ROAR Magazine

Barcelona en Comú joins Podemos in Spanish elections

Barcelona en Comú declared it will stand with Podemos, breathing new life into the ailing party. But, will it be enough to enforce constitutional change?

Photo by Bloco, via Flickr.

Last week, Barcelona En Comú declared that their radical municipal platform—currently governing Spain’s second largest city—will stand with Podemos in the Spanish general elections on December 20. According to their press release, the motion was passed by the platform’s plenary assembly with 71% of the vote in favor.

The candidacy will be a Catalan coalition aiming to secure its own parliamentary group in the Spanish Congress. The election ticket in Barcelona will be headed up by Xavier Domenech, a well-known historian and one of the leading voices in debates on constitutional processes and historical memory. A figure of consensus among the political forces signing the agreement, Domenech gained a certain level of notoriety in his short time as the city’s Commissioner for Strategic Studies and Historical Memory.

His most well-known gestures include removing the bust of Juan Carlos I, the former king of Spain, from the city council chamber, as well as moving to change the name of a prominent plaza currently dedicated to a known slave trader and denying the use of the Montjuic Castle for a service in memory of executed Franco supporters.

The second spot on the list will be filled by independent candidate Marta Sibina, a public healthcare activist and former director of the independent media publication Caféambllet. The list will also include activists from the housing movement, the platform for a citizen debt audit, and the labor movement. The lists for the remaining provinces of Catalonia are still to be confirmed, but will also be led by independents with links to social movements.

The name of the coalition in Catalonia will be En Comú Podem (“in common we can”). Their program will be based on four points, including the right to Catalan self-determination, the protection of municipal sovereignty and the defense of the citizen municipal movement, an emergency citizen rescue plan to deal with the impacts of the economic crisis and neoliberal austerity, and new mechanisms for change that tackle cross-border challenges such as TTIP and climate change.

The move comes after several months of declining support for Podemos in national polls and the underwhelming results achieved by a coalition between Podemos and the Catalan Greens in September’s regional elections.

Framed by Catalan politicians as a pseudo-referendum on their nation’s independence from Spain, the regional elections resulted in a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament and a surge in support for the pro-Spain Ciudadanos party, whose unequivocal centralism clashed with Podemos’s nuanced support for a binding referendum and constitutional change.

Over recent weeks, Podemos have approached radical parties and coalitions in Catalonia, Galicia and Valencia, among other regions, with the goal of building local coalitions in favor of changing Spain’s constitution along five points. These points include reforming Spain’s electoral law, guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary, guaranteeing social rights including decent housing, education and health care, stopping the revolving door mechanisms between political and business elites, and reforming the Senate to guarantee territorial representation.

According to a poll published in El País on Sunday, November 1, since adopting this strategy Podemos have reversed their declining numbers, and support once again appears to be on the upswing.

There are many aspects of this strategy that may, at first glance, seem surprising. On the one hand, there is the support of a municipalist platform like Barcelona En Comú for a party seeking to govern the state. On the other, Podemos have frequently been accused of electoral opportunism and criticized internally and by other left-wing parties for not being open enough to citizens in deciding their approach to coalitions.

With this in mind, siding with the so-called “peripheral nations” in the Spanish state in order to defend a constitutional reform that reflects its “plurinational” character seems like a decidedly unpopular stance.

Still, standing with Podemos is not as surprising a decision for Barcelona En Comú as it may seem at first. It is worth pointing out that Podemos is one of the major parties within Barcelona En Comú, and for many voters the line between the two is often blurry.

Moreover, as Barcelona En Comú have gained experience in dealing with the various levels of Spain’s administrative structure, they have encountered a considerable amount of bureaucratic interference from the state on matters ranging from the management of public space to closing the city’s migrant detention center. Of the four main contenders in the general elections, Podemos is the most hostile to increased centralization.

Finally, Podemos’s support for settling the question of Spain’s relationship with Catalonia through a referendum—on the grounds that the right to self-determination is a basic human right—is in line with the position of Barcelona En Comú.

On the other hand, Podemos’ strategy of siding with local parties in Catalonia, Valencia, Galicia and elsewhere is, for the most part, a reflection of the pacts they have made at the municipal level. This strategy was voted on and approved by Podemos supporters in July.

Nonetheless, the decision has sparked some controversy. Earlier this year, when a new “confluence” platform called Ahora En Común proposed a single list blending Podemos with the United Left and others through open primaries, Podemos rejected the proposal outright, claiming it was simply a ploy to resuscitate a declining party. This led Ahora En Común supporters to criticize Podemos for its seemingly conservative stance and unwillingness to open themselves to citizen participation.

Curiously, though, by basing their approach on a logic of territorial coalitions, Podemos have essentially guaranteed that a rather profound constitutional change will be at the center of their program. As Spain’s party system grows more fragmented, with no less than four parties vying for the top spot, Podemos can either force a hypothetical governing coalition to accept profound structural changes or amplify the existing tensions in a country where frustration with the central state is growing.

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. His new e-book, Hope Is a Promise: From the Indignados to the Rise of Podemos in Spain, is now out from Zed Books.

Turkey elections: AKP wins big, HDP here to stay

Erdogan’s AKP booked an unexpected victory in Turkey’s elections this Sunday, now it’s up to the leftist HDP to provide a real democratic counterbalance.

Photo by Dogan Ucar, via Flickr.

On Sunday, the ruling AKP secured a surprise majority with 49 percent of the national vote in Turkey’s snap elections. This result gives them a sizable majority in parliament, with almost five million more votes for the neoliberal Islamist party than at the previous elections in June.

To many, it was a complete shock. Former party leader and current president Erdoğan had waged a determined crackdown on all opponents in what many saw as a desperate attempt to cling onto power. His increasingly repressive attacks on opponents was interpreted as a sign of his imminent departure as the dominant force in Turkish politics, a position he has held for 13 years. Instead, the emphatic victory of AKP has given Erdoğan a mandate to continue at the helm of the country.

So, how did Erdoğan achieve such an extraordinary comeback?

The majority of AKP’s newly-gained votes came from the ultra-nationalist MHP, which lost a quarter of its votes to the AKP. By resuming the war with the PKK shortly after the suicide attack that killed 33 pro-Kurdish activists in Suruç in July, Erdoğan managed to garner support among nationalist voters.

However, the surprise of this election was how AKP managed to win back votes among the more conservative segment of Kurdish society, which previously had turned its back on AKP in favor of the HDP at the June elections.

Whilst AKP undoubtedly made major inroads across the country, the election campaign has been marred by Erdoğan’s strategy of sowing violence and exploiting fears of chaos across Turkey.

AKP’s campaign of terror and violence

Throughout the campaign, Erdoğan, along with his ruling AKP, followed a clear strategy of targeting all opponents that “showed dissent.” Hundreds of journalists were arrested, with several newspaper offices being raided simply because of their critical stance towards the president or the government. One prominent journalist, Ahmet Hakan, was beaten up outside his home by AKP supporters in what many saw as an “organized attack.”

For the last five months, the HDP has been targeted, both through state-sponsored crime and by detaining hundreds of Kurdish politicians and activists. Almost two dozen democratically-elected mayors were arrested, while hundreds of HDP offices have been attacked by angry mobs, apparently with the approval of the police, who failed to intervene.

Government discourse, seeking to de-legitimize and demonize the HDP by claiming the party acted as a mouthpiece for the PKK, encouraged such attacks. In the month following the government’s decision to resume the war with the PKK, 2,544 people were detained, the large majority of them Kurdish activists.

After the two bomb attacks in Suruç and Ankara — which together killed more than 130 people — the security situation in Turkey deteriorated rapidly. Both attacks were carried out by an ISIS cell from the southeastern city of Adiyaman.

It has since become clear that this cell was well known by Turkey’s security forces, with family members of the Ankara suicide bombers even pleading with police to arrest their children. However, the government ignored calls to crack down on the group, in an apparent attempt to use the security risk for its own political gain.

Both massacres were intended to spread fear among the population on the slow “Syriazation” of Turkey, making Turkish citizens aware that the fundamental safety of their country was at risk as Turkey began to resemble its turbulent Middle-Eastern neighbors.

The policy of pro-actively refusing to quell ISIS-linked groups was intended as a kind of wrath to the Turkish public for failing to give the AKP the majority he craved back in June. Aykan Erdemir, a former politician for the opposition CHP, said “It is as if Erdoğan is saying: If you vote for me, I will bring peace and stability. If you don’t, I will make your life a living hell.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Ankara bomb, Erdoğan quickly capitalized on the situation, claiming that the attack was carried out by a “terrorist cocktail” including ISIS, the PKK and Assad’s secret service. Alongside this, Prime Minister Davutoğlu bizarrely claimed that they had arrested the suicide bomber after he had successfully blown himself into pieces.

To many, these claims appeared ludicrous. But this strategy had a clear aim: to mask the reality from the Turkish public, and to intentionally manufacture a new narrative of the political events that were creating so much turmoil in Turkey. In a sign that this tactic was working, a survey conducted a few weeks ago showed that more people believed the PKK were behind the Ankara bombs than ISIS, despite the factual evidence offered.

“Erdoğan’s strategy appears to be failing, as Turkey is not longer where it used to be in the 1990s,” Aykan Erdemir said in an interview, days before the elections. “But his brutal suppression of Kurdish dissidents appears outdated in 2015 as Turkish citizens understanding of democracy has matured.”

However, Sunday’s election shows exactly the opposite: that a vast section of the Turkish public can still be won over by an anti-Kurdish agenda. In this, we can understand why a quarter of MHP voters switched to AKP, just five months after lending their support to MHP.

While many of these nationalist voters refused to vote for AKP in June, no doubt because of Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies, they switched back simply because their hatred for the Kurds, and in particular for the PKK, trumps any ill-feeling they have towards the president.

Furthermore, these nationalists know too well that Erdoğan is the only man capable of truly shedding the blood of the Kurds. A weak Erdoğan means a weakened state, which would play into the hands of the PKK. For this reason, nationalists have presented Erdoğan with a strong mandate to continue his suppression of Kurdish dissidents.

HDP’s defeat is still a victory

In the immediate aftermath of the elections, many saw the HDP as the biggest losers. In June, the HDP surprisingly won 80 seats in parliament after obtaining 13.6 percent of national vote. This result contributed to a rising momentum for the HDP – with its emphasis on including all of Turkey’s varied minorities and broadening its appeal beyond its traditionally Kurdish base – and led many to wonder whether they could be a force for change in Turkish politics.

However, while they now are the third biggest party in parliament, this election came at the cost of a quarter of their seats, leaving them with only 59 MPs in the 550-seat parliament.

After the Ankara attack, which targeted HDP supporters as well as trade unionists and leftists, the co-president of HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, immediately canceled all campaign rallies for fear of further massacres. This, along with the detention of thousands of HDP members, made it increasingly hard for HDP to conduct a proper election campaign.

Within this political context, the HDP found it increasingly difficult to defend itself amidst the all-encompassing war which was being waged between Turkey’s armed forces and the PKK.

Part of the success of HDP’s results in June’s elections was due to the support of the vast majority of Kurds who had previously supported AKP. The HDP roughly lost a million votes this time around, and this loss can be mainly attributed to these Kurds returning to the AKP, undoubtedly wary of the violence that has engulfed the region since the AKP resumed the war with the PKK.

However, these votes were not lost in the regions that saw the worst violence, but rather in the periphery of the Kurdish regions. In this sense, we can see the AKP’s strategy at work: brutally suppressing Kurds in the region where the resistance was at its strongest, while using the powerful propaganda mechanisms at their disposal to manufacture a fear of violence that the HDP was alleged to indirectly encourage.

While the PKK has fought a guerrilla war with Turkey’s armed forces from the mountains, much of the most recent conflict has been taking place in Kurdish cities where youths have taken armed control of various neighborhoods. Known as the YDG-H, these loosely organized youth groups have declared autonomy in a number of towns, following the ideological precepts of democratic confederalism, inspired by the imprisoned PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan. In Lice, Silvan, Sirnak, Suriçi and Yuksekova – all areas where YDG-H have been active – HDP retained their support and in some cases even increased their percentage among the electorate.

In this sense, the outcome of the election for HDP cannot be seen as a defeat. Instead, considering that they couldn’t run a campaign due to the ruling party’s refusal to defend them against potential bomb attacks, alongside the state-sponsored lynching campaigns that have become a regular sight across Turkey, retaining representation in parliament as the third-largest party should be considered a victory.

However much the HDP were stigmatized and under-represented in the election campaign, it still managed to pass the exceptionally high 10 percent threshold and thus proved that they are here to stay.

The road ahead

The hope before the elections focused on Turkey seeing Erdoğan for what he truly is: an authoritarian leader bent on retaining the power he has acquired after 13 years at the helm.

People believed that the Turkish republic had matured since the 1990s, when the suppression of Kurdish dissidents would have worked, and would firmly reject Erdoğan. However, the remarkable result of this election undoes any such hopes. Kurds across the region feel understandably angry that nearly one in two Turkish citizens voted for a leader who has embarked on killing Kurdish civilians as a means to retain power.

The day before the election, the AKP sent a text message to all people of Diyarbakir: “If you don’t want Turkey to be like Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the others, you should warn your friends and give one vote to AKP.” The message was a direct threat to the people of Turkey. The chilling reality is that it paid off handsomely for Erdoğan.

And herein lies the fundamental problem for the Kurdish movement. The HDP’s democratic project, inspired by the Kurdish movement, is an ambitious project attempting to democratize Turkey by incorporating the various, heterogeneous identities that exist in the country. This election, however, appears to prove that there still exists an underlying hurdle which the HDP needs to overcome, as Turkish society is clearly not yet ready to accept the society the HDP envisions.

Until the Turkish public stands up to the violent rhetoric of the Turkish state, which continues to terrorize those who dare to speak out, the HDP will find it increasingly difficult to cement such a political narrative.

For this barrier to be broken, the HDP needs to move away from its fixation on the ballot box, which has dominated all its activities as a result of the two electoral campaigns in five months’ time. Both elections have now firmly cemented the HDP as a mainstream force within Turkey’s political arena, but its task now lies in expanding its message beyond the constraints of representative democracy.

Broadening links with trade unionists, activists and other allies on the ground through an implementation of a grassroots system of democracy will help widen their appeal into a force that can truly challenge the political discourse that currently dominates Turkish politics.

Yvo Fitzherbert is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He writes for a number of different publications, with a particular focus on Kurdish politics. Follow him on Twitter at @yvofitz.

New Lines: a parliament for the Rojava revolution

New World Summit recently started building a revolutionary public parliament in Derîk, open to all, and a true home for Rojava’s stateless democracy.

Photo: celebration at the new public parliament in Derîk, in the presence of political representatives from Scotland, Catalonia, the Philippines, Amazigh and Sweden (Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava/New World Summit, 2015; photo: Ruben Hamelink)

Two cranes circle above a large pit in the ground, lifting heavy, black metal arches into the air. They are covered with hand-painted words: Yeksani Regezi, Gender Equality, Xwe-Bergîri, Self-Defense.

Neighbors surrounding the construction site have walked out of their homes to see the choreography of cranes, cement trucks, and bulldozers — some of the machinery decorated with flags of political parties and councils.

Among the observers is Amina Osse, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Cezîre Canton, watching the spectacle together with some women of the local security forces, the Asayish — famous for its public statements about the wish to auto-dissolve when the entire society has become capable of organizing its own self-defense.

Osse is one of the driving forces behind the building process, one of its co-authors. The day passes by and her silhouette turns dark. In the remaining light a large spherical shape has emerged in front of her. A constructivist globe that we hope will be a symbol for a new world in the making.

New World Summit

I am writing these words from Rojava, or West Kurdistan (northern Syria), where, for the third time since 2014, I am a guest, together with my colleagues Younes Bouadi and Renée In der Maur.

For the past years, our organization — the New World Summit — has dedicated itself to creating platforms in art institutions, theaters, and public spaces for stateless political movements from all over the world. From Berlin and Brussels to Kochi in India, we have constructed what we call “temporary parliaments,” large-scale architectural constructions in which representatives of more than thirty stateless political movements have taken the floor: from Basque, Catalan, Amazigh, Oromo and Baluch, to Tamil and West-Papuan revolutionary organizations.

Moussa Ag Assarid of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (left) debates with Shigut Geleta of the Oromo Liberation Front (right) at the 4th New World Summit in the Royal Flemish Theater (KVS) in Brussels (New World Summit, 2014; Photo: Ernie Buts)

Today, many of these groups are blacklisted, as a direct result of the so-called War on Terror. This has resulted in the freezing of bank accounts, the enforcement of travel bans, and the cancellation of passports.

Cynically enough, this means that through the act of blacklisting, those who are already without a state are turned stateless once more, facing a double negation. Blacklisting these organizations — literally placing them “outside” of democracy — has much to do with the threat they pose to the status quo of the global capitalist doctrine.

As Tamil activist and scholar Suthaharan Nadarajah argued, the policies of blacklisting is essentially driven by a project of neoliberal state building: the demand for resistance movements to “disarm” and to engage in “peaceful democratic participation” all too often simply means that the space is to be cleared for corporate politics to take over resources and land.

Many of those declared stateless through terrorist blacklisting in the so-called War on Terror embody the living, insurgent memory of legitimate resistance against exactly these policies.

The New World Summit believes that, as artists invested in emancipatory politics, our task is to create spaces to narrate these counter-narratives: spaces where we can re-imagine and represent the world according to the stateless.

The lines drawn throughout North Africa and the Middle-East were drawn by bureaucrats and colonists. As artist Golrokh Nafisi has said, it is time to draw new lines. Not according to the occupiers, but according to the resistance. Not lines that isolate one nation from another, but lines of new shapes and forms that allow us to enact this world anew. To create a new world we need the imaginary of what that world could or should look like. As such, every political imaginary needs an artistic imaginary as well.

The revolution of Rojava

The Rojava revolution has provided the world with the political imaginary that many leftists, anarchists, eco-activists and libertarian socialists have been seeking. In mid-2011, when the Assad regime was fighting the Free Syrian Army in the south, the power vacuum in the northern, predominantly Kurdish regions of the country was filled up by the Rojava revolutionaries, who declared their autonomy.

Election for local women representatives in the City Parliament of Qamishlo, Cezîre Canton (Photo: Jonas Staal, 2014)

A collectively written text, the “Social Contract,” clarified the points of departure: Rojava was to become a non-state entity, where self-governance, gender equality, ethnic and religious diversity, the right to self-defense and communal economy would form the foundational pillars. Ever since — while in the middle of a war against the Islamic State and other jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, and surrounded by the forces of the Assad regime, Russian troops and the international “coalition forces” — Rojava revolutionaries have begun to put their new ideals of self-governance into practice.

Recent years have seen the birth of countless local parliaments and communes, self-organized neighborhood protection forces, new universities for the studies of repressed languages and cultures, the development of “jineology” (science of women), cultural centers, and a new film academy. Together they form the new social ecology known as the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava.

