Words from Qamişlo after the 27 July massacre

These responses came from a YPG official in Qamişlo, Rojava, after the horrific Daesh (Isis/Isil) massacre of 27 July.

What is life usually like in Qamişlo?

Despite being a Kurdish city, Qamişlo also has an Arab, Assyrian and Syriac population. Although there are sometimes disagreements in general, life runs at its normal pace. People get up to go to work in the mornings and all social spheres and businesses are open. There is a dual administration in the city. A small part of the city is under the control of the Syrian regime and the rest is under [Rojava’s] autonomous administration.

How have people been responding to the attack?

This attack was the biggest in recent years. Both civilians and buildings were targeted. The explosion was huge and destroyed a large area and many lives. The people ran to help in rescue attempts, and the injured were taken to hospital quickly. Rescue attempts are continuing with winches and diggers because many people are trapped under the rubble. It is also very hot, which makes things more difficult.

Was it an attack aimed completely at civilians or also at Rojavan security forces?

The attack occurred on the main road going from Amuda to the centre of Qamişlo. The explosion happened in front of the Qasimo Mosque, where the Qamişlo uprising first began. The mosque was completely destroyed in the attack. Because the bomb-laden truck was so big, it would have been impossible for it to enter the road where the Asayish [the local security forces] are based, and that place is also far away from the main road. This shows that the attack targeted the mosque and civilians.

How can Daesh be defeated?

Daesh is a mutation of terrorist organisations that were created by western states to limit and threaten states in the region. Now states like Turkey are threatening the European states and the west with Daesh. For it to be defeated, the support from these states needs to be stopped.

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Trump the authoritarian

In January 2016, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams said:

Trump’s electoral strength — and his staying power — have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations

This assertion was backed up by an online poll of 1,800 Americans, which found that a belief in obedience to authority was the only “statistically significant variable” that helped to predict support for Trump.

On 5 July, voters got a taste of what Trump would be prepared to do as president. Praising former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, he said:

you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist – it was over.

In other words, the rule of law matters very little for Donald Trump. Whoever is deemed to be a terrorist (or in the case of Hussein, read ‘opponent’) is immediately imprisoned or killed. Many innocent Iraqis bore testament to such hard-line rule.

One example of his lack of respect for due process was in 1989, when he launched an ad campaign urging the rapid execution of five African-Americans who had been falsely accused of a rape in New York.

More recently, Trump has expressed his admiration for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and for the Tiananmen Square crackdown in China.

The billionaire’s policies have also betrayed his authoritarian tendencies. For example, he has:

  • Promised to “open up” libel laws which would make it easier for rich individuals or government officials to protect themselves from media scrutiny.
  • Praised the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.
  • Called for parts of the internet to be shut down.
  • Promised to deport US citizens whose parents came to the USA illegally.
  • Called repeatedly for the use of more torture by the US government.

With these policies in mind, which have been likened to Hilter’s, it should surprise no one that Trump has been called a “latter-day Mussolini”.

Does America really want that?

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Trump the racist

When Donald Trump started out on his journey to become the Republican party’s presidential nominee, he made it very clear that he was more than prepared to push stereotypes about different ethnic (or religious) groups, saying (now quite infamously):

When Mexico sends its people [to the USA], they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

But he didn’t stop with his fictional idea of “the Mexicans” as one homogeneous group of criminals. He would soon apply this philosophy to “the Muslims” and “the blacks”, too.

In particular, he played up to legitimate (but overblown) fears in the USA about the threat posed by Daesh (Isis/Isil). As a group adhering to the small, chauvinist sect of Wahhabism (like al-Qaeda), which represents less than 1% of the world’s 1.2-billion-strong Muslim population, Daesh should never have been compared to the entire religion of Islam. When asked whether all Muslims hated the USA, however, Trump confidently said (in an intentionally vague manner) that “a lot of them” did. He also called for:

a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States

And with this statement, he was essentially saying that no Muslims – Wahhabi or otherwise – could be trusted.

Trump has not only demonstrated his abilities to heighten ethnic and religious tensions since becoming a presidential nominee, though. His historic record of discrimination has been detailed by numerous news outlets in recent months. The New York Times, for example, concluded in one such article:

Here we have a man who for more than four decades has been repeatedly associated with racial discrimination or bigoted comments about minorities, some of them made on television for all to see. While any one episode may be ambiguous, what emerges over more than four decades is a narrative arc, a consistent pattern — and I don’t see what else to call it but racism.

Vox, meanwhile, said:

As much as his history of racism may show that he’s racist, perhaps who’s supporting or opposing him and why is just as revealing — and it doesn’t paint a favorable picture for Trump.

It’s no wonder, then, that there are states in the USA where 0% of African-Americans back Trump. Nor is it any surprise that up to 82% of Latino voters view Trump unfavorably.

