Published by Morning Star, 2 December 2015
THE media and political class pre-frame debates so we are left with limited choices. Often a simple analysis of the situation shows that the positions advanced are nonsense.
The current debate over how to fight Islamic State (Isis) in Syria is a typical example. The debate is framed as bombing Isis versus a pacifist position. We are set up to agonise over intervention.
On the one hand Western intervention in Iraq and Libya has created the chaos which led to the birth and growth of the so-called Islamic State.
On the other, after the bloodshed in Paris, to do nothing is not an option, so many of us reluctantly are tempted to support British bombing of Raqqa and other areas controlled by Isis.
However even a cursory examination of the facts on the ground suggest that, far from opposing Isis, the British government is actually campaigning against the most successful of its opponents — the revolutionary Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and organised in the Peoples Protection Units (YPG).
David Cameron recently name-checked Kobane in a speech. In 2014 Kobane in northern Syria was under siege by the Islamists but was eventually liberated by Kurdish forces after a dramatic struggle.
However just last week a young women of Kurdish extraction from Croydon, Shilan Ozcelik, was sent to prison for wishing to join the Kurdish forces in Kobane fighting Isis.
Yes, you heard it right. While Cameron badgers us about the need to fight Isis with mass bombing campaigns, a woman has actually been sent to prison because she was alleged to have wanted to fight Isis.
Are the mainstream media protesting about Cameron’s failure? No, they don’t actually care about the fight against Isis and are busy demonising Jeremy Corbyn.
A Kurdish student living in Britain noted: “The UK is part of the anti-Isis coalition that bombs Isis down there. Now a girl is jailed for wanting to fight the same Isis, as the UK does. It makes no sense.”
So Cameron wants to fight Isis, praises the resistance at Kobane but has anyone travelling to Syria to fight against Isis arrested under the 2006 Terrorism Act. Like many aspects of government policy, it is utterly absurd.
The Kurds and their allies in Rojava, the autonomous zone of northern Syria, should be supported by anyone who opposes Isis.
There are a number of reasons why their fight is the fight of all who abuse the brutality of Daesh (a term used by the Kurds and other opponents for Isis).
First, they have been highly successful in challenging and beating Isis and now control a huge swathe of northern Syria.
Second, in a region where communities are increasingly polarised, many Sunni communities are driven into the arms of Isis by the fear of Shia or other sectarian communities.
The Kurds are committed to a multiethnic, secular and pluralist approach. Kurds are, at least, trying to create a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society that respects difference.
Third, the Kurds have sealed nearly all the border between Turkey and Isis territory. Fighters, cash and military equipment have flowed from Turkey to Isis, but the Kurds are in a strong position to totally cut off links between Isis and the outside world to the north of Raqqa.
Guess what? Cameron’s government is having none of this. It has explicitly condemned the forces of Rojava.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon recently accused the Kurds of ethnic cleansing.
The Turkish government has told the Kurds that if they advance into Jarablus they will be attacked by Turkish forces. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated, quite openly, that if the Kurds displace Isis along the border between Syria and Turkey they will be under fire.
We have said: “The PYD will not pass to the west of the Euphrates. We’ll hit them if they do.”
So a democratic secular force that is able to fight Isis and seal off one of their main sources of fighters and equipment, has been told by Turkey that they will be bombed for doing so.
What is worse is that Turkey has on several occasions recently bombed Kurdish communities in northern Syria.
In Britain we heard nothing of this. Our media was too busy suggesting that Corbyn had not bowed to the Queen.
Even more shocking is that fact that the British government is backing Turkey.
The right-wing Islamist government of President Recep Erdogen has been engaged in an increasingly bitter struggle with Turkey’s Kurdish population.
There have been allegations that Erdogen’s government has ignored or even aided attacks by jihadists from both Isis and the Nusra Front on the Kurds. This has led to a breakdown in the peace process between Turkey and the Kurds.
A bomb attack in Ankara before the recent general election on a Kurdish peace rally led to the death of over 100 activists, including a founding member of the Turkish Green Party.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) suspended its military operations against Turkey but Erdogan ignored this, continuing to bomb PKK bases in Iraq.
There have increasingly brutal attacks by the Turkish police and military on Kurdish communities in the south-east of Turkey. Numerous individuals have suggested that human rights are being heavily eroded in Turkey.
Very diverse forces recognise the importance of the Kurds in Syria in fighting Isis.
The British government so far is an exception. British military intervention is rejected by most of us on the left.
However, military intervention by both Russia and the US has been used to support the Kurds in Syria.
Such intervention, I am sure, is controversial to many of us on the left. What is less controversial and should unite all is opposition to Turkey’s threat to the most successful force challenging Isis.
When Cameron calls for British forces to bomb Syria it is unclear what this means. Cameron has, of course, shifted from wanting to bomb Assad to wanting to bomb Isis.
However, when asked in Parliament whether he had challenged Turkey over bombing the Kurds in Kobane, Cameron was dismissive.
To be blunt, we have no idea whether Cameron is seeking to support Turkey or not in its ongoing war against the Kurds.
Cameron has nothing to say on Isis while he opposes the very force most effective in challenging Isis.
He must stop criminalising Britain’s Kurdish community, he must delist the PKK so that they are no longer seen as terrorists.
Above all, if our government is to have any credibility on foreign policy, it must support the renewal of the peace process between Turkey and the Kurds.
Foreign policy can throw up difficult ethical choices and it’s easy for all of us to be armchair experts far from the field of conflict.
Yet one thing is very clear, if we want to defeat Isis we must support the Kurds in Rojava. This simple fact is sadly distant from much media and political comment at present.
- Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales.