Originally published on Huffington Post
For the past few days, liberal activists have been busy on the social media sharing the picture of a Syrian Kurdish child, dead on the shores of a Turkish beach, owing to the refugee boat carrying his family to Europe capsizing in the seas. Liberals lament the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and urge for Western governments to be more welcoming of refugees, using this image as an emotional rallying point. Indeed, the image of the lifeless 3 year old Aylan Kurdi is soul-crushing.
But I refuse to share it.
Turkey, a NATO ally, is encouraged by the fact that the PKK is still a banned organization in several Western countries and that the US has remained mum over its continued assaults on Kurdish forces, democratic organizations and armed revolutionaries alike. Victory of PKK and their affiliates will alter the entire region of the middle-east. Not only will it halt the march of Islamist fundamentalism, it will also place a check to political and economic systems that engineer conflicts that generates refugees. In other words, a Kurdish victory would mean no more Aylan Kurdis.
Originally published on Huffington Post
A few years back, a cartoon was doing its rounds on social media. It shows a White woman in a skimpy bikini and a Muslim woman in a full burka, each thinking that the other is oppressed. Both are right.
Or, both are wrong.
Why is this? This a false ultra-simplistic binary that we should avoid like the plague. Today, liberal hedonistic permissiveness and primitivist religious adherence are two sides of the same coin. One privileges material freedoms without commitment and the other privileges commitments without material freedom – and the ideology of the global order is fine with both. The alternative is to find radical freedom through commitment, in commitment for a genuine emancipatory project. And that is something neither the liberal hedonists nor the religiously motivated can offer.
But this is precisely what the women in Kobane are struggling to bring to fruition. French philosopher Alain Badiou says that according to him, “something is universal if it is something that is beyond established differences.” And if there is anything that is to be learnt from the struggle of the women in Kobane, it is that it consciously strives to transcend all established differences and particularist fetishes.
Rejecting both a nihilistic capitalist modernity and primitive religious and sectarian thought, the fighters of the Kurdish YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) are building a radical democracy that aims to shatter long held gender prejudices, promote an equal division of work in private and public spheres, with an emphasis on local self-governance and the building of an economic system that is based neither on the exploitation of human labor nor on the pilferage of natural resources.
The Western media’s general coverage of these revolutionary women has been miserable to say the least. Either there is ignorance, or a bizarre exoticization – something on the lines of “Here are beautiful Kurdish angels fighting ISIS devils.” A Kurdish feminist academic rightly denounces such views as “they cheapen a legitimate struggle by projecting their bizarre orientalist fantasies on it – and oversimplify the reasons motivating Kurdish women to join the fight.” The Kurdish women are not just involved in a fight against Islamism – they are also fighting for something more. And that is the real beauty – the beauty of their politics – that eludes liberal Western eyes.
What is this politics? This is the politics of Democratic Confederalism as espoused by the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. A novel experiment for the Kurdish regions which, as a system of governance, will rely more on collective consensus of the peoples involved and voluntary participation of individuals. Rejecting the traditional state-centrism, Democratic Confederalism is meant to be “flexible, multi-cultural, anti-monopolistic, and consensus-oriented” where “Ecology and feminism are central pillars.”
Ocalan is light years ahead of several postcolonial academics in his courage to note that “Islam’s perception of sexism has produced far more negative results than Western civilisation in terms of the profound enslavement of women and male dominance.” He also rejects capitalist modernity as “a system based on the denial of love”, whose unrestrained individualism corrupts society, turning individuals into automatons. And it is a society that is corrupted neither by feudalist bigotries nor the brutalities of the industrial capitalist state that Ocalan imagines.
It is this politics that the women of YPG are putting into practice in Kobane. And it is this politics that is being ignored in the West. It is quite ironic that for all their claims to be opposed to Islamofascism, many Western governments still consider PKK and its affiliates – the organizations waging the most resolute and principled war against Islamism – as terrorists. One is compelled to think that the West – conservatives, liberals and mainstream leftists alike – are more frightened of what the PKK is fighting for than what it is fighting against.
A sensible thing for sensible leftists to do would be to reject the vulgar exoticizing that the Western media indulges in, and try to probe the theoretical and practical implications of the Kurdish struggle for the global feminist movement. Also, the Left in the West should push for a delisting of the PKK from the “terror list” and also urge the Western governments to secure the release of the PKK leader Ocalan who has been languishing in solitary confinement in a Turkish prison for over 15 years now. Most importantly, we must appreciate the women of the YPJ for the beauty of their politics and the promise it holds.
The promise of the revolutionary women of Kobane is poignant. It is a promise that democracy, radical freedom and social justice are not meaningless terms, but are lived realities. It is a promise of a society where equality is a practice, and not a word on paper. It is a promise that generations of progressive women activists have been fighting for across the world. The Kurdish women of Kobane are fighting for this promise and they are extending their hand of universalism, a universalism that is desperately needed in these times. Let us reciprocate with the solidarity that they deserve.