The Rojava revolution is more than a revolution of arms — it is a social and cultural revolution. Resulting from decades of revolutionary theory and practice developed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the work of Abdullah Öcalan has been leading in this process. After his imprisonment by the Turkish regime in 1999, he began to theorize models of autonomy that would form an alternative to the traditional paradigm of the nation-state. Concluding that the nation-state today is nothing more than a “colony of capital,” Öcalan instead proposed a model of “democratic confederalism,” which he described as “democracy without the state.”

As is widely known today, the Kurdish women’s movement was elementary in supporting this rejection of traditional forms of statehood. PKK co-founder Sakine Cansiz described how the revolutionary movement had been “an ideological struggle from the very beginning against denial, social chauvinistic impression, primitive and nationalist approaches.”

Öcalan and Cansiz thus redefined the very notion of what autonomy means. Rather than following the terms of the colonists and their projects of state building that wreaked havoc and divide, a set of new terms arose through the practice of revolutionary struggle. This is why today we can witness the stateless democracy of Rojava.

Many journalists have described the Rojava Revolution as a surprise, as a curiosity that emerged out of nowhere. But those who visit Rojava are quickly brought to reality: on every corner, in every house or commune, the names and images of martyrs are displayed. Every inch of Rojava was fought for, in past and present.

That expression is to be taken very literally: the liberation of towns and cities occupied by the Islamic State are full of booby-traps and mines, sometimes covering hundreds of meters through serially attached explosives that cannot be but detonated to be cleared, with scattered snipers and suicide bombers left behind to achieve maximum casualties. The many young people that have to fight the way through these terrifying labyrinths are the ones who make a future for Rojava possible, very literally: one inch made inhabitable at the time.

Every idea, every achievement that formed this new democratic paradigm is thus tied to a communal memory of those who helped to bring it into practice. And still today, in Rojava, as well as in Bakûr, Rojelat, and Başûr, this sacrifice continues. The saying that “Kurds are born in struggle” is the harsh reality on which a revolutionary imaginary of a new world is founded. One cannot embrace a revolution without accounting for those who were willing to resist at the cost of their very own lives.

Living quarter of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in Amude, Cezîre Canton (Photo: Jonas Staal. 2014)

When our team of the New World Summit arrived in Rojava the first time, we felt that we were witnessing a political project that we — as artists — had hardly been able to even imagine. In a region that suffered the terror of decades of imperialist and neocolonial state-building, a radical new democratic imaginary had arisen.

Those subjected to forces that often legitimize themselves through the name of democracy re-appropriated the term, re-enforced its principles and practice, and liberated democracy from its increasing history of serving state terror, foreign wars, clientelist regimes, and covert warfare. Revolutions are also explosions of creativity; they liberate old terms and old forms, and open up the possibility for different ways of acting upon the meaning and possibilities of our being in the world. They are expansions of the imagination of what a society could become. Essentially, that is what every great work of art should be about.

Our hosts, Foreign Affairs Minister Amina Osse and Sheruan Hassan, the international representative of the Democratic Union Party, wanted to know everything about our work in the New World Summit and the temporary parliaments we created in the past years for Kurdish and other stateless political organizations.

One night, looking through the photos of our architectural constructions, Osse looked up at me and asked: “Where are these parliaments now?” I answered: “Nowhere, we construct them for the days of our international summits only: they are temporary parliaments.” With a sparkle in her eye she smiled and said: “If you would ever make one in Rojava, we would keep it forever.”

A parliament for the Rojava revolution

Design of the public parliament and surrounding park in the city of Derîk, Cezîre Canton (Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava/New World Summit, 2015)

That evening, political and artistic imaginary met. And that very same night, Osse, Hassan, and my team began to draw and develop a new public parliament for the Rojava Revolution. But this time, as Osse had suggested, it would be a permanent one.

We began drawing lines. But this time, they were not the lines of yet another state, yet another occupation, yet another wall or separation: as Nafisi wanted, they were new lines.

The first line we drew defined that the parliament had to be a public space: a people’s parliament, accessible at all times, for all layers and organizations that form the autonomous self-government of Rojava. The parliament was no longer to be separated from the public sphere, but had to become one with it.

The second line we drew defined that the parliament had to be circular; a parliament that rejects formal hierarchies between speakers and public; a parliament that embraces the fact that the revolution of Rojava rejects all monopolies of power.

Design of the inside view of the circular agora, the heart of the public parliament (Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava/New World Summit, 2015)

The third line we drew defined that the parliament had to be founded on six pillars: six metal arches, each of which would carry a foundational concept from the Social Contract that resulted from the Rojava revolution. Written in Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian these pillars would carry the foundational principles of the revolution, namely Democratic Confederalism, Gender Equality, Secularism, Self-Defense, Communalism and Social Ecology.

The fourth line we drew defined that the parliament would be covered by fragments of six flags: six organizations that form the texture of grassroots movements and coalitions that continue to shape the Rojava revolution. Six fragments of flags that, when perceived from within the parliament, form a new whole, a new flag in which the stars and suns that decorate so many of the emblems of the organizations in Rojava construct a new confederate whole.

The fifth line we drew was the overall shape that all these components would construct together: a sphere, a new world.

In many ways, we, as the New World Summit, thought that a parliament could only be revolutionary by being temporary. But through the revolutionary imaginary of Rojava, a new parliament became possible: a stateless parliament for a stateless democracy.

The Kurdish Sun

Construction site of the public parliament in the city of Derîk, Cezîre Canton (Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava/New World Summit, 2015; photo: Jonas Staal)

Now the public parliament is being built: by the hands of artists, workers and revolutionaries alike. The concrete, circular heart of the parliament has become visible. The first arches of the parliament have been erected. Artists such as Abdullah Abdul help us paint the enormous canvasses that will cover the structure.

On October 17, 2015, a delegation of twenty-seven international guests stood together with the people of Derîk and the representatives of the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava to celebrate the parliament’s coming into being. Revolutionaries from Rojava stood side-by-side with representatives of the Scottish National Party, the Popular Unity Candidacy in Catalonia, the Amazigh World Congress from North Africa, Feminist Initiative from Sweden and the National Democratic Movement of the Philippines: an internationalist blessing for a new world in the making.

As the music started, and a dance around the new parliament began under the remaining light of the Kurdish sun, Osse stood and watched the parliament. This time she stood with many.

She had said it herself many times: “Our revolution is a revolution for humanity.” It seems that humanity is beginning to see that. We certainly do. The revolutionary imaginary of Rojava taught us the profound possibilities of a new world. And now, we, as artists, hope to make our own modest contribution to make that imaginary a reality for all.

Biji Jiyana Nu Rojava.

Amina Osse, members of the Asayish and the building team observe the construction site of the new public parliament in the city of Derîk (Democratic Self Administration of Rojava/New World Summit, 2015; Photo: Jonas Staal)

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Jonas Staal is a visual artist, PhD researcher on Art and Propaganda in the 21st Century at PhDArts/Leiden University and founder of the artistic and political organization New World Summit.

The author wishes to thank Renée In der Maur, Dilar Dirik and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei for their editorial support in writing this article. Also thanks to artist Golrokh Nafisi, who truly does honor to Mazou Ibrahim Touré’s saying that “Slogans are the poetry of the revolution.”

The horrors of Lesbos: on the front-lines of Fortress Europe

Far from providing safe refuge to those who survive the crossing, Europe is subjecting refugees to dehumanizing, degrading and life threatening conditions.

By Harriet Paintin and Hannah Kirmes-Daly.

Nothing could have prepared us for the night when approximately 300 people were shipwrecked off the coast of Lesbos.

Boatloads of people were brought in by the coastguard. Everyone was drenched to the bone, hypothermic, screaming the names of family members who had perished. Medics and volunteers desperately attempted to revive the unconscious.

One moment I was consoling a young man, shuddering and shaking in my arms, as he cried out, “my brother, my brother, I have lost my brother, our boat was broken, two hours at sea,” the next I was wrapping my arms around a woman screaming and banging her head against the wall, her eyes wide in shock, desperation and grief.

Another woman slipped in and out of consciousness, coughing up salty sea water, her lips blue, shaking under the pile of blankets on top of her. Another refused to let us change her out of her soaking wet clothes, refused water, food and warm tea, until she found her two-month-old baby. Nearly everybody that night lost a family member to the sea.

Nevertheless, the striking image of refugees piling out of rubber dinghies on the shores of Greek islands is by now a familiar one. We are familiar with the dangers posed by the treacherous sea crossing, with so many refugees perishing. We know of the extortionate rates charged by smugglers ($1,000-$2,000 per person, compared to 20 euros for the ferry), we know about  the war zones, torture and persecution that these people are fleeing. But what awaits refugees who have survived all of this, on the Greek island of Lesbos, is unknown except by the few who have experienced and witnessed these horrors themselves.

From the port and the beaches, they are sent to one of the makeshift camps situated at the northern end of the island, next to a busy dusty road, where they are forced to wait in the long lines for buses to the registration camps. Many have to wait patiently overnight, given that their only alternative is to walk the 70 kilometers. There is a general sense of confusion and frustration at the lack of autonomy that the refugees experience: before registration, even those with the money are not allowed to take a taxi or rent a hotel room; they must sleep on the cold, dusty ground and await their turn in line.

There are two registration camps on the island, Kara Tepe for Syrians and Moria for non-Syrians, and refugees have to queue in the necessary line upon arrival. Non-Syrians are immediately struck by the discrimination they face: “Why is there a different line for Syrians?” the Afghanis and Iraqis ask. I tell them that it is because of the two different registration camps, but I do not have the heart to tell them of the stark difference in the conditions they will face, or that this discrimination will be enforced throughout the entirety of their journey across Europe.

Kara Tepe is a well-equipped and well-staffed camp, with UNHCR cabins for Syrian refugees, a solid stream of volunteers and NGOs, doctors easily available, and a quick and easy registration process. It is difficult to describe the horrendous condition in Moria, an imposing former military base with three layers of razor-wire fencing, intended to be used as a detention center. Here, Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians who are fleeing homes destroyed by war, poverty and persecution are subjected to dehumanizing conditions.

“On the boat here we were scared, we lost everything… then we arrive here, made to sleep outside here and wait for three days in the line for our papers, with the police, treated like animals, like I am not a human too, and I start to believe I am not a human — I am ashamed, I feel sorry to disturb you here in Europe… I am only searching for some humanity.”

There is very little NGO presence and only a few UNHCR staff, who have been allocated so little resources that they ask the volunteers for help: “do you have any blankets or food for us?” There is extremely limited access to a doctor, who is only on site from 9-5. All authority in Moria lies with the police, of whom some are ready to help but the majority treat the refugees with brutal cruelty; there are countless accounts of beatings and tear gas at the hands of the authorities in Moria.

The detention center was designed for 500 people, and in recent weeks there have been as many as 5,000 people there, waiting outside the camp to be let in for registration. Once the refugees arrive, they must wait in line for their papers, without which they cannot take a taxi,  get a hotel room, or buy their tickets for their onward journey. If they attempt to leave the camp without these papers they face arrest.

They cannot even leave the line to buy food from the overpriced outlets that have appeared (charging 8 euros for a liter of water) without rejoining again from the start of the line. The authorities stopped providing food, reasoning that because they cannot detain the refugees they are not legally required to provide them with anything. When individual volunteers handed out food, paid for with their own money, they found people — children — who had not eaten in days.

The first winter storms hit the island this week with four days of torrential rain and thunderstorms. As a result, thousands of families, children and elderly people, were sleeping in a river of mud and rubbish with no shelter, food or medical care. The queue to enter the registration center stretched as far as 2.5 kilometers and some people waited under the rain, without food, for as long as six days.

People were huddled together in soaking wet blankets, trying desperately to get shelter, their eyes blank and empty, glazed over and no longer seeing the scene in front of them, or filled with a manic desperation. Barefoot children were knee deep in a river of mud and rubbish, their feet white and shriveled. There was no escape from the incessant rain. As volunteers handed out blankets people shrugged them away — “there’s no point, we are soaking wet” — or desperately asked if they could be sent back to Afghanistan.

Inside the area for registration, everybody desperately tried to shelter under the small tarpaulin, while the police shouted and beat people with their sticks. Families were split up in the chaos and volunteers desperately pleaded with the police to let them through the fence to reunite children with their parents. “What kind of person leaves their child alone? These people are not human,” one of the policeman said in response to these pleas.

This excerpt from a personal account of a volunteer, who was at Moria during the four days of storms, vividly describes the inhumane conditions, police brutality and desperation faced by those at Moria:

A girl, no older than 8, falls on her knees in front of me and folds her hands together and in hysterics she says: “please help, please help.” A passed-out woman is dragged in, babies drenched in their blankets. These are the scenes I see before my eyes like a horror film I cannot switch off.

The woman from UNHCR grabs me: “they are about to open the gates for the next group.” I take one look at the gate and see the squashed people pushed up against it, sounds of crying and screaming. The riot police removes the bolts and opens it. Hordes of people run in, people are getting trampled on, piled on top of each other when they all try to push in.

“We have to pull out the babies!” We run in and with all my might I tug at the people stuck at the bottom. It’s no use. I see a child and pull her arms. Then, a strange smell and a quick sensation: teargas. It burns my eyes, my throat, my face. People scream and run away from the gas. I have to let go of the child and run also, it is unbearable.

This registration process to claim asylum in Europe is so systematically abusive that it is putting the lives of those who have escaped war, prison and torture in danger. Instead of being used to create registration centers which do not put lives at risk, EU funding is consistently pumped into the further securitization of borders, forcing people to undertake the dangerous ocean crossing.

Far from providing safe refuge to those who survive this crossing, the authorities are subjecting these people to dehumanizing, degrading and life threatening conditions. The situation is critical. As one volunteer doctor who flew out to assess the situation said: “There are thousands of children here and their feet are literally rotting, they can’t keep dry, they have high fevers and they’re standing in the pouring rain for days on end. You have one month guys, and then all these people will be dead.”

Harriet Paintin is a freelance writer and musician, and Hannah Kirmes-Daly is a freelance reportage illustrator. They work together on documenting individual stories through art and music, focusing on refugee stories. Follow them at brushandbow.com and on twitter @brushandbow2.

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Photos by Merel Graeve:

From Shanghai to San Francisco, the rent is too damn high

Fueled by years of record-low interest rates, a new housing crisis is rearing its head from London to L.A. This time, however, it will not go uncontested.

This article was originally written for teleSUR English. Photo: a protest for increased corporate taxes and affordable housing in San Francisco.

Capitalism is a strange beast. Though incredibly resilient in the face of systemic crises and remarkably adaptive to ever-changing conditions, it never truly overcomes its structural contradictions. As the Marxist geographer David Harvey often points out, it merely displaces them in space and time.

The global financial crisis of 2008-’09 has been no exception in this regard. In fact, the very response to that calamity has already laid the foundations for the next big crisis. And just like its immediate predecessor, it looks like this one will be centered, at least in part, on a massive speculative housing bubble.

Officials and investors may still be turning a blind eye, but the warning signs are flashing red everywhere. From Shanghai to San Francisco, from London to L.A., a wave of real-estate speculation is washing over the world, gentrifying popular neighborhoods, pushing housing prices and rents to historically unprecedented highs, and forcing low-income tenants out of their increasingly unaffordable homes. The result is widespread social displacement and deepening discontent.

Unlike the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-’08, which was centered on the complex packaging of risky loans to low-income households across the U.S., the new housing crisis is a product of real-estate speculation in the world’s major metropolitan areas. Take London, which according to the Financial Times finds itself confronted with “its biggest housing challenge since the Victorian era.” Residential property prices in the British capital have risen 44 percent since 2008, and are now well above their pre-crisis highs.

According to an analysis by the UK charity Shelter, there are currently only 43 homes in Greater London that could still be considered affordable to the average first-time buyer, pushing everyone but the richest of the rich into the rental market, where landlords are known to exact more than a pound of flesh in return for a roof and running water. In the majority of London boroughs, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now over £1,000 per month. On average, Londoners spend about 60 percent of their income on rent.

A similar picture has emerged in New York, where property prices — in the words of the BBC — “have gone turbo-ballistic, as global capital in search of a safe haven has rocketed in.” The average monthly rent in Manhattan now exceeds $3,800, even as half of New York’s urban population lives near or below the poverty line. As a gubernatorial candidate for New York once aptly pointed out, “the rent is too damn high.”

Again, the unsurprising result has been widespread social displacement. Al Jazeera recently reported that “evictions [in New York] have reached epidemic proportions and created a new homeless crisis born out of an affordable housing shortage.” Other major cities like Boston and Los Angeles are not doing much better, as gentrification proceeds apace from coast to coast. Today, even the downtown area of derelict Detroit is rapidly gentrifying, while much of the city still languishes in a state of post-industrial decline.

It is San Francisco, however, that has emerged in recent years as the most paradigmatic case of unbridled gentrification. With median monthly rent hitting $3,530, the city has become the most expensive in the U.S. Desperate to get rid of old tenants who still enjoy rent controls and attract high-income professionals from the tech industry in their place, landlords have gone on an eviction spree: in the past five years, the eviction rate has soared more than 50 percent. Immigrant and working class neighborhoods like the Mission have been reduced to multi-million dollar playgrounds for the “bohemian bourgeois”, complete with snazzy coffee places and expensive vegan restaurants.

The urban sociologist Saskia Sassen has encapsulated the nature of this violent process in strikingly succinct terms: the social reality of financialized capitalism, she argues in her book Expulsions, is all about “systemic complexity producing simple brutality.” And as usual, those feeling the brunt of this brutality are the urban poor and marginalized communities, especially immigrants and people of color, who — along with artists and precarious youths — are increasingly being displaced from city centers towards the periphery.

It is not just cities in the advanced capitalist countries that have been undergoing this turbulent process of urban stratification: the major metropolitan areas of the Global South are firing on all cylinders as well — with the notable difference being that the bubble in emerging markets already appears to be in the process of popping, raising fears of a new international financial crisis centered on China, Brazil and Turkey, among others.

In China’s biggest cities, property prices shot up 60 percent between 2008 and 2014, with residential prices in Shanghai and Beijing rapidly closing in on those of London, Paris and New York. According the consultancy firm McKinsey, some $9 trillion — almost half of China’s total debt, excluding financial sector debt — “is directly or indirectly tied to real estate.” Price increases have exceeded the rise in income by 30 percent in Shanghai and by 80 percent in Beijing.

Other major cities that have been experiencing similar real-estate booms include São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where residential property prices in the most-desired neighborhoods doubled between 2008 and 2013, and Istanbul, along with the other big cities of Turkey, where a credit-fueled construction boom has accounted for 30 percent of GDP in the period since Erdogan’s AKP came to power on the heels of a previous financial crisis in 2002. Since 2007, property prices in Turkey have shot up 36 percent.

To be sure, the local specificities vary from place to place. In London, the housing crisis has been fueled at least in part by massive capital inflows from wealthy elites in countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, as well as the municipality’s failure to build adequate housing for the large influx of new inhabitants. In Barcelona, by contrast, it has been driven primarily by the tourism industry, while in San Francisco it is largely driven by the tech industry. In Rio, the process has been intensified by preparations for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, while widespread cronyism and corruption have been an important catalyst for the construction boom in Istanbul.

