Syria’s Kurds are altering the political landscape of Northern Syria, reducing the power of Bashar al-Assad’s government and reorganising the power dynamics of the country – allowing for political and legal rights for Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkmen and other minorities that were absent under Arab Socialist Baath rule. It is through organisation of political and military resistance, establishment of place of authority and abstaining from taking sides in Syria’s civil war, as well as the engagement in the war against the Islamic State, that Kurds in Syria now are in process of achieving self-determination and autonomy.
Figure 1: Kurdish Inhabited areas and population distribution.
Kurds are one of the largest ethnicities in the Middle East with a population of over thirty million, occupying parts of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey (Yildiz, 2005, p. 1). Descendants of Indo-European tribes that migrated westward from Zagros Mountains in Iran, Kurds have a distinct culture and identity that sets Kurds apart from other Middle Eastern ethnic minorities (Mcdowall, 2004, p. 8). In northern Syria, Kurds make up 8-10% of the nation’s population (over thirteen million people) and have been the subject of Arab assimilation policies – Arabization. One such policy was conducted in Hassakah governate in 1962, when a consensus rendered over 110, 000 Syrian Kurds without citizenship – giving these individuals status of ‘ajanibs’ (foreigners), well absentees were given status of ‘maktoumin’ or, ‘hidden’ (Fragiskatos, 2007, pp. 112-114; Sherry, 1996, pp. 13-19). Discrimination and persecution followed in subsequent decades, right into early 21st century. When Syria fell into civil war after the wake of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Syrian Kurds revolted against Bashar Al-Assad’s government and started the ‘Rojava revolution’ – ‘Rojava’ is Kurdish for ‘Western Kurdistan’ (Savran, 2016, p. 7).
Figure 2: Rojava.
The Kurdish uprisings in Northern Syria have subverted the traditional authority of Bashar Al-Assad’s government, as political and military resistance has formed to resist Baath hegemony. ‘Power’, as defined by German sociologist Max Weber, is the potential of an actor to achieve personal objectives in a social relationship in the face of opposition (Uphoff, 1989, p. 299). When a subordinate entity can limit or reduce the potential of an entity to achieve personal objectives, then that denotes ‘resistance’ (Barbalet, 1985, p. 541). For decades, the Arab Socialist Baath party government, under first the leadership of Hafez al-Assad and then Bashar al-Assad, enacted its power through coercion, fear, state repression, manipulation and bribery.
Figure 3: Hafez al-Assad (Left) and Bashar al-Assad (Right).
Any other party, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, that stood in the Baath party’s way would be heavily suppressed and have its members locked up in jail. Policies, such as those of assimilation and Arabization, aided in the consolidation of the government’s power and the pursuit of its aims – Arab nationalism (Pace, 2005, p. 37; Talhami, 2001, p. 112).
When peaceful demonstrations in Damascus and Idlib were suppressed by Syrian government troops in 2010, armed resistance developed, as defectors of the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ (SAA) and local dissidents established the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) and its political wing ‘Syrian National Coalition’ (SNC) (Spyer, 2012, pp. 46-49). Uprisings occurred all over Syria, including Northern Syria in cities, such as Qamishli, Kobane and Afrin. These armed uprisings resulted in the start of a civil war between Syria’s government, FSA and Islamist entities of Al-Qaeda (JFS), and the Islamic state (ISIS) after 2013. However, what distinguishes the Northern Syrian Uprisings in 2012 from the other uprisings in the rest of Syria is the organisation and direction.
In 2012, the Syrian government was pushed out of Jazira (Cizire), Kobane and Afrin cantons by organised local militia of the ‘People Protection Units’ (YPG) and its political wing, the ‘Democratic Union Party’ (PYD). Subverting Assad’s power in Northern Syria by exploiting the conflict dynamics of the civil war, with Assad’s forces focused on fighting FSA in other parts of Syria, PYD established a political alternative to Assad’s government with formation of a de facto autonomous government – Rojava Autonomous Administration (Federici, 2015, pp. 82-84). Organised under the ideology of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the ‘Kurdistan Worker’s Party’ (PKK), the PYD and other parties in the ‘Movement for a Democratic Society’ (TEVDEM) coalition (leadership of Rojava) adopted a ‘Democratic Confederalism’ ideology and implemented it in governing (Paasche, 2015, pp. 78-80).
Figure 4: Abdullah Ocalan
Figure 5: Flag of TEVDEM
The ‘Rojava project’ spearheaded by TEVDEM undermines the ideology of Arab nationalism and political hegemony of Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party, as the ideology of Democratic confederalism focuses on empowerment of minorities through local governance and aims at decentralising power – redistributing power among local municipalities. Instead of adopting a Kurdish nationalist project – similar to that of the ‘Kurdish Democratic Party’ (KDP) in Iraq – that aims at establishing a Kurdish region (Kurdistan), TEVDEM adopted a Democratic Confederalist project – similar to that of the PKK – that aims at establishing grassroots, democratic and parliamentary system (Ibid, p. 78):
…[TEVDEM] sought a bottom-up system of self-administration whereby the direction of the flow of power is from the local municipally organized councils toward a larger democratic confederation of libertarian municipalities with local councils directly controlling policy-making. Such organization of politics is to provide it with concrete social content and reduces the likelihood of potential relations of domination, thereby contributing to advancing the cause of freedom as non-domination (Cemgil, 2016, pp. 424-425).
Through the implementation of ideology of Democratic Confederalism in Rojava’s Autonomous Administration in Northern Syria, the influence of ideology of Arab nationalism that had disenfranchised non-Arabs was significantly reduced. Kurds and other minorities in Northern Syria, such as Syriacs and Assyrians, could now establish local assemblies – form militias, police and self-administrate (Ibid, p.425; Duman, 2017, p. 85).
Figure 6: Syriac Military Council (MFS)
This system decentralises power and prevents power from establishing in one party, thus weakening Assad’s central government in Damascus from having total domination in Northern Syria.
The opposition to taking sides in the Syrian Civil war and the fight against the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS), significantly increased TEVDEM’s influence in Syria’s political landscape and increased western support for the Rojava project – altering Syria’s power dynamics, and allowing TEVDEM more territorial control and political power. A strategy was adopted early on by the Rojava Autonomous Administration to not officially declare allegiance to any side in Syria’s civil war, instead opting to provide a ‘third path’ to the competing factions (Government forces versus rebels). This strategy aimed at allowing TEVDEM to focus on self-governance and self-defence, well keeping the war from reaching the de facto borders, therefore allowing TEVDEM to not lose local support and allow negotiation power with both sides, if need be (Hevian, 2013, pp. 50-52).
However, despite YPG clashes between both the FSA, JFS and SAA, the introduction of ISIS in 2014 would significantly alter TEVDEM’s trajectory.
Figure 7: (In clockwise direction) SAA, JFS, ISIS, FSA and YPG
The Siege of Kobane in 2014 by ISIS, brought global media attention to Rojava and increased Public Relations of TEVDEM with International Community. Victory by Kurdish forces against ISIS in 2015 was a huge Public Relations boost to TEVDEM, as the victory appealed to all sides of western political landscape.
Figure 8: Rojava flag on radio tower after ISIS is defeated in Kobane.
Conservatives had a force to support that was ‘western’ and hard-line Leftists could sympathise with Rojava revolution, and the Kurdish ‘struggle’. The United States-led Coalition to battle ISIS formed a military alliance with Rojava at Kobane, which started US supporting and supplying arms to YPG, as well as other militias (Dalton, 2017, p. 2).
Capitalising off this new-found support, TEVDEM mobilised forces to resist ISIS occupation in order to increase influence in Syria’s political landscape, liberate civilians and expand the borders of the de-facto Autonomous region through acquisition of territory (Kaya & Whiting, 2017, p. 86). The Islamisation of the opposition to Assad had also contributed in bolstering number of defectors to Rojava, as former secular FSA factions started aligning with YPG – this led to the formation of ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) in late 2015, a multi-ethnic coalition of anti-ISIS fighters (Gunter, 2017, p. 79; Krajeski, 2015, pp. 94-97).
Figure 9: The Syrian Democratic Forces’ flag.
The success of Rojava against ISIS and the territorial expansion of the de facto autonomous region’s borders altered Syria’s power dynamics, as TEVDEM posed an increasing threat to Assad’s government and legitimacy. The acquisition of oil fields has expanded Rojava’s economic and political power, as TEVDEM has leverage to negotiate its future and achieve Rojava’s goals of self-determination, as well as autonomy for Syrian Kurds and other minorities (Krajeski, 2015, p. 95). Though the war is not over, Rojava Autonomous Administration is in a greater position than ever before in its short history to negotiate and achieve its personal objectives, despite resistance of Assad’s government and external threats, such as ISIS and JFS (now Hay’at tahrir al-sham – HTS).
Figure 10: Map of Northern Syria showing territorial control of each faction.
However, as with everything in the Syrian conflict, the precarious nature of these relations and situations can change at any moment. In the recent months for example, with the liberation of Raqqa by the SDF, Turkish-US relations have begun to heat up. A new offensive into Idlib by the Syrian government and its allies in early 2017 has given way to a Turkish offensive in the Afrin canton of Rojava ().
Figure 11: Map of situation in Syria circa January 2018.
The power dynamics are shifting and TEVDEM officials face a difficult uphill battle in 2018. Despite these difficulties, the determination of the Kurds is stronger than ever before and international support for Rojava continues to grow with each passing month.
Through the organisation of political and military resistance to Assad’s government, establishment of an alternative government and abstaining from taking sides in Syria’s civil war, as well as the engagement in the war against the Islamic State, Kurds in Syria now are in process of achieving self-determination and autonomy. The implementation of ideology of Democratic confederalism in Rojava Autonomous Administration governance has challenged the hegemony of Bashar al-Assad and the ideology of Arab nationalism, empowering disenfranchised in Syrian society. The war against ISIS has allowed TEVDEM to acquire territory and has led to alteration of power dynamics within Syria, allowing for greater potential for Rojava in pursuing its personal objectives.
Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson ( Originally written for James Cook University on the 09/11/2017 – Updated and released for the Region on 28/01/2018). Region version: https://theregion.org/article/12639-unpacking-rojava-examining-power-dynamics-in-northern-syria
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- Sherry, V. N. (1996). Syria: The Silenced Kurds (No. 4). Retrieved from Human Rights Watch website: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/SYRIA96.pdf
The United States is in a precarious position. Its NATO ally Turkey for the last couple of weeks has been pressuring Washington into a tough decision: ‘People’s protection Units’ (YPG) or ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) (1). Ankara has placed enormous pressure on Washington to reconsider its support for ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) leading the Raqqa offensive, as it consists of fighting forces of the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of a domestic “terrorist” organisation—‘The Kurdish Workers Party’ (PKK). Instead favouring FSA and ‘Turkish Armed Forces‘ (TSK) to take over the offensive, Ankara wants to push the Kurdish militia group fully out of Coalition’s efforts against ISIS (2).
Territory divide in Northern Syria. Red for SAA, Blue for FSA, Yellow for YPG, Black for ISIS.
Launching operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ in August of 2016, under the pretext of fighting ISIS in Northern Syria, TSK and FSA began a campaign to dislodge YPG from the region. Pushing first to Jarabulus and then onwards to al-Bab, TSK and FSA forces took land from ISIS—engaging in clashes with YPG as they went (3). During this time, SDF forces launched its own offensive in November—operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’. Aiming to force ISIS from its second stronghold in Ar Raqqa, SDF strategically moved southwards and liberated large areas of land from ISIS militants(4).
Turkish Tanks heading towards FSA controlled areas in Operation Euphrates Shield.
YPJ and SDF fighters at announcement of Operation Wrath of Euphrates in November.
Plans for Raqqa froze in February, however, when Trump asked military officials to reassess—over a thirty-day period—the offensive(5). Ankara’s eyes set on Raqqa, negotiations between Washington and Ankara for FSA involvement became stagnant, as Turkey’s arrogance and stubbornness to deny compromise left its proposals for involvement dead in the water. Becoming more evident, that Ankara’s desire to extend its anti-PKK domestic policy into the realm of its foreign policy was not working in its favour(6).
Additionally, President Erdogan’s call for FSA to move onto Manbij after the capture of al-Bab, an area controlled by US-backed SDF and ‘Manbij Military Council‘ (MMC), increasingly greased Ankara’s grip of Washington(7). Leading military officials to push Turkey out of considerations for Raqqa, Ankara vows now to do what it can to take Manbij and move onto Raqqa—regardless of Washington(8). This increase in tensions in the region between Coalition forces is weighing heavy on US’ mind, as considerations over future of Raqqa’s post-ISIS state hang in the balance.
President Erdogan (Center) with AKP administration.
US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis.
Storming Western Manbij with TSK armour and troops, FSA engaged with YPG in a series of clashes south of Al Arimah region in the nearby villages of Tall Turin and Qahar(9). Well clashes on the field escalated, MMC took this time to default to Russia and negotiate a trade: In exchange for SAA governance of territory near Arimah region, MMC would have a buffer zone created between it and FSA(10, 11). During the announcement of this trade by MMC, US ‘Special Operation Forces‘ (SOF) moved into Manbij and Coalition officials quickly confirmed their commitment to SDF, as well as MMC(12).
Armoured vehicles of SOF enter Manbij.
Now that Ankara has its eyes wide shut on the Raqqa offensive, as it continues to deny negotiating with YPG and continues to believe that its FSA should lead, SDF continues its operation against ISIS. Advancing eastwards and cutting off road between Dier-ez Zor and Raqqa cities, SDF look to encircle the capital(13). Restricting blood flow to the serpent, SDF continue to wrap a noose around Raqqa and force ISIS into an ever-increasing stranglehold. By way of Pentagon providing oversight with airstrikes and armour, as well as with Washington fending off Ankara’s political bombardment, the road to Raqqa is clear(14).
SDF vehicles in eastern Raqqa.
Situation map of Raqqa offensive. Link: http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/6-march-sdf-have-cut-the-road-between-raqqa–deirezzor-cities
However, how long this road will be clear for in this hostile political environment is uncertain. Ankara’s determination to undermine offensive seems unwavering, as TSK and FSA continue to do battle with YPG near Manbij. In this contentious atmosphere, Washington has to ask itself an important question: How far will it go to keep its alliance with Ankara? I think the answer to this question will only become known in a post-ISIS Syria, which most likely will be in the next two years. Moreover, with Turkey increasingly becoming an Islamist dictatorship, US willingness to stop “radical Islamic terrorism” will be put to the test(15). I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst, as the US should be.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool
For the last nine months, Erdogan has increased crackdowns on journalists and political dissidents, especially Kurdish ones. In November alone, Erdogan arrested dozens of Kurdish MP’s and ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ members in Southern Turkish districts, which are predominantly Kurdish(16). This hunger for power that Erdogan displays and the evident desire to target any organisation that is remotely Kurdish or connected to PKK is frightening. Demonstrating a napoleon complex with censoring of media, Erdogan and Turkey demonstrate to the International Community exactly why no self-proclaimed free person should view it favourably.
Moreover, Erdogan’s domestic policy against fighting PKK ‘terrorists’ has extended over two nations external of Turkey and has shaped Turkey’s foreign policy. In Iraq, Ankara’s oversight extends to the ‘Kurdish Democratic Party’ (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) who is headed by President Barzani(17,18). Barzani and Prime Minister Yıldırım of Turkey have increased Turkish forces to KRG, training ‘Rojava-Peshmerga’ (Roj-pesh) and sending units to Sinjar in response to PKK. Occupied by a large Yazidi population, Roj-pesh units pushed recently into the area in an attempt to scare PKK out(19).
President Barzani (left) and President Erdogan (right) in Istanbul, in late February.
Denying this imposition from Turkish forces, ‘Sinjar Resistance Units’ (YBS) and locals armed themselves in response(20). A force created in conjunction with the PKK, the YBS was Yazidis response to ISIS’ massacre of its population in Sinjar in 2014. Now threatened by a new authoritarian force, Yazidis find themselves in the middle of a tough situation. This has not been easy, given that Roj-pesh fired upon YBS and civilians now flee a new battle area(21). One only hopes the Yazidis will find a place for their own, as it seems KDP deny them that now. (Kurdish Unity is something that I wish could be, as was in the days of fighting Saddam Hussein. However, tribalism runs deep.)
A family of Yazidis leave the Sinjar area. Displaced from Clashes between Roj-Pesh and YBS.
It is important to remember principles when analysing conflict, as it can become very easy to be a megaphone for a party. One principle that has guided me through is that of taking the side of the oppressed against tyranny and injustice. ‘Take the side of the victim; aid them in their struggle’. Those seeking to do justice and protect those facing tyranny should be supported. And those who depart from this are generally not to be trusted. However, even keeping to this principle is not always easy. But you have to try.
The Battle lines are drawn.
Current Situation map of Syrian conflict, March 6th.
Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson
It has happened.
After heavy bombardments and intense fighting, al-Bab has finally fallen to the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) (1). This comes after months of shelling from Turkish artillery on the city and fighting between FSA troops, under the oversight of Ankara, and ISIS militants—battling for an area that is 30 square kilometres(2). Dozens dead and wounded, ISIS withdrew from al-Bab and FSA managed to take the area before ‘Syrian Arab Army’ (SAA) forces could advance.
al-Bab is circled in red and was captured by FSA on 25th of February.
Storming the city with Turkish armour, troops of ‘Ahrar al-Sham’ (AaS) were amidst the ranks of FSA fighters that took al-Bab. These troops are among the many Islamist forces that are fighting in ‘Operation Euphrates Shield‘ that Turkey started in August of last year (3). Armed and extremely zealous, these fighters rushed into al-Bab and had no hesitation in claiming its ‘liberation’ (4).
Ahrar Al-Sham fighters pose in al-Bab after capturing it from ISIS. (c. Feb 26th, 2017)
However, the inclusion of Ahrar al-Sham and other Islamist organisations such as ‘Tahrir al-Sham’ (HTS) in the ranks of FSA, demonstrate a rather darker aspect of the current Syrian opposition; namely, its domination by Islamist factions(5). This domination is because of infighting amongst FSA that has been going on since 2012. Fights between Salafist and Jihadist factions (collectively Islamist factions) and “moderate” (secular) factions have forced FSA in splintering(6).
Members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carry their weapons as they walk near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city, November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan
Once a centralised and organised opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian dictatorship, and an opposition that I once previously supported, now has become a disorganised and splintered opposition(7). Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Sunni Islamist groups have come into the fray—gathering support over the years. Fuelled by a desire to replace Assad’s tyranny with the tyranny of Salafist jihadism, AQ affiliates fight against SAA and those who deny their ideology(8).
The butcher of Aleppo.
When Eastern Aleppo fell in December, many Syrians from moderate factions of FSA defected to Islamist factions. Desperate and afraid of reprisals from SAA, many either fled to Turkish protection or joined HTS and began fighting (9). Those still hanging on against both SAA and HTS, such as ‘Free Idlib Army’ (FIA), now fight on multiple fronts. Helpless and outmanned compared to jihadists(10).
This is convenient for both Russia and Assad, as Kremlin now has more justification to keep its airstrike campaign going in Syria. Kremlin and Damascus have claimed that airstrikes in prior months have only targeted ‘terrorists’(11). However, airstrikes have targeted more than just ‘terrorists’. Many hospitals, schools and civilian areas have faced barrel bombs, airstrikes and chemical weapons by both Russia and SAA forces (12,13). Thousands of civilians have died in Aleppo alone, during its siege.
Aleppo during siege in December.
An influx of jihadists in opposition ranks allows Kremlin now to move more swiftly in changing the narrative of Assad in Syria. Helping reclaim land for Assad is one thing, but to prevent further uprising and to secure Assad’s position as a ‘hero to the Syrian people’, Kremlin has started to increase propaganda around him and has pushed the narrative of ‘buffer to terrorists’ even more (14).
