Kobani liberated! Kurdish forces push ISIS out of town

By Joris Leverink On January 26, 2015

Post image for Kobani liberated! Kurdish forces push ISIS out of town 

After 134 days of resistance, the Kurdish forces of the YPG/YPJ have finally pushed IS out of Kobani. While the battle is won, the struggle continues.

Today, the resisting Kurds and their comrades in Kobani achieved the unimaginable: they managed to expel the fighters of the Islamic State (ISIS) from the city.

After 134 days of fierce battles between the Kurdish forces of the YPG and the YPJ (People’s and Women’s Defense Units), Peshmerga troops and elements of the Free Syrian Army on the one hand, and ISIS on the other, it appears that the last neighborhoods of the city that were under control of the jihadist militants have finally been liberated.

While the official spokesman for the YPG, Polat Can, announced the complete liberation of the city via Twitter, social media are buzzing with images ofcelebrating resistance fighters, burned-out ISIS tanks and of course the iconic red-yellow-and-green flag of TEVDEM, the Movement for a Democratic Society,waving on top of the strategically important Mishtenur hill overlooking the city.

ISIS’ advance on Kobani started in mid-September, when their forces managed to conquer the countryside surrounding the city in a matter of days before marching on the urban center itself. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people were forced out of their homes, fleeing in terror before the heavily armed jihadists who left little but carnage and destruction in their wake.

Approximately 260,000 people sought refuge across the border in Turkey, but several hundreds of resistance fighters remained behind to protect the city. With little else but their AK-47s and a firm determination to halt ISIS’ advance into Kobani, the men and women of the YPG/YPJ managed to prevent ISIS from adding yet another town to their long list of military victories in recent months.

The resistance of the Kurdish fighters against ISIS was hampered by the policies of neighboring Turkey, which kept its border with the besieged town hermetically sealed, preventing any aid from reaching the resistance. At the same time many sources and observers have made mention of its supposed military, logistical and medical support for the jihadists.

In the past few months, the Kurdish fighters and their supporters from across the region and across the globe have gathered at the Turkish side of the border to express their support and solidarity with the resistance. The battle in Kobani not only highlighted the effectiveness of the Kurdish militias as one of the few armed forces in the region able to combat ISIS, but, more importantly, it brought global attention to the plight of the people of Rojava and their social revolutionfocusing on direct democracy, gender equality and environmental sustainability.

While the victory in Kobani is undoubtedly of crucial importance for the war against ISIS and a major reason for celebration, it has to be stressed that the struggle is far from over. The majority of the more than 300 villages that are part of the Kobani canton remain under the control of ISIS, and as long as this remains the case the great majority of refugees in Turkey will be unable to return to their homes.

Moreover, the liberated city of Kobani now lies in ruins. The continuous mortar shelling, heavy artillery fire and car bomb (VBIEDs) attacks by ISIS in combination with the aerial bombardments by the US-led coalition targeting ISIS positions in the city have destroyed entire neighborhoods.

The liberation of Kobani is of military strategic importance, but more importantly it is a symbolic victory of democracy over authoritarianism; of pluralism over fascism; of freedom over repression — and most of all a victory that has shown the world the true power of those fighting for genuine liberation as opposed to the fanaticism of those who fight for little but fraudulent beliefs.

While Kobani was under siege, in the neighboring cantons Afrin and Cezire therevolution continued: people’s councils were set up, workers’ cooperatives were developed and women actively started to engage in the decision-making processes that are laying the foundations for a new society where power rises from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down.

The major challenge for the people of Kobani, and possibly a crucial test for the strength of the revolution, lies ahead: not only a city, but an entire society will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch.

The people of Kobani have proven their strength on the battlefield, and their heroic resistance against all odds has become a beacon of hope for all those believing that the fight against the repressive forces of fascism, in whatever form, can be won.

The international attention the battle of Kobani has received can now be used to show the world that the people of Rojava are not only leading the way in battling the extremism of ISIS, but also in fighting against the forces of imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy that have given birth to so many of the evils currently plaguing societies across the globe — and in the Middle East in particular.

Bijî Berxwedane Kobani!

Bijî Berxwedane YPG!

Bijî Berxwedane YPJ!

Bijî Berxwedane Rojava!

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English. 

 

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Toni Negri: from the refusal of labor to the seizure of power

By ROAR Collective On January 18, 2015

Post image for Toni Negri: from the refusal of labor to the seizure of powerFrom the refusal of labor to the seizure of power, the Italian militant and theorist talks to ROAR about class struggle in the contemporary metropolis.Editor’s Note: A few months ago, ROAR attended the annual Euronomade gathering in Passignano, which brought together dozens of activists and thinkers in the Italian post-workerist tradition. This year, Euronomade invited the Marxist geographer David Harvey to participate in the event alongside a number of other guests, including Michael Hardt and Srećko Horvat.