Yet for all differences between them, the gentrification processes and housing crises in each of these global cities share two crucial commonalities: first in their causes, and second in their consequences.

In terms of the underlying causes, the new housing crisis should be seen as a direct outcome of the response to the previous crisis, which was based on massive bank bailouts and central banks opening the floodgates of cheap credit. With the notable exception of the ECB, which only embarked on quantitative easing earlier this year, the world’s largest central banks dropped interest rates to historic lows, kept them there for years on end, and pumped trillions of dollars of fresh liquidity into the global financial system, effectively subsidizing private investors out of bankruptcy.

This unlimited flow of free money (for the 1% only, of course) produced a tide of surplus capital that had to be absorbed somewhere. With “secular stagnation” taking hold across the developed world, investors were still wary to direct this surplus towards the productive economy, where profit margins remained relatively low. And so, in their insatiable quest for yield, they turned to speculative investment in various asset classes instead: stocks, bonds — and, once again, real-estate. The profits were phenomenal. By 2012-’13, the resulting speculative boom had led U.S. corporate profits back to a new all-time high.

But now that the first signs of overheating have become apparent, we can already begin to identify the second crucial commonality between today’s urban housing crises; a commonality that sets the current crisis apart from the last one: in almost all of the major world cities today, ordinary citizens are already actively mobilizing and fighting back against processes of gentrification, dispossession and displacement, building innovative social movements and powerful political platforms in the process.

From urban insurrections to defend the last-remaining green space of Istanbul or the favelas and public transport system of Rio, to the local direct action of anti-gentrification activists targeting Google buses in the San Francisco Bay Area and reclaiming housing projects in London, it is already clear that the next major crisis, unlike the last one, will not go uncontested.

Of all the urban struggles that have ignited across the globe in recent years, the radically democratic municipal platforms of Spain are undoubtedly among the most advanced and the most promising. With the left-wing anti-eviction activist Ada Colau now holding the mayoralty of Barcelona, an important sign is being sent to the landlords, gentrifiers and real-estate speculators of the world: even in the deepest crises, there will be a limit to your capacity to evict us from our homes and destroy our cities — and that limit, ultimately, is us.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @JeromeRoos.

Europe’s right-wing “civil war” against refugees

As right-wing leaders whip up the hatred, it is no longer exaggerated to claim that Europe is on the verge of a low-intensity civil war against refugees.

Photo taken at Pegida rally in Berlin, by Carsten Koall.

Explosives, heaps of Nazi propaganda and a substantial number of firearms are displayed on a table at the Bamberg police station. They were retrieved from the homes of several neo-Nazis in the Bavarian city. Thirteen people were arrested on suspicions of plotting a terrorist attack against a local refugee center, which currently houses more than 400 refugees.

The neo-Nazis planned to charge the center during a protest march organized by the extreme-right organization Die Rechte (“The Right”), using explosives and nitrate bombs that they had simply purchased on the Internet. Needless to say, the attack would have had disastrous, and most likely deadly, consequences for the center’s inhabitants.

These events do not stand on their own.

In the very same week, Europe was shaken by a murderous sword attack at a school in Sweden, leaving two dead and several wounded. The 21-year-old suspect, who was dressed in black and wearing an SS-helmet, allegedly had links to the Swedish extreme right, and clearly selected his victims on the basis of race.

And in Cologne, mayoral candidate Henriette Reker, whose campaign revolved around the support for refugees, was heavily wounded in a knife attack. Again, the perpetrator was affiliated with the extreme right, and openly declared that he was acting “to protect the country from foreigners.”

Next to the “incidents” that receive widespread media coverage, moreover, stands a seemingly endless series of arson attacks and other forms of vandalism against (projected as well as inhabited) asylum seekers centers in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. Besides a few devoted neo-Nazis, an even greater number of citizens without any prior experience in extreme-right activism are now getting organized in committees and campaigns against the opening of refugee centers in their neighborhoods.

Advocates of a more solidary approach receive serious threats, and new extreme-right movements are gaining visibility on Europe’s streets — not in the last place Germany’s ever-growing PEGIDA, which now also has branches in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Few mainstream politicians have been willing to openly affiliate with these movements, though there are significant exceptions. The infamous Geert Wilders, Dutch MP and leader of the Islamophobic “Freedom Party” attended a PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden.

Although this remains unconfirmed, Wilders’ party also appears to be heavily invested in the formation and funding of aforementioned citizen committees. His seemingly more moderate colleagues on the right, however, shy away from publicly associating themselves with these right-wing activist initiatives. Instead, they appear to stand on the sidelines, employing a number of well-tried frames in order to flare up the debate.

Their first and most prominent tactic is to systematically present refugees as “fortune hunters” who left their homes and forced their way into Europe in order to live a luxurious, lazy life at the expense of the “hard-working” European citizen.

Ironically, right-wing pro-austerity politicians are particularly eager to stress that the European welfare state will not be able to sustain itself under this pressure. The sudden increase of the European population and the costs it entails, they claim, will deprive us of the financial means to maintain our current standard of social security and solidarity.

Needless to say, we are speaking of the very same politicians and parties that have consistently strangled this welfare state to death over the last four decades. But this “argument” is also particularly fitting for those “new-right” populists (Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK), who tend to pursue strongly neoliberal economic policies while disguising themselves as conservative but “social” anti-austerity parties.

A second prominent frame is of course the claim that every Muslim is a potential terrorist — or, at best, a fundamentalist — and that the national security of European member states is at stake. (Most of the refugees who currently make it to Europe are perceived as Muslim — whether and to what extent they actually identify themselves as such is deemed irrelevant.)

This particular Islamophobic frame is not exactly new, of course, but it is striking that some media and politicians actively seek to depict Syrian and Afghan refugees as religious fanatics. For example, a few weeks ago several media spread the rumor that in German asylum seekers centers, Christian refugees would be systematically bullied and intimidated by their Muslim peers.

By lack of any recent Muslim-perpetrated terrorism (as opposed to nationalistic and/or racist-inspired forms of political violence, which has boomed over the past months), conservative politicians throughout Europe endorsed this rumor in order to stress once more that Christians would not be safe so long as Muslim refugees were equally allowed access to the European continent.

Moreover, several governments — those of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and soon Poland — have capitalized on this widespread Islamophobic stereotype, and announced that they would only grant admission to a limited group of Christian refugees.

This supposed incompatibility between “Islamic” and “Western” or “Christian” cultures is also employed in a third, increasingly prominent, frame that politicians use to invoke fear among their constituencies. Muslim men are consistently and systematically depicted as sexually hyper-aggressive. Although worrisome, reports of sexual harassment, forced marriages and rape at European refugee centers have been blown out of proportion in the media.

As some politicians present it, male refugees came here with no other intent than to rape “our” women and daughters — a qualification that of course is shockingly problematic in many respects, yet strikingly often heard even in the mainstream public debate.

Geert Wilders, for instance, recently referred in Parliament to Syrian refugees — who, in the public perception, are predominantly young and male — as “testosterone bombs.” In a similar fashion, his party’s main ideologist Martin Bosma once warned that Muslims were attempting to gain control over Dutch society through a “politics of the womb.”

As stated, this image of newly arrived refugees as inherently lazy, ungrateful, exploitative, dangerous, intolerant and sexually hyper-aggressive is not only upheld by the extreme-right. Quite the opposite: it appears that seemingly moderate right-wing politicians — not to mention the occasional “social democrat” — are often no less eager to present the so-called “stream” of refugees as an imminent threat to the European way of life.

As a “new” extreme right has increasingly been able to present itself as a respectable, legitimate voice in the public debate, center-right and even some popular “socialist” parties are particularly disposed to the risk of losing their voters’ support. As a consequence, and in line with the developments of the past 15 years, the dominant political discourse in many European countries has shifted dramatically to the right.

In the Netherlands, for instance, some local departments and individual MP’s of the ruling party VVD now tend to profile themselves as even tougher hardliners than their main competitor on the extreme-right side of the spectrum. And in Belgium, the leading Flemish party N-VA is invoking a discourse and implementing policies that its once-popular neo-fascist competitor Vlaams Blok could only have dreamed of.

Tellingly, one of N-VA’s most explicitly racist politicians — who is also believed to have ties to Flanders’ fascist movement — now is Belgium’s state secretary for asylum policy and migration. An explicit racism once associated with the marginal extreme right, in short, has turned mainstream.

In the meantime, the parliamentary left stands idly by. Although some social democrats and left-liberals reluctantly advocate a more “humane” migration policy, the aforementioned racist representations of refugees generally remain uncontested.

As the right has successfully framed the dominant public perception of refugees, the left avoids any direct confrontation on these matters. Fearful of losing popular support, they tend to deal with the refugee “crisis” in managerial terms. At best, they invoke a weak and depoliticized language that presents their constituency as “hospitable” or “welcoming” to Europe’s new “guests.”

This mainstream left of course is more than willing to condemn the increasing organized violence against refugees. But it nevertheless fails to establish its connection with the explicitly racist language that is produced by their right-wing counterparts.

Part of Europe’s population is systematically represented as inherently aggressive, parasitical, rapist and dangerous. At the same time, right-wing politicians consistently blame the political “establishment” (of which they are obviously part themselves) for ignoring the imminent dangers that “mass immigration” entails.

It should not surprise us, then, that some citizens sooner or later will “take matters into their own hands.” Even when media and representatives formally denounce their acts, the dominant right-wing discourse is perceived as an implicit legitimization or even encouragement.

Indeed, without either openly glorifying or condemning it, many right-wing politicians present the ensuing violence as a “logical” or “predictable” consequence of Europe’s migration policies.

It is no longer exaggerated, I think, to claim that Europe is on the verge of a low-intensity civil war against refugees and other minority communities. The responsibility for this emerging organized violence — which is not unlikely to strongly intensify in the months and years to come — lies not in the last place with its right-wing politicians.

Mathijs van de Sande is a PhD researcher in political philosophy at the KU Leuven (Belgium). He is a member of the Netherlands-based, radical left, anti-racist organization DoorbraakFollow him on Twitter @MathijsvdSande.

Encrypted resistance: from digital security to dual power

Cyber-resistance is often viewed as a hacker thing — but if embraced by mass movements it has great potential as a prefigurative liberation strategy.

By J. Armstrong and Ben Case. Photomontage by yumikrum, via Flickr.

“It was a time when the unthinkable became the thinkable and the impossible really happened…”

– Arundhati Roy

Digital technology is often seen as a curiosity in revolutionary politics, perhaps as a specialized skill set that is peripheral to the hard work of organizing. But the growing trend of “cyber-resistance” might hold more potential than we have given it credit for. Specifically, the popularized use of encryption gives us the ability to form a type of liberated space within the shifting maze of cables and servers that make up the Internet. The “web” is bound by the laws of math and physics before the laws of states, and in that cyberspace we may be able to birth a new revolutionary consciousness.

The use of open source encryption allows for the oppressed to take control of the means of communication, encoding a worldwide liberated zone within the fiber of the Internet. Cyber-resistance has been viewed (or ignored, or derided) as a hacker thing, something undertaken by those with science fiction equipment in their basement. But if it is embraced by mass movements, it has great potential as a prefigurative strategy for liberation.

Prefiguration is vital for radical and progressive forces in the current moment. The building of prefigurative spaces — spaces that model revolutionary values and resist state violence — is crucial for successful movements from both the anarchist and Marxist traditions. As the old saying goes, revolutionary movements use prefiguration to plant the “seed of the future society in the shell of the old.”

Internet interactions are often juxtaposed with interpersonal interactions, so the idea that cyber-resistance could be prefigurative might seem counter-intuitive for a humanistic revolution. However, cyber-resistance might well hold the key to vibrant prefigurative struggle in the 21st century.

Popularized in the 1970s and 80s, prefigurative political struggle has experienced an upsurge in the 21st century. It has been experimented with in the “Arab Spring,” in the squares of Spain with the indignados, and in the Occupy movement, as activists seized public space and held it in common while building political consciousness and fighting for structural changes in the system at large (differences between and problems with these models notwithstanding).

Prefigurative methods are also deployed by many left-wing armed forces. From the Zapatistas in Mexico to the Naxalites in India and the Kurdish militias in Syria and Turkey, building prefiguration into armed struggle has been effective for many groups facing intense repression. In fact, an argument for building cyber-resistance as a form of prefiguration for socio-political struggle can be found in an unlikely source: Maoist guerrilla warfare strategy.

A Prefigurative Lesson from Guerrilla Warfare

Many militant leftists have criticized certain attempts at prefiguration, often for good reasons. But the logic behind it — that in order to build a revolutionary future we must practice a revolutionary present — is essential for all liberation movements. And although it is less often emphasized, that logic has worked very well in modern guerrilla warfare.

Many rebel forces have developed strategies of protracted popular armed struggle, but since the early 20th century this method has been primarily linked to the military strategy of Mao Zedong. The strategy of a “protracted people’s war” was laid out in Mao’s famous guerrilla war manual, written in the context of Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation.

While Mao himself certainly has a dubious legacy, the protracted people’s war strategy has been embraced by millions of people in the past century and has been used effectively to build revolutionary movements all over the world.

When it is dissected into its strategic components, people’s war has a lot to teach us in our 21st-century moment. The strategy is composed of three overlapping phases. The first is “strategic defensive,” where rebels establish base areas in remote regions. The second is “strategic stalemate,” where the base areas are developed into a liberated zone. Finally, there is a “strategic counter-offensive,” where insurgents engage and defeat the state in conventional warfare.

For the first phase to begin at all, it is crucial that the base area be established in a secluded region with rugged terrain that is difficult for the state to access, since the rebel fighting force is not yet equipped to confront the enemy head on.

Building has to begin in the state’s blind spots. Once an area is identified, insurgents focus on political education and grassroots organizing, providing medical care and other services to grow consciousness and mutual trust in order to develop the proverbial “water” in which the revolutionary “fish” will swim.

In the second phase, as the insurgents become more entrenched, they gradually establish their own institutions and form a revolutionary government based on a combination of community traditions and communist ideology. As they gain legitimacy, rebel institutions such as schools, clinics and courts expand and interconnect to replace the state in rebel-controlled areas.

This creates a “counter-state” (or, arguably in more libertarian versions, an anti-state), called a liberated zone. The liberated zone is a contested, semi-sovereign area organized into associations that are characterized by radical values — for example equity, minority ethnic rights, and feminism — where people live the revolution and where the rebels can rest, organize, train and develop resources.

In this way, people’s war can be seen as the construction of dual power, where the institutions of the state and the liberated zone coexist and compete for legitimacy. Today, many dual power strategists advocate the building of alternative institutions in the global “center,” within the cracks and fissures of the existing state, as we simultaneously attack oppressive systems with social movement mobilization.

However, this has proven difficult in many cases, as alternatives are vulnerable to state repression. What makes the prefiguration of people’s war so powerful is that it creates an area that the state cannot reach and in which alternatives can be safely constructed.

Most Maoist insurgencies never succeeded in (or even entered) the third phase, but historically the people’s war strategy has been very successful in creating stalemates — that is, in creating vibrant, stable, liberated zones. Politically, this has resulted either in a negotiated settlement with the government, as in El Salvador and Nepal, or intractable conflicts, as in India and the Philippines.

The fact that Maoist guerrilla strategy thrives in the second phase is instructive. The brilliance of this strategy might be not in the war-making, but in the prefiguration-building. The strategy is effective in large part because it forcefully opens up social and psychological space to experiment with radical systems and to embody the revolution in practice. It opens up space not only to see a revolutionary world, but to touch it, to be it. It wins people with practice as much as with ideas. This element of Mao’s strategy demonstrated the power of prefiguration long before that term was coined or popularized.

The Strategic Importance of Shadow

The single most important environmental condition required for people’s war is the existence of remote areas where connections to the central state are weak. At early stages of struggle, these are the only areas that are eligible to build autonomous systems, since the presence of the state forecloses on many possibilities for alternative practices.

Areas of operation must be out of the state’s sight in order for the revolutionaries to make alternatives visible to themselves and to the people. In other words, the state must be blind in order for the people to see one another as revolutionaries.

There are few unseen regions left in the 21st century world, and fewer still in the Global North. In the US, there is hardly a nook or cranny that is not mapped by satellite or categorized by title law, instantly accessible by drone and wiretap.

Proponents of dual power increasingly focus on creating prefigurative spaces, but they also tend to draw inspiration from armed struggles such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas or the Kurdish rebels in Rojava, which are taking place in areas that conform more closely to the formal liberated zone model.

Of course, this is not to say we cannot learn a great deal from those fronts, nor is it to say allies should not support these crucial struggles in any way we can. But most organizing in the Global North takes place in cities, and the conditions in western Kurdistan and the mountains of southeast Mexico bear little resemblance to those in the urban United States or Europe.

Not only is there a lack of secluded physical space in which to build a liberated zone, there is decreasing psychological space in which to build liberated minds. In the industrialized countries, modern state control has gone far beyond mapping physical space to mapping our very individualities. Today, their visibility extends beyond the physical.

Mass Surveillance and Panoptical Control

In order to assert their control, less developed state-forms used to publicly execute dissidents via torture or lock them in a dungeon and throw away the key (some still do). These practices obviously have devastating effects on the target individuals and their families, but the possibility of constant surveillance with the threat of punishment has a greater effect on a society’s behavior at large. Michel Foucaultfamously recognized Bentham’s “perfect” prison, the panopticon, for its political implications in this regard.

In contrast to dark, linear dungeons, Bentham conceived of a bright, open, circular prison, with a watchtower in the center and inward-facing cells around the periphery. Each cell would have a window to the outside that would back-light it, making the prisoner’s body visible to the tower. The tower, shaded by design angles, would be dark to all prisoners.

The effect is simple: at all times a prisoner is aware they could be watched by the guards, but they will never be able to know for sure when. This hierarchical arrangement of bodies in space — a few in the tower watching, many in the cells being watched — carries with it a power dynamic that effectively modifies the behavior of everyone subject to it.

In this arrangement, Foucault says, the prisoners, who are isolated and unable to communicate or act without being seen, begin to police themselves. The more the prisoners internalize this dynamic, the less actual force needs to be used to maintain order. In its extreme, the theory goes, an entire population of docile prisoners can be self-policed with no coercion whatsoever. Prisons around the world have since adopted aspects of this principle into their architectures.

The unverifiable but assured possibility of surveillance represents the epitome of state control. In its most advanced form, those in power not only have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force; they come to never need to use it to maintain their legitimacy. Foucault acknowledged that panopticism was directly applicable only to populations small enough to be arranged within the prison architecture, but he believed its logic could be applied to society at large.

Technology has evolved so that mass surveillance can psychologically take the place of the physical arrangement of bodies. Today the average American citizen spends over 11 hours a day engaging with electronic media. The public is increasingly reliant on the Internet, smartphones and social media for daily life, and we have become accustomed to omnipresent cameras, satellite photographs and wiretaps.