Moreover, by saying that all of the opposition that opposes Assad are Islamists, Russia forces west into a dichotomy: Assad or Islamists(15). In prior months, one could argue against opposition being entirely Islamists, but with current infighting and splintering amongst opposition, the propaganda view is starting to become more dominant.
Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.
Turkish-backed Islamists, who now desire to further an advance to capture Manbij, did the capturing of al-Bab with a desired goal in mind. Unlike Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), as well as other Rojava forces (YPG and YPJ), these Islamists do not have liberty and democracy in mind. What they have in mind is the desire to create an Islamic State. When AaS’ fighters entered al-Bab, waving their index fingers in the air in the ‘Tawhid salute’ (oneness of god) and chanting Islamist slogans, the religious zeal was evident(16).
US forces and previous backers of FSA have halted their support, instead demanding that moderate factions regain control of opposition or risk being abandoned. This is very sad news, as many prior FSA supporters now watch the heart of Syrian revolution succumb to its wounds. With SAA tiger forces moving to cut off Euphrates Shield advancement, Turkish-backed Islamists and ‘Turkish armed forces’ (TSK) now scramble to continue offensive(17).
FSA fight in Aleppo region against SAA.
SAA forces reach the YPG held border near Manbij. SAA start advance against FSA.
Nevertheless, despite the erosion of FSA to Islamist domination, there is an unseen benefit in this conflict. That benefit comes from a possible securing of Rojava cantons in Northern Syria, especially Afrin Canton with Kobani canton. If FSA is bogged down battling SAA, then YPG may have chance to push against FSA and relink the cantons. In addition to this, if the cantons are linked and Rojava is secured, then it will give Rojava forces a better chance in negotiating the future of Syria.
However, before that can happen, YPG will have to defend Manbij from FSA advancement. President Erdogan has claimed the region to be in control of Arabs, implying that Kurdish militias are to abandon area or be forced out(18). YPG will refuse this and thus there will be future conflict to come.
New graduated YPG recruits in Afrin Canton, Northern Syria.
As for me, I watch these series of events on the sidelines.
Writing new observations in my journal.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
When during human developments, current establishments prove to be unjustified and tyrannical to the requests of human dignity and rights – when these bodies only wish to subjugate, steal and dictate humankind – the individuals within a society most oppressed have the eternal right to dissent against, and revolt against, these establishments. Moreover, for those who wish to spectate to this injustice against human dignity, may it be known that those who are spectators of injustice are unknowing accomplices to tyranny. One must take a stand when the moment demands it. One must speak up to break the silence that comes from fear and inaction.
History shows that in every epoch, there are those who are willing to go against what a society deems ‘moral’, ‘traditional’ or—more condescendingly— ‘normal’ in pursuit of their own identity. Leading lives that inspire others to follow a similar course of action—from Rosa Luxemburg to Mona Eltahawy. These individuals do not choose their paths out of joy but rather out of a desire to escape what is around them and to seek out or ‘create’ a better realm. Often doing so as part of a minority, these individuals nonetheless fight fiercely for dignity, autonomy, identity and other values that make for a better humanity. However, this journey is not easy and many face serious penalties for even daring to take the road less travelled. No better examples of the cost for dissenting then in those societies that depart from human dignity and rights, such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
One of the largest kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (abbreviated ‘KSA’) lays claim to many things; notably, Islam’s holiest sites—Mecca and Medina—and oil reserves that span across its large desert. For these many things, however, KSA also is home to an archaic system of laws that gets its reinforcement from culture, tradition and religion. Those who disobey or dissent from these laws have serious punishments to face, from imprisonment and lashings to execution via public beheading. (Dare to criticise the government and you will find yourself taken away by police, as was the case for blogger Raif Badawi who posted commentaries on Saudi Society and was sentenced to a thousand lashes and imprisonment in 2012. He remains in prison to this day, despite his wife Ensaf Haidar’s activism.) These laws reach all aspects of Saudi society and benefit those few who are wealthy and powerful. However, what is notable is the way tradition and religion play a large part in Saudi society, as both extend to the private sphere and defy the roles of men and women. Women’s role being the worse within Saudi Society, as is evident with the Male Guardianship system.
Slavery still exists, and it comes in a variety of different shapes and forms: The Male Guardianship system is one. Male Guardianship is a system within Saudi Society that requires women to have a male ‘guardian’, which is usually a male relative who must accompany and give permission to a woman for her to be allowed to do tasks. From wanting to travel abroad to wanting to seek an education or even medical help, under Saudi law a woman is required to have a Guardian who can grant permission. Furthermore, if a woman should be involved in a domestic abusive relationship with their guardian, then the guardian’s rights supersede those of the woman—under Saudi law. This means that should a woman complain to Saudi authorities of abuse by her guardian, the word of the guardian is listened to first. The Male Guardianship system is geared to favour Male Guardians. Denying autonomy, financial independence, identity and rights for women, Male Guardianship eclipses the life of a Saudi Woman and denies her a future by herself. It is a system that makes women slaves.
Moreover, the quality of a woman’s life depends entirely on her Guardian. There are guardians who are liberal in their approach and allow women to travel abroad, seek an apartment or work. However, and what must be noted, is that just because the quality of a woman’s life may be good in some parts in KSA, it does not negate the negative experiences of women who depart from said ‘good experience’. In other words, just because some slaves are treated better than others, does not deny what happens to the majority of slaves and the reality of slavery. As for every one woman in Saudi Arabia that benefits, there are at least ten others who do not. This must be recognised, as there are always apologists and PR spokes people that Saudi Government is more than happy to prop up, who will deny this and who will state how ‘nice’ women are treated in KSA. Others will justify the treatment of women by appeals to analogies, often along the lines of claiming Saudi women are ‘queens’ who must be protected. Even though queens are treated better than Saudi women are—having their own autonomy, as well as subjects to command—analogies like the ‘queen analogy’ persist and the privileged stories of some Saudi women continue to be perpetuated, unknowingly at times, by writers.
Mona El-Naggar, an Egyptian writer based in New York, wrote an article in The New York Times called, ‘I live a Lie: Saudi Women Speak Up’ in October of 2016 about the experiences of Saudi Women in KSA. In it are many powerful stories but one story stands out. Meeting a group of privileged Saudi students in Washington Square Park, Mona asked them about their experiences under the system. What was their response? “We don’t need to abolish male guardianship. We need to teach men how to be better guardians.” This is a slap to the face of those struggling under the system. By including this story, Mona unknowingly has undermined the piece she seeks to make. (Audiences tend to think that a problem is not as big as it is when there are two sides to it.) Many Saudi girls have escaped from their home nation, many desiring ‘to feel the air on their faces’. One example of those who have escaped Saudi Arabia is Moudi, previously known by the online pseudonym, ‘Sinner’.
Using ‘Twitter’ to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women, as Twitter is just one of the few sites not banned in KSA, Moudhi—like many Saudi girls—sought to give both fellow Saudi women and foreign audiences a window into the life of a woman in KSA. In real life a law student studying in the USA, Moudhi wore a mask to protect herself from both her family and the system. (Saudi Law, especially when it comes to studying abroad, can send back Saudi girls on scholarships for even daring to criticise KSA.) After a long time of contemplation, Moudhi took off her mask and voiced public criticisms of the Male Guardianship system. Despite the psychological abuse that follows her, both by her own family and Saudi males, Moudhi continues to raise a voice for Saudi Women. Stories like Moudhi’s are not to be taken lightly, as they emphasise what individuals can do and must undergo when speaking truth to power.
[Writer’s note: More stories will be touched upon later within this essay. However, there are a few stories attached in the appendix.]
Picture: Moudhi, normal face and wearing a veil
History of Oppression
Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s, just like most countries in the Middle East during that time, from Egypt to Syria, underwent radical shifts in culture as more of its populace experimented with art and discussed new ideas, such as whether the ban on women driving — imposed in 1957 — should be lifted (what should be noted is that women can drive in non-public areas and only if their guardians allow it; however, they are not allowed to drive on public highways). But these shifts in culture did not come without hostile reactions.
Ever since its formation as a kingdom in 1932, Saudi Arabia — initially under the leadership of King Abdulaziz — had to deal with trying to synthesize both the non-religious and religious sectors of its nation. Prior to its formation, Al Saud monarchy had a close relationship with the ulema — a religious body of clerics. The ulema adhered to a more orthodox version of Islam, “Wahhabism,” and helped the conquest of Al Saud monarchy over most of the Arabian Peninsula throughout the mid-18th through the early 20th century. This bond between religion and the state (theocracy) helped to create the kingdom, as the government claimed its religious legitimacy from the Wahhabi clerics in turn for the clerics being able to propagate the “Tawhid” doctrine — monotheism (an intertwining of religion and politics was crucial in maintaining KSA’s legitimacy).
This changed when British imperialistic ventures in the Middle East proved to be an obstacle for the Saudi government, forcing the drawing of strict borders with surrounding nations. KSA had to cut concessions to the ulema and instead pursue secular goals: non-religious national security and foreign policy goals. This muddled the relations between religion and the state. While more technological and secular influences made their way into the country from western nations, and a “modernization” of the country began to take root, Mullahs and clerics condemned this “westernization” of Saudi Arabia in their mosques. However, these mullahs dared not delegitimize the royal family, and when Al Saud monarchy called upon religious justifications for its proposed state policies, clerics did not dare refuse (this “contradiction” remains, as clerics “criticize” policy in theory, but legitimize it in practice for the state — highlighting something worth note: the power of the monarch). After the abolishment of slavery in 1962, pushed by Prince Faisalbin Abdulaziz Al Saud and in conjunction with international pressure from the United States and Britain, Saudi Arabia’s growing internal struggles and changes led to the abdication of King Saud and the appointment of his successor — King Faisal.