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Trump the male chauvinist

Donald Trump, the man who owned the Miss Universe organisation for almost two decades, has become well known for his male chauvinist behaviour, including appearance-based insults and unwelcome romantic advances. He has been accused of treating women as “property” and has called breastfeeding “disgusting“.

In 1991, he spoke to Esquire magazine about the media, saying:

You know, it doesn’t really matter what [they] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.

And over the years, he has made a habit of objectifying women.

As a presidential candidate, says a woman who previously worked with Trump:

Trump’s positions on the issues are anti-women on their face. He is opposed to reproductive freedom. This is a fundamental right and important to most women in the electorate. He is opposed to the Affordable Care Act, which has empowered women. He is opposed to raising the minimum wage, which affects women more than men. He is in favor of deporting undocumented migrants who have raised families in the United States.

Considering his policies and his words, it is not at all surprising that over 70% of registered women voters in the USA viewed Donald Trump negatively in March 2016.

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Media criticism of Turkish State finally moving to the forefront

After the most recent terrorist attack on Turkish soil inspired or organised by Daesh (Isis/Isil) on 28 June, I once again highlighted the context of Ankara’s long-standing complicity with Wahhabi extremism – in anticipation of understated media attention on the current government in Turkey.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a number of news outlets actually did blame the Turkish regime for allowing the spread of Wahhabi thought in Turkey whilst simultaneously waging war on the country’s Kurdish communities – which have been some of the biggest critics of Daesh and its allies in Ankara.

Committed advocates of Kurdish rights over at Kurdish Question and ROAR Magazine were always going to slam the ethno-religious chauvinists currently ruling in Turkey. But other sources which have unfortunately parroted government propaganda all too often also chimed in this time.

The Guardian, for example, went with the headline:

Turkey paying a price for Erdoğan’s wilful blindness to Isis threat

and explained that:

[The] President’s preference for blaming everything bad that happens on the Kurds is no longer working

The Huffington Post also released a critical post, headlined:

How Erdogan Enabled ISIS To Attack The Turks

Salon, meanwhile, said:

Turkey’s “double game” on ISIS and support for extremist groups highlighted after horrific Istanbul attack

Although increasingly measured coverage from the liberal Western media may be coming far too late for hundreds of murdered Kurdish civilians, it’s nonetheless a positive step towards exposing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his cronies as the murderous chauvinist tyrants that they are.

Let’s hope they keep it up.

Posted in Daesh, Erdogan, ISIL, ISIS, Kurdistan, Kurds, politics, Turkey, Wahhabism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

If the Democrats choose corporations over workers, Bernie will take the fight to the Convention

In spite of some concessions made to centre-left voters in the USA, the Democratic Party has shown it is unlikely to abandon its commitment to pro-corporate trade deals like the TPP.

If this situation doesn’t change, Bernie Sanders says he will take the fight for workers’ rights to the Democratic convention:

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RATM members fighting the US establishment once more

Prophets of Rage is a new supergroup bringing together Chuck D from Public Enemy, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford from Rage Against the Machine (RATM). It has presumably been formed to encourage US citizens to hit the streets ahead of the US elections later this year.

RATM frontman Zack de la Rocha chose not to reunite with the group for this year’s tour, but has given his blessing to the project. At the same time, Chuck D insists that the Prophets of Rage are not an attempt to replace Zack, and that he will just “keep the seat warm for whenever Zack de la Rocha wants to come in”.

The best thing about the project is probably that alternative politics are being thrust into the public debate yet again. Guitarist Tom Morello, for example, has appeared on TV in recent weeks critiquing the exploitation at the heart of capitalism and insisting that change will only come from below – not by hoping that Bernie Sanders will somehow solve all of the USA’s problems.

See more of Morello’s comments here:

and here:

And see one of the first Prophets of Rage performances here:

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The Honduran State is still ordering the assassination of social activists

Back in March 2016, The Canary reported on the murder of land activist and community leader Berta Cáceres in Honduras. A founding member of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), she had long fought against logging, hydro-power and mining projects. She was shot four times while in bed on 2 March.

For decades in the 20th century, Honduras served as a military base for counterrevolution in Latin America, training up vicious right-wing paramilitary groups with full US support. Today, seven years on from a US-backed coup against a reformist government, Honduras is still a country where the military machine serves the interests of local and international elites rather than Honduran citizens.

