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    Jeannie Hakongak Ehaloak was elected in the general election held on October 30, 2017, to represent the constituency of Cambridge Bay in the 5th Legislative Assembly of Nunavut.

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    April 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 2 · pp. 23–31

    Ben C. Ollenburger

    Within our Mennonite Brethren fellowship it has become quite rare to hear someone quote from, or even allude to the book of Proverbs. In the hope that proverbial wisdom can again help the church in its ethical decision making, I will discuss briefly the wisdom tradition in which the biblical proverbs stand and the nature of proverbial wisdom itself. This is a prolegomenon; it is intended merely to set the stage for further reflection and for application.


    The two characteristics usually attributed to wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and some Psalms), and to the wisdom perspective generally, are its and its derivation from , the experience of human beings in the world. The terms used to describe wisdom (anthropocentric, humanistic, skeptical, secular, empirical, autonomous, reflective, responsible, enlightened) are designed to set off the perspective of wisdom from the historically oriented covenantal theology presented in Exodus and elsewhere in the Old Testament.

    In Exodus Yahweh continually intervenes on behalf of his people; there is no mention of such activity in Proverbs. In Exodus the relationship of Yahweh to Israel is grounded in a covenant with the fathers; Proverbs mentions neither covenant nor patriarchs. In fact the term “Israel” never occurs in the body of the book. In Exodus the conduct of Israel is regulated by divine commands mediated through Moses and celebrated in worship; Proverbs contains relatively few commands, none of which are said to come from God, and makes no mention of cultic worship. Nor do the ethical exhortations in Proverbs derive their authority from any priestly or prophetic leader. The authority of the proverbs derives chiefly from wisdom gained through experience. Yet Proverbs, which does not contain a “Thus saith the Lord” and which incorporates wisdom drawn from experience, is nevertheless Scripture, God’s Word.

    The “Secularity” of Wisdom

    Let us look briefly at those aspects of wisdom’s “secularity” that might be important for Christian ethics.

    First of all we must be struck by the explicit focus on responsible and correct action in Proverbs. People are thought to be capable of proper conduct and are held strictly accountable for their behavior.

    It is also clear that the obligation to carry out this behavior derives not from a law, a rule, or a direct command but from the nature of things themselves—from an understanding of the way the world really is. The sages who produced the book of Proverbs never appealed to tradition or to revelation. They never quoted the Torah or referred to any of Israel’s “biblical” literature (which is not to say that they did not read and believe it) but referred instead to the way things are—the way they are.

    For this reason wisdom literature is deeply interested in nature and, theologically speaking, in creation. Behind the many observations recorded in Proverbs there lies a pervasive conviction about the order of things, about the order of the world. There is a current debate among scholars whether this order is simply given, underlying all of reality, or whether order is conferred upon reality by those who perceive it from the perspective of a belief in God’s creation of the world. Both positions are, of course, correct. But the God-given order of the world is not transparent to our undisciplined gaze. It is the peculiar gift of the wise to be able to perceive the way the world really is and by virtue of this perception, or vision, to confer order upon the folly and disorder which appears ultimate to those of us who are fools. Wisdom is the ability to perceive: it is a way of seeing and hence of understanding and of knowing what to do.

    The result is that wisdom is international in character and its observations are designed to elicit the consent of anyone who can see. This is nicely illustrated by the fact that Proverbs 17:22-24:22 is paralleled by ten of the thirty sections of an Egyptian text, “The Instruction of Amenem-ope,” written sometime prior to our book of Proverbs. This does not mean that theology or religious beliefs were unimportant for the sages or that they saw their wisdom and Israel’s belief in Yahweh as unrelated, but that they considered what they saw to be the truth. The truth remained the truth whether it was seen by an Israelite prophet or sage or by an Egyptian priest. Part of wisdom’s continuing appeal can be attributed to its universality, its appeal to all who can see or are willing to undertake the discipline to learn how. Wisdom can thus provide a common ground for ethical discussion in pluralistic societies.

    The Empirical Basis for Wisdom

    My overuse of “seeing” in the previous paragraph is intentional. It is to highlight the second characteristic of wisdom. It is empirical. This means that what is known by the sages is known by experience, by observation. A contrast is often drawn here between the sage who appeals to experience and the prophet whose ethical proclamations are validated by appeal to revelation in the claim, “Thus says Yahweh....” There is no space here to debate this point so I must simply claim apodictically: prophet and sage cannot live without each other, and the best of each are both.