We sat down with the legendary Italian militant and theorist Antonio Negri to talk about the recent convergence between his work and Harvey’s, the centrality of the metropolitan terrain to contemporary social struggles, the fate of the global uprisings of 2011, the state of the movements in Europe today, and the significance of new political forces like Syriza and Podemos.

The interview was taken by Lorenzo Cini and Jerome Roos, with special thanks to Tommaso Giordani for the translation.

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In recent years, there appears to be somewhat of a convergence between your approach and Harvey’s. What do you consider to be the most important overlaps in your work? And what do you see as the main differences or tensions?

It seems to me that there is a very clear and explicit convergence between Harvey’s positions and those of my own current of thought, most clearly on the contemporary transformation of productive labor, of living labor — that is, of labor capable of generating surplus value. If I may use Marx’s language from The Fragment on Machines, I would say that there is substantial common ground between Harvey’s work and my own in the analysis of the transformation of the forms of value, that is to say, in the step from value as connected to the structures of large-scale industry to the current situation, in which society is wholly subjected to the logic of capital — not only in the productive sphere, but also with regards to reproduction and circulation.

Italian workerism [operaismo] already developed such an analysis in the late 1970s, suggesting, at the time, new forms of struggle that would deploy themselves within the larger social sphere, because we had understood that the social had become a locus of value production. Already in those years, we identified the crucial shift in the locus of surplus production: a shift away from the factory and towards the wider metropolis. And this same shift appears to me to have become central to Harvey’s work. This is the essential point: from here, both the question of surplus extraction and the question of the transformation of profit into rent have become central in the critical analyses of contemporary capitalism that Harvey and I have developed.

What, then, are the differences? I believe it’s simply a question of genealogy, of the theoretical trajectory that has brought us to this shared analysis. I have reached these conclusions starting from the analysis of the transformation of the nature of labor, which is, in fact, the concept on which the entire workerist approach was based. In other words, I began from the workerist concept of the refusal of labor. With this idea, we meant two things. On the one hand, we took it as a rejection of the law of value as the fundamental norm of the capitalist order. On the other hand, we interpreted it in a more constructive way, as a call for the acknowledgment of new forms of productivity of work beyond the factory, at a wider social level. From this Marxian analysis of the internal transformation of labor, we arrived at the same conclusions at which Harvey arrived — and on which he developed a more thorough empirical analysis.

Starting from what you just said about the concept of productive labor, we would like to reflect with you on the forms and content of contemporary struggles. In your book Commonwealth, co-authored with Michael Hardt, you have written that today the metropolis is to the multitude what the factory was once to the working class. In light of this change of paradigm, does it seem accurate to you to identify in the recent uprisings that have erupted in countries like Brazil and Turkey a set of struggles linked to questions about the production and reproduction of metropolitan life, instances of a new class struggle conducted at the metropolitan level?

Yes, very much so. Both the Turkish and the Brazilian struggles are clearlybiopolitical struggles. How, then, can we link this biopolitical dimension to the new forms of labor we discussed before? This is a question with which Michael Hardt and I have been dealing ever since 1995, when we began working onEmpire. It appeared to us that if labor becomes social labor, if production and capitalist oppression were swallowing up the social sphere, then the question ofbios became an essential one. The set of struggles developing around the welfare state was becoming one of the central aspects of class struggle. This discovery became even more important once we understood that productive labor was not only (or even mainly) a material activity, but also (and mostly) an immaterial one. That is, an activity linked to caring, affection, communication, and what we can loosely call ‘generically human’ processes and activities.

It was this attention to the ‘generically human’ that helped us understand how the productive process had become fundamentally a biopolitical process. Consequently, the more politically significant struggles became those that deployed themselves on the biopolitical terrain. What did this mean in more concrete terms? We did not have an exhaustive and final answer. Yes, we had some intuition that one had to fight against, for example, the privatization of healthcare and education, but at the time we did not manage to fully grasp what was later revealed to us by the formidable struggles of 2011. It was those struggles that revealed the full articulation of the biopolitical discourse, that is, the new character of contemporary struggles. And it becomes very clear that the metropolis is its essential setting. This does not mean that it will always be so, but today it is certain that the metropolis is the crucial locus of this struggle.