In 2013, the NSA completed a facility in Bluffsdale, Utah where the agency can store 1,000 times the data of the entire Internet, a “Yottabyte” of data. In order to fill this facility with information, the NSA is currently tapping most of the key fiber optic cables that make up the worldwide web and accessing the servers of all major Internet companies. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know just how comprehensively state security forces collect this data.

This content and meta-data collection involves the capture and storage of all messages, with the goal being complete visibility of digital communications. Ultimately, the attempt is to tie all those communications to geo-location, physical data and relational meta-data; in other words, where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with.

Of course the NSA does not necessarily examine all of our digital conversations. But they could. And you have no idea if they are. You probably don’t really understand how they can, but you are vaguely aware that they can. It is a paralyzing feeling, and that is the essence of panoptical control.

In an era of increasing global control, pushing back against oppressive systems and liberating physical territory to prefigure our own alternative institutions is increasingly necessary, but it is difficult in full sight of the state’s forces. Knowing we are being watched, we aren’t even aware of the degree to which we police ourselves into docility. In the context of the surveillance state, creating the space to discuss and plan and grow the struggle is a prerequisite. When state control is a spotlight, revolutionaries need to create shadows.

Wikileaks, Encryption and Cypher-Shadows

To date, Wikileaks has been the most effective group in casting an electronic shadow. The NSA documents leaked by Snowden show that as early as 2010, Julian Assange and the human network that supports Wikileaks were on the NSA “manhunting” target list for extreme no-holds-barred surveillance. Even through this level of surveillance, Wikileaks has maintained their nine-year track record of never giving up a source.

In 2015 alone, Wikileaks have published NSA intercepts, drafts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, 600,000 cables from the Saudi embassy, and judicial gag orders — without ever having been implicated in outing a source. Wikileaks accomplishes this by effectively creating a shadow that even the most sophisticated government eyes cannot see into, and they do this through the use of open source encryption technology.

Most people already use encryption every day, and just not in their personal communications. Encryption is used in many common applications, from garage door openers to online money transfer sites, but the technology has been tightly controlled by the state, first through arms regulations and later through proprietary standards and funding restrictions.

Encryption sounds fancy, but it really just means writing in code. Current encryption programs apply advanced mathematics to the basic process that all people engage in when creating languages or dialects. Most importantly, the best programs are free and anyone can do it.

Current applications of this technology allow for any person with access to a computer to create encryption so advanced that it cannot be broken by all the computer power in the world. To quote Snowden: “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto-systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”

Due to its strategic importance, states have historically declared cryptographic skill and science to be theirs alone. But in 1991, as an act of resistance in support of anti-nuclear protesters, a coder named Phil Zimmerman released an open-source encryption program called PGP onto the Internet for free. When Snowden released the NSA’s own documents from 2012, they show that the agency is unable to break PGP (and other) open-source encryption even after more than 20 years.

Proprietary software like Microsoft and Apple operating systems impose legal and technical prohibitions on users and engineers that prevent them from viewing the codes that make the computer programs run. Open-source software like Linux or Debian allows for software engineers and users to fully control all aspects of a computer system.

Among other things, open-source programs mean transparent and verifiable software improvements. These improvements are not dependent on a closed group, which could be collaborating with, for example, the FBI or NSA. They are also free to use and distribute. Many countries, including the governments of Uruguay, Ecuador, and Brazil, are now running most of their information technology on open-source platforms.

Open-source encryption programs allow for free access to “end-to-end” encryption. These, as well as encrypted texting and talking phone apps like Signal and Redphone, are becoming more accessible and popular by the year. Free open-source programs — like PGP, OTR, Tor, and Tails OS — offer encrypted document creation, sharing and web research on any modern computer, and their use is increasing rapidly.

The journalists working with Snowden have reconfirmed the security of these tools through action, as open-source encryption has allowed them to effectively hide the documents Snowden leaked to them from governments that desperately wanted to destroy them.

Beyond the primary benefit of keeping organizing information hidden from authorities, using open-source encryption to “shadow” our connections, our work and our transactions from the state may enable us to create a digital liberated zone on the Internet, a form that transcends physical geography.

We can begin to create this by expanding our capacity and moving to make the use of these tools our default, first for radicals and progressive allies, then for communities and nations.

A Call to Cryptographic Arms

Discussion of encryption feels alienating to many folks. A lot of people think it is over their heads or they find the techno-babble obnoxious (the self-described hacktivist who once mansplained all this to you probably doesn’t help). Nevertheless, because the US and other governments are engaging in global mass surveillance, we find ourselves in a situation where encryption is necessary for the security of even basic organizing — it is usually unwise to invite the police to action planning meetings.

Beyond the security aspect, it holds massive potential.

Global South activists in Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and elsewhere are now facing the full repressive capacity of imperial violence — but some of those areas remain at least somewhat shrouded from mass surveillance technology. The US and other neo-imperialist governments are currently interested in popularizing use of the Internet and social media to areas of the Global South who have yet to “go digital” to enable corporate profit in those untapped markets.

In addition to the capitalist motive, the techno-colonial project would bring the entirety of the planet within view of imperial centers of control. This provides us with a window of opportunity where Global North governments are more engaged in expanding their digital empire and encouraging the Global South’s adoption of their technology than they are in unleashing the full arsenal of mass surveillance on their own populations.

It is critical that we exponentially increase the use of encryption in both the Global North and Global South during this period. Growing the use of open source encryption could be the most powerful instrument in securing revolutionary potential for generations to come, as they can enable us to safely communicate across blocks and borders. The tools are already there; all it takes is our foresight, will and passion for freedom to make their use into a reality for all.

Guerrilla liberated zones are highly effective in opening physical prefigurative space in an isolated area. At the same time, they are also limited by that isolation and by barriers to participation in guerrilla war.

Cyber-resistance does not offer the physical space that liberated zones do, but digital liberated zones are not constrained by geography or borders, and the barriers to use of encryption are surprisingly low. The combination of encryption basics with open-source hardware (and perhaps cryptographic currency, like Bitcoin-based Freicoin) has the potential to grow into a network of direct working-class control of the means of communication, production and exchange on a global scale.

This network can be used as a weapon to create a sort of liberated e-zone that is beyond state control despite being physically located within oppressive states. The more resistance is hidden from the state, the more imperialism must rely on its most base method of control: coercive force. Though it is the state’s foundational tool, the naked use of violence erodes the state’s legitimacy.

As the state must increasingly rely on its most violent capacity for control, online liberated zones could facilitate both the desire and capacity for resistance. Human surveillance and infiltration such as the use of informants and agent saboteurs can be highly destructive for individuals and movement groups, but nowadays even these rely heavily on digital information gathering.

As the state becomes blinder, it increasingly becomes more desperate. And when it gets desperate, its moves tend to backfire. Meanwhile, as our vision brightens, so does our spirit. Through cyber-resistance we can strengthen existing liberated zones and prefigure new ones, growing revolutionary values and practice even inside the cities of the attempted panopticon.

Our secure communications, leaks and skill-shares could eventually create a chain reaction of interconnected revolutionary upsurges on the scale of the “Arab Spring” of 2011. But instead of being based in popular control of public space alone, they will now also be prefigured in the collective control of a truly liberated space, from the means of communication to the totality of society.

Ben Case is an organizer and activist from New Jersey and is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. He is co-founder of the University of Pittsburgh’s Student Anarchist Graduate Association and is a member of the Organization for a Free Society.

J. Armstrong is a secure communication specialist and movement trainer. He has run encryption trainings for radical organizers and professionals from five continents, working with direct action movements, formerly incarcerated people, sex workers, veterans and revolutionary organizations. He is a member of the Organization for a Free Society.

South African students rise up to demand free education

In the biggest protests since the end of apartheid, students have shut down universities and forced the government to abandon a planned tuition hike.

“I find myself suddenly in the world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other. One duty alone: That of not renouncing my freedom through my choices… I am not a prisoner of history… I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence.”

– Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

Over the last week, South African students shut down 17 universities in an attempt to prevent proposed fee increases. The initial focus of the national shutdown was on students’ demands for the removal of proposed fee increases. Now, this has shifted towards the fundamental goal of the acquisition of free education, to end outsourcing of support staff and other issues that fall under the call for the transformation of the institutional culture and operational structure of higher education establishments across the country.

The official national shutdown began on Wednesday, October 21, and targeted both the government and university leadership. In all, this has been one of the biggest mass demonstrations since the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s.

The National Shutdown Collective, which comprised students from 19 different universities (many of whom are members of recently formed student movements such as the Rhodes Must Fall Movement, Open Stellenbosch, the Black Student Movement and UPrising, to name but a few), spearheaded the awareness and mobilization campaign through various social media (see #FeesMustFall and #NationalShutdown) and by mobilizing various student networks.

The mass demonstrations, occupations and disruptions that began this week were sparked by the suspension of all academic activities at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg on Wednesday 14 October. The shutdown was a result of student protests for both the rejection of the proposed 10.5 percent fee increase, and for the decrease in current university fees. It generated a national conversation and mass student mobilization, linking the issue of fees to the broader student struggles for the decolonization and radical transformation of universities that has been unfolding since the Rhodes Must Fall Movement began in February at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

From barricading university entry ways and occupying university administration buildings to mass protest marches that shut down city centers, the broadly supported student movements have catalyzed a nationwide uprising that aims to radically reinvent the existing higher education system, which continues to privilege the white male to the complete detriment of the historically oppressed black child.

The current university model is unsustainable and was always going to be challenged because it simply does not take seriously the lived realities of the majority black, poor South African population. The university business model does not respond to the epic disparities of financial means of the citizenry. According to the CEO of New Leaf Technologies, Paul Hanly, only 1 percent of the population can actually afford the approximately 120,000 rand ($8,800) per year in university fees. Most students are only able to attend university through financial aid programs, most of which are lending schemes with high interest rates.

Historically white institutions continue to represent the white male colonial subject, both in terms of financial means as well as in terms of the intellectual project of furthering white patriarchal capitalism. At the university currently known as Rhodes, over 65 percent of the student body are black, but at least 80 percent of the universities senate — the most influential governing body — is white.

Yet despite the painfully obvious urgency of the issues voiced by students and the peaceful but resolute character of student demonstrations, executive university management and national government officials still fail to take students seriously. When the students at Rhodes university presented their demands to senior management on Wednesday, the latter responded with empty rhetoric, surface level engagements with the demands and feigned consideration, failing to make official commitments to any course of action.

When the Minister of Education Blade Ndzimande received the student demands, his response was to condescend and banalize the pressing issues, remarking on different occasions that students do not possess the analytical skills to be taken seriously and that “students must fall.”

On Friday, October 23, when students from universities in Gauteng province marched in historic numbers to the Union buildings to demand a government response to national demands, President Jacob Zuma had thousands of students waiting hours past the communicated time of his address, before cancelling the planned public conference. Instead, a private media conference broadcast was held where the president made a non-statement that conceded a zero percent fee increase for 2016 but blatantly side-stepped all of the other demands.

The obfuscating response of university management and national government was expected. What completely flipped the script in the eyes of student activists was the disproportionate level of force used by the South African police against the student protests. Whilst students had in some cases burnt tires in a controlled open environment, they were largely peaceful. Nonetheless, the police responded with a disproportional use of physical force, dragging students on the ground by their collars, using stun grenades and rubber bullets, deploying chemical water cannons and firing live ammunition warning shots.

When students from the university currently known as Rhodes joined Eastcape Midlands College students — no more than 150 in total — in a demonstration outside of the EMC campus on Monday, October 19, somehow stun grenades and chemical water cannons, creating an itchy sensation on contacted skin, were seen as an appropriate response to the small non-violent crowd. The EMC students were calling for the release of the monthly allowance provided by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme that students have not received since March.

On Wednesday, October 21, students in Cape Town marched to parliament and entered the building to confront the national leadership where they were met with brute force by the riot police. Six of the students arrested for trespassing were “provisionally charged” with treason” — a charge that has not been used since the apartheid regime targeted the anti-apartheid leadership. The South African police later released the students with a warning and denied having enacted the treason charge.

The criminalization of student activism reflects the gravity of this political moment and shows how the shifting of generationally-embedded ideologies is a real challenge to the existing relations of power. If the national government and university management are so quick to mobilize police violence in response to the rising voice of student movements, they are clearly threatened by the emergence of a new popular politics.

As it stands, students are not satisfied with the response by the government or university administrations, and disruptions of the academic year will continue until the lily-livered leadership actually takes students seriously and is committed to approaching the demands creatively. To quote one of the students, it’s now a case of “total transformation or death.”

In the spirit of Frantz Fanon, the South African students are demanding human behavior from those in society who both benefit from historically embedded but socially constructed privileges. The elder generations have become comfortable and complacent and have in many ways renounced our collective freedoms through their elitist and kleptocratic political choices; choices that have maintained the racialized, patriarchal capitalist order of things — choices that allow the black, poor South African child to remain a prisoner of the country’s colonial and apartheid history.

The recent student mobilizations, not only of the last two weeks but over the last nine months, are so potent and historic because — unlike the elders who refuse to transform the order of things — the movements are re-imagining what a truly transformed African university might look like. They are calling for the invention of a social order that actually reflects the dynamics and realities of the people who live in this country. As such, the students’ actions are making real leaps towards a more just society.

Mikaela Erskog is a Master’s student in History and a member of the Black Student Movement at the university currently known as Rhodes.

US and Russia vying for Kurdish attention in Syria

The Syrian Kurds are seen as IS’ most formidable enemy. Now that Russia has joined the Syrian war, its competing with the US for the Kurds’ attention.

Photo showing female Kurdish YPJ fighter, by Kurdishstruggle via Flickr. This article was originally written for teleSUR English.

Last week, the US announced it had dropped 50 tons of ammunition to rebel groups in northern Syria. Despite its public announcements proclaiming the contrary, most, if not all, of the ammunition ended up in the hands of the Syrian Kurds fighting under the banner of the Peoples’ Protection Forces, or YPG.

Sensitive about the negative disposition of the Free Syrian Army and their Turkish allies towards the Syrian Kurds, the US declared loud and clear that the support was intended for a number of Arab rebel groups in the Raqqa province who had organized themselves under the umbrella of the newly established Syrian Democratic Forces.

Regardless of the public discourse, there is little doubt that the US intended for the ammunition to end up in Kurdish hands from the start.

The YPG has been one of the United States’ closest allies in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS), and they have dealt a number of significant blows to the jihadist organization with the support of coalition air strikes. However, Turkish reservations about the organization’s close links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK — which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state for the last thirty years — forced the US to keep its support to a minimum. Until now.

Not long ago, I wrote an article suggesting that the US, by choosing Turkey over the Syrian Kurds, had betrayed its true intentions in the fight against IS: to maintain its influence in the region rather than defeating the jihadists. The sudden change of US strategy, now that it has decided to provide material support to the YPG, does not undermine, but rather confirms this theory.

The relation between the US and Turkey has largely remained the same, but the appearance of Russia as a new party to the Syrian conflict has forced the US to make its regional politics subordinate to its global aspirations.

Russia began its airstrikes in Syria on September 30. Having already supported the Assad regime politically, financially and materially for many decades, its physical intervention in the conflict did not come as a big surprise — despite the fact that many had hoped it would never happen.

Russian air strikes have targeted all parties the regime views as terrorists, meaning basically everyone who carries a gun without being part of the Syrian Armed Forces — with the YPG being the notable exception, as they are neither in a coalition nor in direct confrontation with the regime.

In the context of the Syrian war, the only thing the US and Russia seem to agree on is their attitude towards the Kurds, whom both parties perceive as a potential key ally on the ground. This to the great horror of Turkey, which perceives both the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as terrorist organizations and has warned that arms distributed to these parties could eventually be used against the Turkish state.

Prior to the latest air drops one could hear increasingly critical sounds coming from the Kurds regarding their cooperation with the US. The coalition air strikes have played a crucial role in the advances of Kurdish forces against IS. But the White House’s neglect to speak out against Turkey — when the latter was waging a war on its Kurdish citizens in an attempt to crush support for the PKK — made the YPG and the PYD realize that Western support would only go so far.

When, in a recent interview, PYD co-leader Salih Muslim was asked about the Kurdish response to Russia’s military intervention in Syria, he replied: “We will fight alongside whoever fights Daesh. We will stand alongside whoever battles the Daesh mentality,” using the Arabic acronym for IS. This statement underlines the PYD’s main priority — fighting IS — and its willingness to accept aid from whoever is prepared to give it.

The Kurds and the US are only allies when it comes to fighting IS. Facing hostile forces on all sides — regimes forces and jihadists in the west and the south, Turkey in the north and the Kurdistan Regional Government in the west — the Syrian Kurds are not exactly spoiled for choices when it comes to choosing who to align themselves with. But since ideologically the PYD and the YPG are as far removed from the US as they are from Russia, there is a very real chance of them turning to the latter when their American “ally” fails to deliver.

Although the extent to which the PYD and the YPG support the Russian involvement in Syria remains unclear — one YPG commander proclaimed publicly that they had requested arms from Russia, while another statement denied earlier reports that claimed YPG support for Russia’s operations — Putin’s mentioning of the Kurds as an important force in battling IS during his speech at the UN’s 70th General Assembly stirred fears among the Americans for a Russian-Kurdish alliance. Out of fear to lose one of its key allies on the ground in Syria to its main opponent in the global political arena, the US was left with little choice but to step up support for the YPG.

So, does this mean that the Syrian Kurds can rest assured now that the main global powers are vying for their attention? Unfortunately not.

Both Russia and the US remain wary of stepping on Turkey’s toes. Russia knows that Turkey has the backing of NATO, and although a lot will have to go down before a full-scale escalation becomes a realistic threat, NATO’s patience has already been tested significantly during the Ukraine crisis. For the US, Turkey continues to be perceived as an indispensable regional ally, despite its covert support for many of the very same extremist organizations the US-led coalition is bombing right now.

From a Turkish perspective, the Kurds — both at home and abroad — pose a bigger threat to national security than IS or any other jihadist organization. As such, it will do its utmost to prevent any actions that might strengthen the Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkey’s plans for a buffer zone inside Syria might be off the table, now that the integrity of Syria’s borders is guaranteed by Russia, but it still has some leverage due to its control over the gates to Europe, as proven by the recent deals made with the EU regarding the refugee crisis.

At the end of the day, the Kurdish forces in Syria continue their very lonely struggle to wipe northern Syria clean of IS and other jihadist organizations. Russian intervention might have provided them with some limited opportunities to expand their support base at the international level, but being caught in the middle of a US-Russia power struggle for regional dominance is not a particularly enviable position to find oneself in.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst, writer, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.

Resisting the next wave of real estate speculation in Spain

A new speculative bubble may be taking shape as global investment firms buy devalued real estate in Spain. Will they beat a new path of dispossession?