    This is the case because wisdom, understanding gained by perceptive reflection on experience, is the proving-ground of revelation. Because wisdom has an understanding of (a) the order of the world, (b) the disorder of world and (c) the kind of behavior appropriate to the world(s) in which we dwell, it provides a context, a “horizon,” within which revelation may function. A “horizon” is defined by Husserl as the structure of expectations and probabilities by which perception and interpretation is guided. Such a horizon, for Israel and for us, is not the product of revelation but is the presupposition for the comprehension and application of any revelation. When, for example, the prophets call the people to righteousness () in the name of Yahweh and threaten them with impending judgment if they pursue evil (), this will be understood by Israel in terms of as the comprehensive order of the real world which is threatened by . So also Psalm 104, which is a hymnic description of creation as dependent upon Yahweh’s sustaining power, ends with the hope that sinners will be removed from the earth and the wicked will be no more because these are incompatible with the order of creation. Because wisdom is empirical and thus available to all who can see, Israel’s encompassing horizon was shared with the broader culture of the Ancient Near East. It is no accident that Psalm 104 is strikingly paralleled by the creation hymn of Akhenaton (Amenophis IV), written in Egypt some centuries earlier.


    This understanding of wisdom is important to the two simple points I want to make about proverbs and ethics. First, ethics (and particularly Christian ethics) is fundamentally a matter of interpretation. Secondly, proverbs are models of and models for interpretation.

    Ethics as Interpretation

    First of all it is necessary to note that proverbial exhortations based on the observations of wisdom are not to be taken simply as commands to be obeyed. In fact they cannot be. For example, in Proverbs 26:4 we are instructed not to “answer a fool when he speaks foolishness.” But to adopt this as an infallible rule for every situation would be silly, for the very next verse exhorts us to “answer a fool when he speaks foolishness.” The same dilemma is met in the New Testament where we are told both to bear one another’s burdens and not to (Gal. 6:2, 4). The point is simply that wisdom does not consist in knowing all of the proverbs and obeying them. Wisdom consists, rather, in knowing which proverb is fitting for a particular occasion. There are some instances when a fool’s foolishness should be challenged and there are other instances when foolishness should be ignored. One who knows when to do which is wise. “To everything there is a season...” as another bit of wisdom has it (Ecclesiastes 3). How does one acquire this wisdom? “Go about with wise men, and you will become wise” (Proverbs 13:20). There is no other way to acquire wisdom, in Israel, than to submit to disciplined instruction at the feet of the wise. Neither wisdom nor moral sensitivity, if they are different things, is learned only from reading books, even the Bible.

    Proverbs as Models of/for Interpretation

    In spite of the “secular” and “empirical” character of wisdom, proverbs are more like works of art than of science. What is here meant by “work of art” is the “transformation into structure” of the free interplay of life and nature, so that this interplay can be understood and interpreted. In our confrontation with the work of art we are confronted with a new world in which we are asked to recognize the truth:

    This is so because entering the new world of the work of art is at the same time a coming home. When we hear a proverb, or read Psalm 8 or an Elmer Suderman poem or “Black Elk Speaks,” or see “Simon the Apostle,” we say, “Yes! I recognize that. It captures the truth.” And so we are “confronted with an injunction” to see things in a different way. Or, more accurately, we are invited to adopt a new way of seeing that is appropriate to the new world of the work of art. With reference to the interpretation of literary works of art Paul Ricoeur says that

    Since it is the function of the work of art to show us what is (that is, the truth), it also shows us who we are and invites us to change. The work of art tells us not only “This is who you are,” but also says to us, “You must change your life!”

    The vast majority of the proverbs are “merely” observations about the way things are, and most of the relatively few admonitions in the book are connected to an observation. For example, the admonition not to be a drunk or a glutton is supported by the observation that drunks and gluttons don’t fare very well. Like works of art, the proverbs invite us to see things in a certain way and to change our lives in accordance with the new world we are invited to enter.

    The material in the book of Proverbs is thus important not only for its content, but for its form. The proverb is a form of wisdom which involves a way of seeing, a mode of perception: von Rad calls it “gnomic apperception.” By this is meant a specific way of knowing and of expressing what is known; the two cannot be separated. When the Israelite sage formulated a proverb he was not only saying something about the world but was at the same time something about it. We lose sight of this poetic and noetic quality of the proverbs when we regard them as merely useful to us not as rules but as artistic sensibilities—our sensitivity to truth, goodness, and beauty. Great works of art do not teach us that certain things are the case, rather they change us in certain ways.