The metropolitan strike in Paris in 1995 was essential in making me understand this. A city as complex and articulated as Paris completely supported the struggle, which blocked the city in its entirety, starting from transportation. That struggle expressed in a paradigmatic sense the cooperative and affective elements of the forms of conflict and knowledge that were emerging on the metropolitan stage in those years. It is not a coincidence that these aspects, linked to cooperation and to affective production, are still central in contemporary metropolitan struggles, which are fully biopolitical struggles.

The cycle of struggles that began in 2011 briefly hinted at the possible birth of a new constituent process. Today it seems that many of these movements are confronted with what you and Michael Hardt have called a ‘thermidorian closure,’ bringing about the re-establishment of the old regime. What is your analysis of the current state of these struggles, and what could have been done differently to prevent the present outcome?

To start with, we need to establish some differences. The Spanish mobilization, for example, has a force and a degree of political originality that is still evident today, and constitutes an important phenomenon that must also be seen as partly emerging from the tormented history of Spain in the twentieth century, from the civil war, through the incomplete democratic transition, to the failure of the Socialist Party.

On the other hand, there is a much more ambiguous phenomenon such as Occupy, which appears to be a mobilization of the so-called middle classes more than an expression of the cognitive working class. And yet, beyond these obvious weaknesses, even Occupy displayed an important degree of originality, especially in terms of the struggle developed on the issue of debt and financial capital.

Finally, there is the Arab process, which has monopolized our attention for a long time, and which — unfortunately — has had an absolutely tragic ending. Strictly speaking, the only ‘thermidorean’ outcome has been the Tunisian one, where an apparently democratic but substantially falsified order has now been established. For the rest, we have witnessed merely the beginnings of revolution, that is, a taking of the Bastille more than anything else. At any rate, I believe that this extremely articulated revolutionary process has many days ahead of itself and is, at the moment, still completely open.

So far, this revolutionary process has revealed the presence in the Arab world of new forces of freedom, of cognitive labor, that have tenaciously opposed the old military and feudal regimes. There is, however, still an enormous problem in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Iran, and it is the problem of the “medieval” nature of these states — states that are extremely reactionary and repressive. Thus I have the impression that the seed of revolt planted in 2011 in various Arab states resembles, in some ways, the European 1848: a moment of anticipation of a revolutionary process. I hope, however, that it does not have the same consequences that it had in Europe, where it also produced nationalist thought and practice, which eventually fueled the rise of fascism and national socialism.

In spite of this fear, I still strongly believe in a progressive dynamic of history, and I am confident that events of revolutionary rupture will, in the future, manage to break the feudal and reactionary political and social order of many Arab countries.

Let’s discuss the struggles in Europe today. Taking our cue from an article you wrote together with Sandro Mezzadra just before the European elections of 2014, and a follow-up piece you just published ahead of the Greek elections, we wanted to ask you whether you see the European dimension as the only one in which the movements can possibly act to advance a project of the common as a genuine alternative to the present capitalist crisis.

This is certainly the most timely and important political question today. Currently, in Europe, we are in the lowest phase of the cycle of struggles. I do not believe in the theory that, the worse the political, social and economic situation, the stronger the revolutionary movement. We are faced with a serious economic crisis that has had extremely negative consequences. The capitalist establishment has, for the moment, successfully exploited the regression and the domestication of existing struggles, and has managed with ease to control the post-Fordist productive transformation that hailed the defeat of the Fordist mass worker. Today, we are experiencing the consequences of our defeat in the 1970s, in the absence of a political organization capable of expressing the interests of the contemporary workforce and, more generally, of the contemporary productive society that emerged from that process of capitalist transformation.

However, in this negative situation, we still have to carefully consider if and how capital will be able to overcome the crisis. For example, I tend to agree with Wolfgang Streeck’s analyses, which examine the current crisis in the light of some 1970s literature such as that by Offe, Hirsche, and O’Connor, who saw the crisis of the times as a consequence of the falling rate of profit. This fall, however, is intimately linked to the devaluation of the workforce, to the incapacity of considering the workforce as a central player in development.

It is necessary to be very careful on a number of points. When one says that some instances of the common, certain demands of the struggle for the common can be, and have been, reabsorbed by and into the “management crisis” and into all those mechanisms of management of the common, one often ignores that this absorption into capitalist management is not a creative one. It is not, for example, akin to the assimilation of the working class that occurred in the Fordist and Keynesian paradigm, when this absorption did generate a rise in demand and manifested itself in a strong and energetic economy.

Today, we are faced by a capitalist contraction that leaves even those who operate the contraction breathless. In this context, we have to be extremely attentive, because the very real risk is that of giving a completely pessimistic reading to a situation that, of course, is characterized by an important crisis — but whose outcome is still completely open.

