This essay by Michael Löwy was written as a preface for the multiauthor collection La Commune du Rojava, and published online at Entre les lignes entre les mots. Thanks to Éditions Syllepse for their permission to republish. Translated by David Broder.
Detail from the cover of La Commune du Rojava.
Western public opinion became aware of Rojava’s existence in 2014 with the battle of Kobane, when the combatants of the YPG-YPJ succeeded in doing what the armies of Assad’s dictatorial regime or the Iraqi government could not do, even with Russian and American backing: namely, they inflicted a military and political defeat on Da’esh. The photos of Kurdish militiawomen, arms in hand, in the front rank of the fight against "Islamist" fascism, circulated around the world. They revealed to surprised, astonished readers a singular experience: libertarian Rojava.
"We know that the work for the left now is long and slow and that it requires force and numbers and commitment at a grassroots, community level. We must also recognise that the challenge for the left in 2017 is one of transnational solidarity: figuring out how to join up, link up and learn from global struggles." - Rachel Shabi looks back at a year of many challenges, and what we can do to build solidarity and resistance in 2017.
Of course it wasn’t the worst year, ever. Those bewailing the myriad awfulness of 2016 know history has dealt worse than the year of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, the year of deadly terror attacks around the world, a desperate refugee crisis and an alarming rise in far-right forces across Europe. Even ignoring swathes of history, recent years have been awful, too: the five since the Arab Uprisings have seen grotesque war in Syria, a deadly assault on Yemen, repression and human rights abuses in Egypt and Bahrain – as well as a harsh crackdown in Turkey, once considered to be a ‘model’ for the region. Egyptian analysts might well say the “worst year ever” was 2013, when a military coup put their authoritarian, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in charge.
An agreement has been reached to evacuate civilians and opposition fighters from the besieged eastern districts of the city of Aleppo, a senior Turkish official and rebel officials have told the Guardian.
The agreement has capped weeks of horrific suffering and violence that have left many dead and others in total despair, raising serious questions at the lack of response from the international community.
People in east Aleppo have issued desperate pleas for rescue, posting farewell messages on Monday night and into Tuesday morning, predicting they would either die in the ongoing bombardment or be tortured and killed if they surrendered.
As events continue to unfold, we present a reading list of key books which — through investigative journalism, graphic storytelling, and critical analysis – shed light on the unfolding crisis in the Middle East.
Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo to go to the government-held side.
Following the failed coup to overthrow Erdogan last Friday, we present an excerpt from Cihan Tuğal's The Fall of the Turkish Model, in which he argues that the problem with the Turkish model of Islamic liberalism is much broader and deeper than Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. The excerpt contextualises the current situation in a succession of coups and Turkish political culture since the late 1970s, including the case of Ergenekon, which provides parallels with the most recent alleged coup attempt and the official representation of the ensuing crackdown as a defense of democracy.
Local and global elites could wish for a liberalized Islam as much as they wanted but one could not be simply conjured up into existence. Most important, the Islamist actors themselves would have to desire such a revised religious line, and this desire, moreover, could not turn into a social force without eff ective organization. Only in some places were there the preconditions for such a fundamental religio-political transformation.
The (perhaps temporary) exceptional case of Turkey allows us to appreciate the contingency of factors that made a popularized liberal Islam possible. How could Turkish Islamists move in a liberalized direction? How did the intellectual and political landscape enable a liberalized religious life?
Istanbul the morning after the great fire of democracy
Sela is called from the mosques
It is half past one in the morning, and from all the minarets in Turkey, this special, long call to prayer, which is used at times of death, resounds unrelentingly. As one ends, already the next starts up. The thundering of the fighter jets over our roofs mingles with this marrow-piercing call to prayer that for us heralds death. As the noises of battle turn to silence, announcements come from the mosques, calling for resistance against the military: “This is a Jihad. Take to the streets, for Allah!”
What do you do when you ask yourself whether the next morning you are going to wake up in the midst of a military coup or in an Islamic Republic?
That was a joke.