    At this point we confront a major problem in relating proverbial wisdom to Christian ethics. As modern people concerned with technique, our understanding of ethics centers largely on questions of what acts ought to be done or what principles ought to be followed. If we are trained in philosophy our discussion of ethics will be mostly concerned with the ways in which we justify our acts as morally good or our principles as right. In these ponderous discussions the playful aphorisms of proverbial wisdom have little place. It is in fact possible that we scientific and sophisticated moderns have lost the skill of formulating proverbs and the ability to appreciate them and to move in their world.

    In what remains of this essay I want to suggest a recovery of a rich heritage of proverbial wisdom and hint at the importance of this recovery for ethics.

    Part of the decline in our use of Proverbs can be attributed to the loss of the essential context of the proverbial work of art—the interplay of life and nature. Our lives, our work, our study, and our thought about ethics are conducted in situations designed to isolate us from the rhythms of life and nature from which proverbs spring. In our modern, technical thought about God and about the behavior appropriate to Christians we seek after truth without contradiction but such “truth” does not arise from experience and is foreign to proverbs, biblical or otherwise.

    My suggestion is that we Mennonite Brethren have a rich heritage of proverbial wisdom on which to draw for understanding how things really are and that we ought to reconsider our assumption that these proverbs are really useless in the modern age. Our churches are made up of a variety of ethnic groups, most of them possessing a stock of traditional proverbs. The American Indians, for example, have an amazing number of proverbs applicable to virtually any situation. The proverbs which I inherited, precious few in number, are primarily Low German in origin. Among these perhaps the most useful and expressive of the truth is one my Grandmother once directed to her employer, A.L. Schellenberg, erstwhile editor of : “Je jeleada, je vetjeada,” which means something like, “The more you learn the more confused you become.” Who would deny such wisdom? Yet if this proverb were translated into a rule: “Do not learn more than the bare minimum,” it would be a perversion of the truth. To “translate” the proverb at all is to say something else, something different, just as the “Mona Lisa” is different from any explanation of it.

    There are other proverbs worth remembering, such as “Kann man ueber den Hund, kann man auch ueber den Schwanz” (If you can make it over the dog, you can make it over the tail), or the more pious, “Wer das Kleine nicht ehrt, ist das Grosse nicht Overt” (One who doesn’t honor the small things is not worthy of great things).

    What is expressed in all three of these proverbs can be said in other ways, and I believe that all three of them can be supported from biblical texts if necessary. What is important, however, is their form and function as proverbs. They derive from, express, and give rise to vision. They derive from seeing the world in a certain way, they give expression to this world, and they provoke us to see it and live within it. This wisdom in the form of proverbs can be passed along as tradition so that successive generations can share a common world within which things make sense. This kind of process is illustrated by the Amish. Beliefs and actions which make sense among these people over numberless generations seem stupid to their neighbors. We who think more “rationally” make perfect sense to our neighbors (for we are indistinguishable from them); but our grandparents are utter strangers to us. Their wisdom is foolishness and their world is a foreign country. My Grandmother once told me that she prayed daily that none of her children or grandchildren would become wealthy. Who can understand such wisdom?

    Earlier I suggested that Christian ethics is fundamentally a matter of interpretation. By this I mean that ethics is concerned ultimately with the development of the capacity for mature moral discernment and vision for the moral life.

    Rather than dealing with vision and character our ethical discussions are too heavily focussed on individual acts, individual decisions, individual principles. Proverbial wisdom leads us to look rather at the style of our lives that is created by the pattern of our decisions. In art, style is the nexus of perception and expression. The decisions that shape our lives exhibit a similar pattern grounded in our perception, our vision of the way things are. But our vision, the way in which we see, is not the same as discernment.

    In any act of discernment, but particularly moral discernment, we engage in interpretation. In moral discernment we interpret the way things are and the way they should be on the basis of our vision of reality and our beliefs (which are given by the tradition in which we stand). Interpretation always takes place within a tradition which includes both a larger vision of reality and specific beliefs, in our case theological beliefs. Interpretation also takes place within communities that have histories. A community’s vision of reality, its beliefs, and its history are all unavoidable components of any act of discernment. But conversely, it is through our judgments, our decisions, and our interpretations that our world, our vision, our beliefs, and our history are given shape. The relationships among these elements are reciprocal. Moral discernment always depends upon our world, but it also affects and reshapes that world.


