Robin Yassin-Kassab


with 18 comments

I came across anarchism too late in life to start calling myself an anarchist. At earlier stages I’d enjoyed attaching labels to myself, like ‘leftist’, or ‘Arab’, or ‘Muslim’. I was never a great believer in any of them, but I tried.

When the Arab revolutions made politics real for me, I became suspicious of adopting any labels, given as they referred to me, and politics wasn’t about me any more, not about my fantasies of myself, my need to see myself as on the right side, or my ‘identity’. When the revolutions broke out, and then the counter-revolutions and wars, I understood that real politics concerns the actual struggles of real people in the real world. (I also understood that all identity politics is ultimately a distraction, and one most often used by those in power – or those who aim to achieve power – to divide and rule their subjects). I became suspicious of all grand narratives and all ideological frameworks which assumed there was a perfect solution to human problems as well as a clear path towards it.

So I’m not going to call myself an anarchist. And even if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t, because I am ultimately undecided on the question of whether people could do better without states and hierarchical authority. I’d like to believe that we could run complex modern societies on a horizontal basis more successfully than we do at present, but then I don’t know if I have that much faith in humanity. Perhaps we do need hierarchy of some sort to organise ourselves and to control our anti-social urges, and the best we can hope to do is reform and restrain the hierarchy. I don’t know. I need to read much more and think much more – and even when I do, if I decide I know for sure one way or the other, please ask me to check my arrogance. I’m not capable of knowing. None of us are.

I’ve written a book about Syria with someone who describes herself as an anarchist, and I agree with her on nearly everything. Plus I’ve found anarchists much less likely than leftists to be snagged by allegiance to some state or other. Their conversation on Syria is therefore likely to be much more interesting. At those book events we’ve done which were liberally salted by anarchists, in Seattle, for instance, or Toronto, the discussion was intelligent, nuanced, informed. Compassionate too. I admired the anarchists I met in Spain for several reasons. Most of them at least.

But then Noam Chomsky has been described as an anarchist. Here’s where I get confused, because Chomsky doesn’t usually (or ever?) adhere to what I think are anarchist principles.

I’m not an expert on either Chomsky or anarchist principles, but I’ve seen Chomsky say that what Russia is doing in Syria may be wrong, but it certainly isn’t imperialism. And it’s not imperialism because Russia was invited in by the sovereign Syrian government.

Let’s leave aside that Chomsky began his political career opposing the American imperialist intervention in Vietnam, and that America was invited in by the sovereign South Vietnamese government. The point here is Chomsky’s deference to the notion of state (rather than popular) sovereignty. Is it ‘anarchist’ to think that an unelected mafia which has killed hundreds of thousands of victims and burnt the country it stole has more sovereignty than the people inhabiting that country? That a distant foreign power is not imperialist when it seeks to keep its satrap in his seat by contributing to his crimes? (In that case the British empire wasn’t imperialist either). We know that under the international law written by statesmen, the argument can certainly be made that Russia has not ‘invaded’ Syria, because the official on the local throne asked Russia to come in. But anarchists are supposed to reject such sophistry.

Surely Chomsky is a leftist rather than an anarchist. His very useful work on Palestine-Israel also offers critiques and solutions in terms of states. So I think we can discount him as an example.

There’s also a very large section of people who describe themselves as anarchists and then cheerlead for the Syrian-Kurdish PYD, or its Turkish-Kurdish parent the PKK. This is in part because the PYD/PKK has incorporated, in theory at least, some very interesting and positive ideas and vocabulary from the American anarchist thinker Murray Bookchin. The PYD welcomes Western visitors, gives them a wonderful tour, keeps tabs on them very carefully. It’s done good outreach work, and you can’t fault that.