By Marc Font and Gemma Garcia, collaboratively translated by Melissa García and Desiree Fields. Photo by Kukka Ranta.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Spain was flying high. After extensive economic liberalization and adoption of the euro in the late 1990s, all indicators pointed up. Spain boasted the highest use of cement in the European Union, fifth worldwide, as close to a million houses were built in 2006 alone — more than France, Germany and Italy combined. Many were convinced that prosperity was here to stay.

But the boom was built on an asset bubble, where skyrocketing housing prices and unprecedented amounts of credit for developers and homeowners — and thus vast indebtedness — created the perfect storm. While more than six million new homes were built and house prices increased by over 200 percent from 1996 to 2007, in the years since then Spain has seen millions of vacant properties accumulate, housing production at a standstill, price declines of over 65 percent from their peak, and hundreds of thousands of home repossessions.

With an economy highly dependent on real estate, the bust of Spain’s housing bubble spelled the end of the so-called ‘Spanish miracle’. Nevertheless the government didn’t easily accept this: the Zapatero Socialist party first denied the crisis, only to follow up with a Keynesian scramble to counteract the economy’s demise. Yet it soon became clear that more severe medicine was needed.

Rescuing Spain’s financial system

An extensive rescue and restructuring of the debt-ridden Spanish financial system was started by the Socialists and finished by the incoming conservative Popular Party government in 2011. Upon securing 100 billion euros in European loans to bail out financial entities, the Popular Party dutifully implemented the Troika’s austerity measures, increasing value-added tax, a form of consumption tax, (IVA) to 21 percent and slashing public spending in health, education and other sectors.

The Spanish government also created the so-called “bad bank”, the Sareb, a public-private corporation that has absorbed toxic real estate assets, both housing and debt. The Sareb’s role is to minimize financial risks to the state by disposing of these assets as profitably as possible. The institution has an imperative to deleverage all of its assets within 15 years as part of Spain’s bailout agreement with the European Union.

The most prominent stories about Spain in recent years have been around dispossession — hundreds of thousands of families foreclosed and evicted from their homes, millions of people unemployed — resistance, indignation and more recently with the municipal elections, hope. Here we want to tell the story of a more insidious and little reported process that is now starting to rear its head: the entrance into Spain of private investment funds aiming to profit from a new speculative real estate cycle.

In 2012, the multimillionaire businessman Donald Trump stated it loud and clear: “Spain is sick and it’s time to take advantage of it.” This is what hundreds of funds and other investment vehicles are doing as they bet on the Spanish real estate sector: since 2013, 190 new players have been registered, buying buildings, mortgages, real-estate subsidiaries, assets or public housing estates. Last year these investments totaled over 23 billion euros, 330 percent more than 2013.

Foreign investors are looking for “a way to profit from the structural shift in Spain’s housing market,” and the potion, according to Mato Carlos Sanchez, economist and coordinator of economic justice organization Attac Madrid, is “to pressure most when trying to get the purchase price down and, in that way, reap short-term profitability.”

The rush of new investment is starting to rebuild the link between housing and finance in Spain, centralizing ownership in the hands of transnational investment funds. However, it’s important not to lose sight the role that the state has played in this restructuring process by creating the Sareb to dispose of toxic real estate assets in bulk and making regulations and tax regimes more flexible for real estate investors such as Blackstone.

Spain, meet Blackstone and co.

The spectacular boom and bust in Spain, together with the state interventions in the wake of the crisis, have therefore created attractive opportunities for investors. Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity player in real estate investments, has embarked on a buying spree in Spain, among other distressed real estate markets around the world (including the US).

In July 2014, Blackstone won a bidding war for a defaulted mortgage portfolio from the nationalized bank Cataluyna Caixa, beating out competing global investment companies like Goldman Sachs, Oaktree Capital Group, Lone Star Funds and Apollo Global Management. Blackstone received a discount of over 40 percent for the purchase of 94,000 non-performing mortgage loans, reportedly paying 3.6 billion euros for a portfolio valued at 6.5 billion, 572 million of which was covered by the state.

Also in 2014, the company, in partnership with Magic Real Estate, spent 40 million euros to acquire Caixa’s real estate asset management platform, CatalunyaCaixa Inmobiliari, which manages and sells real estate and property loans in project development and construction. This portfolio consists of failed loans taken out by developers during the boom years.

Blackstone’s wager on the real estate sector is thus extensive and varied: mortgages, real estate subsidiaries, 600 social housing units from the Sareb and even the purchase of eighteen public housing developments from the Madrid Municipal Housing and Land Company (la Empresa Municipal de Vivienda y Suelo, EMVS), arm-in-arm with its Spanish partner Magic Real Estate.

At Blackstone’s side, other funds that have landed in the country include Cerberus (taking Bankia’s real estate agency for 90 million euros), Texas Pacific Group (fattening their portfolio with more than 30,000 properties and credits from the Sareb), Azora (operating 689 public housing units in Barcelona), Goldman Sachs (buying 3,000 low-income apartments from Madrid’s regional government) and Lone Star (buying up land).

At a meeting of international funds held in Madrid in 2014, Spain’s rental market was seen as a major business opportunity, with Luis Lazaro of Magic Real Estate acknowledging that legislative changes making it easier for landlords to evict tenants and allowing the transfer of social housing to real estate investment funds make Spain favorable for international investors.

Profiting off people’s lives

Only finding out through the media that Blackstone will have the keys to their lives, mortgage holders who contracted a mortgage with Caixa during the housing boom, and who are now no longer able to pay, breathe with uncertainty. Unlike the US and other countries, in Spain foreclosure does not wipe out mortgage debt; mortgage holders remain liable for the debt, which is also excluded from bankruptcy filing (similar to student loans in the US).

While some mortgage-affected people have secured a verbal agreement with Caixa for debt forgiveness in exchange for relinquishing their home (dación en pago), they do not know if the vulture fund will respect such agreements. For now, according to Carlos Macias, a spokesperson for the housing rights Platform for Mortgage Affected People (PAH) in Barcelona, the funds told the PAH in an informal meeting: “The aim is to do business with flats and, therefore, remove the debtors quickly and without considering providing people with social rent [a rent set at maximum 30 percent of a household’s income].”

In Manresa, a city close to Barcelona, Mohammed negotiated a contract with Caixa to partially forgive his mortgage debt in exchange for his home, but feared that the agreement would be a worthless scrap of paper if he didn’t sign it soon. The only certainty came with strings attached: Caixa offered a so-called “waiting agreement” where the entity pledged to stop demanding debt repayment from mortgage-affected people until the sale to Blackstone and BBVA was finalized, with the condition they “do not initiate any type of direct or indirect action against the bank.”

Since the sale was finalized a few months ago, Blackstone has made offers to pay some families 2,000 euros on the condition that they abandon their home and stop asking for social rent. While these are clearly tactics to control the population, to ensure people follow Blackstone’s rules, such practices also hint at a potential vulnerability for Blackstone. Accustomed to carrying out their business with little public interference, the company may be apprehensive about how strongly social movements that have arisen in response to Spain’s foreclosure crisis, most importantly the PAH, might affect their bottom line.

If the US fund is able to recover part of the debt from the Caixa portfolio and put the properties up for sale, the business is mouth-watering. Blackstone has extensive experience in asset management in the United States, most recently acquiring nearly 50,000 foreclosed homes, converting them to rental use, and securitizing the rental income.

The company has also found another way to boost profits: by paying less tax. It is one of 340 multinationals that sealed secret agreements with Luxembourg, a recognized tax haven, to benefit from the country’s very low tax rates. In fact, one of the businessmen occupying positions in various subsidiaries of Blackstone, Jean-François Pascal Emmanuel Bossy, has companies based in Luxembourg and had others in the Cayman Islands. Blackstone is thus using old and new strategies to extract rent from devalued assets and from people, so as to boost its portfolio and profits across the world.

Organizing against investment funds

Blackstone and other companies’ global reach represents both a challenge to movements for justice on the ground and a rallying point. What is clear is that Spain is not alone: large investors have set their sights on other real estate markets exposed to severe downturns due to the global financial crisis, including the US and Ireland. For global investment companies, the dispossession of millions of homeowners has become an opportunity — facilitated by the state — to assemble property portfolios at a discount, leading in to a new wave of financial expropriation.

Thus begins a new chapter in the relationship between finance and real estate: we have a deep understanding of how this relationship precipitates urban and economic crises; our present task is to grasp how it is recomposed in the wake of such crises, and how urban space is reshaped as it is mobilized to capture financial rents.

It will take time to appreciate the impact Blackstone and other investment companies will have in Spain. The current fear is that rents and evictions will increase, but it is unlikely that this will happen uniformly in urban space. Rather, we may see heightened socio-spatial polarization as investors develop differential strategies for housing assets purchased in bulk, perhaps dumping less valuable properties on the peripheries and upgrading those in the center, as we saw when private equity firms purchased social housing companies in Berlin after its mid-1990s fiscal crisis.

In the US, Blackstone and other investors have bypassed historically poor and oppressed communities altogether, as institutional capital is instead largely going toward purchases of foreclosed homes in middle class suburbs. The way that post-crisis financialization restructures the urban landscape is thus complex, contingent on previous rounds of development, state intervention and dynamically evolving investment strategies.

This, of course, does not rule out the possibility of social transformation. Indeed, the parallels between Blackstone’s business model in Spain and the US is fostering a relationship between the PAH and the Right to the City alliance, a network of US social, racial and housing justice organizations. This has resulted in several transnational actions, the first one in February, where the PAH and the Right to the City organized a simultaneous protest against Blackstone in New York, San Francisco and El Prat de Llobregat (Barcelona). At the latter, several jumped the fence and plastered the entrance with green stickers to warn that they won’t just sit passively in the face of one of the world’s leading investment groups. More international actions have followed, in March and just now in October.

Activists in the US and elsewhere are eager to learn from the success of the PAH in building a unified national movement to defend the right to housing, while activists in both places are conscious of the imperative to construct an international alliance to more effectively contest the localized impacts of global investment companies. The growth of activism connecting distinct places with shared exposure to global processes like financialization reminds us that as investors assemble property portfolios, they are also drawing together the power of the people to struggle against new waves of financial dispossession.

This article is a collaborative translation by Melissa García and Desiree Fields of a piece originally written by Marc Font and Gemma Garcia in Catalan and published in La Directa, a self-managed communication media for social change founded in 2006. It is in this spirit that García and Fields translated the original piece into English, adding further background and analysis to the original content for readers not familiar with the crisis in Spain.

Harper’s gone, Trudeau is in — the struggle continues

Canada’s new Liberal government must be met with radical, collective, strategic organizations and mobilizations to improve the lives of communities.

Photo: Idle No More march, via Cultural Survival.

Over 16 million Canadian citizens voted in Monday’s election, the highest voter turnout since at least 1997. The result: Stephen Harper’s decade of conservative, anti-immigrant and racist rule comes to an end, and the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau is now Prime Minister.

While many rejoice at the end of the Harper government, we also know that the new Liberal government must be met with radical, collective, strategic organizations and mobilizations if we are to improve the lives of our communities.

The Liberal Party has governed Canada for about half of Canada’s existence, and is responsible for half of the grave injustices we now face, including but not limited to the coup in Haiti, cuts to the national housing plan, and the creation of the temporary foreign worker program and the Canada Border Services Agency. Thus it is clear to us that this new change in government will not result in the collective transformation we require.

Over 2.6 million residents, including migrant and undocumented immigrants and immigrants with permanent residency, many members of our communities and families were barred from participating in even this most limited expression of democracy. At the same time, over 11 million people who voted for the Liberals, the NDP or the Green Party, did so to vote out Harper. The voter turnout and the ups and downs of the elections campaign over the last 2.5 months prove that millions of people in this country are politically engaged, and are striving for something better.

It is our responsibility as social movements to create continued spaces for these people to be engaged and involved over the years to come. We must speak and we must listen. We must walk alongside people rather than alienate them. We must understand why the Liberals just swept to electoral victory, and build collective power towards real change that simply cannot be elected. We must reach out and build ties particularly in the immigrant communities that were wooed by the Conservatives. We must share what we have learned through bitter experience about the failures of voting, symbolic appeals and electoral engagement and build visionary movements with strategies for winning change.

The lightning rods of this election were the hijab at citizenship ceremonies; egregious surveillance laws like Bill C-51; transparency; corruption; and the heavy-handed government by Stephen Harper. Time and again we saw xenophobia curdling under the surface burst forward. We must build movements that understand these concerns and are inclusive, democratic and equitable, and which support individual and community freedom and autonomy.

To this end, today we invite other radical political forces across the country to re-commit with us to the following:

  1. Fight for Indigenous self-determination: We live on lands stewarded by Indigenous nations since time immemorial. It is our responsibility to support Indigenous communities and prevent continued imposition of colonial Canadian laws on them.
  2. Stop the War on Mother Earth: Canada is the world’s leading climate criminal. We need to end destructive projects like the Tar Sands, fracking, logging, and hold Canadian mining companies here and abroad accountable for their crimes.
  3. Stop the War Abroad: Canada provides military aid, weapons and diplomatic support to repressive governments in Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and other countries. Canada’s ‘development projects’ prop up corrupt governments, while providing unquestioning support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This must end.
  4. End Corporate Control: While the poorest people in Canada and around the world live without homes and adequate services, the richest few control the livelihoods of millions. Multinational agreements like the TPP and CETA, and bilateral agreements with Israel, Colombia and Honduras give greater powers to heads of corporations to push for the interest of profit over people. Austerity politics in Canada mean that many essential services are on the chopping block. We must name and fight capitalism.
  5. Freedom to Move: While over 60 million people are displaced around the world, most are unable to migrate to Canada. Poor and racialized people are only able to come to Canada under temporary programs, and as a result over half a million people live here without immigration status and therefore rights and services. The previous government jailed and deported over a 100,000 people. We must push this new Liberal government to open up the borders to refugees and migrants and fight for freedom of movement. We must reject the categories of deserving and undeserving migrants and refuse the discrimination against poor, women, disabled, Muslim and Black migrants in particular.

On immigration, we will insist that the Liberals go above and beyond their promise of 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees immediately. That the interim federal health program for refugees be reinstated, and expanded to undocumented and migrant workers. That instead of fixing the system that deems some countries safe for refugees, the entire two-tiered refugee system be removed. That the Liberals not just double family sponsorship numbers from 5,000 to 10,000 but remove restrictive laws that make it impossible for poor immigrants to be reunited with their families.

Bill C-24, C-51 and security certificate legislation must be repealed, not just amended. We must especially reject the Liberal plan to tie Live-In Caregivers to agencies, rather than to employers. We will continue to fight to end imprisonment of immigrants without charges or trial, and stop the deportations of our friends, families, and communities. We will not rest until all exclusionary immigration laws end.

So today the struggle continues. As it must.

No One Is Illegal (Toronto) is a group of immigrants, refugees and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect. This statement was originally published at NOII (Toronto)’s website

Israel: in the death throes of a racist dream

Though traumatized and leaderless, Palestinians remain rebellious and resolute — we continue to act in concert, bound by a collective wound.

In 1845, Lieutenant Colonel George Gawler submitted a report detailing the potential for Jewish colonization of Palestine. The obstacles he foresaw had to do with resources and the feasibility of convincing Jews to immigrate to Palestine. No consideration was given to the native Palestinian population already living there for centuries.

Decades later, in deciding the fate of Palestine, then a so-called British mandate, Lord Balfour declared: “We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” But faced with a Palestinian revolt, the British retreated, realizing the mistake of ignoring the will and humanity of the indigenous population. Then, when Zionists made their first conquest of Palestine, expelling over 80 percent of the native population, David Ben Gurion (the Polish-born David Grunn) predicted triumphantly that the native population would surely disappear. “The old will die and the young will forget,” he said.

He too was wrong, and many decades later, as this Zionist fantasy did not materialize, Israel hypothesized that brute force and complete colonization of the land would at last achieve the eradication of Palestine’s indigenous society. Army chief of staff, Raphael Eitan put it most honestly when he said: “When we have settled all the land, all the [Palestinian] Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”

Again, faced with the same mistake, Israel simply escalated its brutality. “We have to kill and kill and kill, all day, every day,” explained an Israeli professor; and a prominent Israeli lawmaker raised this call to genocide to include the murder of Palestinian mothers and their babies, whom she called “little snakes”. And now, like a petulant spoiled child who did not get his way on the Iran deal, Netanyahu gathered his gangsters, stomping their feet on holy ground to bring down the house, an epic tantrum for President Obama, as if to say look what I can still do.

The new escalation to eradicate Palestine now is to enlist the civilian population of Israel to arm itself and join their military thugs against our unarmed civilian population. Videos and news of recent random executions, stabbings, and the roaming blood lust of mob vigilantes abound on the Internet.

And yet.

We remain.

Our ancient society, though fragmented and brutalized, stands defiant, persistent, passionate and steadfast. Though traumatized and leaderless, we remain, rebellious, brave and resolute. No matter where we are, occupied or displaced and scattered around the world — Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, refugee camps of Lebanon or Syria or Iraq, exile in a diaspora that reaches every corner of the world — we continue to act in concert, bound by a collective wound, one that Jews ought to understand.

How surprised they must be. How utterly demoralized they must feel to have such great military might and somehow stand weak and small against our rocks.

How breathless you, Israel, must feel. How devastating it must be to fail so miserably at one task, year after year, decade after decade. To have repeatedly intensified tactics of death and cruelty but still not managed to crush us. To cart off small children by the thousands, pissing their pants, and still find that thousands have taken their place the next day, hurling rocks at your tanks and guns. To imprison them so young as they cry with fear, scream for their mothers, only to grow up unbroken, defying and fighting you still.

To demolish homes and whole towns, only to find that we rebuild and multiply faster than you. To see us dance, study, marry, and have babies through your endless siege, occupation, and slaughter campaigns. To see us live after you have shredded our hearts with grief and loss. To bomb and destroy our schools, prevent children and teachers from reaching their classrooms, and still face our literacy rate that rivals your own.

How frightened you must feel that we still do not fear you; that in the recesses of our being, we are a triumphant people and instead, it is you who is frightened. How profoundly disappointing it must feel to destroy our villages, dig in Silwan, under Al Aqsa and Al Shakhra decade after decade and still come up without forensic evidence to support your narrative, and simultaneously be faced with the multitude of Palestinians whose native claims are present, obvious, written, well-known and undisputed.

How frustrated you must feel that those of us you barred from our homes, whom you thought would forget, continue to write, create, protest, and expose you abroad, gathering more and more momentum for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign that is breaking the back of your lies. How defeating it is to spend millions of dollars to harass us abroad in order to silence us, only to find our voices grow louder.

Israel has made and remade the mistake of every colonial enterprise before them, because colonialism always arrives with a sense of supremacy that does not look upon native peoples as human. That is why Israel has always underestimated us. They do not understand, nor do they appreciate, that we possess the most impulsive human lurch toward freedom; that our instinctive tendency is firmly toward dignity.

I see Israel’s dilemma. I see their fear. The pain of a racist dream that came so close but not quite. And I can understand that the way they thrash about now — violent, ugly, insanely insecure and incomprehensibly cruel — is the throes of Zionism’s death.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian writer. Her latest novel is The Blue Between Sky and Water (Bloomsbury, 2015), with rights sold thus far into 21 languages. This article was originally published by Middle East Eye.