With this last question we would like to reflect with you on the innovation represented by a number of political phenomena that are occurring in some European countries at the moment. Do you see, in Europe today, a political organization capable of starting a constituent process and creating a transnational political project based on the communism of the 21st century — that is, a political project based on the practice of the common? And what do you consider to be the significance, in this light, of new political forces like Syriza and Podemos?

Before answering your question, I must confess that I have developed a problem in recent years. If I am asked to assess the struggles of 2011, I can’t help but concentrate my critical remarks on the question of horizontality — or of exclusive horizontality, at least. I have to criticize it because I think that there is no project or political development capable of transforming horizontal spontaneity into an institutional reality. I think, instead, that this passage must be governed in some way or another. Governed from below, of course, on the basis of shared programs, but always bearing in mind the necessity of having, in this passage, an organized political force capable of constituting itself and of managing this transformation.

I think that the present state of the movement forces us to be self-critical about what happened in 2011, and I think this self-criticism must focus on the question of political organization. We need to acknowledge, for example, that the Lista Tsipras experiment in Italy has been a tragic failure, even if I, together with Sandro Mezzadra and other comrades, welcomed it with faith and hope. However, on the other hand, it should have been clear, from the beginning, that with organized parties such as SEL or Rifondazione Comunista it would have been impossible to find political forms capable of channeling and allowing spontaneous forces from below to affirm themselves.

With Podemos, however, we are probably dealing with something different. Beyond the questionable ideologies around which Podemos constituted itself, I believe that — maybe because of the goodwill of its leaders, or perhaps thanks to the situation in which it finds itself — Podemos is infinitely more powerful than it is organized. It is producing, for the moment, an extremely interesting and active movement that might be capable of contributing to a healthy institutionalization of the struggles.

On this question of struggle at the institutional level and of political organization, I would like to conclude with two more general propositions. The first one is that after 2011 horizontality must be criticized and overcome, clearly and unambiguously — and not just in a Hegelian sense. Secondly, the situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power. We have understood the question of power for too long in an excessively negative manner. Now we can reinterpret the question of power in terms of multitudes, in terms of absolute democracy — that is to say, in terms of a democracy that goes beyond canonical institutional forms such as monarchy, aristocracy and “democracy.” I believe that today the problem of democracy is best formulated and addressed in terms of the multitude.

Antonio Negri is an Italian militant and theorist in the post-workerist tradition. He is the author of many books, including his highly influential trilogy with Michael Hardt, Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth.

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On January 28, Toni Negri will be giving a lecture titled From the ‘Operaio Sociale’ to the Multitude: A Marxist Approach to Social Movement Theory? as part of a lecture series organized by the Marxism(s) in Social Movements working group at the European University Institute in Florence.

The event is open to the public.

ABSTRACT:
Widely known to be one of the founding fathers of autonomist Marxism, Prof. Antonio Negri will elaborate on the way in which he has conceptualized the notions of labor, social struggle, and class struggle within contemporary capitalist society in the light of his Marxist framework. In this regard, he will discuss some of his most compelling and debated concepts such as the mass worker, the social worker (“operaio sociale”), the multitude, exodus, and the common/commonwealth, among many others. These concepts are part of one of the most powerful attempts to rethink the political project of critical theory today and to reformulate a Marxist tool-kit in contemporary post-industrial societies. The lecture that Prof. Negri will give at the EUI will also be a good opportunity to open up the discussion on whether and how some of these concepts may be used to enrich the current field of Social Movement Studies.

Discussants:
Daniela Chironi (EUI)
Helge Hiram Jensen (EUI)

 

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France Arrests 54 People for Offensive Speech

Observers warn that government reaction in wake of Charlie Hebdo killings reminiscent of post-9/11 fear campaign

Dieudonné, the controversial French comic pictured here in 2007, was arrested Wednesday morning for a Facebook post mocking the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Photo: Alexandre Hervaud/cc/flickr)

Dieudonné, the controversial French comic pictured here in 2007, was arrested Wednesday morning for a Facebook post mocking the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Photo: Alexandre Hervaud/cc/flickr)

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre last week and just days since the historic Parisunity rally when world leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder and declared their support for freedom of speech, French authorities have arrested 54 people on charges of “glorifying” or “defending” terrorism.

The French Justice Ministry said that of those arrested, four are minors and several had already been convicted under special measures for immediate sentencing, AP reports. Individuals charged with “inciting terrorism” face a possible 5-year prison term, or up to 7 years for inciting terrorism online. None of those arrested have been linked to the attacks.

Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred—other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?
-Glenn Greenwald

Controversial comic Dieudonné was one of those taken into custody Wednesday morning for a Facebook post in which he declared: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”—merging the names of the satire magazine and Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who killed four hostages at a kosher market on Friday.

Since last week’s multiple terrorism attacks that left 17 people dead, “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism,” AP reports.

The irony that the west was rallying to defend a magazine that was attacked for its alleged slander of Islam, while at the same persecuting individuals for voicing their views was not lost on many.

“As pernicious as this arrest and related ‘crackdown’ on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west,” journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote on Wednesday.

Greenwald went on to question the charge of “defending terrorism” brought against Dieudonné and others. Greenwald continued:

If you want “terrorism defenses” like that to be criminally prosecuted (as opposed to societally shunned), how about those who justify, cheer for and glorify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, with its “Shock and Awe” slogansignifying an intent to terrorize the civilian population into submission and itsmonstrous tactics in Fallujah? Or how about the psychotic calls from a Fox News host, when discussing Muslims radicals, to “kill them ALL.” Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred – other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?

Also Wednesday, Ines Pohl, who runs the German satire magazine die tageszeitung,published an op-ed in Politico warning against the exploitation by political leaders in the wake of such an attack or crisis, which in this case is the European right pushing an agenda of closed borders and general ethnocentrism.

“The blood in Paris wasn’t even dry when the first German politician, Alexander Gauland, one of the top candidates from the Alternative für Deutschland party, claimed this killing as a proof that Germany has the right to fear the influence of Muslim culture and that Germans have the right, and the obligation, to defend their Christian heritage,” Pohl writes.

Drawing a line between the current climate since the Paris attacks and the post-9/11 crackdown, Pohl goes on to note that next week the CIA torture reports are to be released in German and adds: “This report is the proof of how a country can be misled when it becomes ruled by fear.”

Torture victim Maher Arar and others shared their reactions to the French crackdown online.

Yazidi refugees in Turkey: back to their homeland?

By Aysan Sonmez On January 14, 2015

Post image for Yazidi refugees in Turkey: back to their homeland?
Suffering brutal attacks by ISIS, many Yazidis fled to Turkey. Now they are settled in refugee camps in the very lands their ancestors once came from.

Editor’s note: Last month Ayşan Sönmez visited the refugee camps of the displaced Kurds from Kobani in Suruç, Turkey. This is her report from her recent visit to the Yazidi refugee camps in Diyarbakir and Mardin.

The price of oil has hit rock bottom and the dollar has skyrocketed against the Turkish lira. In the meantime a war is raging just across the border and the Yazidis have been displaced for something like the 74th time in their history. Indeed, isn’t this how things stand?

When commenting on Turkish history, we tend to say that history repeats itself and we complain about the lack of memory in our society. It appears that, as globalization increases pace, we are destined to go on living with such a short-lived memory in this so-called global village. In countries like Turkey, the drop in the price of oil led to excitement, but this was quickly replaced by consternation as the dollar rose as the result of the economic crisis in Russia and the Turkish lira depreciated.

In that environment, the unpopular war in Syria and its victims were forgotten both in Turkey and abroad. In the meantime, people and governments who have supported and encouraged the war busied themselves with the new issues that have arisen.

Yet again, are we going to pass it all off by saying that history simply repeats itself? Are we going to lament that war has reared its head, this time in Syria, leading to the same suffering that occurred a hundred years ago in the same region, a suffering with different faces that we have been enduring for years here in our country? I hope that’s not the case. I hope that we make the best of the peace process currently underway and that both in civil and official discourses we can bring about genuine peace with the core origins of our homeland.

Of course, Turkey and the Middle East as a whole are peopled by members of various religious and ethnic groups. And prioritizing any one group over another and stoking conflicts among them leads to nothing but death and suffering. Those who manage to survive are expected to just shoulder their suffering and continue along. This has been going on for years, from the Balkans and the Caucasus to Mesopotamia.

International powers that have had an impact on the Middle East, including the United States, Europe, Russia, and the Arab nations, have persistently meddled in the region despite the negative consequences of their actions.

The Yazidis return to their original homeland

On August 9 nearly 36,000 Yazidis began fleeing into Turkey to escape advancing ISIS forces. The refugees claim that while waiting to enter Turkey numerous children succumbed to thirst and starvation. Due to the chaotic situation and generally poor infrastructural conditions at the border these claims are hard to verify, but the refugees themselves speak of “thousands of deaths.”