The first impulse of Western anarchists to show solidarity with the long-oppressed Kurds in their experiment in ‘democratic confederalism’, gender equality, and social justice, is of course a good one. But many, in their enthusiasm, have become blind to certain facts: that despite its undoubted achievements, the PYD remains an authoritarian single party-militia which monopolises violence in its territory, seizes control of aid money, bans other Kurdish parties, and shoots at protestors. That its occupation of Arab-majority towns outside of the Rojava cantons is not ‘democratic confederalism’ but an attempt to build a territorially-contiguous state. That it has enjoyed both Russian and American airpower in its quest for territory, and hosts the first American military base in Syria.

The PYD undoubtedly represents many Syrian Kurds, and is working in a very difficult environment, sinned against (most notably by ISIS, at Kobani) as well as sinning. Within the larger Syrian context it often acts as a counter-revolutionary force, but it has achieved nationalist and to an extent democratic aims for Kurds in the three cantons. It is understandable and good, therefore, that Western anarchists show solidarity.

When the solidarity becomes uncritical, it becomes problematic. When it coheres around the party-militia rather than around the people, it stops being anarchist. When it happily partakes in (repeats, shares, retweets) PYD propaganda, it slips rapidly into racism and Islamophobia. Some ‘intellectual’ anarchists, people who should know better, will rehearse this stuff, about the FSA being a bunch of child-killers, and how ISIS and Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham and the FSA are all the same, and Turkey too, and the Gulf barbarians…

Do they not realise that this is Assadist as well as PYD propaganda? More than that, that these are the old tropes of European imperialist racism – the favoured minority under threat by the dark, barbaric races that surround, in this case the Arabs, the Muslims, those who can’t do democracy because of their hard-wired culture, who can only be controlled.

At its most extreme, this tendency is manifested in the behaviour of the weird cultish people who closed down our event at the London anarchist bookfair. If one tried to shout over them they joined in chanting ‘PYD’ (and ‘PKK’). When someone in the audience, a Lebanese of Catholic family, spoke back to them, they screamed about him being ‘a Sunni Arab’ – as if this was some awful taint. I left pretty soon. Leila chose to stay, thinking she might find a chance to speak (she didn’t). Once when she did open her mouth, one of the cult screamed at her: “Shut up! This is anarchism! Anyone can speak!” No irony.

But these people, fairly obviously I think, weren’t practising anarchism. Most of the anarchists I’ve criticised above would agree with me here. It was anarchism only in the popular misapprehension of the word, as ‘disorder’. It wasn’t the PYD either. The PYD is more sophisticated, and wouldn’t want to be represented thus. These people weren’t even Stalinists. It wasn’t politics of any kind, but something else.

So people mustn’t blame anarchism for them. And even if the whole Western anarchist tradition, from the intellectuals to the ‘lifestyle’ punksters, does nothing for you at all, still don’t blame anarchism. Because as far as I can see, where anarchism actually exists (rather than being talked about) is usually among people who wouldn’t think for a moment to call themselves anarchists. Even among people who might describe themselves as Muslims.

In terms of practical community cooperation, grassroots democratic self-organisation,  and building civil projects without the state, the councils in liberated Syria are anarchist. Some are more hierarchical than others, of course, some dominated by family or tribal leaders, some directly elected, some only indirectly, and so on. They aren’t perfect, because human beings aren’t perfect, and mainly because they haven’t had a chance in their brief existence to discuss political institutions at length. Instead they’re living an emergency that’s gone on for many years, they’re being hit with missiles, artillery, barrels, chlorine, they have a food problem, a water problem, a fuel problem, an electricity problem. Their work is immediate and practical, and therefore non-ideological. That is, they are not implementing an ideological program. The men who talk of that kind of thing are more likely the Islamist fighters, who need ideology to fight with. And ISIS of course, with its statehood plan. And the followers of political parties.

When people ask ‘Who should we support in Syria?’ I should say: in Syria no political party, militia or army is worthy of our wholehearted or uncritical support. No ideology either. What we should support are the community-grown democratic and quasi-democratic institutions and the civilian communities they represent. These people deserve support which is both critical and absolute. Critical because nothing should be uncritical. Absolute because these survivors inside are under continuous and full-scale military assault, beleaguered and at risk of extinction.