A politics of fear: the EU’s desperate bid to stop refugees

The EU-Turkey deal to contain the flow of refugees exposes the single motivating factor that spurs the countries into action: the fear of losing power.

Photo showing women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station, by Mstyslav Chernov.

On Thursday night, an announcement was made that a deal had been struck between the EU and Turkey regarding the containment of refugee flows entering Europe via Turkey. At the price of 3 billion euros, promises to ease visa-free traveling for Turkish citizens to Schengen countries and the re-opening of the EU-admission talks that had stalled after questions were raised about Turkey’s authoritarian turn over the past few years, Turkey promised to help Europe deal with its “refugee crisis” (not the refugees’ crisis, but the crisis of Europe’s inability to welcome the refugees in a humane and sensible way).

In exchange, Turkey conceded increased border controls, an improvement in refugees’ livelihoods, and the re-admission of refugees who had already entered the EU by way of Turkey, who were denied asylum and would now have to be deported somewhere. As a final touch, and a sign of the EU’s good will, Turkey would also be added to the list of ‘safe countries’ people could be deported to, no questions asked — not even as to the thousands of political prisoners currently behind Turkish bars; nor to the millions living in Kurdish towns, subjected to military sieges and nighttime raids, seeing the lifeless bodies of their comrades dragged through the streets behind police vehicles; or to the countless murdered children — collateral damage, of course — whose young lives were cut short by “ricocheted” bullets, “misguided” tear gas canisters or “unfortunate accidents”.

In spite of the fact that Turkey already seems to have backtracked on the deal since Thursday, with President Erdogan — hinting at a mild case of having lost all touch with reality — defiantly stating that nothing short of full EU membership will be sufficient to move Turkey to stick to its side of the bargain, the politics at play here expose the rotten inner workings of the EU.

The deal between the EU and Turkey does not stem from a desire to help out a fellow human being in need (or a couple of million of them, for that matter), nor is it a sign that European governments have finally decided to make work of improving ever so slightly the miserable lives of those many, many people whose family members disappeared, whose houses were bombed, whose cars went up in flames, whose animals were slaughtered, whose children starved, whose money vanished and whose lives turned to nothing but a series of empty, meaningless moments tied together with ragged strings of pain, loss and suffering.

No. This deal is the product of pure fear. Fear for what is different. Fear of having to share what is yours. Fear for the stranger who speaks an unintelligible language, wears a different type of clothes, and who — God forbid — occasionally eats with his hands. But most of all, it is the fear to lose power.

It is this deep-seated, inner fear that has finally set things in motion. The politicians’ fear to lose the vote of those who have bought into the populist rhetoric of the right-wing xenophobes, instilled with hate, anger and xenophobia. Power corrupts. It numbs, it demands, it craves. Every refugee entering this country is one vote less for those in power. ‘We’re sorry. We’re left with no choice. This is for the best of us all. Really.’

Millions of destroyed lives are being used as leverage in a political ploy that only serves to keep the status quo intact. An aspiring dictator is being groomed as savior while European leaders keep their eyes shut to the daily human rights violations, their ears closed to the cries for justice from a people in distress, and their lips sealed to prevent anyone from speaking up, in case the wrong word or a misplaced sentence rouses the Sultan’s anger.

The way Europe is currently dealing with its refugee crisis is by doing everything in its power not to let it reach its doorstep. The gates have been closed, new fences have been built. Batons, tear gas and water cannons are deployed in order to keep the “barbarian hordes” at bay.

For the lucky few who did manage to breach the seemingly impregnable walls of the Fortress, the struggle is far from over. The hospitality of those few communities opening their doors and welcoming those in need is overshadowed by racist slurs sprayed on the walls of derelict school buildings doubling as migration centers; the discriminatory rhetoric characterizing each public discussion about the refugees’ fate; and the xenophobic prejudices of their new neighbors who apparently know everything about the refugees’ lives, customs, ideas, religion and beliefs without ever having spoken to any of them.

The deal between the EU and Turkey is a scandalous example of how the refugee crisis is being used for local political gain by both sides. With important elections coming up in two weeks and facing a major setback in its support, the Turkish AKP-led government is eager for some cheap victories to present to its voters. At the same time, European leaders have collectively agreed to turn a blind eye to everything that is wrong with Turkey, only to let it do the dirty work for them.

The refugees’ crisis is a humanitarian crisis, not a political one. As such, the solution lies with ordinary people and not with the political games of their leaders. Speaking up against hate and fear is as important as acts of hospitality and solidarity. But the solution lies not in isolated acts of kindness. Leaving all systemic critiques of the political system aside, we need to stand up to this discourse of hate, rise up to the politics of fear. We need to show that power resides with those who have built it through struggle, and that protection will be granted to those who need it.

Let Europe become a safe haven for those fleeing war, poverty and persecution, and the fertile soil in which the seeds of a common future can be sown. It’s time to say it loud, and to say it clear: “Refugees are welcome here!”

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst, writer, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.

Hipsters vs Chavs? Talking social class in the city

In the post-industrial city, a variety of new class identities are emerging. But are they galvanizing class struggle or only fragmenting it further?  

For years, social scientists and urban scholars have written about how the social structures of cities in the Global North have evolved over the last several decades, as de-industrialization has given way to a post-industrial, service-oriented economy. But as production shifted towards the immaterial, discourses regarding work grew increasingly abstract. Class discourse, less substantive.

In the early 2000s, urban theorist Richard Florida stepped into the resulting gap with his thoughts on the importance of the “creative class” in economic development. Florida argued that attracting and retaining highly educated professionals to urban centers leads to growth, urban regeneration and greater life-satisfaction.

His story proved convincing for city officials seeking a new progressive narrative for the post-industrial scenario. Since then, Florida’s work has become a canonical reference for a growing cohort of cities seeking to re-brand themselves as so-called “Smart Cities”, where digital technologies guide urban design to optimize the life satisfaction and economic performance of residents.

Insofar as Florida’s framework involves a spatialization of class conflict in an urban system, the focal point of class tensions in it is gentrification. But recently, he and many like-minded urban scholars have begun to strongly question the validity of this term, described by the British sociologist Ruth Glass as the displacement of low-income residents by more affluent ones.

These scholars claim that gentrification is an exceedingly vague concept that is difficult to apply scientifically. They propose that attention should instead be focused on concentrated advantage and disadvantage. That is a somewhat misleading argument, however, because it blurs a key distinction. Concentrated disadvantage is a state, while gentrification is the process by which people are displaced to such areas, or by which such areas are created by that state.

Nonetheless, the idea that the creative class is the key to a liveable city is gaining support, not least because it lends itself favorably to the fractal identity politics of the post-industrial era.

Essentially, Florida’s class scheme is a broad re-grouping of the USA’s Standard Occupational Classification into “the creative class”, “the service working class” and “the industrial working class”. He identifies the creative class with a wide range of occupations spanning tech workers, artists, engineers, musicians, healthcare professionals, business professionals, teachers, scientists, and, curiously, also lesbians and gay men, and what he calls “high bohemians”.

Characterized by individualistic lifestyle preferences and cultured tastes, the creative class is popularly associated with an increasingly relevant figure in the urban landscape: the hipster. Generally imagined as white, privileged and effete, the hipster provides critics of Florida’s “urban renewal” recommendations with a compelling enemy through which to sublimate urban class antagonisms. As a result, in recent years the pop-political critique of hipsters has rapidly emerged as a widely read sub-genre of internet literature.

Meanwhile, interest in the working class antithesis of the hipster is also growing, as evidenced by the impact of books like Owen Jones’s Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. This interest in identities that potentially embody urban class antagonisms seems to stem from the inequalities and frustrated expectations exacerbated by years of economic crisis and austerity in the global North. It is indeed tempting to view the hipster vs. chav conflict as one between the creative class and a younger service working class that has come to replace the older industrial working class.

But Florida’s conceptualization of the creative class is problematic. Let us consider his inclusion of lesbians, gay men and “high bohemians” in that group. It is a revealing because it involves lumping people defined according to their preferences together with people defined by their occupations. This is a key element of Florida’s analysis because his argument regarding the impact of the creative class on the city hinges as much on their consumption preferences as it does on the work they do.

With this in mind, I can’t help but wonder if posing urban class antagonisms in terms of hipsters vs. chavs doesn’t repeat the problem with Florida’s framework by granting excessive importance to lifestyle preferences, consumer habits and occupation and overlooking what is perhaps the central process shaping social classes in the post-industrial era: the precarization of work.

Precarization splits occupational classes between insiders and outsiders by establishing a hierarchical gradient around the employment relationship. It also determines the extent to which workers—disproportionately women, immigrants and youth—are exposed to a variety of risks, like unemployment, underemployment, poverty, injury, illness and so on.

Tellingly, college-educated youth constitute a substantial and growing portion of the rapidly expanding precariat, as the economist Guy Standing has called this “new dangerous class”. Yet among college-educated young workers, those in precarious jobs are disproportionately held by people whose parents do not have a university degree.

This would suggest that social class continues to be structured by the relationships between generations than by those within them. With this in mind, might a class discourse articulated around lifestyles and consumption preferences (which are strongly shaped by one’s own age and educational level) do more to divide and suppress an emerging class antagonism than it does to galvanise one?

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. He currently collaborates with the Health Inequalities Research Group at Pompeu Fabra University and the Barcelona Institute of Metropolitan and Regional Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Breaking the chains: precarity in the Age of Anxiety

In our Age of Anxiety, society assaults us from every possible angle with an avalanche of uncertainty. How do we fight back under conditions of precarity?

­An Age of Anxiety is upon us, one where society assaults us from every possible angle with an avalanche of uncertainty, fear and alienation. We live with neither liberty nor security but instead precariousness. Our housing, our income and our play are temporary and contingent, forever at the whim of the landlord, policeman, bureaucrat or market. The only constant is that of insecurity itself. We are gifted the guarantee of perpetual flux, the knowledge that we will forever be flailing from one abyss to another, that true relaxation is a bourgeois luxury beyond our means.

Our very beings come to absorb this anxiety. We internalize society’s cruelty and contradiction and transform them into a problem of brain chemistry, one that is diagnosed and medicated away instead of being obliterated at root. All hope is blotted out. Authentic experience, unmediated conversation, distraction-free affection and truly relaxed association feel like relics of a bygone era, a sepia dream that perhaps never existed.

Instead we have the frenetic social arenas of late capitalism: the commodified hedonism of clubs and festivals, express lunches, binge culture and the escapist, dislocating experience of online video games, all underlined by either our desperate need to numb our anxieties or to create effective, time-efficient units of fun so we are available for work and worry.

This is assuming we have work, of course. Many of us are unemployed, or are instead held in constant precarity. Stuck on zero-hour contracts or wading through as jobbing freelancers in industries that used to employ but don’t anymore, we are unable to plan our lives any further than next week’s rota, unable to ever switch off as the search for work is sprawling and continuous.

And if we do have traditional employment, what then? We are imprisoned and surveilled in the office, coffee shop or back room, subject to constant assessment, re-assessment and self-assessment, tracked, monitored and looped in a perpetual performance review, one which even our managers think is worthless, but has to be done anyway because, hey, company policy.

Continuous is the effective probationary period and we are forever teetering on the edge of unemployment. We internalize the implications of our constant assessment, the knowledge that we’re always potentially being surveilled. We censor ourselves. We second-guess ourselves. We quash ourselves.

And thanks to the effective abolition of the traditional working day, work becomes unbearable and endless. The security of having delineated time — at work and then at play — has been eradicated. Often this is because individuals have to supplement their atrocious wages with work on the side. But it is also because traditional 9-to-5 jobs have suffered a continuous extension of working hours into out-of-office time, enabled and mediated by our laptops and smartphones. These gadgets demand immediacy and, when coupled with the knowledge that you are always reachable and thus available, they instill in us a frantic need to forever reply in the now.

And with this expectation comes obligation. Hyper-networked technologies gift our bosses the ability to demand action from us at any moment. Things that had to wait before become doable — and thus are done — in the now. If you are unwilling, then someone is ready to take your place. You must always be at their beck and call. From this, our only refuge is sleep, perhaps the last bastion of delineated time against frenetic capitalism, and one that is being gradually eroded and replaced.

For those that are out of work the situation is no better. They face the cruel bureaucracy of the Job Centre or the Atos assessment, institutions that have no interest in linking up job seekers with fulfilling employment but instead attempt only to lower the benefits bill through punitive, arbitrary sanctions and forcing the sick back to work. Insider accounts of these programs betray the mix of anxiety inducing micro-assessment and surveillance they employ.

Disabled claimants — always claimants, never patients, insists Atos — are assessed from the moment they enter the waiting room, noted as to whether they arrive alone, whether they can stand unassisted and whether they can hear their name when called. Compounding this is the hegemonic demonization of those that society has failed: if you are out of work, you are a scrounger, a benefit cheat and a liar. Utterly guilty of your failure, a situation individualized in its totality and attributable to no system, institution or individual but yourself.

We are surveilled, monitored and assessed from cradle to grave, fashioned by the demand that we must be empirical, computable and trackable, our souls transformed into a series of ones and zeros. This happens in the workplace, on the street and in various government institutions. But its ideological groundwork is laid in the nursery and the school.

These institutions bracket our imaginations while still in formation, normalizing a regime of continuous surveillance and assessment that is to last for the rest of our lives. Staff are increasingly taken away from educating and nurturing and instead are made to roam nurseries taking pictures and recording quotes, all to be computed and amalgamated so authorities can track, assess and predict a child’s trajectory.

It is true that this does not trouble the child in the same way traditional high intensity rote examination does. But what it instead achieves is the internalization of the surveillance/assessment nexus in our minds; laying the groundwork for an acquiescence to panoptical monitoring, a resignation to a private-less life and a buckling to regimes of continuous assessment.

Britain is particularly bad in this respect. Not only does our government have a fetish for closed-circuit television like no other, but also, GCHQ was at the heart of the Snowden revelations. Revelation, however, is slightly misleading — as what was most telling about the leaks wasn’t the brazen overstep by government institutions, but that few people were surprised. Although we didn’t know the details, we suspected such activity was going on. We acted as if we were being watched, tracked and monitored anyhow.

In this we see the paranoid fugitive of countless films, books and television dramas extrapolated to society writ large. We are all, to some extent, that person. Our growing distrust of governments, the knowledge that our technologically-integrated lives leave a heavy trace and the collection of “big” data for both commercial and authoritarian purposes contributes to our destabilized, anxious existence. An existence that impels us towards self-policing and control. One where we do the authority’s job for them.

Many individuals offer the amount of choice we have, or the amount of knowledge we can access at the click of a button, as the glorious consequences of late capitalist society. But our rampant choice society, one where we have to make an overwhelming number of choices — about the cereal we eat, the beer we drink, or the clothes we wear — is entirely one sided. While we have an incredible amount of choice over issues of little importance, we are utterly excluded from any choice about the things that matter; what we do with the majority of our time, how we relate to others or how society functions as a whole. Nearly always these choices are constricted by the market, the necessity of work, cultures of overwork and neoliberal ideology.

Again we find this ideology laid down in primary education. Over the years more and more “continuous” learning has been introduced whereby children, over a two week period or so, have to complete a set of tasks for which they can choose the order. This is an almost perfect example of how choice functions in our society, ubiquitous when insignificant but absent when important. The children can choose when they do an activity, which matters little as they will have to do it at some point anyway, but cannot choose not to do it, or to substitute one kind of activity with another.

Why does this matter? Because meaningful choices about our lives give us a sense of certainty and control. Avalanches of bullshit choices that still have to be made, as study after study has shown, make us incredibly anxious. Each of them takes mental effort. Each contains, implicitly, the multitude of choices that we didn’t make; all those denied experiences for every actual experience. This is fine if there are only one or two. But if there are hundreds, every act is riddled with disappointment, every decision shot with anxiety.

Compounding this orgy of choice, and in itself another root cause of anxiety, is the staggering amount of information that assaults us every day. Social media, 24-hour news, the encroachment of advertising into every crack — both spatially and temporally — and our cultures of efficiency that advocate consuming or working at every possible moment all combine to cause intense sensory overload. This world, for many, is just too much.

Although we’ve talked mostly about work, surveillance, assessment and choice, there are a multitude of factors one could add. The desolation of community due to the geographical dislocation of work, the increased transiency of populations and the growing privatization of previously public acts — drinking, eating and consuming entertainment are increasingly consigned to the home — shrinks our world to just our immediate families.

Camaraderie, extended community and solidarity are eroded in favor of mistrust, suspicion and competition. Outside of work our lives become little more than a series of privatized moments, tending to our property and ourselves rather than each other, flitting between the television shows, video games, home DIY and an incredible fetish for gardening with no hint towards the thought that perhaps these experiences would be better if they were held in common, if they appealed to the social and looked outward rather than in.

In the same way we could mention the ubiquity of debt — be it the mortgage, the credit card or the student loans — and the implicit moral judgment suffered by the debtor coupled with the anxiety-inducing knowledge that they could lose everything at any moment. Or we could consider the near-existential crises humanity faces, be it climate change, ISIS or the death throes of capitalism; all too abstract and total to comprehend, all contributing to a sense that there is no future, only a grainy, distant image of lawless brutality, flickering resolutely in our heads.

But the crux, and the reason anxiety could become a revolutionary battleground, is that neoliberal ideology has individualized our suffering, attributing it to imbalances in our brain chemistry, constructing it as a problem of the self, rather than an understandable human reaction to a myriad of cruel systemic causes. Instead of changing society the problem is medicalized and we change ourselves, popping pills to mold our subjectivities to late-capitalist structures, accepting the primacy of capitalism over humanity.

This is why “We Are All Very Anxious”, a pamphlet released by the Institute of Precarious Consciousness, is so explosively brilliant. Not only does it narrate the systemic causes of anxiety, but it situates the struggle within a revolutionary strategy, constructing a theory that is at once broad and personal, incorporating one’s own subjective experience into an explanatory framework, positing anxiety as a novel, contemporary revolutionary battleground, ripe for occupation.

It is, they claim, one of three eras spanning the last two-hundred years where we have progressed between different dominant societal affects. Until the postwar settlement we suffered from misery. The dominant narrative was that capitalism benefited everybody; while at the same time overcrowding, malnourishment and slum dwelling were rife. In response to this appropriate tactics such as strikes, mutual aid, cooperatives and formal political organization were adopted.

After the postwar settlement, until around the 1980s, a period of Fordist boredom ensued. Compared to the last era, most people had stable jobs, guaranteed welfare and access to mass consumerism and culture. But much of the work was boring, simple and repetitive. Life in the suburbs was beige and predictable. Capitalism, as they put it, “gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life.” Again movements arose in opposition, positioned specifically against the boredom of the age. The Situationists and radical feminism can be mentioned, but also the counter-culture surrounding the anti-war movement in America and the flourishing DIY punk scene in the UK.