Once in Turkey, the Yazidis were “temporarily settled” in villages and camps in the area, particularly in the village of Bacini in Midyat, which is originally a Yazidi village which had been razed by the Turkish army in the 1990s in the context of the war with the PKK. Even though they were intended to be temporary, the tent camp of Çınar in Diyarbakır and the bus terminal in Mardin, the opening of which was postponed so that the refugees could stay there, were transformed into more permanent camps due to the massive influx of refugees (nearly 400,000) from Kobani in September as the result of further assaults by ISIS.

While some of the refugees from Kobani had relatives in the region with whom they could stay, the Yazidis were not so lucky, and they were not enthusiastic about the idea of staying in a Muslim country where their forebears had once been massacred, nor did they want to be separated from one another.

The majority of the Yazidis are consulting with representatives from the UN so that they can migrate to the United States and countries in Europe. Some of them have returned to Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan, while those experiencing health issues are trying to get to the state-run camp in Nusaybin where they can receive health care. Still others have moved to different provinces in Turkey after having been swindled by human traffickers who promised they would get them into Europe illegally.

Although the figures are constantly changing, it is estimated that the number of Yazidi refugees in the region has dropped to around 15,600. At the Çınar camp, there are around 3,835 refugees, 1,350 of whom are children, and at the bus terminal camp in Mardin, there are around 300 refugees, half of whom are children. It is estimated that the number of refugees around Mardin has dropped to around 1,600.

One pressing issue is the fact that fundamentalist and separatist groups in Diyarbakır and Mardin, including ISIS sympathizers, pose a threat to Yazidis staying in the camps, and they have even attempted to attack them. Whenever a tip is received or there are suspicions that an attack might be carried out, local residents take turns holding watch over the camps to prevent killings from taking place. Based on what we were told, this system is still in place.

Complaints and information have come in about traffickers in women and children and black market organ dealers in the region, and we were told that efforts have been made to prevent refugees from becoming involved in such schemes.

How can sustainability be created?

At present, the refugees’ winter needs are being met and a food distribution system is in place, but it is not currently able to ensure that their dietary needs are met in a sustainable manner. NGOs and individuals regularly step in to provide aid, and a team consisting of Yazidis is responsible for distributing the aid that comes in.

The camps have equipment and personnel for first aid, the local municipalities have set aside finances and workforces for the camps, pharmaceutical associations are providing medicine, and further help is being provided by citizens living abroad, civil society organizations, the Faculty of Theology at Dicle University, local chapters of the Olive Branch Aid Association, human rights associations in Turkey, and the Diyarbakır Chamber of Commerce. These groups also visit the camps to make assessments.

Businessmen in the region are also providing assistance and local residents are helping as well, but in their case, it is a matter of the impoverished helping the impoverished. Civil solidarity is very important but the number of people in need of help is very high, so it is questionable how long this situation can remain sustainable. The minimum amount of funds needed to cover the weekly needs of the Çınar camp is estimated to be 60,000 TL (roughly 20,000 Euro).

In the eastern regions of Turkey alone there are approximately one million refugees, and the cost of meeting their needs is consequently high. It has become quite clear that refugees fleeing from the war should be integrated into Turkish society with the same rights as local citizens and opportunities for employment should be opened up for them. Additionally, steps should be made to normalize their lives and their children should be able to attend school.

Despite the fact that this is a pressing issue in terms of the Turkish economy, the government has largely remained silent. Aside from setting up a tent city capable of housing 10,000 people, for all practical purposes the government is nonexistent in the region. Municipalities headed by the Kurdish-led HDP (People’s Democratic Party) are deeply in debt. It appears that this situation is being exacerbated by the AKP, which probably hopes to win votes in the general elections to be held in August later this year.

One possible scenario in that regard: Funds will not be provided to municipalities in the region during this period of turmoil, refugees’ needs in the camps will not be met, local residents will sink deeper into poverty (the economy is becoming increasingly uncertain), and problems will arise with the refugees – and, in the meantime, everyone will struggle to get through the winter. In this situation, the AKP will come along in August and say, “Look, you voted for these people but they haven’t done anything for you, so vote for us.”

It appears that the AKP will use this state of affairs to their own advantage. How else can it be explained? When people are living in such poverty, how else can you explain this lack of effort, this refusal to reach out for international aid? It is my hope that we are mistaken and that steps will be taken in that direction.

“Our forefathers massacred the Yazidis”

The inhabitants of the region are considerate when it comes to the camps. The reason for this is again historical. We were told that the region is the original homeland of the Yazidis and that fifty to sixty percent of the Yazidis who moved to the area of Shengal were originally from there. A hundred years ago, their lands were confiscated solely for economic reasons during the upheaval of the times.