It seems to me to be an anarchist principle to support the oppressed against their oppressors.

In this and several other revolutions, anarchism is what has happened when communities became free of the state, free of its services as well as its overbearing impositions. It happened by necessity, and through creative innovation. At European distance the theoretical question becomes: could the most positive, egalitarian and democratic aspects of this social experience provide lessons for societies like these ones here, not at war, relatively stable and prosperous? It’s a question worth asking. But to work up an answer you’d have to think and listen. Play-acting revolution precludes that.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 31, 2016 at 2:48 am

Posted in anarchism

18 Responses

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  1. I’ll try and write a longer reply to this at some point, but just wanted to say that, as someone who still isn’t totally sure what I think about the whole situation, I thought this was a really good article, and I would be proper fascinated to see or read an actual proper discussion between you and/or Leila and some of the more intelligent “Rojavist” types.
    A question: How far do you think “community-grown democratic and quasi-democratic institutions” actually exist in the territory of Rojava and how far do you think those forms are just a veil for the one-party state there?


    October 31, 2016 at 2:04 pm

  2. First of all thank you for your work and congratulations on the new book, , but respectively, I’m wondering if you heard of this person and his work given your views in general on race, oppression, and our movements and the fact that indigenous peoples on Turtle Island (US/Canada) consider this land to be colonized— the writer i’m referring to is of Egyptian (arab and african) and been involved with a lot of organizing with people of color on Turtle Island, with indigenous, immigrant and african american folks and communities….He;s already illuminated the connection between all the aforementioned communities….His name is mohamed jean veneuse (‘jean veneuse’ is the pseudonym he uses and from my understanding it’s from frantz fanon’s black skins, white masks) and he’s a self-identifying Muslim anarchist and wrote his MA on the topic of islam and anarchism, their relationships and their resonances. He’s currently doing his PhD. on Arab and Muslim gender and sexualities, which is ethnographic based and addressing queer Muslims in both Turtle Island (US/Canada) and Egypt, from what i understand where he was born in Egypt. He has been involved in the middle-east uprisings, but lived all over including having spent time with the indigenous Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico… the issue isn’t just intersectionality but rather decolonizing intersectional theories as well, given that the US & Canada are settler-colonial societies and this is never taken into consideration from the point of view of narrative or analysis….His book on Islam, Anarchism, Indigeneity, colonialism/imperialism to say the least (etc.), comes out relatively soon and is particularly interesting, given the social movement perspectives he takes with an emphasis on what is referred to as Decolonization and Reindigenization with respect to indigenous peoples of the Americas; he talks about anti-blackness within arab and muslim communities but also about ‘cultures of whiteness’ and argues against essentialized and blood quantum politics – he situates BLM within a broader history of anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles but also talks about Palestine and indigenous people having to be included in the the narrative of struggles, and how they figure into the ‘War on Terror’ and then develops a strategy for mobilization; i really wish his work would get more attention, especially when the book comes out because it will be very useful for us to be united by a common strategy and vision even if we differ over tactics…Self-determination isn’t just about self-determination when we’re talking about a predominantly a settler population that requires decolonizing given that Turtle Island is the very laboratory experiment for imperial Empire — not to mention activist scholarship that has long rejected that poc and indigenous people struggle for a politics of assimilation and recognition, as that is precisely what informs settler-colonialism and the continuation of oppression brought forth through capitalist-nation-states — the argument here means that we need to organize our communities according to alternative models and outside the capitalist-nation-State framework…I really wish people would read and educate themselves as opposed to us reinventing the wheel…this fact and argument has been made for a very long time and isn’t an epiphany… Right now, as i said, he’s working on the biopolitics or the political-economy of queer Muslim gender and sexuality………he also has an article in Arabic that he published last year, titled عن الهيمنة، هيمنة الهيمنة، والأناركية الإسلامية which i attached the link to below …