This period is now finished. Capitalism has co-opted the demand for excitement and stimulation both by appropriating formerly subversive avenues of entertainment — the festival, club and rave — while dramatically increasing both the amount and intensity of distractions and amusements.

In one sense we live in an age of sprawling consumerism that avoids superficial conformity by allowing you to ornament and construct your identity via hyper-customized, but still mass-produced products. But technological development also mean that entertainment is now more total, immersive and interactive; be it the video game or the full-color film watched on a widescreen, high-definition television.

Key to this linear conception is the idea of the public secret, the notion that anxiety, misery or boredom in these periods are ubiquitous but also hidden, excluded from public discourse, individualized and transformed into something unmentionable, a condition believed to be isolated and few because nobody really talked about it. Thus to even broach the subject in a public, systematic manner becomes not just an individual revelation but also a collective revolutionary act.

I’ve seen this first-hand when running workshops on the topic. Sessions, which were often argumentative and confrontational, became, when the subject was capitalism and anxiety, genuinely inquisitive and exploratory. Groups endeavored to broaden their knowledge of the subject, make theoretical links and root out its kernel rather than manning their usual academic ramparts and launching argument after rebuttal back and forth across the battlefield.

But more than this, there was a distinct edge of excitement, the feeling that we were onto something, a theory ripe with explosive newness, one that managed to combine our subjective experiences and situate them in a coherent theoretical framework.

However, we must be critical. To posit anxiety as a specifically modern affect, unique to our age, is contentious. What about the 1950s housewife, someone mentioned in one of the sessions, with her subjectivity rigidly dictated by the misogyny and overbearing cultural norms of the time? Didn’t this make her feel anxious?

Well, perhaps. But if we take anxiety to mean a general feeling of nervousness or unease about an uncertain outcome — with chronic anxiety being an actively debilitating form — then we can draw distinct differences. Although the housewife was oppressed, her oppression was codified and linear, her life depressingly mapped out with little room for choice or maneuver. Similarly with the slave — surely the universal symbol of oppression — hierarchies aren’t nebulous but explicit, domination is ensured by the whip and the gun, the master individualized and present.

This is in stark contrast to the current moment. While it is obvious that oppressions are distinct and incomparable, we can nevertheless see that the fug of the 21st century youth is of a different nature. Our only certainty is that of uncertainty. Our oppressor is not an individual but a diffuse and multiplicitous network of bureaucrats, institutions and global capital, hidden in its omnipotence and impossible to grasp.

We aren’t depressed by the inevitability of our oppression, but instead are baffled by its apparent (but unreal) absence, forever teetering on the brink, not knowing why, nor knowing who we should blame.

Similarly it is bold to claim that anxiety is the dominant affect of Western capitalism, tantamount to pitching it as the revolutionary issue of our age. Yet if we analyze the popular struggles of our time — housing, wages, work/life balance and welfare — they are often geared, in one way or another, towards promoting security over anxiety.

Housing for many is not about having a roof over their heads, but about security of tenure, be it via longer fixed-term tenancies or the guarantee that they won’t be priced out by rent rises that their precarious employment can’t possibly cover. In the same way struggles over welfare are often about material conditions, but what particularly strikes a chord is the cruel insecurity of a life on benefits, forever at the whim of sanction-wielding bureaucrats who are mandated to use any possible excuse to remove your only means of support.

Anxiety is also a struggle that unites diverse social strata, emanating from institutions such as the job center, loan shark, university, job market, landlord and mortgage lender, affecting the unemployed, precariously employed, office worker, indebted student and even the comparatively well-off. Again we find this unification in the near-universal adoption of the smartphone and other hyper-networked technologies. All of us, and especially our children, are beholden to a myriad of glowing screens, flitting between one identity and another, alienated and disconnected from our surroundings and each other.

This is not to say a movement against anxiety itself will ever arise. Such a rallying cry would be too abstract and fail to inspire. Instead, anxiety must be conceptualized both as an affect which underlies various different struggles, and a schema within which they can be assembled into a revolutionary strategy.

So, what is our tangible aim here? In part it must be to reduce the level of general anxiety so as to increase quality of life. Yet if we are to take a revolutionary rather than a mere humanitarian approach, this drop in anxiety must in some way translate into a rise in revolutionary disposition. In certain ways it obviously will. If there is a public realization that large swathes of the mentally ill are not as such because of their unfortunate brain chemistry but instead because of a misconfiguration of society, people are already thinking on an inherently challenging, systemic level.

Similarly, conflict with the state or capital — be it on the street, in the workplace or inside one’s own head — tends to be high-impact and anxiety-inducing. A drop in general anxiety will make it more likely that individuals will engage in such moments of conflict and, crucially, experience the intense radicalization and realization of hegemonic power that can only be achieved through such visceral moments. But a second part to this, hinted at already and integral to giving the struggle a revolutionary edge, is to emphasize that there is a public secret to be aired. As well as combating the sources of anxiety, we must say we are doing so; we must situate these struggles within larger frameworks and provide education on its systemic nature.

Thus, any strategy would need to be both abstract and practical. On one hand we must explode the public secret by raising consciousness. This would require a general onslaught of education, including, but not limited to, consciousness-raising sessions, participatory workshops, articles, books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters, YouTube videos and “subvertised” adverts. The emphasis would be to educate but also to listen, to intermingle theoretical understanding with subjective experience.

The second part would be to strategically support campaigns and make demands of politicians that specifically combat anxiety in its various different guises. When it comes to work, the abolition of zero-hour contracts, the raising of the minimum wage in line with the actual cost of living, and the tightening of laws on overwork as part of a broader campaign to assert the primacy of life over work, of love over pay, would be a good start.

For those out of work, underpaid or precarious, the introduction of a basic citizen’s income would represent a revolutionizing of the job market. In one move it would alleviate the cultural and practical anxieties of worklessness — ending the bureaucratic cruelty of the job center while removing the anxiety-inducing stigma associated with claiming benefits — while simultaneously allowing individuals to pursue culturally important and revolutionary activities such as art, music, writing or (dare I say it?) activism, without the crushing impossibility of trying to make them pay. When we look to housing obvious solutions include mandatory, secured five-year tenancies, capped rent increases and a guarantee of stable, suitable social housing for those who need it.

There are many more reforms I could list. You will notice, however, that these are indeed reforms; bread and butter social democracy. Does that mean such a program is counter-revolutionary? A mere placatory settlement between capital and the working class? No, it does not. Revolution does not emerge from the systematic subjection of individuals to increased misery, anxiety and hardship as accelerationist logic demands. Instead it flourishes when populations become aware of their chains, are given radical visions for the future and the means to achieve them. It is when leftists critique but also offer hope. It is when the population writ large are included in and are masters of their own liberation; not when they are viewed as a lumpen, otherly mass, of only instrumental importance in achieving the glorious revolution.

Look at the practicalities and this becomes obvious. How can we expect individuals to launch themselves into high-tension anxiety-inducing conflicts if the mere thought of such a situation causes them to have a panic attack? How can individuals, in the face of near panoptical surveillance and monitoring, combat the overwhelming desire to conform if they aren’t awarded some freedom from the practical anxieties of life? How are we to think and act in a revolutionary, and often abstract, manner if the very real and immediate anxieties of work, home and play fog our minds so totally?

This is not to say freedom will be given to us. It must always be taken, and we must not rely on electoral politics to hand us the revolution down from above. Nor will true struggle ever be an anxiety-free leisure pursuit. Genuine conflict with the state and capital will always entail danger, stress and the possibility of intensified precariousness.

Nevertheless, the dismissal of electoral politics in its totality represents abysmal revolutionary theory. The pursuit of reforms by progressive governments being bitten at the heels by sharp, vibrant social movements can produce real, tangible change.

It was what should have happened with Syriza, and it is what will hopefully happen with the new Labour leadership in the UK. And if, as individuals and communities, we are to puncture the distress, precariousness and general sense of cruel unknowing so particular to the moment in which we live, if we are to overcome the avalanche of bullshit and reclaim our confidence, if we to construct and disseminate a distinctly communal, hopeful revolutionary fervor, such changes are imminently needed.

Joseph Todd is a writer and activist who has been published in The Baffler, Salon and CounterFire, among others. For more writings, visit his website.

Politics of trust: beyond the state, towards each other

When states lack social legitimacy, a widespread lack of trust in politicians or political parties is merely a symptom of this. Who then do we turn to?

On Saturday, October 10, over one hundred people were killed at a peace rally in Ankara by suicide bombers. It was the worst terrorist attack ever recorded on Turkish soil. The rally had been organized by trade unions in favor of peace between Turkish state authorities and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with support from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

In the aftermath of the attack, the Turkish prime minister’s office banned media coverage, citing “security reasons”. Meanwhile, Twitter and other social media went down. Despite these obstacles, some local media groups disobeyed the ministry’s orders and many people accessed social media through virtual private networks (VPN).

As reported in The Guardian, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu first claimed that the attacks could have been carried out by ISIS, Kurdish militants or far-leftist militants. At the same time, the Turkish Minister for Forestry and Water Veysel Eroglu put blame on the peace rally’s organizers, saying: “Our people need to be careful of such provocateurs that organize terrorist demonstrations in order to incite discord in social harmony.”

But this post is not about the terrorist attacks in Ankara. It is about a concept people are calling “political trust”. It’s the kind of thing that gets undermined when politicians routinely refer to their opponents as “terrorists” to score political points, or when the state’s initial response to an atrocity is to do its best to restrict access to information, citing a vague logic of security.

It is tempting for Europeans to believe that this response is specific to Turkey’s singularly authoritarian regime, that such a heavy-handed approach is unlikely in EU member states. This is not only racist, but false.

After the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004, which killed 193 people and injured 1,858, the Spanish government, led by José María Aznar’s Popular Party, lied to the Spanish people to make them believe that the attacks had been perpetrated by Basque Country and Freedom (ETA), when they knew it had been carried out by Al Qaeda. Like the attack in Turkey, these took place in the build-up to general elections. The Aznar government’s story was intended to maximize electoral profit.

This was not even the most recent case of the Popular Party referring to its opponents as terrorists. When the remarkably successful Spanish Mortgage Victims’ Platform (PAH)—a social movement known for its peaceful civil disobedience—responded to the Popular Party’s rejection of its massively supported citizen-initiated legislation by holding protests outside the homes of politicians, several Popular Party officials repeatedly referred to protesters and their spokespeople as “terrorists” or “Nazis” in the media. They have taken a similar approach in their dealings with the upstart leftist party Podemos, constantly accusing them of harboring sympathy for ETA.

Interest in the concept of “political trust” is likely rising as a result of the wave of protests that have taken place over recent years in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Turkey or Brazil, which are usually linked to some form of disaffection resulting from a combination of unpopular legislation and corruption. In the light of these protests, the question that is often posed is that of what might be done to restore political trust…?

But, posed in this context, doesn’t the question assume a narrow definition of political trust, one that equates it with trust in political institutions that are unable to confront the material realities they are embedded in? What if we consider political action—and trust is very much an action—as something that exists beyond the reach of formal institutions?

In most of the countries that saw large-scale protests, broad movements generated a considerable amount of political trust between ordinary people who organized themselves around a common set of needs that were not only left unmet by the state and supranational institutions, but sold off for the benefit of private interests.

Since late 2010 we have seen streets fill with acts of mutual aid and solidarity around these common needs, which include housing, public space, water, health care, education, culture, information and so on. And they have done so under conditions that frequently required people to take risks for one another,

On many occasions, states have responded by trying to destabilize these bonds through slander and coercion. But these efforts should be seen as a sign of states’ lack of social legitimacy; a lack of trust in politicians or political parties is merely a symptom of this.

To illustrate this point, let us return to Ankara. According to eyewitnesses cited in the above mentioned article in The Guardian, ambulances could not immediately reach the scene of the attack because police were obstructing the quick evacuation of the wounded from the square.

The video below appears to support those accounts, showing protesters confronting police to open up a corridor for the ambulance to go through. Again, the people demonstrate a trust in one another that, in their opposition to state security forces, is profoundly political.

Perhaps it would be wise to build on the bonds emerging there, among the people in the “swarm”, between those people and the workers in the ambulance, rather than rely on the bonds being broken by the retreating police. It could very well be that the question is not why people trust formal institutions less, but why those institutions don’t trust them more?

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. He currently collaborates with the Health Inequalities Research Group at Pompeu Fabra University and the Barcelona Institute of Metropolitan and Regional Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

This article was originally published on Open Democracy.

Welcoming refugees: our future is common

The EU’s external borders are rapidly becoming untenable. Rather than resist, Europe should embrace its future as a continent of great diversity.

This piece was originally written for teleSUR English.

The “refugee crisis” of recent months has split Europe in two. But unlike the liberal press would have us believe, the main dividing line runs not between those states (like Germany) that have taken a more humane approach to the crisis by accepting more refugees, and those (like Hungary) that have shut their borders and cracked down violently on anyone attempting to cross them.

Rather, the real schism is the one between states and institutions that jealously guard their borders, clinging on to an exclusionary territorial logic that is rapidly becoming untenable, and the ordinary people on the ground – refugees, activists and locals alike – who are self-organizing solidarity beyond borders and creating a radically different kind of Europe from below.

The former play on the fears of the continent’s increasingly precarious middle classes to exploit short-term electoral opportunities and to transform the world’s largest migration flows since World War II into a “crisis of border control,” rather than the humanitarian crisis it really is. While some EU leaders – most notably Angela Merkel – have inclined towards a more lenient approach, their superficial compassion nevertheless betrays the same logic of control.

The latter, by contrast, are the true face of a changing Europe. From the beaches of Lesbos and Kos to the border crossings in the Balkans, from the fences at the Serbo-Hungarian border to the train stations of Munich and Vienna, and from detention centers across the continent to self-organized spaces like the refugee camp in Calais, the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have made their way to Europe in recent months are injecting a healthy infusion of bottom-up social change into the lifeblood of a moribund European community.

In the process, they have inspired the birth of a transnational movement that is uniting Europeans across borders in solidarity with the newly arrived. Coming on the heels of the continent-wide solidarity movement with Greece around the July referendum, the “refugees welcome” mobilizations are already changing the face of European politics by decisively shifting discursive momentum away from the nationalists and xenophobes.

The nature and extent of the changes produced by these two simultaneous and interconnected processes can only be properly assessed in hindsight several years from now, but the long-term impact on European society is likely to be tremendous and irreversible.

For one, refugees are breaking down borders in the very act of crossing them. The large movements of human beings over the past months have revealed just how weak and unprepared Europe’s ailing nation states really are, and how ineffective the EU’s external border regime remains. Fortress Europe, for all its evils and atrocities, is far more porous than its defenders like to think (or want us to believe). In truth, its walls are being breached daily by the thousands.

As the influx of people intensifies, Europe is certain to throw up more fences and step up its external border patrols. But wherever there is a will, there is a way – and since the will for life will always be stronger than the capacity to withstand endless poverty, war and oppression, people will keep coming to Europe in search of a better future. And rightfully so.

To be sure, there will be immense individual suffering in the process – from the tragedies of sunken boats to the brutalities of forced deportation. At a more systemic level, however, the hundreds of thousands of people who are currently making their way into Europe illuminate an incontrovertible fact at the heart of twenty-first century politics: no matter how hard national governments may try, it will simply prove impossible to stop the immense flows of human beings who are bound to make their way across in the years and decades ahead. No amount of border fences or Frontex patrols will be able to stop them.

For an aging and privileged continent like Europe, this is actually a good thing: migration offers an opportunity to organically rejuvenate and enrich its greying societies. Merkel, for one, is well aware that with the lowest birth rate in the world, Germany is doomed without a large influx of labor power. For German capitalists, the Syrian exodus is nothing short of a godsend. Combined with a historical sense of guilt, naked opportunism explains at least part of Merkel’s relatively open-armed approach.

But regardless of the question whether migration is “profitable” or “desirable”, there is a much more elementary reality Europeans are going to have to confront somehow: like it or not, a decade and a half into the twenty-first century, mass migration is here to stay. The so-called refugee crisis of the summer of 2015 was really only just the beginning. This year some 850,000 people fled to Europe. Similar numbers, if not more, are expected next year, and millions more will join them in the years to come. Tens, if not hundreds of millions are likely to follow as a result of climate change in future decades.

How is Europe to adapt to such dramatic patterns of human relocation and the resultant demographic changes?

To begin with, anxious Europeans will have to place the actual numbers and the reality of mass migration in perspective: the 850,000 people applying for asylum in Europe this year really do not amount to very much on a total population of half a billion Europeans. The numbers also pale in comparison to the 4 million registered Syrian refugees in the region (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt), or the 7.5 million internally displaced. Syria’s tiny neighbor Lebanon alone has taken in 1.3 million refugees – on a local population of 4 million. Seen in this light, it is difficult to understand what European leaders are complaining about.

Secondly, if Europeans are serious about halting the flows of desperate people pouring into the continent, they will have to stop endlessly reproducing the underlying causes of the refugee crisis and of mass migration more generally. Europe’s responsibilities in this respect are not just historical; they are equally contemporary. War, poverty and persecution remain the principal drivers of migration – and the West has had a hand in furthering all of those through foreign interventions, predatory financial and commercial practices, and support for authoritarian regimes across Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. We will soon be able to add anthropogenic climate change to this list.

Third, if Europe really wants refugees and migrants to stop coming in “illegally” on inflatable dinghies and overloaded fishing boats, it will simply have to secure safe passage to those fleeing war, poverty and persecution. Nobody would pay in excess of 1.000 euros per head for a life-endangering boat journey across the Mediterranean if they could apply for their papers and permits abroad and pay 200 euros for a commercial flight to their destination of choice. Transport has to be “regularized” before migration can be regulated.

Lastly, to accommodate the people who have already arrived and those who will continue to arrive in the future, Europe itself will have to change from within. Instead of jealously guarding their borders and privileges, Europeans will have to embrace the international responsibilities that come with their great wealth and power. If the continent is to avoid falling into another episode of world-historical darkness, it will have to rekindle the ideal of “solidarity beyond borders” that was always supposed to lie at the heart of the postwar European project to begin with.

Luckily, the erosion of national borders is going hand in hand with the active mobilization of European society and of refugees and migrants themselves. As these developments continue to converge, it will become clearer and clearer that Europe is inexorably bound to become a continent of great diversity. Rather than resist this, Europeans should simply embrace the realities of the twenty-first century and welcome their new neighbors as their own. Our histories may differ but our future is common.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founder and editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @JeromeRoos.

Ankara bomb attack fuels anger against Erdogan’s AKP

Tensions rise in Turkey after dozens killed at a peace rally in Ankara, while government is blamed for abetting violence prior to November elections.

Image shows Izzettin Çevik clutching his injured wife. Both of them survived, but Çevik did lose his daughter and sister in Saturday’s attack.

Saturday’s attacks on a peace demonstration in Ankara, which caused the deaths of over one hundred people and injured many more, have once again exposed the deep ruptures that continue to dominate Turkey’s social and political landscape.