We were told that the Yazidis, with the Assyrians and Armenians, were victims of genocide, and we were told that the local Kurds, whose forefathers carried out that genocide, felt that they had to look after the Yazidi refugees out of a sense of moral responsibility. The locals told us that the Yazidis had returned to their true homeland and that they should stay.

As we were walking the streets of Diyarbakır, we came across a bookstore in Sülüklü Han. My friend bought me a copy of Hagop Mintzuri’s book Crane, Where Do You Come From? I had never read his work before. When I was in Diyarbakır, I didn’t have a chance to read it, but on the plane to Istanbul, I started reading the back cover. As I set out on my journey back home, nothing could have described my state of mind at that moment as well as the words of Hagop Mintzuri:

For us, it didn’t matter if we suckled from our own mother’s breast or not. If she wasn’t around in the village, they would take us to any woman who happened to be lactating. That’s how it was in the fields as well. It didn’t matter if the woman was Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, or Kızılbaş, they would put us in their lap so we could suckle. They were happy to do it. And they were afraid of God. If they were to withhold their milk, God would punish and never forgive them.

Mintzuri’s life was filed with suffering, but I was deeply struck by his words. We may take shelter in any belief or worldview, religious or otherwise, but the critical issue is that we have a point of reference that stops us from committing, and approving of, malignant acts. I wish that our ranks were filled with more people who held to tenets like that.

Ayşan Sönmez is an artist and activist from Istanbul working with the Bogazici Performing Arts Ensemble.

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/yazidi-refugees-turkey/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Charlie Hebdo and the hypocrisy of pencils

11 January 2015 | Corey Oakley

It was Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight who tipped me over the edge.

To be fair, he wasn’t wholly responsible. If it wasn’t for all the lunacy that preceded him, I probably would have dismissed his cartoon as just anotherHerald Sun atrocity, more a piece of Murdoch-madness to be mocked rather than trigger for outrage. But context is everything. And after days of sanctimonious blather about freedom of speech and the Enlightenment values of Western civilisation, his was one pencil-warfare cartoon too many.

The cartoon in question depicts two men – masked and armed Arab terrorists (is there any other kind of Arab?) – with a hail of bomb-like objects raining down on their heads. Only the bombs aren’t bombs. They are pens, pencils and quills. Get it? In the face of a medieval ideology that only understands the language of the gun, the West – the heroic, Enlightenment-inspired West – responds by reaffirming its commitment to resist barbarism with the weapons of ideas and freedom of expression.

It is a stirring narrative repeated ad nauseam in newspapers across the globe. They have been filled with depictions of broken pencils re-sharpened to fight another day, or editorials declaring that we will defeat terrorism by our refusal to stop mocking Islam.

It is well past time to call bullshit. Knight’s cartoon made the point exceptionally clear, but every image that invoked the idea that Western culture could and would defend itself from Islamist extremism by waging a battle of ideas demonstrated the same historical and political amnesia.

Reality could not be more at odds with this ludicrous narrative.

For the last decade and a half the United States, backed to varying degrees by the governments of other Western countries, has rained violence and destruction on the Arab and Muslim world with a ferocity that has few parallels in the history of modern warfare.

It was not pencils and pens – let alone ideas – that left Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan shattered and hundreds of thousands of human beings dead. Not twelve. Hundreds of thousands. All with stories, with lives, with families. Tens of millions who have lost friends, family, homes and watched their country be torn apart.

To the victims of military occupation; to the people in the houses that bore the brunt of “shock and awe” bombing in Iraq; to those whose bodies were disfigured by white phosphorous and depleted uranium; to the parents of children who disappeared into the torture cells of Abu Ghraib; to all of them – what but cruel mockery is the contention that Western “civilisation” fights its wars with the pen and not the sword?

And that is only to concern ourselves with the latest round of atrocities. It is not even to consider the century or more of Western colonial policies that through blood and iron have consigned all but a tiny few among the population of the Arab world to poverty and hopelessness.

It is not to even mention the brutal rule of French colonialism in Algeria, and its preparedness to murder hundreds of thousands of Algerians and even hundreds of French-Algerian citizens in its efforts to maintain the remnants of empire. It is leaving aside the ongoing poverty, ghettoisation and persecution endured by the Muslim population of France, which is mostly of Algerian origin.

The history of the West’s relationship with the Muslim world – a history of colonialism and imperialism, of occupation, subjugation and war – cries out in protest against the quaint idea that “Western values” entail a rejection of violence and terror as political tools.

Of course the pen has played its role as well. The pens that signed the endless Patriot Acts, anti-terror laws and other bills that entrenched police harassment and curtailed civil rights. The pens of the newspaper editorialists who whip up round after round of hysteria, entrenching anti-Muslim prejudice and making people foreigners in their own country. But the pens of newspaper editors were strong not by virtue of their wit or reason, but insofar as they were servants of the powerful and their guns.

Consideration of this context not only exposes the hypocrisy of those who create the narrative of an enlightened West defending freedom of speech, it also points to the predictability and inevitability of horrific acts of terrorism in response. Of course we will never know what was going through the minds of the three men who carried out this latest atrocity. But it is the height of ahistorical philistinism to ignore the context – both recent and longstanding – in which these attacks took place.

The idea that Muslim outrage at vile depictions of their religious icons can be evaluated separately from the persecution of Muslims in the West and the invasion and occupation of Muslim countries is the product of a complete incapacity to empathise with the experience of sustained and systemic oppression.

What is extraordinary, when even the most cursory consideration of recent history is taken into account, is not that this horrific incident occurred, but that such events do not happen more often. It is a great testament to the enduring humanism of the Muslim population of the world that only a tiny minority resort to such acts in the face of endless provocation.

In the days ahead, a now tired and exhausting theatre of the absurd will continue to play out its inevitable acts. The Western politicians who lock up their own dissidents and survey the every movement of their citizenry will go on waxing lyrical about freedom of thought. Muslim leaders of every hue will continue to denounce a terrorism they have nothing to do with, and will in turn be denounced for not doing so often or vigorously enough. The right will attack the left as sympathisers of Islamist terrorism, and demand we endlessly repeat the truism that journalists should not be killed for expressing their opinions. They will also demand that we accept that white Westerners, not Muslims, are the real victims of this latest political drama.

Meanwhile, Muslims in the West will, if they dare to walk the streets, do so in fear of the inevitable reprisals. And pencils aren’t what they will be afraid of.

 

http://redflag.org.au/node/4373

A Message From the Dispossessed

Posted on Jan 11, 2015

By Chris Hedges

  Broken pens were placed in a pool of simulated blood Friday outside the French Consulate in Istanbul in memory of the victims of the shooting at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. AP/Emrah Gurel

The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam. It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.

We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it.

If you spend time as I have in Gaza, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan, as well as the depressing, segregated housing projects known as banlieues that ring French cities such as Paris and Lyon, warehousing impoverished North African immigrants, you begin to understand the brothers Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, who were killed Friday in a gun battle with French police. There is little employment in these pockets of squalor. Racism is overt. Despair is rampant, especially for the men, who feel they have no purpose. Harassment of immigrants, usually done by police during identity checks, is almost constant. Police once pulled a North African immigrant, for no apparent reason, off a Paris Metro subway car I was riding in and mercilessly beat him on the platform. French Muslims make up 60 to 70 percent of the prison population in France. Drugs and alcohol beckon like sirens to blunt the pain of poor Muslim communities.

The 5 million North Africans in France are not considered French by the French. And when they go back to Algiers, Tangier or Tunis, where perhaps they were born and briefly lived, they are treated as alien outcasts. Caught between two worlds, they drift, as the two brothers did, into aimlessness, petty crime and drugs.Becoming a holy warrior, a jihadist, a champion of an absolute and pure ideal, is an intoxicating conversion, a kind of rebirth that brings a sense of power and importance. It is as familiar to an Islamic jihadist as it was to a member of the Red Brigades or the old fascist and communist parties. Converts to any absolute ideal that promises to usher in a utopia adopt a Manichaean view of history rife with bizarre conspiracy theories. Opposing and even benign forces are endowed with hidden malevolence. The converts believe they live in a binary universe divided between good and evil, the pure and the impure. As champions of the good and the pure they sanctify their own victimhood and demonize all nonbelievers. They believe they are anointed to change history. And they embrace a hypermasculine violence that is viewed as a cleansing agent for the world’s contaminants, including those people who belong to other belief systems, races and cultures. This is why France’s far right, organized around Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant Front National, has so much in common with the jihadists whom Le Pen says she wants to annihilate.

When you sink to despair, when you live trapped in Gaza, Israel’s vast open-air prison, sleeping 10 to a floor in a concrete hovel, walking every morning through the muddy streets of your refugee camp to get a bottle of water because the water that flows from your tap is toxic, lining up at a U.N. office to get a little food because there is no work and your family is hungry, suffering the periodic aerial bombardments by Israel that leaves hundreds of dead, your religion is all you have left. Muslim prayer, held five times a day, gives you your only sense of structure and meaning, and, most importantly, self-worth. And when the privileged of the world ridicule the one thing that provides you with dignity, you react with inchoate fury. This fury is exacerbated when you and nearly everyone around you feel powerless to respond.

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror.

 

CONTINUED: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

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