King Faisal introduced “radical” policies in the 60s and 70s to Saudi Society that would alter its structure. Through the pushing away of Wahhabi draconian rules and condemnations, Faisal was able to allow women the ability to seek an education and allowed for the creation of Saudi television — policies that cemented Faisal as a “reformer king.” This angered a great deal of Wahhabi clerics and religious fanatics, who saw these policies as a “perversion” by the West on Saudi society. These clerics were not alone in their attitudes to westernization, as religious fanatics throughout the Middle East grew increasingly angry at their governments “capitulation” to Western influences — seeing their nations step away from “pure” Islam. However, in 1975, Faisal’s reign ended with assassination by his deranged nephew — Faisal bin Musaid. After King Khalid’s ascent to the throne to fill void left by Faisal, KSA found itself amidst turbulent political winds, as nations surrounding it were grew involved in its internal struggles, from Iran to Iraq. These winds engulfed Saudi Arabic in 1979 with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Armed with guns smuggled in via coffins, a group of insurgents stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca and declared that Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani was the Mahdi (redeemer of Islam) and demanded King Khalid step down. Allegedly receiving word from Allah while in prison, Juhayman al-Otaybi, the religious activist who led the attack on the mosque, believed Saudi Arabia had lost its way and saw it as an imperative to not only rid the country of “western perversion,” but to also bring it back to a “purer” form of Islam. Otaybi and his brother-in-law, Qahtani, gathered a group of a few hundred devotees to enter Mecca’s holiest Mosque during the hajj (pilgrimage). Taking hostages, Otaybi demanded King Khalid step down. This “mahdist” group occupied the mosque for nearly two weeks. It was quelled when French and Pakistani forces, scrambled together by the royal family in desperation to secure KSA’s legitimacy, stormed the Mosque, killed Qahtani and captured Otaybi.
However, King Khalid had to seek a “fatwa” (religious decree) beforehand from the ulema to allow those forces to be given access to the mosque to remove the insurgents. The ulema sought the opportunity to push for an amending of relations between the state and religion. In turn for allowing access to the Grand Mosque, it demanded more power to affect policies, which it received after the recapture of the Grand Mosque. This increase in power meant that the Monarch gave Wahhabi clerics more decision making abilities and agreed to help export its religious ideology (Wahhabism) globally in the following decades.
With the reforging of the alliance between state and religion, Saudi Arabia started to reverse the modernization that had gripped it in the 60s and 70s. The ulema began to impose stricter Islamic law (Sharia) upon the country: censoring media, enforcing greater restrictions on women and banning things like alcohol. Forcing women to cover up, either with an abaya or with hijab, KSA ended its liberal experimentation and started to enforce traditional roles upon Saudi women. King Khalid’s successor, King Fahd, allowed for the formation of the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices” (CPVPV), which intended to maintain these laws. It did this through the Religious police who were given greater reign to enforce dress codes, sex segregation (aptly denoted by some as “sex apartheid”), and the Male Guardianship system. If a woman was seen in public unaccompanied by her Guardian, then the religious police could take her and lock her up in a “care home,” a prison for women. In the education system, more schools were forced to teach religious studies. In this way, the ulema regained Saudi Arabia’s status as an Islamic nation and ensured “Islamic values” were spread to its populace — orthodox values as opposed to liberal ones. This “Wahhabi” imposition on Saudi society did not come without its resistance.
A small pocket of dissenters willing to raise their voices against tyranny and defy state law began to speak out over the years. This was the case in Riyadh in 1990, when a couple dozen women drove cars throughout Saudi Arabia’s capital. Knowing the risks perfectly well, these women took their guardians’ cars and drove them — in defiance of the law. Paying with the loss of their passports and jail time, such a demonstration only showed the desire of women to have rights and a sheer desperation of the Saudi government to keep its legitimacy through force. This spirit of protest from Saudi women continues on even in the 21st century.
Picture: Wajeha al-Huwaider driving a car in 2008
Moving to end the Male Guardianship system
The movement has blossomed with the advent of the internet and social media as more women gain access to platforms that allow them to voice their experiences under the Male Guardianship system. Despite KSA banning certain social media sites and apps, such as Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp, sites like Twitter and Instagram remain, providing a venue for women to write and share videos of what life is like in the KSA.
While there are many women who adopt pseudonyms to protect their identity from Saudi authorities, there are a brave few who choose to come out publicly — despite the costs and personal risk. Saudi women activists like Wajeha Huwaider, a woman who was arrested for posting a video of herself driving a car in Riyadh in 2008, and Manal al-Sharif, a woman who launched the “Women2Drive” campaign that sought to teach Saudi women to drive in 2011, both have been in the public eye and have protested the ban on women drivers. Aziza Yousef is another activist who is involved in the highlighting of women’s rights abuses in KSA. Emphasizing a couple cases in 2014 (one where a woman died on campus in Riyadh after not being given access to paramedics, all because of not having a male guardian), Aziza sought to petition the Shura Council with other activists to demand an end to male control over women. These activists seek to highlight the grave human rights violations that Saudi Arabia is guilty of and have inspired many Saudi women to take up a new mantra. A mantra that has since gone on to define a movement: “I am my own Guardian.”
‘“When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end. This is my wish. My name is Aisha. I am just another woman who lives in KSA.“-Aisha
[Writer’s note: full story, as well as many others that I have received, will be attached in the appendix of this essay.]
[Aisha’s story attached at the bottom of this essay]
In mid-2016, Saudi women took to Twitter to start a movement to end Male Guardianship. Tweeting under various hashtags, such as #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, #TogetherToEndMaleGaurdianship and #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه (abolish the Male Guardianship system), Saudi Women started to raise awareness of the harrowing experiences that occur regularly in KSA. Many of these women, which included activists like Hala Al Dosari, posted videos and their stories of oppression, and demanded an end to Male Guardianship and Saudi women’s liberation.
#سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه is the Arabic hashtag that many Saudis use to voice their concerns. Some of the stories included in this tag are horrifying and provide a glimpse into the lives of Saudi women. Many of these stories include domestic abuse cases where the male guardian has subjected his daughters and wives to torture, psychological manipulation, and rape — and has gotten away with it! Human Rights Watch wrote an excellent piece in July 2016 called Boxed In which highlighted many experiences from Saudi women.
Exposing the injustice and discrimination of the system, the movement to end Male Guardianship has, broadly speaking, three goals, which many of those involved would agree with:
- Abolish the Male Guardianship System.
- End the ban on Women driving.
- Acknowledge human rights for women.
However, in order to achieve these goals, Saudi Arabia needs to acknowledge how it abuses its own people. The Saudi government is reluctant to do this and at times denies its oppressive treatment of women. This is evident with it saying one thing to United Nations Human Rights Council but doing another within the kingdom. It is a sad state of affairs when KSA is Chair of the Human Rights Council of the UN. Prior to the current King Salman, King Abdullah had made small concessions to international pressure to give women greater rights. Electing thirty female members to the Shura Council, more as a publicity stunt than anything else, Abdullah had made slow progressions.
Within the movement, there are both non-Saudis and Saudis alike who do their part to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women. Those who are against the movement claim it has a “Western agenda” in mind, because of the involvement of Western individuals. This rationale follows the same conspiratorial mindset of those who claimed that Otaybi’s zealots, such as the Ayatollah of Iran, were “CIA-backed agents.”
There is an international presence within the movement, but what must not be forgotten is that the movement is for Saudi women’s liberation. Saudi women come first and their concerns for rights should be the focus of the movement. In a nation where a woman can have her entire life dictated by a male guardian, where this guardian can take away her rights to go to school or seek medical assistance and so on, it is imperative to raise awareness of her struggles and seek justice to end them.
The fight for Saudi women’s rights is just one of the many fights that exist in the Arab world. Across the Middle East, women undergo their own struggle against oppression, whether it be from the totalitarian forces of ISIS to the theocratic imams of Iran, each population battles for freedom. In these cases, there are those who have no personal stake in the issue, but choose to take the side of the victim and aid them in their struggle. These humans take up Bertrand Russell’s injunction to “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.”; refusing to be spectators of injustice and doing what they can to help; reminding those facing oppression to continue to raise their voices — as silence is what gives tyranny power.
The government of Saudi Arabia cannot ignore its populace’s voices forever.
Though it may try to, it will not win.
Saudi Women are too strong for that.
Never forget that.
Artwork: Ms Saffaa’s art for the #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen movement
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (11/12/2016)
Original version can be found here for Areo Magazine: https://areomagazine.com/2016/12/13/a-kingdom-of-tears-male-guardianship-in-saudi-arabia/
-Aisha’s story: http://philosophyismagic.com/a-womans-struggle-aishas-story/
I do not care anymore for this life.
I have become empty inside, as a result of the abuse around me.
Everyone is against me and accuse me of doing sexual things that I have not done!
They make me out to be an oppressor, but it is they who support an oppressor!
When I was nine years old, my father sexually abused me. But I didn’t stay quiet, and I told my mother about what he did to me. It was the worst thing that I did, as he only became angrier and acted crazy. He expected me to be quiet, but I refused! Mother told me to tell her if anyone touched you inappropriately, then I had to always speak up. I never expected it to be my father!
As a result of me speaking up, he became very abusive to me. He would deliberately scare me and try to kill me, but my mother would stand in his way and she would threaten him that she would tell everybody about what he did to me. I was only a child and I would not sleep for some nights because I was afraid of him as he always threatens to kill me. He would tell me, “by god I will nail your head to the floor!” When we moved to another house I was relieved to find the room me and my sisters shared had a lock. I started locking the door each night but he would still threaten me that he would insert a gun from the window and shoot me from there. I spent nights sleeping in the corners of the room so the gun wouldn’t reach me. Why does he do this?
I want to understand why this happened to me? I’m a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, I was a ‘model’ girl. I did what I was supposed to do, from prayer to listen to my mother. As the years went on, he continue to deny me things. He tied to prevent me from going to school, but I would go each year and felt involved in a constant fight! Some days I was afraid he would see me and hit me infront of my friends. When I would come off the bus, he would slap me. Even my bus driver tried to stop him. These efforts were in vain, as he would continue to humiliate me and abuse me by telling how he wants to take me out of school.
