loserness (read: the Palestinians). The winner would be the group that best demonstrates its ability to forfeit opportunities for national recognition through mismanagement, corruption, and the use of violence directed towards states that could possibly grant them the aforementioned recognition. Let us take a closer look at the potential contestants in order to get a sense of the challenges that face each participant as they compete for the title of the Middle East’s Biggest Loser:

The Kurds: Widely known as conniving enemies of the Turkish state who speak a strange, dangerously-close-to-Persian-sounding language, the Kurds have placed their hopes in the likes of Jalal Talabani and the PKK. Their national aspirations have to some extent been realized thanks to American patronage in northern Iraqistan and the proven ability of their leaders to influence Iraqi politics. Thankfully, for the purposes of our competition, the Kurds still qualify as losers because of the dismal state of their cause in Iran and more importantly, Turkey. In reality, there is a larger chance of Turkey Islamist prime minister Receyyip Erdogan going on a Birth Right trip to Israel and praying at the Wailing Wall with an IDF commander than there is of an independent, viable Kurdistan coming into existence. Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Kurdish cause is faltering is the fact that they have been more successful in organizing film festivals at N.Y.U. than in seriously threatening the Turkish state. The Kurds are so rife with division it makes their claim to the title of least viable national cause almost as competitive as the Palestinians'.

The Palestinians: The Palestinians are shoe-ins for the title of the Middle East’s biggest losers. In some ways, it is unfair that the Palestinians be allowed to compete for this title since the odds are so stacked in their favor. The loserness of the Palestinians is manifest in every futile attempt to bring attention to their national cause. If you could build a nation by throwing rocks, cursing Israel, making shoddy jihadist Youtube videos, and by talking about fuzzy concepts like “solidarity”, most Middle East Studies departments in the United States would be viable free-standing nation states. My guess is that the Palestinians would exceed expectations in all categories of loserness including lack of territorial contiguity (thank you Mr. Wall), belief in Islamism as a viable political and emancipatory ideology, fashion (the green headband is so passé) and least sexy leader (Abbas.Though admittedly, Ismail Haniya is quite the looker). It’s hard to imagine who could top the disunity of the Palestinians, their level of geographic dispersion, and steadfast refusal to accept benign Israeli stewardship of the West Bank.

There is no doubt in my mind that there would be stiff competition for the Middle East’ Biggest Loser, but only for the second and third place slots. As for the number one slot, the Palestinans are slated to be the perennial champions, at least for the near future.

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