Foreword to “Rojava: An Alternative”

Today, there appears to be mayhem in the Middle East. Dictators and monarchs oppress their people in order to guarantee the continued governance of the small, parasitic elites that fund them and provide them with muscle power. Some are pro-Western and some are not so pro-Western but, regardless of which elites support them, they are all repressive and exploitative in some way. Meanwhile, the supposedly ‘democratic’ State of Israel continues to avoid peace at all costs, committing numerous war crimes in Gaza and continuing to violate international law throughout Palestine.[1]

But it is not only nation states that wage war. There are also resistance movements that seek to change the region in different ways. Many citizens rightly demand more justice, democracy, and freedom, and the Arab Spring showed the world just how much political discontent runs through the Muslim World. However, there are also groups of ‘religious’ extremists, who have taken advantage of the chaos ensuing from popular rebellions in recent years. As an empathetic observer, I was driven by these events to seek an understanding of the role that imperialism had played in creating the situation I was witnessing, and why nationalist and Islamist reactionaries had not been able to create a genuine alternative to oppressive, dictatorial rule. In short, I asked myself how the region could truly succeed in escaping the vicious cycle in which it has found itself almost since the start of the twentieth century.

One of the main purposes of this book, therefore, is to invite the reader to analyse the context behind what has been happening in the Middle East in the last few years. In my opinion, it is essential to emphasise that the Arab Spring did not appear within a vacuum, and that the Syrian Civil War and the spread of ISIS didn’t either. To an untrained (or indoctrinated) eye, ethnic, cultural, or religious divisions may seem to explain the violence occurring in the region, but I will argue that imperialist political manoeuvres from the West are, in large part at least, directly responsible for the current situation. In this book, I aim to demonstrate that link, and the way in which small capitalist elites have consistently been prepared to exploit and exercise control over people in the Muslim World in order to protect their own interests.

There is indeed division in the region, but we must understand why it exists. We must ask why Islamism (or political Islam) has become so extreme and so prominent, and we must acknowledge that there are concrete explanations for the emergence of violent groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. The West tried hard throughout the Cold War to eliminate anti-imperialist or left-wing groups in the Muslim World, and self-interested nationalists and Islamists were often prepared to provide the manpower for these plots. In other words, Islamists have to a certain extent managed to gain support precisely because of the West’s campaign against secular left-wingers in the region. However, they have also gained support because they have expressed some tangible, legitimate demands – such as freedom for Western interference in the region. This book will show, however, that Islamism does not, and cannot, provide a real solution to the injustice and oppression brought by imperialist intervention.

The reason why Islamism is not the answer to the problems of the Middle East is that, while Western powers have practised political, economic, and cultural imperialism in the region, Islamists focus primarily on the cultural interference of the West. Furthermore, although they occasionally seek freedom from Western political and economic domination, they rarely advocate popular democratic rule. In other words, if we understand imperialism as the “extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence” by a small elite, we see that the Islamist search to defeat imperialism via the enforcement of a quasi-religious form of domination, control, and oppression is simply illogical.[2] In short, while claiming to fight against imperialism, Islamists allow it to remain, much like forms of authoritarian ‘socialism’ did.

A true solution for the region, as I will show towards the end of this book, lies in the struggle against elite capitalist interests – both local and international. The socio-economic elites of the Middle East routinely place the interests of Western capitalists, along with their own interests, above those of the hardworking citizens over whom they rule. Whether the former seek to control the population through authoritarianism, religion, or both, the fact is that the latter do not have control over their own lives. Essentially, that was the motivation for the legitimate protests throughout the region during the Arab Spring.

Injustice and oppression are everywhere, just like elsewhere in the world, and that situation will continue as long as one group exerts domination over another. The only chance, therefore, for real, meaningful change is if workers throughout the Middle East unite – regardless of cultural, tribal, or religious differences – to oppose a capitalist order that has controlled regional politics and resources for centuries. In Rojava in northern Syria, communities in largely Kurdish territory have done precisely that, coming together in the hope of creating an inclusive and directly democratic system and protecting themselves from the crimes of ISIS and exploitative authoritarian states. The following investigation has been undertaken to honour their fight, and that of all of those who seek to forge a freer and fairer world.




About Ed Sykes

Independent journalist. Co-founder of Phoenix Media Co-operative. Author of Rojava: An Alternative. Ex-Canary editor and writer (2015-2020). Aka 'Oso Sabio' - see @ososabiouk on Twitter.
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