    ..1) His thesis titled anarca-Islam quite a few years back (and it is what he calls an anarchic interpretation of islam and islamic interpretation of anarchism) and that is due out as a book this year here: http://theanarchistlibrary. org/library/mohamed-jean- veneuse-anarca-islam the thesis has been transformed into a book to published through akpress & minor compositions… can be found here…http://www.akpress.org/ islam-anarchism.html

    2) Here is an article he wrote regarding the June 30th events in Egypt…It’s available here: http://tahriricn.wordpress. com/2013/07/09/egypt-goodbye- welcome-my-revolutionegypt- the-military-the-brotherhood- tamarod/ The article is

    3) he also has a blog where he talks about the ethics of hospitality and disagreements between various different social movements and communities seeing that ‘the Left’ doesn’t have an ethics from which it disagrees in conflict resolution mechanisms…his blog is here: http:// mohamedjeanveneuse.blogspot. com

    3) Here’s an article in Arabic that he wrote: عن الهيمنة، هيمنة الهيمنة، والأناركية الإسلامية…http://anarchisminarabic.blogspot.ca

    4) Here’s a paper he wrote and that got published in an anarchist academic journal regarding Sayyid-Sally (the first official transgendered case in Egypt) — http://www.anarchist- developments.org/index.php/ adcs/article/view/17

    really hope you find his work interesting and useful and hope to hear from you when you have time as to what you think…

    thank you again for everything you’re all doing and saying…



    Here’s an excerpt of his work :

    No such thing as an ‘islamic state’ — see this excerpt …: “As such, and as far as I’m concerned, since 1798 both imaginaries, pan-Arab and pan-Islamic or pan-Muslim, have been caught between harkening for a true(r) sense of, for example, Egyptian belonging – from which before the ‘Arab Spring-Islamist Winter’ we were displaced – and choosing between an Arab and Muslim Ummah in belonging. An ordeal that we’ve yet to ‘reconcile’ if that is at all possible within the framework of capitalist nation-States and the colonial and imperial logics that we’ve internalized and that guide and inform our contemporary misunderstood definitions. Of course, none of this should be surprising if Arabs (re)constructed an Arabic term (Dawla) to correspond to the European idea/model of nation-States. Again, Arabs did this, with a concept, in reality derived and appropriated from the Quranic word (D-W-L) & whose meaning in fact revolves mainly around the notions of temporality, change and rotation as opposed to a fixed order in which a nation aspires to organize itself (if the nation predated the state) or a fixed order of things in which the nation should aspire to organize itself (if the state predated the nation). The word Dawla, however, does not signify ‘the modern nation-State’ despite its abuse and molding as such by Arabs, but rather signifies ‘to turn, alternate, or come around in a cyclical fashion’ i.e. to undergo revolutionary activity constantly. Dawla stems from the verb ‘dal’ which morphologically, as well as semantically, falls between the verb dar (to rotate) and the verb zal (to go away, or fall). Temporality and succession are thus essential connotations for the meaning of Dawla, with anything that’s circulated from one hand to another referring to a Dawla, as much as it can also mean the condition of well-being, for one person or a group of persons, since such condition will sooner or later end, by the death of the people who are enjoying it, if not by any other means. Chapter 59 of the Quran, the ‘Chapter of Exile or Banishment’, Verse 7, for example, speaks of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) distribution of the spoils of war to those in need, “so that it may not just make the circuit (dulatan) among the wealthy of you”. Similarly Chapter 3 of the Quran, the ‘Chapter of the Family or House of Imran’, Verse 140, speaks of the cyclical nature of human vicissitudes, so that triumph one day is replaced by defeat another day. To say all this is to truly say little regarding the complicit acceptance of a majority of us (Muslims/Arabs/Egyptians), till recently, of the reality of capitalist nation-States as ‘modern’, ‘enlightened’, ways to engage in civic organizing. We, as Arabs and Muslims, have yet to truly dream, as we confront the origins of ongoing histories and traumas and whose confrontation is a necessary component of decolonization if we have any hope of somewhat healing. It is only with decolonization, with understanding our traditions and histories that unimaginable horizons beyond the 18 days of Tahrir will appear.