At 10:04am two explosions, mere seconds apart, rocked a crowd of protesters who had gathered in front of the capital’s train station in preparation for a big peace rally planned later that day. The explosions instantly killed dozens of people – the current death toll as announced by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) stands at 128 – while injuring almost two hundred others.

While survivors were treating their injured comrades, the police – who, curiously, had been absent at the time of the blast – arrived on the scene. But rather than attempting to calm the situation, police forces attacked the crowds with tear gas while blocking the roads leading to the square, preventing emergency services from reaching the site of the attack.

A video, shot right after the attacks, shows a crowd of protesters clashing with police, attempting to clear a corridor for the ambulances to pass through.

In the wake of the bombings, tens of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to condemn the attacks, for which they directly hold the government responsible. Slogans like “Murderous state, you will pay the bill!” and “Thief! Murderer! Erdoğan!” echoed through the cities, as an expression of the deeply ingrained anger towards Turkey’s rulers that has come to characterize the different civil and political opposition groups in the country.

Who benefits?

As of yet, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the similarity between the bombings in Ankara and those in Suruç and Diyarbakir, on 20 July and 5 June, respectively, leads many to suspect that the so-called Islamic State (IS) might be behind it.

The attacks on an HDP election rally in Diyarbakir, and on a gathering of activists who planned to help with the rebuilding of Kobane in Suruç, were both carried out by suicide bombers with suspected links to IS. Although both these attacks have never formally been claimed by IS, few nurture doubts as to who is responsible for them.

However, these days, very few people in Turkey actually seem to occupy themselves with the question whether or not IS is also behind the attack in Ankara. The real question at hand is to what extent the Turkish state and security apparatus was involved, and whether the attacks were perpetrated with the knowledge, support or even on the orders of the interim AKP government.

The disrespect for human – and especially Kurdish – lives by Turkish secret services and armed forces has been axiomatic ever since the latter burned down villages, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and made thousands disappear in an attempt to break the resistance of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) back in the 1990s.

These very same tactics are once again brought to the fore now that the state has relaunched its attacks on Kurdish rebels, in the process surrounding entire Kurdish towns, cutting them off from the outside world for days on end while targeting their civilian populations with snipers and apparently random artillery bombings.

But whether the government would go so far as to actually bomb its own citizens, or to allow IS to do so just to further its political program, is a key question that goes to the heart of the current crisis in Turkey. The co-leader of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, cut to the chase in a public statement responding to the bombings:

“Ankara is the capital of Turkey. Even if a single bird flies over the city the state will know. This is the most surveilled city in the country. We hold a mass rally with a hundred thousand people, but there wasn’t any security personnel to be found on the streets. Look at their own rallies: the security checks start several blocks away.”

To identify the forces responsible for this barbaric attack, one simple question ought to be answered: who benefits?

Fueling the conflict

Social media users supportive of the government – known as AK-trolls in Turkey, in reference to their support for the AKP – wasted little time in pointing to the HDP as the ones responsible for the bombings, suggesting that by presenting themselves as victims they would be able to garner votes for the upcoming elections.

Pro-government media quickly picked up this idea, and suggested that because the attacks in Diyarbakir and Suruç had boosted the popularity of the HDP, the ones responsible for the Ankara attacks might have to be sought among the pro-Kurdish party’s ranks. Stopping short of directly accusing the HDP, Prime Minister Davutoğlu suggested in a speech that there were three groups capable of carrying out such an attack: IS, the PKK and the DHKP-C, a militant leftist organization.

While it may be true that previous attacks have increased support for the HDP, seeing this is as evidence for the preposterous claim that the HDP would actually go so far as to kill their own supporters just to garner some votes is simply outrageous. If the Diyarbakir and Suruç bombings boosted support for the HDP its only because they clearly substantiated claims by the party that they have become the target of a state-orchestrated terror campaign.

When looking for a party that doesn’t shrug away from tactics so vile as to try and profit from a massacre, there’s another much likelier candidate: the ruling AKP. On several occasions it has been exposed for covertly supporting IS, in particular when the terror organization was launching its attack against the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, right at the border with Turkey.

When the Suruç bombing took place and fingers were pointed at IS, many held the AKP responsible for the attack, and a militant group linked to the PKK executed two police officers in an act of vengeance. For the government, this was the excuse they had been looking for, and instead of going after the organization that was supposed to be responsible for the deaths of 33 unarmed Turkish citizens, it launched an all-out war against the PKK, dropping hundreds of bombs on the Kurdish rebels compared to only a handful on IS in the first week after the Suruç attack.

At the time, many linked the AKP’s “anti-terror campaign” directly to its poor performance in the June elections, in which it had lost its absolute majority in parliament for the first time since coming to power in 2002. The AKP’s losses coincided with significant gains for the HDP, which managed to enter Parliament with 13% of the vote – a first for a pro-Kurdish party in Turkey’s history.

The HDP and the Kurds it represents are now seen as the biggest threat to the AKP’s power. By plunging the country into chaos, while using its control over the national media to depict the HDP as the party responsible for the violence, Erdoğan is trying to set the board in his favor for the upcoming November elections that were announced after coalition talks broke down in mid-August.

Now, curiously, after three months of fighting between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK rebels in which hundreds are suspected to have lost their lives on both sides – not to speak of the dozens of civilian casualties, mostly at the hands of the Turkish army or police – the twin bomb attack in Ankara comes at a time when the PKK had just decided upon a unilateral ceasefire.

Not wanting to provide Erdoğan with an excuse that would allow him to postpone the ballot, or even to declare a state of emergency and install himself as a dictator, the PKK announced on Saturday that it was postponing all military operations until after the elections. The declaration of this unilateral ceasefire came after the bombings, but had been expected for several days already.

The conflict in the southeast is in fact nothing less than the AKP’s election campaign, and a ceasefire mere weeks before what will probably be the most crucial elections in the party’s history are the last thing Erdoğan and his companions need right now. The AKP’s discourse revolves around the idea that they are the only party preventing the country from collapse, that Erdoğan is the strong leader the country needs in times of crisis, and that by crushing the Kurdish resistance it would once and for all establish the hegemony of the Turkish state in all parts of the country. A ceasefire would naturally expose the hollowness of these claims, leaving the AKP with little to show for.

Within this framework, the bombings in Ankara would thus serve to annul the ceasefire by provoking a retaliation by the PKK and thereby keep the conflict alive until the elections.

Government responsibility

Following this line of thought, one can see clearly how the AKP could benefit from Saturday’s attacks. However, benefiting from something does not immediately imply responsibility, just like the HDP can’t be held responsible for the attacks on their party members, offices and election rallies that might have “helped” substantiate their claims of being targeted by the state. To what extent the AKP has been involved in the aforementioned attacks is a question that most likely will never be satisfactorily answered.

But whether or not the AKP was directly involved, the government’s response to the tragic event shows that they wasted little time in trying to exploit it in their favor. In a thirty minute-long speech responding to the attacks, Prime Minister Davutoğlu spent twenty minutes denouncing the HDP and its co-leader Demirtaş. In trying to defend the government’s tough stance against terror he even went so far as to make the absurd claim that the suicide bomber responsible for the attack in Suruç had been arrested and handed over to the judiciary.

For many in Turkey the situation is clear: the AKP government bears responsibility for the deaths of its citizens. Whether the AKP actually orchestrated the attack or simply failed to provide the necessary security for the demonstrators, as a governing force the party bears responsibility for the security of the people. Its failure to do so constitutes a serious crime to which it ought to be held accountable – not just within Turkey, but also internationally.

Turkey’s society is more divided than ever, and with Erdoğan refusing to share power while at the same time losing the trust and support of large swaths of the population, the future is looking very grim. The options available to the people in Turkey have boiled down to democracy on the one hand, and Erdoğan on the other. Polls suggest that the outcome of the November elections won’t be that different from the ballot in June, and if the AKP at that point still refuses to admit defeat and doesn’t allow the formation of a coalition government, the bombings in Ankara might only be a herald of what lies ahead for Turkey.

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

Cizre cries for help: “Turkey’s Kobane” under siege

As the conflict in Turkey spirals out of control, dozens of people have reportedly been killed in Cizre and the army shows no signs of lifting the siege.

Photo by Sertaç Kayar, showing HDP-deputy Osman Baydemir scuffling with riot police on the road to Cizre.

Tanks shelling the city center. No-one allowed in or out. Electricity and water have been cut, as well as phone lines and internet access. The people have dug trenches to stop armored vehicles from entering their neighborhoods and have hung sheets in the streets to prevent being seen and shot by snipers.

While the above reads as a report from Kobane, from when the Syrian town was still under attack from the so-called Islamic State (IS), it is in fact a description of the current situation in Cizre, a predominantly Kurdish town in southern Turkey.

Cizre under attack

Since the Turkish government imposed a curfew in Cizre last week, its citizens have been forced to remain indoors, risking being shot by snipers as soon as they step out. The city is under total lock down, which means that for at least a week people have had no access to fresh food or water, medical services, or anything else for that matter. Even the wounded are not allowed to be transported to the hospitals, as a result of which a number of civilians have died from non-lethal injuries due to blood loss and infections, among them a baby of less than two months old.

Due to limited phone and internet access in Cizre news from the besieged town reaches the outside world only piecemeal, meaning that reports of what is going on inside the town are difficult to confirm – a very worrying sign in and of itself.

In order to break the siege – and the silence – the co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş has been leading a march in an attempt to reach the town on foot. At several instances this march was blocked by the police upon orders of the Minister of Interior Selami Altinok of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has argued that the HDP lawmakers are not allowed to enter the town “for their own security.”

While trying to circumvent the police blockades on the roads leading into town by following small trails through the fields and mountains, the HDP co-leader suggested that Cizre was being punished for voting “84 percent for the HDP” during the last elections in June. Demirtaş called Cizre “Turkey’s Kobane”, comparing the plight of the town and the resistance of its citizens to the Syrian Kurdish town when it was under attack from IS.

“In Cizre, 120,000 people have been held hostage by the state for a week,” he added. “They put ice on the corpses to stop them putrefying, because burials are banned.”

One of the most heart-breaking stories told of the young girl Cemile Çağırga, who was reportedly shot by the police in front of her house – under what circumstances remains unknown. After succumbing to her injuries her family was unable to transfer her body to the morgue due to the curfew and the threat of being targeted by snipers and artillery. For several days Cemile’s body was kept in a fridge in the family’s home before the young girl could be buried.

Violence spiraling out of control

The siege of Cizre occurs at a time when the recent upsurge in violence in the country’s southeastern Kurdish region appears to be spiraling out of control. An ambush by the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK on a military convoy left at least 16 soldiers dead – or so the state media reported – two days later followed by another deadly attack on a police van, killing another 11 officers.

In response to these attacks nationalist groups around the country took to the streets en masse. In many cases these marches started as protests to show their indignation and anger, but they quickly turned into lynch-mobs targeting Kurdish neighborhoods, shops and individuals. A nationalist mob marching through a downtown Istanbul neighborhood was heard chanting “We don’t want a [military] operation, we want a massacre!”

Offices of the HDP were popular target of the masses brandishing Turkish flags, hands held high up in the air making the “sign of the wolf” – a gesture emblematic of an ultra-nationalist organization called the Grey Wolves, which has been accused of countless racist and xenophobic attacks on Armenians, Kurds, Syrians and even Pope John Paul II. After two nights of attacks around 130 of the party’s offices were left destroyed or burned, windows broken and party signs torn down or covered with Turkish flags.

The HDP is by many nationalist Turks perceived as the political wing of the PKK, and as such as a terrorist organization in and of itself. The party’s historical success in the June elections, when they collected an unprecedented 13 percent of the votes and were able to send 80 delegates to the national parliament – the very first time a pro-Kurdish party entered the Turkish parliament in the country’s history – angered many nationalists and AKP supporters alike.

Nationalists – represented in parliament by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – were fretted about seeing what they perceived as “Kurdish terrorists” inside the parliament; and AKP supporters saw their dream of Erdogan being installed as the 21st century Sultan being shattered when the party lost its absolute majority.

Both parties have reasons aplenty to be wary of HDP’s success. Another Kurdish victory in the upcoming November elections would seriously curb their aspirations to see their respective dreams of a Turkish utopia come to pass: an ethnically-pure country free of Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Arabs in the case of the MHP; and a revived sultanate under the “auspicious” leadership of Erdogan in the case of the AKP.

It is in the light of the November national elections that the upsurge of violence in the east has to be analyzed. Plunging the country into war immediately after the coalition talks have broken down serves two purposes. First, it attempts to show that without the AKP at the wheel, the country is ‘doomed to disintegrate into chaos and violence’. Second, the escalation of violence is encouraged because of the belief that in times of crises people turn towards a strong leader who promises to restore peace and tranquillity — if only the people would grant him exceptional powers to do so.

A cry for solidarity

And while the party leaders cook up their plans to restore their power, its once again the ordinary people that suffer most; the mother who was shot by a sniper while holding her new-born baby in her arms; the young boy who got bored of sitting indoors days on end and decided to sneak outside for a quick peak, and got shot; the seven children who had to cover their mother’s dead body with bottles of frozen water to stop the body from decomposing because she couldn’t be buried after she was shot to death.

The siege of Cizre continues in a blatant violation of all morals and values that are supposed to determine the actions of a “democratic country.” It is outrageous that Turkey, especially as a NATO-member state, is allowed to target its own citizens, torturing them collectively in the name of ‘securitization’ and ‘fighting terrorism’.

In the case of Kobane the collective outcry of the international solidarity movement made the city’s plight impossible to be ignored. Let’s draw our lessons from this experience and raise our voices in solidarity with the people of Cizre, Silopi, Sirnak, Yüksekova, Sur and all those other towns, neighborhoods and villages that are being punished for demanding freedom, tortured for refusing to give in, arrested for simply being Kurdish and shot on the streets for daring to venture out of their homes.

Cizre is not alone, and it’s about time we’d let the world know.

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

The refugee crisis: beware the drums of war

While the refugee crisis is being debated, pundits have used the crisis to plead for and justify new wars, and war plans are already being announced.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries have entered Europe this year. As the debate over Europe’s responsibility to let these refugees in continues, calls for humanitarianism have been accompanied by an alarming and predictable Western response. Following the cynical adage that you can’t let a good crisis go to waste, intellectuals and states alike have been happy to use the crisis for renewed calls for Western military intervention.

The predicate of the arguments is that the West, despite calling for Assad to step down since 2011, has done nothing to get rid of him and as such has “abandoned” the Syrian people. We must now step up and bear this burden, so the pundits say.

The Guardian’s editorial last week berated Europe for its “paralysis,” “inertia,” and “years of failure to confront Syria’s bloody collapse.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof largely agrees, while his colleague Ross Douthat sees Syria as “an ugly crack” in the otherwise admirable and “very consciously accepted stewardship of global stability” that is Pax Americana.

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum agrees too, and calls the refugees a “security crisis,” the “consequences” of Europe’s inaction. Edward Luce, in the Financial Times, repeats the claim that the US bears responsibility for this crisis as well, since it abandoned its role as “beacon”, abstaining rather than intervening, having done “almost nothing” to oust Assad.

Never mind reality.

Reality is, as Adam Johnson of media watchdog FAIR reminds us, that the predicate that Western states did nothing in Syria is pure fantasy: “The US has been ‘intervening’ in the Syrian civil war, in measurable and significant ways, since at least 2012—most notably by arming, funding and training anti-Assad forces.” Johnson cites a Washington Post report from just a couple of months ago:

At $1 billion, Syria-related operations account for about $1 of every $15 in the CIA’s overall budget, judging by spending levels revealed in documents the Washington Post obtained from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

US officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.

The New York Times further details how the Pentagon is planning to “revamp the program,” in part by “enlarging the size of the groups of trained rebels sent back into Syria.” And apart from arming, funding, and training these groups, American predator drones have been providing air support as well.

Nevertheless, these efforts will not suffice to stop the hordes from “rattling Europe’s gates,” The Guardian opinionates. Some other kind of “international intervention” is “inevitable.” And though “There is no obvious formula for intervention in broken states” and “no wholly satisfactory precedent for the deployment of western power in support of democracy”, we should have at it nonetheless.

These calls to war are not meant to hold Western states accountable and make them fulfil their responsibilities, as some would have it. Instead they erase from memory our real responsibilities for causing the current catastrophe. By aiming their focus on our mythical inaction, they whitewash history and expunge the details of our real-world actions.

The whitewashed history includes our blundering interventions in Syria, helping to turn it into a “broken state,” but extends much further.

Our “responsibilities” have a long history – a history with enduring consequences – and follow a familiar pattern. During colonization, the Middle East and Africa were divided up between European powers, drawing borders and playing out ethnic groups against one another. When they were forced out, they left behind ethnic tensions and poverty.

In subsequent years they kept in power dictators and helped to crush democratic uprisings, fought wars against those who disobeyed, and enforced a political economy on many states that ensured Western access to natural resources and largely stunted economic development in these post-colonial societies.

This history has not ended; it is not the material of dust-covered textbooks. It continues today. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen have all caused those countries to unravel and “destabilize.” A report by Physicians for Social Responsibility on the casualties of more than ten years of the “war on terror” concludes that “that the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million.”

But instead of being used as an argument against Western interventions, the resulting chaos in turn is used, in Glenn Greenwald’s words, to “justify endless war by the West.”

And as always, intellectuals and the state are closely aligned. Media whitewashing prepares the ground for state action. French president Francois Hollande, rising to the occasion, this week announced his order to prepare airstrikes on ISIS forces in Syria, in blatant violation of international law. The British government is thinking of following suit, and newspapers just revealed that British drones have been circling above Syria for months, bombing on the basis of a “kill list.” Australia, too, is planning bombing runs on Syria, and a majority of the Dutch parliament supports strikes on Syria as well.

“Officials in Washington and European capitals,” cited by the New York Times, agree with The Guardian’s progressive editors and acknowledge that halting this mass migration requires a comprehensive international effort to bring peace and stability to areas that those refugees are now fleeing.” The beats of war are drumming once again, and we’d better wake up and hear them.

Continuation of Western foreign policies will inevitably create the next wave of misery and refugees in years to come. The prerogatives of Western states should make this crystal clear. While leaders now claim to stand with the ‘huddled Syrian masses,’ refugee organizations are desperate for money. The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency “mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide” is dramatically underfunded.

The World Food Program in the past weeks has had to cut benefits to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, reducing their food security, according to WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin. While these UN bodies are struggling to find sufficient funding, the unmentionable fact is that the money spent on our military interventions could easily solve the deficit. The planned allocation of financial resources should give us pause to wonder about actual goals and motives.

Belgian singer Jacques Brel famously dreamed of a world in which the power of love was enough to stop the drums of war. The people of Europe have exemplified this power of love in efforts to aid and welcome the refugees. But if that love is not going to be accompanied by an understanding of and demand to stop and ameliorate the causes of the crisis, the next one is already in the making.

Jelle Bruinsma is a PhD researcher in History at the European University Institute, and an editor for ROAR Magazine.

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