    From this I would like to draw two conclusions. First, skill at making ethical decisions is acquired through practice. Our “world,” the benchmark for determining what is real, possible, and true, is acquired through practice—through the practice of making ethical judgments in the corrective company of the wise. Secondly, by not exploring our own Mennonite Brethren tradition and understanding it we deny ourselves the possibility of making wise ethical decisions. By not being for our children and our students a community with specific tradition we leave them impoverished and without the essential presupposition to wisdom and understanding. By preaching the Word but ignoring our history and our identity we greatly hinder the possibilities of using the Word in making ethical decisions. By coming to the unredeemed as missionaries denying our own particular tradition, or being silent about it, we deny to the recipients of our message important possibilities for appropriating the truth we proclaim. As an Egyptian proverb has it, “A man who has no village—his own personality is his family.” Apart from the community which helps us define our world, we are left alone to be a world unto ourselves. In this situation the wisdom of our proverbs, the biblical Proverbs, or even the words of Jesus (the wisdom of God) can only be confusing in ethical deliberations. All that we can then do is look to material like Proverbs for rules and end up acting like fools.

    More needs to be said, but this is a prolegomenon. As pastors, teachers, and moral leaders we must be prepared to acknowledge that we cannot teach wisdom simply by explaining the proverbs. We must show what wisdom is by being wise and acting wisely. While teaching at Tabor College I asked a class of philosophy students to name some people whom they would consider models of a life of beauty, proportion, and grace—a life of wisdom. A class of about twenty people, almost all of them from Mennonite Brethren churches, could name no one. Not one person had shown to them what wisdom is. Perhaps they need to be taught how to recognize the wisdom that is there. But perhaps we have no one to teach them. This is where Proverbs, wisdom under the fear of Yahweh, can make its lasting contribution, if we will but see.


    Ben C. Ollenburger is a Ph.D. candidate in Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. Earlier he taught at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.

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    There are a lot of different cleansing techniques out there, and finding the one that’s right for you can sometimes feel overwhelming. If you really just want to give your body a break, hit the reset button on your digestive system, and do a short detox without a lot of fuss, this is the cleanse for you. The process is simple, straightforward, easy to follow, and it’s only three days long—making it a very manageable undertaking for most people. If this will be your first experience with cleansing, you’ve chosen a perfect place to start.

    This cleanse can be undertaken at any time of year, but it will be especially beneficial at the junctions between seasons—when our bodies are ripe with a sense of transition already. However, even a very simple cleanse like this one is not appropriate during menstruation, for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for anyone who is extremely weak or debilitated at the moment.

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    ). Still, any cleanse can be exhausting, emotionally taxing, and physically uncomfortable due to the nature of the detoxification process. This cleanse is extremely gentle and should not cause a great deal of discomfort, but you may still experience some ups and downs—on either emotional or physical levels.

    The practice of cleansing is considered a vital part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle. It provides an important means of clearing accumulated waste and toxicity from the mind and the tissues, encouraging optimal health. These days, a periodic cleansing regimen is more vital to our health than ever before. Our bodies are being asked to process a seemingly endless barrage of harmful inputs such as environmental toxins, processed foods, unresolved emotions, and psychological stress. Over time, these stressors can cause toxicity to build up in the system, deposit in the tissues, and compromise our health. A periodic cleanse helps to clear these accumulations from the body.

    This particular cleanse is based on eating a monodiet of whole grains and kitchari, drinking plenty of detoxifying fluids, and taking Triphala in the evening to support digestion, elimination, and the body’s natural detoxification processes. This regimen supports the physiology by slowing the flood of harmful inputs and by providing the body with an important opportunity to rest, recuperate, and repair itself.

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    Jake Knapp, author of , reveals a four-step process for sketching your way to greatness.

    5 minute Read

    This story was adapted, with permission, from the forthcoming book (Simon Schuster) by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz. Preorder a copy .

    Imagine you’ve got a great idea. You’ve been thinking about it for weeks. You go to work, describe the idea to your teammates, and . . . they just stare at you. Maybe you aren’t explaining it well. Maybe the timing isn’t right. For whatever reason, they just can’t picture it. Totally frustrating, right? It’s about to get worse.


    Now imagine your boss suggests an alternative idea. It just popped into his head, and you can tell right away that the idea isn’t thought out and won’t work. But all your teammates nod their heads! Maybe it’s because the boss’s idea is vague and each person is interpreting it in his or her own way. Maybe everyone is just supporting him because he’s the boss. Either way, it’s game over.