    We need to decolonize concepts and practices as ‘nation’ that are pivotal given our internalization of colonial understandings of ‘nation’ that are prevalent amongst us. In decolonizing the idea of ‘nation’, in my work, I defer to the Islamic concept and noun Qawm, or ‘people’ (Al-Barghouti, 2008: 178). For though in Islam our species descends from Adam and Hawa’a, or Eve, Qawm is utilized in the Quran and Sunnah to distinguish between different peoples. Qawm, itself, is comprised from Shu’ub, the plural form of Sha’b, or ‘great tribe’, itself ‘a parent’ formed from ‘smaller tribes’ called Qa’ba’il, the singular form of which is Qabilah, and to which they refer their origin and comprise them. What constitutes Qawmiyyah, if one can presume it exist in Islam, is radically contra distinct from the colonial and racialized Arab understanding of Qawmiyyah, which since 1798 has focused upon Arab Qawmiyyah or pan-Arab nationalism. After all, the Gracious, Ar-Rahman, Allah, says in the Quran “We created…and made you into Shu’ub (big tribes) and Qa’ba’il (smaller tribes)”, the intent being that these Shu’ub and Qa’ba’il “might come to know each other” (The Holy Quran, Chapter 49, Chapter of ‘The Apartments’, Verse: 14-16). According to the Quran thus, this creation composed of differing Qawm, or peoples, and irrespective of how large or small they are in numbers, are to know one another beyond nationalist sentiments, ethnicity and race (sexuality etc), and without imposing their wills on one another. Embracing this logic implies that Arabs and Muslims were wrong and mistaken to accept in the first place the colonial Machavillian and Manichean delusional construct – the nation-State, and that is based on the idea of divide and conquer. For Muslims this further implies going beyond, as stated, an Arabization of Islam, or other racialized forms of colonial hierarchizations of it. It is Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who uttered in Khutbat Al’ Wada’a, or ‘Farewell Address’:

    “All humankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is brother and sister to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one Ummah. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim, which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves” (Muhammed in Turner, 2006: 35-36).

    The conclusion of this section being: Arabs-Egyptians-Muslims need to decolonize and re-indigenize.” —- from http://mohamedjeanveneuse.blog.

    Zaynab Elbustan

    October 31, 2016 at 5:56 pm

  3. I honestly don’t know whether I’m more embarrassed as an anarchist or a ‘Rojavist type’ that this happened. I guess both….both need to hear constructive criticism and it got shut down by the ego of one individual who went on holiday to a warzone (apparently also managing to piss everyone off over there) and is now some self appointed authority.


    October 31, 2016 at 7:37 pm

  4. […] Al-Shami and Kassab have written articles about the incident. Shami’s is more focused on what happened at the […]

  5. I thought Anarchism was the law of the jungle every man for himself no rules or society just raw Darwinism.


    October 31, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    • Sounds like youve never read darwin, i would reccomend mutual aid by petr kropotkin to add some knowledge to that silly comicbook christians talj about, junglemen and such

      I suppose you could also just google anarchism, that might be a really easy way to get an understanding of anarchism.

      Conquest of bread.

      November 1, 2016 at 5:53 am

    • It seems to me that this “law of the jungle, every man for himself, no rules,” is exactly what this or any other government would have us believe to be the ultimate, end result without rules and regulations and their “guidance and leadership.” We would begin, eventually, ultimately, to behave as animals. If one accepts that premise, they should seriously take a good long look in the mirror…

      Too, considering that all politicians are born as are we, then wouldn’t it logically follow that this same jungle-like behavior would be just as prevalent with them? If we need them for guidance, then who do they turn to? How is it they are not subject to the very same weaknesses as us “commoners?”