Read full review at The Oxonian Review
Inspired by anarchist ideas, the Kurdish struggle in the Middle East led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliated groups is a particularly successful and spectacular movement. Though initially conceived as a Kurdish nationalist-cum-Marxist-Leninist movement, it evolved into a movement that seeks to transcend barriers of nations and states, and seeks instead to establish autonomous sovereign communes of peoples based on equitable distribution of resources, mutual recognition, and tolerance. The PKK-led Kurdish struggle, under the theoretical guidance of its founder-leader Abdullah Ocalan, is based on direct democracy and grassroots participation. It is of note here that Ocalan was greatly influenced by the ideas of the American anarchist Murray Bookchin. The latter’s idea of “libertarian municipalism”, the creation of local level democratic bodies as opposed to a centralised state apparatus, contributed to the development of Ocalan’s idea of “democratic confederalism” which forms the theoretical basis for the praxis of the PKK. Even though a critical situation like the one with which the Kurds are now faced—confronting ISIS—requires strict military discipline, the vanguard of the Kurdish struggle has not established a vertical decision-making process, choosing instead a more horizontal approach to cultivating cadres and leaders.
The effects of such an approach can be seen in the enthusiastic participation of Kurdish women in the struggle. Unlike most nationalist movements that symbolically use the bodies of women in the peak of a military campaign but send them “back to the kitchen” once the goals are achieved, the Kurdish struggle in Kobane involves women as an integral, organic part. Kurdish women in Kobane are the agents of their own liberation, and are as politically equipped at resisting chauvinism within their own communities as they are fierce in resisting the brutalities of ISIS. Few movements in the world have been able to rival the PKK when it comes to gender parity. And, while Chomsky himself has written little on the Kurdish struggle, it might actually be the best contemporary example to validate his own position on the moral superiority of anarchism.
Article originally published on The Conversation
As the battle against Islamic State fighters draws in viewers across the world, there has been some attention given to the men and women resisting them in northern Syria. The Syrian part of Kurdistan, or Rojava, as the Kurds would like to call it, has been fighting Islamists for well over two years now but only recently has the battle for the border town of Kobane brought them to light.
And while it’s easy to portray the Kurdish people as pitted against this new terrorist threat, they are actually involved in something far more profound. Kobane is symbolic and the conflict there carries a universal significance. Not only are the Kurds battling the Islamists, but they are also attempting to create a model of democracy that might actually bring stability to a war-torn region.
The Kurdish political vision is not founded on any particular racial, ethnic, regional or religious belief but rather on an idea, or a set of ideas, that should resonate with people everywhere.
Fighters in Kobane claim to be standing up for the freedom of everyone in the region, be they Kurds, Turks, Arabs or anyone else. The way the fighters in Kobane have challenged stereotypical gender roles is just one example.
As far as religious difference goes, Kobane disproves both Islamophobes who believe the Middle East to be incapable of progress and politically correct Islamophiles who push the patronising idea that religious identity is a top priority for Muslims the world over. In their readiness to defend the Yazidi minority against persecution from IS, the Kurds have essentially been promoting a radical secularism and a vision of tolerance in a region torn by religious strife.
What is novel about the Kurdish struggle for self-determination is its very definition of self-determination. The concept, when applied to nations, is generally taken to mean the right of nations to secede and form states of their own, but the Kurds see it differently. Many believe an experiment in democratic confederalism is what the region really needs.
This is an idea espoused by PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who is a central intellectual and moral figure for Kurds. The PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has been fighting Turkey for greater autonomy since 1978 and has also trained Kurdish fighters in Kobane. Ocalan’s writing, compiled from within the confines of a Turkish prison where he has languished for about 15 years, has provided a solid ideological plank for the Kurdish struggle. He believes nation states are inherently oppressive. While oppressed groups might have a legitimate desire to form states of their own, even such newly formed states only serve to replace one form of domination with another. For him, the nation state is linked to xenophobic nationalism, sexism and religious fundamentalism.
Democratic confederalism is a system of governance that would be based on greater collective consensus and voluntary participation. Ecology and feminism are seen as central pillars for local self-governance. It calls for an economic system that should be based neither on exploiting human labour nor the unsound use of natural resources.
Kobane has essentially implemented this theory in practice. The ideas might seem utopian and realists may, quite legitimately, question the sustainability of autonomous communes that do not have the political or military backing of a centralised state. But as Oscar Wilde said, progress is the realisation of Utopia. Maybe Kobane’s progress is just that.
The struggle for Kobane is an event of global significance on a par with the Declaration of Independence, the Storming of the Bastille, the Paris Commune, or the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu. Success for the Kurds would challenge established intellectual, ethical and political horizons.
At a time when right-wing parties are growing in Europe and elsewhere, and minority fundamentalism is growing in parallel, the Kurds are offering something different and it should not be ignored. In that sense, they are fighting for everyone.