    Okay, come back to reality. That was an imaginary scenario, but it’s the sort of thing that happens when people make decisions about abstract ideas. Because abstract ideas lack concrete detail, it’s easy for them to be undervalued (like your idea) or overvalued (like the boss’s idea).

    Sketching is the fastest and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions. Once your ideas become concrete, they can be critically and fairly evaluated by the rest of your team—without any sales pitch.

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    We know that individuals working alone generate better solutions than groups brainstorming out loud. Working alone offers time to do research, find inspiration, and think about the problem. And the pressure of responsibility that comes with working alone often spurs us to our best work.


    But working alone isn’t easy. The individual has to not only solve the problem but also invent a strategy for solving the problem. If you’ve ever sat down to work on a big project and wound up reading the news instead, you know how hard this work can be.

    In a design sprint, Google Ventures’ five-day process for teams answering crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas, people work alone, but follow specific steps to help everyone focus and make progress. That includes sketching. When each person sketches alone, he or she has time for deep thought. When the whole team works in parallel, they generate competing ideas, without the groupthink of a group brainstorm. You might call this method “work alone together.”

    The sketches that result become the fuel for the rest of the sprint. You critique everyone’s sketches and pick the best ones. You turn them into a prototype. And you test the ideas with customers. That’s a lot of mileage out of a few drawings, and it might make you think we’re expecting a work of genius straight out of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. Not so.

    You Can Draw

    To put the power of the sketch in perspective, let’s take an example from a sprint we held with Blue Bottle Coffee. The boutique coffee company had gathered in our San Francisco office one Tuesday to tackle a big challenge: how to sell fresh coffee beans online. There, in the middle of the room, on a coffee table, was the source of the team’s consternation. Not the challenge itself, nor the tough questions it raised—but a stack of paper, a dozen clipboards, and a paper cup filled with black pens.

    Somebody cleared his throat. It was Byard Duncan, Blue Bottle’s communications manager. As everyone turned, he cracked a sheepish smile.

    “So . . . ,” he said. “What if I can’t draw?”


    Drawing is a great equalizer. Everyone can write words, draw boxes, and express his or her ideas with the same clarity. If you can’t draw (or rather, if you think you can’t draw), don’t freak out. Plenty of people worry about putting pen to paper, but anybody— absolutely anybody—can sketch a great solution.

    Take a look at one of the sketches that came out of Blue Bottle Coffee’s sketching exercise—a solution called “The Mind Reader.” Each sticky note represents one page on Blue Bottle’s website.

    The big idea behind “The Mind Reader” was to organize the online store the same way a barista might talk with a customer. As you can see in the three frames, this solution leads with a welcome, then asks how the customer prepares coffee at home, before offering recommendations and a brewing guide. There’s a lot of complexity to the idea, but the drawing itself was straightforward: mostly boxes and text, the kind of thing anyone can draw.

    Later, the team made a realistic prototype based on “The Mind Reader,” with details filled in from some of the other sketches.

    When shown to real customers, “The Mind Reader” was remarkably effective. Customers grew confident in the quality of the coffee as they clicked through the website. They found beans they wanted to order. They described the prototype as “way better” than competing retailers and mentioned that “clearly, these people know coffee.” It became the foundation for Blue Bottle’s new website.

    So, who sketched that solution? It wasn’t a designer, an architect, or an illustrator. It was Byard Duncan, the Man Who Couldn’t Draw.


    When I first started running sprints, I tried to recreate my own most successful work sessions. I was most effective when I took time to “boot up” by reviewing key information, starting my design work on paper, considering multiple variations, and then taking time to create a detailed solution. And, since I am a world-class procrastinator, I was also most effective when under a tight deadline.

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    Eleven-year-old Liza Greenberg, daughter of David and Suzanne Nossel. Photo by Todd Gitlin.

    Protest against neoliberalism in Colombia, 2013

    At a protest against the alleged Pizzagate conspiracy, Washington, D.C., March 25, 2017 (Blink O’fanaye / Flickr)

    In a scene from HBO’s The Deuce, streetwalker Ruby presents an officer with a property voucher to avoid arrest. Courtesy of HBO.

    The Kurds

    The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.

    Iraq : In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

    Turkey : For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

    Syria : Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.

    —Dilar Dirik, “ Rojava vs. the World ,” February 2015

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