The global Left has no prospects other than commenting on sociopolitical affairs, and leftists, like most other people, are not actively part of any actual change-making in the current sociopolitical order. Even the idea of a sociopolitical order other than the existing various forms of capitalism seems like the script of a disturbing science-fiction movie. Yet the global Left mostly ignored Kobane, the Kurdish city in Northern Syria, a place in which egalitarian ideals have blossomed into daily realities and people in there have moved beyond nation-statism and identity-based divisions. Kobane stands on decades of struggle of Kurdish people in leftist parties or individually under the oppressive and anti-Kurdish policies in the region. One must look into the history of the Kurdish political struggle to unearth the seeds of Kobane; it is no random phenomenon, nor is it a dream fabricated by the Western media, as some commentators suggest.
Some sections of the global anti-imperialists have responded to Kobane’s resistance against ISIS with a variety of theories and propositions: the Western media is hypocritical in supporting the fighters from Kobane, the empowerment of Kurds in Syria can result in the Kurdification of the region, Euro-North American leftists must not support the arming of Kurdish fighters by imperialist forces, Kurdish intellectuals must support Kobane, not non-Kurdish people. Kobane, its resistance against various reactionary global and regional forces, and its alternative political practices (unprecedented in the region and the whole world) are all overlooked. Amongst the same group of commentators, there has been a tendency to only invoke the Kurdish people of Kobane in order to contrast them with Palestinians, for the purposes of pointing out the double standards in Western mainstream media. This is a truism with which I nonetheless agree; however, for these commentators, Kobane only exists to prove the hypocrisies of the Western mainstream media.
Such propositions, which disregard any of the sociopolitical particularities of Kobane, are ungrounded, as they do not bring up the delayed reaction of the media to what was happening in Kobane. This media reaction has always been disproportionate to the catastrophe that could happen there and unenthusiastic about the practices of progressive political alternatives in Kobane.
Throughout this process, such commentators display that they themselves are troubled by their own double standards and discrimination against those whom they consider as unworthy of their attention. In other words, these commentators are a branch of Western mainstream media, albeit with different love/hate lists. I call these commentators the West-obsessed anti-imperialists located in different parts of the world.
West-obsessed anti-imperialists, following in the footsteps of colonial traditions, use imagined sharp-boundaries to separate communities into friend/ good and enemy/ bad dichotomies. They unconditionally and uncritically support the political struggle of those whom they consider good/friend, and dismiss and belittle the struggle of those whom they consider bad/enemy. Accordingly, there are two kinds of brown people in the eyes of West-obsessed anti-imperialists: “genuine natives” and the “fake natives”. The belief that sociocultural practices in the Muslim world are distinct from liberalism lies at the foundation of this West-obsessed anti-imperialist worldview.
The genuine natives and fake natives
West-obsessed anti-imperialists consider genuine natives to be completely outside of the current Euro-North American liberal social order: depictions, for instance, of poor women in hijab, only at the moment of being attacked by the US and Israeli governments, and various Islamist (and some non-Islamist) groups, fighters, states, etc. who, in one way or another, stand against the governments of the US and Israel. West-obsessed anti-imperialists perceive genuine natives as the absolute other of liberalism, pure and untouched by the West, and therefore in need of unconditional love and protection preferably in a place like a safe museum. The genuine natives must preferably speak Arabic. Ironically, to West-obsessed anti-imperialists, genuine natives are the only ones capable of practicing liberal values and therefore are worthy of the attention of the Western media and powers. If genuine natives stand for liberal values, such as democracy and civil rights and liberties, West-obsessed anti-imperialists use this moment to argue that propositions like “the clash of civilization” and “the end of history” are bogus, since genuine natives stand for their own non-Western liberal values. Hence, in such cases, non-Western liberal values are celebrated as genuine home-grown aspirations, not mere mimicry or illusions constructed by the mainstream media.
Their counterpart is the fake native, whose sociopolitical standards and practices are perceived as sharing common ground with Euro-North American liberal values. West-obsessed anti-imperialists propose that fake natives perform practices that match liberal values, in order to familiarize themselves in the eyes of Western audiences and to become an object of obsession of the Western mainstream media. In some cases, they argue that the mainstream media romanticizes them and depicts them as familiar subjects, or savages whose values are compatible with liberalism. As Richard Seymour writes:
“There’s something very strange about the sudden rediscovery of the Kurds in the Anglophone press. They were a useful alibi when the invasion of Iraq was planned, romanticized out of all proportion by the humanitarian interventionists, and then basically forgotten about. Now, they’re lauded in a way which comprises a contradictory mixture of ‘noble savage’ ideology coupled with a narcissistic solidarity with ‘people like us’.”