      As for the “need” of their “leadership,” their “laws,” we already have this. It’s called the Bible. Even for the millions and millions of those who view the Bible as just a bunch of nice fables, denying we are all born in sin, their view of humanity is even more disturbing than what the Bible has to say!

      If we are not slaves to a sin nature, as the Bible states, then we are even more evil and despicable than what the Bible has to say of us. The notion that our behaviors are only explainable by individual, calculated, cold-blooded, free-will choices is horrifying!

      Two other points of cogitation. 1) No one has the right to rule over others. To accept this premise as axiomatic is tantamount to declaring that there are a limited populace of people who have the “rights” to nullify the wills and minds and thinkings and conclusions and decisions of millions of others. No one has the right to demonstrably violate the rights of any single human being, let alone millions, and yet expect their rights to be respected, observed and honored. Period!

      2) One cannot possibly be free and yet be governed at the same time. This is an oxymoron, a contradiction. It is oil and water. They simply do not mix. As Mr. Spock, on Star Trek, so notably stated, “it simply does not compute.

    • I think the tone of the above piece is reasonable. The content, however, is full of diversions, straw men and misreadings of what I wrote. I’ll briefly respond when I have time.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      November 1, 2016 at 10:53 am

      • Here’s my response to Memed Aksoy’s piece:

        Here’s a brief response to Memed Aksoy’s article “The Anarchist Bookfair and Robin Yassin-Kassab’s Problematic Approach to Rojava” http://www.kurdishquestion.com/article/3562-the-anarchist-bookfair-and-robin-yassin-kassab-039-s-problematic-approach-to-rojava

        The article is reasoned and calm in tone and certainly deserves a response. I note that it’s written by a Kurd (rather than a white PYD fetishist). I also appreciate its clear condemnation of the disruption of our talk by strange cultish people who obvioulsy do not represent Kurds, Rojava, the PYD, or anarchists. I welcome the article as a step towards necessary dialogue between people whose politics may not actually be that different, but who approach the events in Syria from different backgrounds and perspectives. I regret that I don’t have either the time or the computer access at present to reply as fully as I would like (I’m away from home without a computer, sometimes getting a chance to use someone else’s. And even when I get home, I have a huge backlog of work to do…) So I’ll answer briefly, because I do think there are plenty of straw men in Memed’s piece.

        First, the notion that I don’t empathise with the Kurdish predicament. What can I say except that I do. I mentioned briefly in the piece called ‘anarchism’ that the Kurds have been long oppressed and that they work in a difficult environment, that the PYD is sinned against as well as sinning. Elsewhere I’ve written about this in more detail. In particular, I have written that the elite opposition (the Coalition etc) has committed a huge blunder by not adequately recognising the right to self-determination in the three Kurdish-majority cantons. They haven’t even accepted the principle of changing the name of the Syrian state so it’s no longer an ‘Arab republic’. Islamist groups like Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham have attacked Kurdish civilians, unforgiveably. I support the PYD’s struggle against ISIS. I’ve also visited Iraqi Kurdistan, and spoken to people there, poets and shopkeepers, about Saddam Hussain’s genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds. I am aware that Kurds have suffered inside various versions of hyper-nationalist states, and I really do sympathise.

        I should also state that my (often but not always negative) perspective of the PYD was developed primarily through conversations with Syrian Kurds. I went to them, rather than to Arabs, to ask what they thought of the PYD. I found that the people I spoke too sympathised with aspects of the PYD programme but still found them to be authoritarians who arrest opponents, shoot at protestors, seize control of aid money etc. In fact, at the anarchist book fair we were planning to speak with Shiar Neyo, a Syrian Kurdish anarchist who arguments I have found compelling. I wonder how many Rojava/ pro-PYD events invite Arab revolutionaries to speak to give their perspectives?

