Laughter and ideology: life 3km away from ISIS

May 8, 2016

This picture looks like any ordinary scenery from the Kobanê countryside. The idyllic villages and golden wheat fields with the sleepy little houses tucked away across the distance. But, it is more than that.

This is Ain Issa, an area of Tell Abyad and the frontline between the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) and Daesh (Islamic State).

Daesh is stationed less than 3 kilometres away, where the tree lines are. When I asked the QSD commander, an Arab, how far away the distance was by holding up five fingers, he shook his head and held up 3 fingers. Daesh militants are known to throw mortars and fire across the distance. Just two days before, Daesh members were seen attempting to bring a car and a motorcycle closer to the frontline.

We entered the base after receiving permission from the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) sniper commander, whose base is further away, to allow us to bring our car without being shot at, because no one comes near this location without her permission. Daesh has been known to attack with bomb-laden cars.

When we entered, a group of QSD forces — young men — were sitting around casually, making tea, conversing, joking — everyday normal activities that young people do.

A little while later as we left, with the sounds of laughter and jokes and friends speaking among themselves in the background, it struck me that across the tree line, just 3 kilometres away, another similar group of men sat, joking, sharing tea, speaking about the life they had before and the life they hope to have after.

Both groups of men had placed themselves and their bodies on the literal frontlines because they believe in their separate ideologies. Both of their movements are a direct response to a global system that produces violence, division (the haves and the have-nots, the living and the dead, the safe and the war-shattered) and experiences that breed hopelessness, apathy and a deep anger that demands a response. But this is where the similarities end.

One group of young men has chosen an exclusionary, medieval and self-serving reading of an ideology, glorifying and relying exclusively on enacting great violence on others — the most vulnerable — to survive and maintain itself.

A reading that sees the eradication of those more oppressed as the road to empowerment and which finds its rationale and humanity in its inhumanity.

It is also a mistake to believe that the great violence that Daesh enacts is a result of this movement consisting of a collective of 'crazed', 'psychotic', sexually crazed loners and social outcasts — though it certainly includes these types of individuals.

On the contrary, this is an extremely rational, calculating, skilled movement, which has internalised colonial oppressions, racial hatreds and supremacies, and uses political Islam as its modus operandi.

The other group, followers of the radical model, Democratic Confederalism, has turned its oppression into an ideology so great that it has shaken the very foundation of this world and our understanding of responses to systematic violence and global inequalities.

This group finds its humanity in humanising others: the marginalised, the oppressed, and even the enemy. It sees the enemy as a victim of the same system and aspires to change the mentality of its enemies because it sees the eradication of the people that make up these violent movements as part of the problem that breeds the same cycles of violence and internalised oppressions.

It is a great fallacy to believe that to be oppressed is to be choiceless. For within the choices that we make, and in the responses that we adopt to our oppressions, to our oppressors and towards others, lies our salvation or our end.

It is just as much a fallacy to believe that Daesh is the true problem facing the Kurds and other minorities and oppressed groups in the region. Daesh, and other organisations like it, are simply a symptom of the greater disease created by a neoliberal, Eurocentric, capitalist, imperial, heteropatriarchal, state-centric system.

A disease which thrives on creating internal conflicts, turning people against one another and leading them to believe that there are finite resources and ways of accessing power, so that it can thrive off the collective misery it produces.

This problem highlights another set of differences between the two groups. Daesh has internalised and accepted colonial legacies of racism and racial supremacy, while the other actively endeavours to dismantle and destroy hierarchical ethno-religious relations.

The Rojava Revolution has demonstrated people's capacity to enact seismic social changes, challenging long held beliefs about primordial hatreds — a fallacy produced by the same intellectuals that produced the “clash of civilizations” perversion — as if the subaltern is incapable of the rational resolution of its problems and conflicts.

And for this very same reason, when the rabid, masculinist, savagery of Daesh and others like it is unleashed on other oppressed and colonised communities, the system shudders with glee as it feels its world views towards the Other justified and correct.

But even as Daesh justifies the hegemon's Eurocentric, Orientalist worldviews, the Kurds and their counter-hegemonic model of radical democracy turns this paradigm to ash.

Meanwhile, as the fight rages on, there are many casualties, but where one side aims to eradicate, subjugate, and enslave the other, the other side attempts to defend its right to exist and continues to propose its inclusive, democratic ideals.

Only time and history will show the true outcome of this existential crisis. And it will also reveal which of these ideologies will find its place in the post-war era, especially as the serpentine neo-liberal, capitalist, imperial, hetero-patriarchal, state-centric system twists and turns with confusion as to how to deal — and eventually subjugate and eradicate this democratic mode — because it ultimately understands the irrational, rabid Daesh, but not the dissecting, resisting, self-liberating, gender equality promoting Kurds.

[Reprinted from Kurdish Question. Hawzhin Azeez is a women's rights and refugee advocate who is currently working on the rebuilding of Kobanê through the Kobanê Reconstruction Board. She will be speaking at the “Socialism for the 21st Century” conference in Sydney, May 13-15.]

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