He wouldn’t give me an allowance even. Everything I owned were hand me downs from my sisters and mother since I was a child. I used to wear my brother’s shoes at school because he was the only one who was close to my age at the time and I remember the girls in school would make fun of me since they were boys’ shoes. Even my name he put it in his company so he can prevent me from supporting myself (I never understood why he did this.) He refuses to support me and doesn’t allow me to support myself. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m experiencing severe depression. I’m always thinking about suicide, especially in the last couple of months. But I always think about my mother and my siblings and I don’t want to leave them alone.
He doesn’t even allow me to go to the hospital. I have asthma, and a many time I get severe attacks where I can’t breathe and my mother tells him take her to the hospital but he would say No, let her die. I want her to.
My father is just despicable. He’s the worst person ever.
He would lock me up in my room for days. My mother would bring me food from the window. Even the bathroom, I would only go when he’s not in the house and if he’s back I could never go in. I would avoid drinking anything so that I don’t need to go.
He’s always helping everyone, even some of his friends’ daughters so that one would believe us. When I call the police after he hits me they would ask me, what did you do? Then they would give me numbers to call none of which I get a response. So I lose hope.
When I called human rights, they called him and he lied to them and told them that he loves me and cares about what’s best for me and that he needs me at home and the worker believed him. He’s a liar. And when the worker called me again to make sure, my father threatened my mother, that if I don’t shut up he’s going to get an official form that proved I’m crazy and that they would take me forcibly to a mental institute.
By god everything I told you is nothing compared to what he’s done to me. I literally want to die. He’s not allowing me to live. He intervenes and prevent me from everything even what I wear. I dreamt of being a teacher. Or to just live a normal life like every other girl. God has gave him many things. He has many foundations under his name. Sometimes I feel that god is unjust. This oppressive man who’s stopping my life and future is just so blessed.
[Brief Note: Here is just one of the many stories that I receive from Saudi Women about Male Guardianship, which is a system that limits Women’s rights within Saudi Arabia. For security reasons, I have had to change the real name of this woman to ‘Aisha’, allowing her anonymity but also allowing her to speak about her story. Aisha’s story is just one of the many personal accounts of what women within KSA have to go through. This story will be included in a later article that I will post in November.]
“My name is Aisha.
I am a 23 years old Woman who comes from the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia.
Before I tell of my experiences living here, I wish to say just one sentence and I want you to read this sentence carefully, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” Let me explain why it is a crime to be a Girl in KSA.
Since I was five years old, I knew what the difference was between a girl and a boy. You see, I have a brother. When I was five years old, I was arguing with my brother who was at the time three years old. The argument was over food. I told my brother to not throw food on the floor, unless he did not want to eat it—it is wrong to otherwise. However, my brother did not listen to me and continued to throw food on the floor. It was in that moment that my father entered the room, after hearing me arguing with my brother. He beat me with his hands. Why did he do this? Because my brother was a boy and can do what he wants, and I am a girl and have to respect whatever my brother does, even when he is wrong. I remember having to cry in my grandmother’s room after that; it was so wrong.
As I grew, I noticed more and more the differences in the way that my parents treated me, as opposed to how they treated my other sibling brothers. Boys could go out with their friends, but I could not. Boys could take money and go out freely, but I could not. Boys could sleep where they wanted, but I could not. I noticed that whenever my brothers went out with friends, they never had to be accompanied by my father. However, whenever I went out, I had to be accompanied by either my brothers or my father. I felt like a prisoner who had to be accompanied, 24/7, by guard—all for being born into the wrong sex. It is not my fault for being born a girl by my mother.
When I asked my mother about why my brothers could get to do more things than me, she told me that it was because they were better than me. In other words, boys are better than girls; brothers are better than daughters. She told me that I was nothing without a male. “Your brothers can drive and bring things that we need, but girls cannot.” I felt so much shame when she told me this. I felt that I was nothing. I felt that I was cursed. The very fact that my mother could say that as if it were nothing, made me feel so helpless.
As the years went on, more and more beatings occurred by my father, and even by my brothers. It was only when I graduated from high school that I decided to change this. I decided to do all that I can to be independent. To show my family that even if I am girl, I can do many things that boys can do. I can still be a successful person, even without their support. When I told them that I wanted to study medicine or nursing at college, they laughed at me. My father and mother did not believe that I could be successful at this. However, I did not care about them, because they mean nothing for me. I believed in myself. The next day, I registered into my local university; however, I still have to give my father all the money the university pays for me to allow me to study, because if I refuse, then he will not allow me to study and will beat me.
First year of nursing was so difficult. I had to learn English language, because my course was mainly taught in English. None of my parents are educated and my father did not allow me to have a private teacher, even when I offered to use my own money. He cared more about money than he does about me. However, despite the difficulties brought before me, I managed to persevere and I worked hard to learn English, as well as complete my nursing course. I did all things to achieve high grades and it paid off. For once, I felt so happy. I did achieve some form of small victory. I graduated from nursing college with very high grades and I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to get a scholarship, but my father said “no”. He said it so easily. I felt that I lost hope. I became pessimistic; all my dreams destroyed, because my Male guardian said “No”.
Now I feel, whenever I wake and whenever I sleep, as if my body does not have a soul. I cannot study, I cannot work, I cannot Marry, I cannot go to the hospital, I cannot pay anything, I cannot visit friends without a Male Guardian. I am a slave that is forced to be chained for life. Some of my friends have accepted this reality, but I do not want to accept it. I want to break my chains and break my bondage. I want to breathe freely. I want to be free. I want to live my own life; be my own person. All because I am a woman.
Now you know what I meant by, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end.
This is my wish.
My name is Aisha.
I am just another woman who lives in KSA.”
#StopEnslavingSaudiWomen is a social media movement that aims to raise awareness of the suffering of Saudi Women under the Male Guardianship system. The campaign aims at ending Oppressive laws towards women and granting them rights. Please be sure to raise awareness about the movement with friends, family members and others. Raising Awareness helps in the long run.
Story sent by: Aisha
Blurb written by: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
A dark veil is slowly rising over Turkey, as the ‘Justice and Development Party’ (aka, ‘AK Party’ or ‘AKP’ for short) has declared a state of Emergency. It comes in the wake of a coup d’état attempt by the Military against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With Soldiers blocking Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul and deploying tanks outside Atatürk airport, issuing a curfew for residents nearby, helicopters and jets flew over Ankara and declared that the Military had taken over the government. This was only to be the beginning of the long few days of struggle, violence and horror that would grip Turkey. The end of which would begin a purge upon Turkish society; one that is still ongoing and one that is helping elevate an authoritarian to the status of ‘totalitarian’.
Under the cover of night, pro-coup (‘coupists’) forces, within just the span of a few hours, bombed police headquarters, occupied AKP offices and held up broadcasting buildings of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation. A statement was then issued upon seizure, claiming that a restoration of democracy was underway:
“Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged.”— Tijen Karaş, TRT, July 15th
However, despite this pronouncement, this was quickly rejected by both Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and later by Erdogan, who both went on to state the opposite of the coupist, notably that those involved in the coup are a ‘threat’ to Turkish democracy. Erdogan, conveniently on vacation in Marmaris at the time of the coup’s inception, proclaimed via the phone app ‘FaceTime’ on Turkish state media that those loyal to the regime (loyalists) were to take to the streets and show their loyalty in form of opposition to coupists. What followed was nothing short of chaos, as loyalists clashed with coupists on the streets and blood began to spill.
Firing Bullets at oncoming loyalists at Bosporus Bridge, coup soldiers tried in desperation to hold onto control. However, despite their desperation, heavy resistance by both protesters and police soon proved to be too much, as coup soldiers surrendered. Those still loyal within the military began fighting remaining coup soldiers, distinguishing themselves from coupists with red and white sashes around their arms. Mobs of Anti-coup protesters came out in droves across the country, cheering praises to Erdogan and hissing at those who dared dissent against the government—reflecting a darker side of Erdogan’s Turkish society.
Moreover, in a ditch attempt to strike at AKP, coupists blew up parts of the parliament building and fired upon Erdogan’s hotel…after Erdogan had left it. By the morning of July 16th, it was evident that the coup had failed in its goal to oust Erdogan. Upon arrival in Istanbul, greeted by thousands of loyalists and a handful of Turkish Defence Force soldiers (TKP), Erdogan addressed the nation and declared that the AKP government was in control and that the military was to undergo a ‘cleansing’. Erdogan also went on to blame the motivation behind the coup on an old comrade and now rival, a person that leads one of the biggest interfaith movements, Fethullah Gülen—Founder of the Gülen movement.
Now had this been the end of the story, one may be led to the conclusion that order restored itself in Turkey and life went on as usual. However, no coup ends without bloodshed and nothing is ever that easy. Rounding up coupists throughout Turkey, police and loyalists of Erdogan captured and belted—some were even lynched by mobs—dozens of coup soldiers. (Many of them were mere boys, no older than twenty-five, beaten by enraged mobs with belts—fear stricken in the face of bloodlust.) With Hundreds killed already during the coup and many thousands wounded, Erdogan still goaded on loyalists to keep protesting—this affair was not to be over within a mere twenty four hours.
Plotters of the coup range in rank from the highest in Turkish command to the lowest. From Air force Commander Akın Öztürk who was blamed for the orchestration of the coup to General Adem Huduti—a man who was, a couple months prior to the coup, praised by the AKP for killing ‘terrorist’ members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); how the mighty have fallen. However, what started to become clearer with this ‘cleansing’ of the military was ‘what’ this failed coup was serving. A darker plan was afoot, as Erdogan slowly removed high officials and replaced them with those loyal to AKP. Political rivals, those in months and years prior who had opposed Erdogan’s censorship of the media in late last year, escorting each one by one and handing them over into custody. A stench of tyranny was in the air.
