On Monday, the Bundestag voted on whether or not Germany should send weapons to the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. Not that the parliament actually got to decide. Angela Merkel had made the decision on Sunday, and the government had already released a list of the military equipment that the Kurds were going to get, but the MPs had to come back from their summer holidays a week early anyway. They had to think up arguments, write speeches, examine moral nuances, fret over implications, argue, score political points, generally hash things out for two and a bit hours, and then finally hold a “symbolic” vote to say, it’s okay, the deliveries can go ahead, even as they were already on their way. Democracy!
Obviously it’s a tricky one. So tricky that opposition leader Gregor Gysi, who usually doesn’t change his mind about things, even if only because no-one wants deals with Die Linke, completed a full U-turn. He told the Bundestag on Monday he opposed arms exports three weeks after he told taz that Germany might have no other choice: “We can’t stop ISIS with protest letters.”
But the decision puts the German government in a much stickier situation than Gysi, because arming the Kurds means arming the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK, a left-wing group that Germany classifies as terrorists. Now what? Germany used to arm Turkey in their fight against the PKK, and Kurds in Germany who express support for the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who’s been in a Turkish prison since 1999, can be punished.
A lot of politicians are now calling for the classification of the PKK as a terrorist group to be reconsidered – some of them are even in the governing SPD – if only because it makes arming them look less dodgy. But maybe the whole terrorist classification system might be reconsidered. The rise of ISIS means all bets are off. Anyone who’s willing to fight them gets a gun. Which means they’ve forced governments to start making nuanced distinctions between different types of terrorists, rather than branding whole groups of people for political purposes. That doesn’t happen every day.