Rojava - a Feminist Utopia at the Heart of the Middle East
"At the Heart of Darkness"
An article titled “The Most Radical Social Experiment of the 21st Century is Taking Place at the Heart of the Middle East” was published in the Hebrew edition of the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, on May 15 this year.*
The opening sentence to the lengthy, informative article states:
Written by Dor Shilton of Tel Aviv University, the article describes a utopian, yet down-to-earth experiment on a large scale, which is taking place in the Kurdish free zone of Syria known as Rojava. Four million people partake in an idealistic venture comprised of thousands of networked, self-governing communes. The non-hierarchical system runs an economy intended to serve the people rather than the rich. It aims at complete equality between men and women and promotes universal freedom of religion.
Shilton writes: “At the heart of darkness sprung a democratic, egalitarian and feminist society, more true to form than any Western country… two thirds of the political posts in the region of Afrin are held by women…”.
Women’s councils can override decisions made by other councils on matters relating to them (compare this with Trump’s all-male councils dealing with women’s health..)
“So how come hardly anybody talks about Rojava?”
Rojava and Öcalan's Vision
The Syrian Kurds are translating the vision of their incarcerated leader, Abdullah Öcalan, into reality – a vision endorsing women’s equal participation in all spheres of life. Currently, Öcalan is sitting out a life imprisonment sentence in a high-security Turkish prison. Turkey refuses to accept any form of Kurdish sovereignty, even outside its official borders.
Rojavayê Kurdistanê, or Rojava – the Kurdish de-facto autonomy in northeastern Syria – has annihilated the practices of child marriage and polygamy, and gave women full access to land and money. All administrative units (assemblies, committees) must be composed of at least 40% women; all organizations are headed by both a man and a woman. The participation of Kurdish women in the fight against ISIS is world-renowned (see my poem: Women of Kobani.)
Bookchin's Social Ecology Actualized
The communal economic structure springs quite naturally from the old village infrastructure. The system follows on Murray Bookchin‘s idea of communalism, adopted by Öcalan during his imprisonment. Communalism should not be confused with communism.
Bookchin, an American Jewish thinker, called his ideology “Social Ecology”, with the goal to “bring humanity into harmony with the natural world”. His daughter, Debbie Bookchin, wrote about her father’s influence on Kurdistan in the NYR Daily review “How My Father’s Ideas Helped the Kurds Create a New Democracy”.
Bookchin suggested that “a recovery of the impulses toward cooperation, mutual aid, and ecological sustainability could be achieved in a modern society by building a moral, ecological economy based on human needs, fostering technologies that can decentralize resources, such as solar and wind power, and building grassroots democratic assemblies that empower people at a local level.”
The "Left" Too Cynical to Embrace Utopia
So, how come nobody has heard of Rojava?
Shilton’s answer is that in a world immersed in consumerism, individualism and financial plutocracy, people, even on the Left, do not honestly believe in the ideals of a non-hierarchical society, true gender equality, decentralized government. When push comes to shove, most do not believe in direct democracy, either.
He suggests further that getting rid of patriarchy at the place where it was invented sounds to many too good to be true, so people simply don’t believe it…
Shilton describes the Western Left these days as cynical. Instead of believing that an alternative society is possible, it is busy hating everything America does. Rather than transforming realities on the ground, it spends its time winning arguments.
To make things worse, Turkey, a NATO member, is keen on destroying Rojava and any other Kurdish autonomous holding. In politics, Power speaks louder than ideals.
And I ask: where are the Western feminists???**
Independence? Or... not?
Interestingly, according to the article, most Syrian Kurds today, following Öcalan’s new direction and non-national focus, would have actually liked to see their vision spread into a unified Syria, rather than establish a separate, independent Kurdish state. Nonetheless, Turkey will hear none of it.
And that might be another major reason we do not hear about Rojava: the sand thrown into our eyes:
Turkey has received tacit support from the US, which has refused to stand up to Erdoğan on behalf of its Kurdish allies. The resulting devastation has been woefully under-reported by American media.
This international silence has emboldened Erdogan to send militias into the Afrin canton, with dire consequences to the Kurds.
And I wonder: was Erdogan’s obsession and preoccupation with the Palestinian national cause a simple diversion tactic to make us all forget the 35 million people seeking national liberation under his watch, not to mention a feminist revolution???
*(all translations from the Hebrew: Orit Adar)
**One feminist, at least, took up the subject seriously. Searching around the topic as I wrote this essay, I came across an illustrous book by Meredith Tax: A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State. I downloaded it on my Kindle, am in the middle of the introduction and expect many hours of illuminating reading ahead.