A protest against the separatist military coup.-2016, July 17. Attribution: Photo taken By Lubunya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off.” — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Muslim Arab Youth Association Conference, 1996
Uttered before a crowded hall of young Islamic youth, the then Mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tight-fisted and full of zeal, denounced Democracy as a means to an end in 1996. Secular Democracy, Erdogan remarked, was merely a ‘tool’ to alter society towards an Islamic trajectory. It should have been clear back then what Erdogan’s plans were for Turkish Democracy—very different from what Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, intended. Desiring to impose Islam upon society (Islamism), Erdogan showed early signs of the authoritarian path that he was later to lead.
Before one goes on, an important distinction is to be made between ‘authoritarians’ and ‘totalitarians’. Where the former desire for centralised power, notably in the form of a reduction of liberties and an increased power in the hands of the few; the latter desires the totality of control over others. Totalitarians desire the impossible, chiefly desiring absolute power over individuals. From the physical to the mental, a totalitarian desires the elimination of liberty and the total imposition of an ideology upon an individual. Using censorship, education, secret police and so on, the totalitarian uses all means available to subjugate and impose tyranny upon others.
Moreover, where authoritarian regimes limit press freedom and limit certain individual freedoms, absent the economic and social dimensions, totalitarian regimes go further in limitations. Totalitarian regimes utilise every possible dimension and intrude in the private lives of individuals. Instead of just the public sphere controlled by a dominant power, the private sphere is also occupied by a dominant power.
Furthermore, and to emphasize this difference of regimes (because it is important in the greater context when discussing Erdogan), what makes an authoritarian state like Singapore (for example) different from a totalitarian state like Saddam’s Iraq is that in the latter case one has to live in absolute fear—constantly. Kanan Makiya’s aptly titled book ‘Republic of Fear’ depicts Saddam’s Iraq perfectly, chiefly as a state of terror with around the clock disappearances, torturing and killing of political opponents, state ‘terrorists’ and civilians. (I have heard Singapore be described as a ‘totalitarian’ state, notably by Amos Yee in an interview with Dave Rubin. However, the reason why I take issue with that is that it downplays actual totalitarian regimes. One can still visit Singapore, live a relatively good life and leave it whenever they so choose. This is not the case in most totalitarian states, which deny individuals a good life with a tyrannical living experience.) Authoritarian regimes are watered down versions of totalitarian ones; however, if the authoritarians within said regime wish to elevated themselves to the status of ‘totalitarians’, then they merely need to catch that yearning for the impossible—total power. Erdogan caught this yearning early on.
A yearning for Islamism, notably a Turkish Islamist state, became more evident during Erdogan’s time as Mayor of Istanbul. Aligning with the Islamist ‘Welfare Party’ ‘Refah Partisi’, Erdogan took part in campaigns levied against the government. Attracting attention from the Turkish Constitutional Court, Refah Partisi’s Islamist activities were quickly deemed as ‘unconstitutional’ and soon were banned in 1998. Many protests soon followed and mass support for the party’s reinstatement grew as Islamists, which included Erdogan, vehemently opposed the court’s decision.
However, despite protests and calls to action, sentiments for support deteriorated and many arrests on protesters were made. “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….” For inciting religious hatred and breaking the law, Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998. In addition to this, Erdogan also was denied ability to take part in the political process of Turkey and had to give up his position as mayor soon following the judgement’s enforcement—a mark that seethed.
Nevertheless, Erdogan’s yearning for power and political capital helped him in founding the AKP in 2001. Under an agenda of ‘conservative democracy’ (a term for a political ideology that seeks more to pretend it is not Islamist in nature when actually is), Erdogan sought to work this time with the political process than against it. Focusing energy on pushing for social services and aiming at democratic reform policies, Erdogan’s strategy made considerable headway in the 2002 general elections—appealing to both upper and lower class voters. With a two-third majority vote in favour, AKP’s co-founder Abdullah Gül took power as Prime Minister over Turkey and helped annul Erdogan’s political ban. Almost in a chess-like move, AKP rescheduled the election in the subsequent months and made Erdogan their candidate. Swapping hands (essentially, ‘trading places’), Gül stepped down and allowed Erdogan to assume the Prime Ministership upon AKP’s victory. The chessboard was in place and the pieces set for Erdogan’s rise to power.
Manoeuvring each piece in place and taking down every obstacle in way, Erdogan slowly climbed the political ladder over the next ten years with the support of AKP. Digging its hands in the media and attempting to manufacture phantoms, AKP—after its second victory in the 2007 general elections—levied charges against political rivals, ranging from military officials to journalists, for being a part of a ‘terrorist’ organisation known as ‘Ergenekon’ (a shadowy organisation alleged to have been planning assassinations and bombings on the AKP).
In a series of trials, over 270 people were accused of ‘plotting’ against the government, many of them had—in prior years—criticised AKP government’s policies. Using Ergenekon as leverage to achieve greater power, especially by accusing and launching trials, as well as investigations into ‘members’ of it, Erdogan’s authoritarianism was showing. However, if the Ergenekon trials did not show Erdogan’s desire for control, then it would be the AKP’s reaction to the Gezi Park Protests in 2013.
Initially few in numbers, protesters grew in size in reaction to both Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and the police backlash to an Istanbul park sit-in protest—in which police used violent means, such as tear gas and forced removal of protesters, to try quell the protest. Erdogan cracked down severely in response to the [Taksim] Gezi Park Protests, calling police to march in droves against the protesters. In addition to this, misinformation about alleged assaults by protesters on civilians was spread by TRT (state media) and attempted censorship of social media, such as sites like Facebook and Twitter, became apparent with AKP pressuring businesses to not allow coverage as the protests went on. An abuse of power would be an understatement for Erdogan’s actions in response to the Gezi Park protests; what he was engaging in was pure political manipulation and corruption.
Throughout Erdogan’s rise to prime ministership and eventual succession as President in 2014, AKP had been in power for over ten years with a trail of authoritarianism to back it. Erdogan’s manipulation, political corruption and yearning for control made him many enemies, most notably Fethullah Gülen. A once ally of Erdogan, Gülen’s ‘Hizmet’ (aka ‘Gülen movement’, whose theology preached a more liberal version of Islam) movement gave inspiration to many people within Turkey. ‘A state within a state’ was present as millions followed the movement, something that only angered Erdogan upon his fallout with Gülen in 2013. Following corruption investigations that same year, Gülen sought to challenge Erdogan’s political position, which only further split the two—leading to the eventual crackdown of movement members in the subsequent years. An authoritarian cannot have dissent; there comes a breaking point. Erdogan’s breaking point was with Gülen. Power corrupts absolutely; Erdogan is no exception.
Police action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. Events of June 16, 2013. Attribution: Photo taken by Mstyslav Chernov (Self-photographed, http://mstyslav-chernov.com/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
History repeats itself in so many ways. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown of coup soldiers and military commanders parallels the ‘New Order’ regime’s crackdown of the Indonesian Military in 1965. Using the failed coup as a pretext to rid communists and their sympathizers, the New Order swiftly got rid of almost all opposition to it—thousands were captured, tortured and killed in the purge on Indonesian society that followed. Currently, as I write, thousands of soldiers have been captured by loyalists of AKP and are currently undergoing torture in jail cells. High up military officials have been removed and replaced by Erdogan Loyalists; thousands of judges have been removed from their positions and hundreds of academics, either sympathetic to Hizmet or critical of the government, have been removed from their positions as well. Erdogan has unleashed a purge on Turkish society.
Whether or not the attempted coup to topple the government came as inspiration by Fethullah Gülen (who has denied allegations by Erdogan), by Military officials seeking to restore secularism or by Erdogan himself, the outcome has been the same: More power to Erdogan. (I believe that the coup was done by Military officials who were inspired by Gülen and wanted to try restore democracy. However, disorganisation and Erdogan catching on too quickly most likely sabotaged the coup from working.) This coup has been used as leverage for Erdogan to propel himself as uncontested leader of Turkey’s already illiberal system of democracy. I will not be surprised if Erdogan executes all those involved in the coup against him. His denied already political prisoners the ability to see lawyers and family members, and AKP is doing its best to reinstate the death penalty, which means that bloodshed will continue.
Take note, ladies and gents, of this failed coup in Turkey. If you learn anything from it, let it be a lesson in how a totalitarian rises. Erdogan is the next Bashar al-Assad in the making. As he slowly consolidates power, Turkey will find itself more and more morphing into a Closed Society. Furthermore, given Erdogan’s sympathies towards Islamic religious zealots who seek to impose their religion upon society (aka ‘Islamists’), Erdogan will most likely follow the path of religious totalitarians and form an Islamist dictatorship. Look at how the Islamists stand behind Erdogan’s regime and occupy Secular centres, singing praises and hissing at dissenters.
Militias form in defence of Erdogan’s AKP party; even as I write, many of them are doing Erdogan’s work for him and rounding up those anti-government dissenters that have sought to undermine the AKP. A state of terror is gripping Turkey and many are currently feeling its effects, as friends, relatives and loved ones who are Turkish Citizens living abroad see a once proud democracy go down the path towards Islamist theocracy. Erdogan wants this and is doing what is ever in his power to get it. Mark my words, Erdogan is creating a Republic Of Fear that will be equivalent in the oncoming years to the totalitarian Assad’s regime in Syria currently—a regime that is characterised by censorship of media, loyalists dedicated to the leader and a state of fear for its citizens.
Totalitarianism, especially the religious kind, is truly ugly to witness. Those who seek the impossible, namely the totality of control over others, can be said to epitomize what it means to be a totalitarian. It is purely a delusional pursuit of the impossible, but yet there is always those who seek the impossible and take it upon themselves to subjugate others to do so. Totalitarianism and despotism always end the same: Destruction. No tyrant lasts forever and history has shown the course of what happens to each regime that tries to.
Make no mistake; Erdogan’s regime will crumble but only in time. For now, Erdogan will only tighten his stranglehold over Turkey and elevate himself to the status of totalitarian. The tyrant will now only continue eradicating liberties of Turkish citizens and find more ways to ensure that the regime stays afloat. However, before it does there will be bloodshed, suffering and horror.
All totalitarians, despots and tyrants fall.