On other occasions, West-obsessed anti-imperialists depict fake natives as savages who lag behind other communities and still practice tribalism; their miseries, therefore, are to be blamed on their tribal leaders. As As`ad Abukhalil (who writes the blog Angry Arab) recently said :
“The Kurdish [sic] people (through the reactionary tribal leadership) have never ever pinned their hope on the West without being let down.”
Abukhalil disregards the fact that Kurdish people have been the victims of major Arabization projects by nation states –not tribes!– under Bashar Al-Asad and Saddam Hussein. The Kurdish population did not have ID cards in Syria. In Iraq, 182,000 Kurds were massacred in the Anfal genocide and thousands were displaced. However, Kurdish people in Kobane have formed a political system based on religious, ethnicity, and political pluralism. As Derek Wall says: “Syriac Christian militias are allied with the YPG, which also draws in Arab and Armenian fighters.” Yet, West-obsessed anti-imperialists express a fear of Kurdification conducted by Syrian Kurds in case they would be armed (which at this point means in case they survive). As Richard Seymour says:
“First, who are ‘the Kurds’ in this slogan? If it is taken to refer to all Kurdish forces currently fighting ISIS, then one is effectively calling for the arming of the PUK and KDP forces whose policy of ‘Kurdification’ is part of the sectarian dynamic unfolding in Iraq since the inception of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Abukhalil uses tribal leadership, a key colonial term to describe the contemporary political practices of fake natives, in a way that exonerates ISIS and the Turkish government (and its global and regional allies), the major forces who have stood firm to slaughter Kurdish people and demolish their resistance. Instead he blames the miseries of Kurdish people on their tribal leaders’ reliance on the West. The resurgence of Ba’athi members and their worldview, a form of Arab nationalism that has a long history of genocide and hatred towards Kurds, in the ISIS, is neglected in this account. The key players, in Abukhalil’s opinion, are only the West and the tribal leaders’ reliance on them. Moreover, Abukhalil fails to see that the PYD/PKK ( the Kurdish Democratic Union Party/ the Kurdistan Workers Party), who are organizing and leading the fight against ISIS in the Arab world, has been listed as a terrorist organization by NATO, the United States, and the European Union. The PKK’s ideology is strongly influenced by communalism, not tribalism. Abukhalil overlooks the fact that Kurds are being slaughtered by ISIS, whose members despise Kurdish people based on existing worldviews within ISIS and the Anti-Kurdish Turkish state-nationalism that is fueling and protecting ISIS. As Kamal Soleimani has explained:
“According to one of the ISIS commanders in Kobane, the Kurds aren’t Muslim. In his perspective, the boundaries of Islam coincide with that of Arabness. Therefore, he says ‘the Kurds are not Muslim; they are an Iranian nation; I don’t know what they are doing in the Arab lands’ […].“
Kamran Matin’s response to Abukhalil was:
“There is no such a thing as a homogeneous ‘Kurdish people [like any other group of people]. […] the problem is not relation or seeking help from foreign states in and of itself. The problem begins where a movement has no strategy other than relying on foreign powers/states […] This circumstance enables a movement such as PYD/PKK to conduct a highly autonomous diplomacy that exploits international and regional cleavages on its own terms. And this is the fundamental point. There cannot be a movement, any movement, anywhere, that works and evolves in complete isolation from dominant structures of the prevailing world order, which is at the moment a capitalist West-dominated order. […] And for this reason they [PYD/PKK] might suffer tactical defeats here and there but they can not be let down by the western powers because they are not strategically dependent on western powers.”
West-obsessed anti-imperialists describe fake natives as too dependent on the West, whereas genuine natives are depicted as being self-sufficient and totally independent from any outside force or agent. On one hand, they criticize Western mainstream media for not accepting and paying enough attention to the struggle of the genuine natives, and on the other hand, they despise the struggles of fake natives for supposedly receiving acceptance and attention from the same sources.
Kobane has moved beyond using various identities to form separation and division among its inhabitants. Yet West-obsessed anti-imperialists use ethnicity-based identity to argue that Kurdish activists and intellectuals are responsible for supporting Kobane and grieving its losses. Some commentators do not spell out this idea, yet they perform it with their silence on this matter, implying that Kobane is not a universal issue, but rather the specific political business of Kurdish people. West-obsessed anti-imperialists support the idea of the formation of an egalitarian society, including one shared by Palestinians and Israelis, in which religion and ethnicity would not be used to divide and discriminate. However, when it comes to Kobane, in which exactly such a society has been formed, they exempt themselves from any social responsibility and argue that the support and grieving for Kurds must be ethnicity-based.