And this reality was further proven on 21 June, when reports emerged that Cáceres had been on the hitlist of a US-trained unit in Honduras. A former soldier, who has now fled the country, explained to The Guardian how he and others had refused to carry out orders to assassinate the environmental activist:

If I went home [now], they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army

 See The Guardian article for more.
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This new magazine is keeping the revolutionary spirit of 2011 alive

ROAR Magazine is a media platform focused on highlighting the plight of social movements from around the world. This spring, it launched the first issue of a new print magazine. ROAR’s Founder and Editor, Jerome Roos, recently spoke to The Canary about challenges, lessons, and inspirations for the left in 2016.

What’s the inspiration behind ROAR?

ROAR was inspired by the global uprisings of 2011. Roos explains:

Watching the Egyptian revolution unfold on live television was exhilarating… Participating in the occupations of squares in Madrid and Athens later that year really brought that idea home… We sort of rode that wave as it unfolded… The energy from the mass mobilizations of 2011 and after that sustained and powered ROAR.

ROAR has no corporate funding behind it. Until recently, the project was powered by volunteers, a crowdfunding campaign, and a grant from the Democracy & Media Foundation in the Netherlands. Now, the subscription fees for the new print magazine, ‘Revive La Commune’, will keep ROAR going for another year.

For Roos, the project is “a bridge between the academy and the streets”, seeking to be accessible, analytical, and radical all at the same time. Its non-sectarian approach aims to reflect the ideological diversity present in today’s social movements, creating constructive dialogue between these different currents.

What are the biggest lessons we need to learn from the past?

Roos regrets how many on the left:

…ignored, forgot, misinterpreted, misconstrued or even actively repressed the lessons from the nineteenth century.

In particular, he refers to the Paris Commune of 1871, when competing left-wing currents remarkably agreed on “the necessity to dismantle the centralised state apparatus and replace it with a confederated structure of self-governing communes”. If this lesson had been learned, Roos insists:

…perhaps we would have been spared some of the horrors and disappointments of the twentieth century!

But unfortunately, he says, there is still a “fetishisation of the centralised state” among many today.

What are our biggest challenges today?

Workers face very different challenges, Roos asserts, depending on the industries they work in and where they work. But in the end, he says:

…all are compelled to either sell their labour power to a capitalist or to engage in other forms of informal labour simply to survive.

The question of “automation and robotisation” is a particular worry today, Roos insists, as it threatens to destroy jobs and leave large numbers of people unemployed. In addition to making technological advances which reduce the need for human labour, economic elites have also been relocating to places where workers have fewer rights, moving into different product areas, or simply engaging in speculative investment (which makes them money but doesn’t actually create anything). But because they are always vulnerable to resistance from ordinary working citizens, the global capitalist system is:

undergoing a constant process of mutation and adaptation in response to recurring waves of workers’ struggle

In turn, Roos says, workers are responding “in new and innovative ways”.

What are the most exciting social movements in the world today?

Having spent time in Spain after 2011, Roos says “the social movements that emerged out of the 2011 square occupations in Greece and Spain” are particularly close to his heart. But at the same time:

the Zapatistas have always been a source of inspiration, as are other indigenous and autonomous struggles across [Latin America]. And of course the Rojava Revolution and the Kurdish struggle more generally have been an incredible source of light in the middle of the darkness that is the Syrian civil war.

He has also been impressed by the way ordinary citizens have reacted to the arrival of refugees in Europe, especially in Greece:

The outpouring of solidarity from below is the only thing that Europe can still be proud of in these dark days, as the continent slides into a new barbarism.

Finally, Roos turns his attention to the United States, where anti-police riots, Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15 movement, and “the enormous enthusiasm surrounding the campaign of Bernie Sanders” have all left him “positively surprised”:

I don’t necessarily feel the Bern myself, but the fact that young Americans are increasingly warming up to “Socialism” (however flimsy its definition may be at this point) is a very positive sign.

Sanders and his campaign may be far from perfect, he says:

…but his unexpected success in the primaries speaks to a broader social development that bodes well for the future.

Roos concludes:

Young people are losing faith in capitalism and the established elite—and that is a very good first step towards real change.

Get involved!

– Check out the ROAR website and magazine.

Featured image via ROAR.

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Rojava’s strategic cooperation with USA: good, bad or neither?

With the newly-launched Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) offensive aimed at pushing Daesh (Isis/Isil) out of its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, the world has seen perhaps the closest cooperation yet between the USA and armed forces from Rojava, raising the question: is such a development good, bad, or neither?

First, some context

Originally, Rojava was completely isolated – and effectively rejected – by a USA which seemed much happier to support chauvinist forces (whether Islamist or nationalist) in Syria. Two years after Rojavan autonomy from the Assad regime in 2012, however, the vicious Daesh assault on Kobani brought the revolutionary experience of Rojava into the international limelight (if the impressive rescue of Yezidis from Sengal in Iraq had failed to do that a month earlier).