None last forever.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (31/07/2016)
Banners with photographs of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, hang from the roof of a commercial building either side of a Turkish national flag in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, July 18, 2016. Attribution: Photo taken by Ismail Ferdous—Bloomberg/Getty Images
Totalitarian regimes have a vested interest in limiting information and stifling discussion on matters of importance. A sign that a nation has succumb to the first stages of totalitarianism is that it will deny its citizens access to information and deny their fundamental liberties on superficial bases.
Even the most liberal societies can find themselves giving into regressive policies that seek to reverse progress that has been made. In these times, regress masquerading as ‘progress’ must be fought against. In other words, a conservative stance may be the best position to have when the whole of a society is plummeting itself into darkness.
Many will disagree with such a sentiment, however, if a movement that seeks to emancipate the people is hijacked by those who would seek to fight for the ‘greater good’ in a way that would impose a system of fascism that would seek to do this, then it is imperative in that instance to oppose the hijacked movement.
To emphasise this point with an example:
I see that the anti-Islamic political and Intellectual movements in Europe and America are being infiltrated by far-right wing groups. Well intentioned liberals who are opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and are supporters of Classical Liberal principles have found themselves increasingly having their voices being denied, and instead are witnessing far-right wing groups like PEGIDA, Front National and other such groups speak on their behalf.
These groups have no interest in individual liberty and the freedom of worship or even the freedom from worship, what they instead wish to accomplish is to swap one version of fascism (Islamic fascism) for another form of fascism (‘National fascism’). With this national fascism comes xenophobia, racism and bigotry akin to that of National Socialism in its wake.
Now, well there may be a good number of centrist intellectual individuals in such groups, the intention of said groups and their methods are problematic to say the least. However, this example is just one recent instance of infiltration and provides a warning to those who desire to keep their movement to its fundamental principles without those principles giving way to toxic ones. Another example would be the Iranian revolution of 1979 and so forth.
In all these examples, the point of keeping to one’s fundamental principles and the dangers of allowing those principles to budge is stated. It is important in such times that we not repeat history and not allow, especially for the case of anti-Islamic Intellectual and Political movements, for the hijacking of our movements.
I am a classical Liberal, but I will not allow my grievances against Islam to be hijacked by a Christian or catholic fascist sect just because they may have the same enemy. Their methods are fowl and they are to be opposed just as the Islamic fascists are to be opposed. It is imperative that other Classical Liberals be vigilant of their allies in this movement and be sure to remember one’s principles closely. Better this than have one fascism swapped for another.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
Introduction: A manifesto written in blood
I stand as one citizen out of many, who now raises a banner to the powers that be.
Who will dare raise this banner with me—a banner that represents the world in unity.
Who will renounce their national zeal and take up with me a greater international appeal?
A new declaration is being drafted, one that represents the people of each nation.
A new chant is being echoed loudly across the lands and it is being heard by all citizens.
It is the echo of more than a thousand voices calling out for their emancipation.
It is the echo of the young, old, weak and strong—those who have thrown off their chains.
Chains that bind the body do not bind the soul; the chains of slavery are broken now.
The echo has been heard by all citizens, but it has been ignored by the state governments.
The chains of nation state rulership have no longer the power to dictate the citizen’s terms.
The citizens of the globe demand their voices be heard and read by the powers that be.
The global citizens demand a manifesto, one that represents their ideals.
It is for this reason that a manifesto be devised—written with the blood of the global citizen.
This is the citizen’s manifesto—The Global Declaration of Independence from nation state rulership.
All people born on the Earth are born to one species and one species only—Homo sapiens. All people are evolved from a common ancestor, thus sharing a common heritage. Notions of race, ethnicity and nationhood are thus mere divisions that need not exist. They are the chains that shackle humanity from unity with itself. From birth there is no inherent divide; all are born in unity and all are born free. All people lay claim to the Earth, as all people are born citizens of it. The global citizen is a child of the Earth and not a child of fictional boundaries. We do not believe in the power of nationalism nor do we believe in the power of patriotism. Nationalism and Patriotism are all forms of tribalism. Tribalism is an archaic system of thought that permeates all nations’ claims to sovereignty, for tribalism is but the left over remnants from the primal infancy of humanity. We view both these forms of worship, as the most destructive aspects of humanity as a species. All power is illusory; the only power that is real is the power of humanity in unity. It is for this reason that we wish to burn the banners of nationhood and establish from their ashes new global banners. From the ashes will arise a phoenix, one that represents all nations and all people.
The boundaries that divide nation states are entirely illusory and are maintained in deception. The powers that be do not want their citizens to know their own freedom. The powers that be wish to maintain order by lying to their own people! By lying to the people about the state of the world and the state of nations they only seek to further foster divisions within humanity. Can they not see the damage that they are creating? Can they not hear the cries of the citizens? All citizens have been denied their humanity by nation state rulership, which is now one of the last totalitarian systems that need to be removed. The face of humanity is being stomped upon, the longer the rulership continues. The global citizen must emancipate themselves from the dictatorial rule of the nation state! The global citizen demands their emancipation from the totality of rule; for the citizen of the globe is free from birth and is only bound by thought. It is this thought that needs to change post-haste. When the rulers of nation states realise that they are citizens as well, and when they realise that there brothers and sisters are dying each day because of the illusory divisions they maintain, then the world will be one. The kings of the world are to renounce their crowns willingly or have them removed forcefully.
Every war that has ever been waged has been waged between fellow global citizens—amongst one species trying to divide itself. All wars are the products of divisions, all of them being illusory in nature. A banner is not meant to divide, it is meant to unite. All nations have hitherto sought to divide their populaces through the worship of banner—national banner. We believe that only one banner is legitimate for worship—the international banner. All other banners are illegitimate in our eyes, as they foster the self-conceit of nationhood. We do not believe in national anthems nor do we recognise a nation’s right to glorify itself. We see all efforts of national glorification as a means for further division and discrimination amongst citizens. We believe in only one glorification and one glorification only—global glorification. When the citizens of each nation renounce their national citizenship and embrace their global citizenship, they will become a part of a global community. The larger a community of people is the more likely the feeling of connectivity and the want for prosperity in that community. The citizens have spoken most loudly on this issue—they want to be united with their brothers and sisters. Who is to deny them their natural right? Who is to deny the beating drum? Who is to deny the global declaration of Independence? No power can deny it.
Love has no boundaries except for the ones that are made in the mind: love is boundless. Love cannot be caged by the doctrines of the municipalities nor can its supporters cage it. The municipalities, under the guise of nation state rulership, have hitherto sought to discriminate against global citizens. They have in past times discriminated against individuals based on race, based on sex, on the basis of class and now more recently on the basis of sexual orientation—and the list only continues when the people become apathetic to the rulership of the state. How long have national citizens been deluded by their governments? How long have they watched their fellow citizens being beaten for whom they love and for whom they care for? How long have they sat idly by and let the marching boots of totalitarianism stomp upon the ideal of love? Why have they become apathetic? When a couple of lovers embrace with one another, does it matter what gender they are? Does it matter what race they are? Does it matter what class they are? Is not the fact that they are human enough? The global citizen takes heed to the cries of their brothers and sisters, and opposes all forms of physical and mental control. They declare to their oppressors, “We shall fight for our brothers and sisters, and we shall oppose your national state rulership as long as we draw breath! You have no power over us nor do you claim ownership of our natural rights. We declare ourselves independent from nation state rulership. This is our Global declaration!” Thus it should be echoed loudly, being repeated across all lands and heard by all those who wish to acknowledge their global citizenship. Let it also resonate in the ears of the rulers of the world and let it haunt them until their dying days.
The consolidation of power is done no better than with religious blessing, for only priests and imams can spread the propaganda of nationhood so effectively to their constituencies, as to render them blind, deaf and dumb to rebuke. All religions are false—this is fact. We do not believe in the power of religion nor do we believe in the gods. To us the gods do not exist, and it is by time this fact be recognised across all nations. We believe in the power of human solidarity—we believe in a global humanism. Religion has only helped shackle the minds of humanity and has kept humanity in the dark for over two millennia. It is time for those shackles to be broken—it is time for the mind to be free once more! The nation state rulership uses religion to consolidate its power; by fusing government with divine mandate, they make their rulership total. The global citizen renounces all claims to the totality of control. If totalitarianism is indeed characterised by the totality of thought, then it follows that the global citizen is an anti-totalitarian. Hence the global citizen opposes all forms, whether they are physical or mental in nature, of control. The global citizen is a citizen, not just of a united humanity, but also of a globe reformed in reason. The plague of nationalism was birthed from the illogical foundations of tribalism, and it is for this reason that for it to be abolished forever there has to be an embrace of Reason. For the mental erosion of national state rulership to be reversed, there needs to be a reform in thought—there needs to be a renouncement of religion!
Those who intend to break down barriers must start with their own, for it is only then that change is possible. The reformation that the citizen demands is the one that they shall have to first undergo themselves. The global citizen must renounce their superiority complex and take up from this renouncement a new and improved idea of reality. This idea will not be centred around the notion of the ‘self’, but rather on the notion of ‘us’. All people are global citizens by birth right, as they are born to one planet—Earth. All boundaries are extrapolations of the notion of ‘self’, and as a result they must be culled. When the culling of the self can commence, then only will the people begin their anthem— the global anthem. A global anthem dedicated to the desire of love and unity—two of the things that make humanity unique. Each person possesses in themselves two desires: The desire for love and the desire for dominance. History has proven that the latter is fostered more than the former. Nation state rulership has been built upon the desire for dominance, as the desire for dominance is a temptation too hard to resist. It is for this reason that humanity’s natural state is to be denied, as it only leads to ruin. Humanity is to forge itself a new state, one that acknowledges the desire for love. The state of love is a necessity for the unity of people: chains can be broken. The chains that hitherto bind the citizens are chains made of silk, and easily cut by weary citizen. The citizen of the globe now only needs to wake up!