When a genuine native is killed, West-obsessed anti-imperialists fully mourn the death of the victim and offer stories of the victim’s life. When a fake native is killed, West-obsessed anti-imperialists do not find the victim’s life worthy of grieving and only protest the Western mainstream media’s attention given to that victim. West-obsessed anti-imperialists, through dismissing the life of a fake native as a true life, construct a competition between the ghosts of the fake and the genuine natives over who receives more attention from the media or whose struggle is more respected.
As Richard Seymour stated:
“I’m really struck by the media’s sympathetic interest in Kurdish martyrdom stories, including the use of suicide attacks, vs ISIS. Surely this is what the psychobabblers call a ‘teachable moment’?”
Or as Abukhalil has explained:
“Marc sent me this: ‘Why wasnt [sic] Western media in love with Palestinian suicide bombers? I guess a suicide attack is okay as long as you are fighting the right people.’ Amazing laudatory coverage of this suicide bomber in the Western press. I guess that, as far as the West is concerned, suicide bombings are OK provided they are directed against enemies of the West only.”
In West-obsessed anti-imperialists’ worldview, another form of Eurocentrism, the West and its mainstream media are the center of the world of brown natives. Hence, to West-obsessed anti-imperialists, genuine natives have decided to ignore the center and are free from any outside forces, whereas all that the fake ones do is to strive to receive approval and attention from this supposed center.
One can imagine that the Syrian Kurds, including Arin Mirkan, while fighting with their bare hands against a possible genocide, likely could not care less about what Mark, or any other Western informant and commentator for that matter, thinks of their political acts. The fact that they are ungrievable, and are only used for Mark and Abukhalil to point out the hypocrisies of the Western media, is likely not of import for them. The Kurdish population, particularly in Syria and Turkey, have been outside of the dominant discourses of various reactionary regimes and their propagandists in the region and the rest of the world. That is the reason that the Syrian Kurdish people are among the few populations in the world that have been able to imagine and introduce sociopolitical orders and practices different than the hegemonic ones.
Whenever fake natives are in danger of massacre, West-obsessed anti-imperialists protest the Western mainstream media’s attention given to them and ask for them to not be supplied by the imperialist forces.
Richard Seymour has recently written on this matter:
“I simply want to argue that to move from the belief that, eg, the Kurds in Kobane should have more and better arms, to the ‘demand’ to ‘arm the Kurds’ is a dangerous, sentiment-driven and consolatory position. It makes us feel better about our weakness and isolation, but offers no practical way forward.”
In some cases, West-obsessed anti-imperialists claim that fake natives were supplied equipments by the West without even having a reliable source:
As Abukhalil once said:
“In Iran, the US covertly smuggled those cute camera pens for demonstrators. They were not cute enough for the Egyptian people.”
Abukhalil’s source for this claim was Fox News.
On the other hand, on whatever occasion genuine natives are in danger of massacre, West-obsessed anti-imperialists ask that the Western mainstream media pays more attention to them, and demand any agent or force to offer them any defensive supply. Hypothetically, during the Israeli government’s invasions of Gaza, no one would think of stopping the US (or any other government) from supplying Palestinians with weapons and money. Only propagandists of the Israeli government ask for disarmament of Palestinians, pretending that the old and rusty weapons of Palestinian fighters are the reason for the crisis. In this case, Kurds in Kobane, not being supplied with weapons (by imperialists or whomever) as a means of defense would result in another genocide against Kurds.
Except for Iran and Turkey, there has been no non-governmental statement or protest (by non-Kurds) in support of Kobane and against the atrocities of Turkish government and ISIS in the whole region. However, there has been a pro-ISIS protest in Libya. In Germany, Kurdish protesters were attacked by ISIS-supporters.
The Kurdish population and their supporters, who are in favor of communalism and the cohabitation of various groups and are against class oppression, could build solidarity networks with anti-racist and progressive groups in South America. Supporters of the Kurdish project in Kobane can search for solidarity in South America so as not to not lose faith in cross lingual and cultural alliances. It is in the space of alternative politics and imaginations beyond here-and-now that people from different languages, cultures, religions, etc. can meet and become each other’s silenced voice. That is why the text below, written by a member of the Zapatistas and quoted by Mumia Abu Jamal in one of his prison letters could have been written by a Kurdish fighter in Syria:
“We are the Zapatista National Liberation Army. […] Below, in the cities and plantations, we did not exist. Our lives were worth less than machines and animals. We were like stones, like weeds in the road. We were silenced. We were faceless. We were nameless. We had no future. We did not exist. […] Then we went to the mountains to find ourselves and see if we could alleviate our pain in being forgotten stones and weeds. Here, in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, our dead live on. Our dead that live in the mountains know many things. They speak to us of their death, and we hear them. Coffins speak and tell us another story that comes from yesterday and points toward tomorrow. […] Here we learned and remembered that we are what we are, the real men and women.”