        Memed writes: “After ruminating on his political identity and some of the tenets of anarchism, half way through his piece Kassab turns his attention to the PYD and Rojava and accuses it of being authoritarian, seizing money, monopolising violence and banning other parties and writes: “That its occupation of Arab-majority towns outside of the Rojava cantons is not ‘democratic confederalism’ but an attempt to build a territorially-contiguous state.”

        What Kassab doesn’t mention here is that the Rojava-Northern Syria Federation administration is not based on ethnicity. Despite the majority Kurdish presence in the movement it has a social charter that includes all ethnic components in the region. In fact it has and continues developing ties with Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians across the area.”

        My first little niggle is that my surname is Yassin-Kassab, not Kassab, but no matter…

        Next, Memed deflects my criticism by talking about the Rojava-Northern Syria Federation and how it isn’t based on ethnicity. This would be great if the people (or peoples) of northern Syria had agitated for this entity from the bottom up. In reality, this was something declared by the PYD without going through a proper consultation process, not even with Kurds. Most Arabs, Turkmen, and others, don’t like the idea. In fact, the imposition of this entity has helped make ‘federation’ a dirty word amongst most Syrians. I think this is a real shame, because there’s a lot in the idea I like. But it must come from the people, not be imposed from above.

        Memed says these Arab-majority towns were taken by the SDF, not the PYD, from the Islamic State. That’s true, but it’s also true that the PYD dominates the SDF, that the SDF could well be called a PYD front. True that the PYD has had FSA battallions and Arab tribes fighting for it, but also true that when these Arabs had other options, most left the SDF. Many have just left to join the Turkish-backed Euphrates Shield FSA forces. And at least one of the tribes that fights in the SDF is a pro-Assad tribe fighting with the SDF for convenience.

        I have no problem at all with the PYD or SDF taking land from ISIS. The Arabs of these towns are happy to see the back of ISIS. What is problematic is when the PYD then establishes political control. In Menbij for instance, the people welcomed the liberation from ISIS, but when they saw the PYD impose its own council rather than bring back the town’s original council, then they began to issue statements and to complain.

        In places like Tel Rifaat in the Azaz corridor, however, the PYD (or rather its YPG and YPJ militias, or the SDF) have taken territory not from ISIS but from the Syrian rebellion (and they’ve called in Russian airpower to do so). The PYD has invaded and occupied towns which were previously run by local community-run councils and defended by Free Army militias, forcing their inhabitants to flee.

        Here is where the propaganda comes in. Because the PYD doesn’t have the ISIS excuse in this case, it and its followers have to create a narrative in which all these Arabs, whether they call themselves ISIS, Nusra, Ahrar, or Free Army, are the same Islamist menace. Memed says I don’t provide any examples of this propaganda, but it isn’t hard to find (when I get home I’ll try to find some and post it here). For example, because Zinki is one of the rebel groups, and because a member of Zinki criminally murdered a young Palestinian fighter who may have been a child, the generalisation is made that all Zinki stands for, and by association any other rebel formation, is child-murder. This is like me saying that the PYD parading the bodes of Free Army fighters in Afrin represents their whole programme… but I don’t say that, because that would be propagandistic.

        Memed himself falls into this propaganda, though in the least offensive way (because he attacks states rather than Syrian Arabs and their militias). He says: “what progressive Kurds will not accept and shy away from is criticising the political axis and ideology of states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which is founded on Sunni dominance in the region and supports groups like the Islamic State.” There is no evidence whatsoever that Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia have supported the Islamic State. The Turks have backed Islamist groups including Ahrar al-Sham, and at an earlier stage they left their border wide open to any foreigner who wanted to cross into Syria, no doubt in part because they wanted to create a problem for the Kurds. But the Turks are fighting ISIS and ISIS is fighting Turkey, inside Turkey as well as in Syria. The Sauds have been attacked inside Saudi Arabia by ISIS. That’s why they are bombing ISIS, and why in Syria they have only funded and armed groups which also fight ISIS. Saudi Arabia, in a change from its past behaviour, pursues an anti-Islamist foreign policy. In Syria the only Islamist group they fund is Jaish al-Islam in the Ghouta, certainly a problematic group but also the most effective anti-ISIS force in southern Syria. This is not a defense of Saudi Arabia, which commits crimes in Yemen, helped crush the Bahraini uprising, and funded the counter-revolution in Egypt, as well as oppressing its own citizens. It’s simply a statement of fact. If Memed reads our book, he will find plenty of criticism of these states (though had we written it today, there would be more criticism of Turkey).

