Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How Marxist, Feminist, Environmentalist Muslims Defeated IS

It's liberal democracy the way it was supposed to be, the one that plutocrats, corporations and freakazoids fear the most.

I expect U.S. drones to "accidentally" obliterate it any day now.


Months after it was supposed to fall, Kobane still stands, and IS has been forced back. The story of the town’s resistance is an epic tale of determination and self-defense, and it’s one U.S. officials would rather not discuss. When the Pentagon claimed there were no ground troops in Kobane, they weren’t exactly telling the truth. In 2012, Syrian forces withdrew from three northern areas, leaving their administration and defense to the Kurdish Freedom Movement. Now the three territories hold more than four million people, half of them refugees from the Syrian civil war or the Islamic State’s advance, and many of them armed and organized. Kobane is one of the three territories that together constitute the autonomous region of Rojava, and it endures today because of the fiercely egalitarian society the people have built, the kind idealized by many leftists around the world.

Most Americans, even the ones who pay close attention to national involvement in the Middle East, have little to no idea about what has been happening in Kobane. The Pentagon has been less than forthcoming with support for these enemies of our enemies; their fighters are still on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. The American media has more or less ignored the political project in Rojava; they’ve been more comfortable painting Kurds as desperate fighters fending off the Islamic State. Besides, there are a lot of acronyms and complicated political affiliations to sort through. But while America isn’t watching, something incredible is happening. At the geographical nexus of so many of the world’s conflicts, a new post-national project is emerging.


In 2005, his death sentence reduced to life in prison, Öcalan made a surprising announcement: He renounced nationalism. The PKK and its affiliates followed suit, dropping the fight for a seat at the UN and adopting a unique political ideology called democratic confederalism. When the Syrian government withdrew from what would be Rojava in 2012, they did not declare independence despite controlling the territory. Just when the world’s largest stateless group finally seems poised to join the modern nation state system, when the dream of a Kurdistan (if not a united one) in northern Iraq is nearly at hand, the PKK has abandoned its foundational agenda. What happened? The simplest answer is they thought of a better idea.

Despite being Turkey’s most notorious prisoner, Öcalan has kept in communication with his comrades (that’s what they call each other) through his writing, some of which has been translated for a western audience that has so far yet to appear. In a pamphlet on democratic confederalism, Öcalan laid out the premise for his unexpected turn:
So far, with a view to issues of ethnicity and nationhood like the Kurdish question, which have their roots deep in history and at the foundations of society, there seemed to be only one viable solution: the creation of a nation-state, which was the paradigm of the capitalist modernity at that time. We did not believe, however, that any ready-made political blueprints would be able to sustainably improve the situation of the people in the Middle East. Had it not been nationalism and nation-states which had created so many problems in the Middle East?
The Kurdish freedom struggle, he explains, had always been about “liberating the society and democratizing it” and resisting “the global domination of the modern capitalist system.” Inspired by decolonization struggles throughout the global south, the PKK’s founders followed their model, attempting a Maoist guerrilla war strategy to establish their own nation. They were always a little behind the times; by the PKK’s founding in 1978, the Cold War period of national liberation had drawn to a close. Even if, against all odds, they were to win, the most likely outcome would be a Cuba-style trade embargo enforced by Turkey. The organization needed a new vision, and democratic confederalism was Öcalan’s answer.

At the geographical nexus of so many of the world’s conflicts, a new post-national project is emerging.
So what is democratic confederalism? Öcalan calls it “a non-state political administration” or a “democracy without a state.” Instead of centralizing political power in a government, confederalism views society holistically, as an association of associations of intrinsically social people. It aspires to flatten the divisions the state places between public, productive and domestic life, linking together sewing cooperatives, neighborhood communes, refugee assistance groups, schools and self-defense forces in a common framework. The higher levels of organization exist to facilitate the grassroots, and decisions flow from the bottom to the top. It’s designed to work without, beneath, between and against nation-states, depending on the situation. Like the Islamic State, democratic confederalism does not recognize borders except as obstacles to overcome. “It is flexible, multi-cultural, anti-monopolistic, and consensus-oriented,” Öcalan writes. “Ecology and feminism are central pillars.”

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