Tag Archives: Anarchism
Emma Goldman’s beliefs have always been considered radical. It was daring, and often illegal, to lecture on homosexuality (“the intermediate sex” in the day’s parlance) and on love outside the institution of marriage. She evinced respect from prostitutes when legislation ostensibly aimed at preventing “white slave traffic” actually criminalized consensual sex, and, in 1916, she risked arrest under the Comstock “obscenity” laws in the US for advocating access to birth control.
Yet her bold public affirmation of the many faces of intimacy – whether between women or between unmarried partners – never secured for Emma a license for unfettered openness about her own personal life. Her hidden letters remain a valuable record of her own relationship to many of the subjects about which she impersonally – though passionately – lectured and wrote.
As the de facto chief negotiator of the liberated region called the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, Ilham Ahmed, the Kurdish co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, has much on her mind. In recent months, she has traveled in the US and Europe, negotiating the future of a domain that is home to an estimated 5 to 6 million people, including a substantial portion of Syria’s 6.2 million internally displaced persons, and, now in addition, thousands of families implicated in Islamic State terrorism who are today living in refugee camps. As Ahmed continues delicate talks with the world’s superpowers over the status of this territory, its future is, to a certain degree, in her hands.
With determination in her eyes and a furrowed brow, her face bears witness to this formidable responsibility. But riding in her black armored utility vehicle through plains lush with green spring grasses and grazing sheep, south toward Deir al-Zour province for the official announcement last month of the defeat of ISIS’ so-called caliphate, Ahmed allowed herself a moment to muse about a lesson from history. In the year 612 BCE, she told me, the Guti, ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia whom Kurds sometimes identify as forebears, banded together with the Medes and other tribes to throw off their oppressor, the Assyrian King Zuhak.
The threat of yet another war looms over northern Syria once again. Turkish troops and their Islamist mercenaries are massing on the borders of the self-governed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, the predominantly Kurdish regions also known as Rojava. They are gearing up for an invasion that unavoidably will cause many deaths and the displacement of tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The situation on the ground is extremely tense. The populations of Manbij and Kobane have formed human shields in protest against the Turkish invasion and have been readying themselves for war. The People’s and Women’s Defense Units (YPG and YPJ) as well as local militias are not just defending their lands, but they are also defending hope. Hope for a better life that extends far beyond northern Syria. A hope that has inspired many internationalists from all over the world to come to Rojava and join the revolutionary struggle.
This coming weekend they are calling for global days of action to speak up and protest against the threat of a Turkish invasion.
Can you imagine a world without heartbreak? Not without sadness, disappointment or regret – but a world without the sinking, searing, all-consuming ache of lost love. A world without heartbreak is also a world where simple acts cannot be transformed, as if by sorcery, into moments of sublime significance. Because a world without heartbreak is a world without love – isn’t it?
More precisely, it might be a world without love’s most adulated form: romantic love. For many people, romantic love is the pinnacle of human experience. But feelings don’t exist in a cultural void. The heartbreak-kind of love is a relatively new and culturally specific experience, masquerading as the universal meaning of life.
1. In the beginning was the word
For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.
Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.
There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.
Burning Down the Haus, a new book by journalist Tim Mohr, details how a small group of East German teens kick-started a movement that contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 1970s were oppressive years in the German Democratic Republic; there was no space, literal or philosophical, to live outside the system, let alone criticize it. Upon hearing The Clash and the Sex Pistols via forbidden British military-radio broadcasts, a handful of young people began to embrace the punk mentality, dressing differently, and shaking the foundations upon which authority had been built. And despite the best efforts of the East German secret police, aka the Stasi, the movement grew throughout the 1980s, as punks developed their own little world, disconnected from society. Punk was the soundtrack to the million-person demonstration on November 4, 1989. A few days later, the Wall came down.
During the Syrian revolution in 2011, the PYD (Democratic Union Party) party– which has strong support among the Kurds– took the third way. This meant supporting neither the Assad regime nor the opposition, for both have had the same mentality by denying the Kurdish right to self- determination.
The ideological project of the PYD is Democratic Confederalism –a project that was advanced by Ocalan, a political theorist and ideological leader of the PKK– which aims to empower people socially and politically at the grassroots level in popular communes, assemblies, and councils. In this project, feminism, ecology, and radical democracy are celebrated. This project proposes itself as an alternative to the nation-state.
Busy with suppressing the armed groups– under the name of the Free Syrian Army– the Assad regime withdrew its forces from the Kurdish cities in 2012. The Kurdish cities, in north Syria, were run by the Kurdish freedom movement.
In August, in the living room of an abandoned house on the western outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, I met with Rojda Felat, one of four Kurdish commanders overseeing the campaign to wrest the city from the Islamic State, or ISIS. Wearing fatigues, a beaded head scarf, and turquoise socks, Felat sat cross-legged on the floor, eating a homemade meal that her mother had sent in a plastic container from Qamishli, four hours away, in the northeast of the country. In the kitchen, two young female fighters washed dishes and glanced surreptitiously at Felat with bright-eyed adoration. At forty years old, she affects a passive, stoic expression that transforms startlingly into one of unguarded felicity when she is amused—something that, while we spoke, happened often. She had reason to be in good spirits. Her forces had recently completed an encirclement of Raqqa, and victory appeared to be imminent.
The Raqqa offensive, which concluded in mid-October, marks the culmination of a dramatic rise both for Felat and for the Kurdish political movement to which she belongs. For decades, the Syrian state—officially, the Syrian Arab Republic—was hostile to Kurds. Tens of thousands were stripped of citizenship or dispossessed of land; cultural and political gatherings were banned; schools were forbidden to teach the Kurdish language.
I consider Anarchism the most beautiful and practical philosophy that has yet been thought of in its application to individual expression and the relation it establishes between the individual and society. Moreover, I am certain that Anarchism is too vital and too close to human nature to ever die.