Now let us finally declare our beliefs to the Nation state rulerships, and let us finally have our global independence! We believe in the natural right of equality, for people to live in unity with one another without fear of prosecution or discrimination. We believe in the natural right of liberty, for people to be able to freely express themselves in public amongst their constituency. We believe in the natural right of education, for people to live in a society where they do not fear the oppression of the state. We believe in the natural right of freethought, for people to be able to live without the pernicious policing of thought. We believe in the natural right of travel, for individuals to visit their brothers and sisters across boundaries and oceans. We believe in the natural right of peace, for nation state rulerships to cease their senseless warring. We believe in the natural right of people to say, “us” and not “me”. We believe the global anthem and its ability to change the fabric of political society, and to give the natural rights of the people squarely in their hands! We believe in all of these things, and we will fight for them! This is our global declaration— this is the declaration of the people! Who will take up these natural rights? Who will acknowledge their right to be? Who will acknowledge their freedom?
Conclusion: Will you help declare Global independence?
As it has been written so it will be aired, across all lips and across all nations. The declaration is being made at this very moment, by all people who declare and acknowledge their global citizenship. It can be heard in major cities, towns and streets. It can be heard in major temples, synagogues, mosques and churches. It can be heard in major councils, municipalities and governments. It can be heard in major science, education and academic establishments. It can be heard on the radio, seen on the television and discussed in the media. It can be heard and it can be seen everywhere! The global citizens are re-finding their identities; they are amassing in numbers across the globe. They are beating their drums and rising up in arms to the nation state rulerships. Their voices are as clear as day, but will the authorities heed the global citizens’ anthem? Will they stand down and allow the citizens their rights? Where are they now? Are they scared of the rising banner—the global banner? They cannot stop the wave of people who are taking up their citizenship, and they cannot stop the inevitable re-seizure of power. It is for this reason that they are cracking down on the citizens and they are denying them their right to be.
We must OPPOSE them! We must FIGHT them! We must WIN against them! WE MUST DECLARE OUR GLOBAL INDEPENDCE.
[Note: The above-mentioned piece was written as an experiment in rhetoric, hyperbole and manifesto writing. As a result, some aspects of the piece are intentionally exaggerated for effect. In addition to this, the contents of the work are to be taken in light of the aforementioned experimentation. Inspiration for this piece come from Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’, Anselme Bellegarrigue’s ‘Anarchist Manifesto’ and Victor Stenger’s ‘The New Atheism: Taking a stand for science and reason’.]
Artwork By: Rainer Jacob
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
The word ‘Daesh’ is an Arab acronym for ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham’ (داعش), which translates to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ in English. The acronym ‘Daesh’ is the Arab equivalent to using the English acronym ‘ISIL’. They literally both are different ways of using the same label for the same Islamist organization—The Islamic State.
This need to be politically correct and not outright label the Islamic state for what they call themselves, namely ‘The Islamic State’, is just a tedious exercise in doing nothing to stop them. Politicians need to stop pussyfooting around and start naming the organization, labelling the ideology of Islamism and start acting out against it. They are, after all, on the front line in talks over this important issue—’the political fighters’, if you will.
In addition to the above, it also has to be said that people need to stop being so afraid of offending others by saying that, “Islam has something to do with ISIS”. There is a great tendency for liberal minded individuals to not want to bring offence to those Muslims they might know, as not to damage relationships with them by mentioning Islam and The Islamic State in the same breath. We have to stop being fearful, as we are doing what exactly the Islamists want us to do—remain silent. If one does not speak out against totalitarianism, then one will eventually become another oppressed victim of it. In other words, it is best to point out the serpent in the weeds before it bites you than to become a victim of its venomous fangs.
These jihadists are doing what they do because of their interpretation of Islamic scriptures—their ‘wahhabist’ interpretation. What ISIS militants want, after all, is to establish a global Islamic caliphate where Sharia Law is the law of the land. Where infidels, homosexuals and apostates are killed and people are subjugated. All in the hopes that they can one day bring an end to open society and bring about an “apocalypse”. This is not a ‘neo-conservative’ statement to make; this is a statement coming from a classical liberal. I am simply speaking from my observations of ISIS; my readings and study of Islamic scripture; my understanding of Middle Eastern history and Islamic history, as well as what is going on in Politics currently. I am also speaking from a non-religious perspective—an atheist perspective; an ‘infidel’ I am.
Time after time, these jihadists have told news outlets worldwide their motivations and have provided most atrocities they do with Hadith and Qur’anic scriptural justification. When the Paris attacks happened, for example, The Islamic State not only took pride in admitting it but they also sent out a statement that denounced the ‘crusader nations’ and their “Crusader campaign”; further promising to continue attacks on these “crusader nations”. It should be clear by now that what they are doing is a part of their Islamist ideological campaign. To deny this is to deny reality.
It is time that people realize what they are up against. These jihadists are not simply rogue individuals that can be labelled as such and thrown to the corner. These jihadists are organized ideological fighters who wish to kill for their religious ideology. Make no mistake; the events that have happened since early last year are all a part of these jihadists trying to bring about a greater ideological goal. It is time that we—people of open society—recognize that and act accordingly. Islamism needs to be crushed as an ideology and all those who follow it must be denounced for supporting it. We have to denounce both the political Islamists and the jihadists—both of which desire the same goal: A global Islamic caliphate.
Islamism is a serpent that needs to be killed, as it is biting and poisoning the conversation and stifling action. In order for us— those of us who value the continuation of open society—to stop this, we need to face the threat head on. We need to cut the head off the serpent… But How? There is no clear-cut solution, but a good start would be to fight the ideology. In order to kill the serpent, one needs to start highlighting the threat of Islamism, its relation to Islam and start fighting the ideology through education and force. Education in the form of promoting free thought, liberalism, secular humanism, reform in Islam and so on; force in the form of crushing ISIS.
This is only the start, but I hope it will help give rise to more discussion on this topic. For it is through the discussion of ideas in open society that change can come about. It is with this said that I close with the following words: Name the threat and kill the serpent.
Artwork by: ‘Thor in Hymir’s boat battling the Midgard Serpent’ by Henry Fuseli (1788)
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
-Islamism: The political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by organisations such as ‘The Islamic State’, ‘Hamas’, ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ and ‘Boko Haram’ to name a few. Individuals who support the political overthrow of a government, through either military coup or democratic elections, can be considered ‘political Islamists’. Those who wish to fight violently for their goal and those who genuinely believe it to be true; can be considered ‘jihadists’.
-Islamic Caliphate: An Islamic government based upon the doctrines from the Qur’an and Hadith.
-Wahhabism: A sub-set of Sunni Islam that interprets the Qur’an in a literalist lens.
Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s ‘Islam and the future of Tolerance: A Dialogue’ is an informative and hopeful dialogue on a number of pressing issues of today, ranging from islamism to Islamic reform. With wit, intelligence and scrutiny all rolled into a short and succinct book, Sam and Maajid effectively take head on these issues and come up with effective strategies to answer them. Easily read in an afternoon, this book is meant to be read in conjunction to the growing political, philosophical and cultural issues occurring in the world today—such as the culture war over Islam, the conflicts against ISIS in the Middle East, the growing rise of neo-Nazism in Europe and the intellectual debates centred around reform in Islam. In addition to this, the book provides a list of helpful sources easily verifiable, as well as provides a further reading information list for all those interested in the topics discussed. (It may not be very helpful to me, since I have read most of the books listed, but I am sure it will be helpful for new individuals entering the discussion.) There is very few things to criticise, as the book is very well written and its contents are discussed in a manner that provides little room for arguing.
It is a dialogue that needed to happen, as both individuals have been engaged in trying to provide discourse on Islam. However, both have been labelled as ‘bigots’, ‘Islamophobes’ and ‘Racists’ by those of the left (regressive leftists) for criticising Islam. Sam Harris himself has been for the last year and a half trying to combat these baseless accusations; hence is why I am glad that he addressed them in this book, as well as pushed past them in informing individuals about what really needs to be discussed. Maajid Nawaz was brilliant in this book, as his writing was more on point and his counter-points to Sam did provide room for further discussion and thought. In addition to this, Maajid has improved on his writing, as his last book ‘Radical’ was rather a disappointment in terms of writing.
As for the ideas being discussed, Islamism and regressivism are by far the most pressing concerns of today. Islamism is the political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by groups such as the Islamic State. Maajid’s informative identifying of sub-branches within Islamism, such as jihadism and political islamism, was by far the most informative aspect of his part of the dialogue on this topic. Sam Harris’ critiques of Islamism, and by highlighting the fact that beliefs do matter, were also enlightening but I do feel that both could have done a more in-depth explanation of Islamism than they ended up doing. (Maajid’s distinction between traditional and conservative Muslims does appear to be misleading, but I trust that he is onto something when he distinguishes between them.)
Regressivism (Coined by Maajid Nawaz) is the political philosophy that has emerged from progressive politics and post-modern ‘Identity politics’, as of late. It is identified by individuals defying classical liberal principles, such as free-speech, freethought and individual autonomy and responsibility, all in the ideal of equality. This has resulted in ‘regressives’ (to use a term from Sam Harris) protecting Islam from criticism and has also resulted in the silencing of critics by regressives. This is truly evident in the west, because regressivism—especially in reference to Islam—is a by-product of Islamist apologetics and Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maajid Nawaz and many others have been victims of this regressivism. This is further expressed in the book.
Maajid Nawaz makes reference to Dr. Hasan, who is a Islamic scholar and Quilliam, throughout the book. However, I do think that he needs to not fall prey to the false belief in trusting an authority figure too much, because even they can be wrong. This leads into another thought as well, and this is in regards to Maajid’s ‘relativist’ interpretation of the Quran and hadiths. If there is no ultimate interpretation of a text, then there is no right or wrong interpretation of a text. This is problematic for obvious reasons, as it creates stagnation and creates misinformation where there need not be any.
The above-mentioned paragraphs are just some of my thoughts on the ideas discussed in the book, as there are plenty more ideas that were discussed in the book, but I will allow individuals to explore those ideas for themselves.
Read from: October 19th-November 7th, 2015
Rating: 5/5 stars—This is definitely my book of the year so far.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
Link to Goodreads Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1387295946?book_show_action=false