With Rojava’s defence forces – the YPG and YPJ – heroically resisting Daesh advances on Kobani, the USA could no longer keep looking away (primarily because the media was on the Turkish side of the border watching as Daesh advanced and the US-led anti-Daesh coalition did nothing). As a result, there was increased strategic cooperation between Rojavan ground forces and US-led air forces from late 2014 onwards.

Some international supporters of the secular, gender-egalitarian, and directly democratic revolution of Rojava began to feel very uneasy about this cooperation, particularly as the USA has for many decades been the number one imperialist power in the world, doing its best to destroy any movement that smelt even slightly like socialism. This wariness, therefore, was completely justified.

But the main issue was always how much influence the USA would actually have on Rojava. Would the superpower push the region into compromises in its radical political project? Or would it only cooperate with Rojavan forces in a temporary alliance based entirely on defeating Daesh (which its own allies (and possibly even its own secret service) had embarrassingly had a hand in creating in the first place)?

It’s in this context that we can determine the value (or lack thereof) of US special forces being on the ground during the current Raqqa offensive.

Good, bad or neither?

1) Good

Rojavan territory is still isolated by both Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish blockades, meaning that without the arms and air support that the USA can provide, the revolution’s hopes of surviving would decrease significantly – although Russia has also shown an interest in Rojava in recent months, and could potentially step in if US support dried up. While an alliance with the USA may be far from ideal, then, it may be simply a matter of life or death.

Meanwhile, the fact that sections of the US establishment have deemed Rojava worthy of military support – temporarily at least – definitely boosts its chances of coming out of the Syrian conflict intact. And unless its progressive political process deteriorates significantly as a result of the strategic alliance, its survival must be seen as a positive.

2) Bad

The chances of the USA, given its woeful historical foreign policy record, just ‘letting the Rojava Revolution be’ are low. While the extent of interference will depend on a number of factors, Washington will almost certainly try to encourage the Rojavan administration to undertake certain political compromises in exchange for its support. If Rojavan leaders conceded such ground to the USA, it would clearly be a negative for any supporter of radically democratic politics.

At the same time, US presence in Syria also gives both Daesh and Assad the chance to say: ‘Hey, look! The Kurds are puppets of the imperialist pigs!’ The propaganda benefits of this for both nationalist and Islamist forces in Syria could be very significant.

Another point is that some less-informed forces on the ground may begin to believe that the USA is intrinsically a force for good in the region, which it most definitely is not. We only need to look at the anti-Kurdish war crimes being committed by the superpower’s NATO allies in Turkey – who are also attacking Rojava – to realise that US policy is at its heart both hypocritical and self-interested. The fact that a number of countries (including Russia) have opened representative offices for Rojava and the USA has not is also a strong indicator of the USA’s reluctance to support Rojava politically.

As Kurdish Question has recently pointed out, the declaration of the Federation of Northern Syria–Rojava on 17 March 2016 was rejected by almost all major players in the Syrian conflict, apart from Russia. And the USA was one of these players. American officials have made it clear that they won’t back the project politically, which is ironic (to say the least) given the fact that the USA is itself a federal country. The big reason for shunning the experience in this way is that Washington still wants to maintain its close alliance with Turkey – which is heavily opposed to any type of Kurdish autonomy (whether at home or in Syria). Ankara’s recent criticism of US troops wearing YPG insignia in Syria, for example, forced a US military spokesman to point out that American troops had not been authorised to do so, and that they had been ordered to remove them. This is a strong indication of Washington’s commitment not to get on the wrong side of Ankara’s increasingly authoritarian regime too much.

3) Neither

Weighing up all of these factors, there are both strategic positives and strategic negatives, so it’s difficult to call US-Rojavan cooperation either good or bad. Essentially, though, the presence of a few dozen US special ops troops on the ground is likely to make very little difference anyway.

The vast majority of fighting will still be done by the SDF. The rebuilding of communities after liberation from Daesh will still be done by people influenced or inspired by the Rojava Revolution. And the glory of defeating Daesh will still go to the SDF. Any attempts by the USA to take the credit for any of these things would be incredibly arrogant, and anyone with any sense would see straight through them.

One final point. It is very possible that the USA is only helping the SDF for propaganda reasons – to show that the Obama Administration does care about defeating Daesh and that the President is taking the clear but limited military action which many Americans want to see. That may be Washington’s main focus. And the long-term effects that a temporary US presence might have on Rojava may turn out to be minimal. At the same time, Rojava could really benefit from this strategic support – regardless of Washington’s true intentions.

Whatever happens in the coming months, this strategic alliance is definitely a development we need to be aware of, and whose progress we need to follow very carefully. But there is also cause for a very calm and measured analysis of the situation, as jumping to conclusions could see some of Rojava’s international supporters turn their backs on one of the most progressive political processes ever to develop in the Middle East, and even the world.

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