Since Turkey’s aggressive offensive against Rojava, an area of North Eastern Syria, began early in October 2019, at least 160,000 Syrians have fled their homes. A BBC report from the 17th October states that airstrikes and ground attacks have killed civilians on both sides of the Turkey / Syria border and quotes a UNICEF estimate that 70,000 children have already been displaced. This is a tragedy for the Kurdish citizens of Rojava, as well as the broader Middle East, given what the Rojava political project represented.
It’s been over a week since Turkey launched a fresh military offensive targeting Kurdish forces in northeast Syria. The death toll in Rojava is rising, and an exodus of civilians from the area has already reached a mass scale. Conflict in Syria thus deepens, becoming ever more complex, with the Syrian regime armed forces now reported to have moved into Kurdish controlled Manbij in order to counter the Turkish invasion. But what has sparked this new wave of insurgency? What role does the US have? What are the Kurds fighting for? And what significance does this have for the wider global justice movement?
During early October 2019, in the space of just nine days, Iraqi state forces killed over one hundred young people and injured thousands more. Thousands. In just nine days. As anti-corruption protests broke out, the state deployed live ammunition almost immediately. In some places, snipers positioned themselves on rooftops, picking off young Iraqi citizens who had nothing left to lose except the hope that they would one day experience a government that provides for their basic needs rather than greedily shovelling oil revenue into its own pockets.
The catalyst for these protests was the sacking of Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, who led the fight against ISIS as part of Iraq’s elite counter terrorism unit, and who was widely acknowledged as the liberator of Mosul. As soon as his transfer to an administrative role was made public, speculation arose that ‘his refusal to back a specific political party made him unpopular among officials in Baghdad’, and that he was ‘removed from his post because he broke sectarian barriers in Mosul.’ The sacking of al-Saadi was widely perceived as emblematic of the corruption that has characterized successive post-U.S invasion administrations, resulting in widespread protests against corruption, unemployment and poor public services.
The British press has been in a frenzy recently over nineteen-year-old Shamima Begum and her desire to return to the UK from the refugee camp in Syria where she currently resides. There are probably very few people in the UK who are unaware that Shamima travelled from the UK to ISIS territory in Syria at the age of fifteen, where she married an ISIS militant, conceived and lost two children before giving birth to a third (who also passed away) in the refugee camp in Syria she currently calls home.
As Islamic State strongholds tumble, the language of counter-terrorism in Europe and beyond expands exponentially.
Binaries lie at the heart of understanding terrorism and modern state security: ‘you’re either with us or against us’; a citizen of here or ‘a citizen of nowhere’; a supporter of the democratic, liberal state or ‘an enemy of freedom’. By targeting ‘us’ – both the individual and the state concurrently – terrorists force citizens into a position in which we all need to look beyond legal convention, to dispense with some rights to preserve others. So has trod the orthodox argument, refracted outwards from media, government and research.
“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.”
Everywhere we turn to some sort of crisis or damage control is taking place. North Korea’s recent testing of a hydrogen bomb, the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Hurricane Harvey devastating parts of Texas, the cholera epidemic and famine in Yemen, the failure of Brexit negotiations, US President Trump’s ever divisive actions, the list goes on. Our global problems are racking up and cracks are starting to appear.
Many of these problems have been long coming, but are now gathering lethal momentum. The world seems to be constantly on edge, waiting with baited breath for the next catastrophe or attack, humanitarian or economical, to happen. New problems are being created or the foundations of future conflicts being laid. What is probably most frustrating is that many are avoidable.