        What else? I say that the councils outside Rojava are “under threat of extinction” and I don’t say the same for those in Rojava. This is because the Kurdish-majority areas have not suffered Assadist and Russian scorched earth from above. I recognise that ISIS destroyed Kobani with artillery and suicide bombs, and that this is no small thing. But the Kurdish areas have had the opportunity, for good and ill, to develop their political structures over the last years. In the rest of the country, under continual bombardment, things have not been as easy. If the Arab-majority areas are a mess, this is mostly down to the total war conditions they live under. If Arabs protest against Nusra’s political and social programme but still welcome their military assistance, this is because they have no other practical option.

        Memed asks if the democratic communities outside Rojava don’t have militias to protect them. They do, but unlike in Rojava, no single party-militia dominates. If one did, it would be a huge problem. I’d also say that I offer my support to militias when they are fighting in defence of these grassroots democratic communities. If Ahrar al-Sham is fighting the regime to break the siege on Aleppo, then I support Ahrar al-Sham. If it’s randomly shelling civilians in Shaikh Maqsoud, then I oppose it. Likewise, if the PYD is fighting to defend the communes in the three cantons, then I support it. If it’s fighting against the Free Army defending civilian councils in the Azaz corridor, then I oppose it.

        I also recognise the PYD thinking that seeks to ‘balance’ hostile forces in order to survive and get the best deal for itself. This is realpolitique, and every political party and militia in Syria engages in it. The Free Army, for instance, necessarily allies with Turkey when it can. This obviously worries Kurds. The fact of war has set us against each other more than needed to be the case. This is a tragedy, and we should at least keep talking in the hope that we can build something together when the guns finally fall silent.

        On the other hand, any supporter of the revolution is going to be appalled when the PYD allies with Russia and Assad, as it has in effect sometimes done, most notably in northern Aleppo.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        November 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm

  6. Hi Robin, I did a lot of reading of Chomsky in order to reply to his lesser-evil argument for Hillary Clinton, particularly his analogy to the 1968 US election. His work is sloppy. No one in the US could possibly consider him an authority on anarchism or even a practicioner thereof. He wrote some good essays in the 60’s and is always good for an excoriation of imperialism but is worthless in any strategic or even tactical political question. He has decided that Fisk & Cockburn are the go-to guys on the Middle East. Plus he is about 88.


    November 2, 2016 at 2:08 pm

  7. As a Marxist, I have to say that anti-social behavior that was inflicted upon you and Leila is a major reason why human societies — beyond a certain point in their social development — decided to set up states and state-like institutions. (This is not to blame anarchism for the disruptive, fascistic tactics of this little band of self-important idiots.) Speaking for myself, I think I would’ve either called the cops or, barring that, resorted to fisticuffs if some group of lunatics tried to hijack a meeting I put together and if I got called a ‘pro-state traitor’ or beaten up, oh well.

    As for the ‘problematic’ claims by pro-PYD writers that have been hyperlinked here, it just goes to show that even anarchists can fall into the trap of defending party lines even when they aren’t members of party-line organizations.

    The most interesting comment here is Zeynab’s and I hope Robin finds the time and energy to respond to it at some point.


    November 3, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    • The book fair was nt well enough organised. There’s nothing to stop anarchists organising security.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      November 4, 2016 at 10:33 am

  8. I said I’d post PYD propaganda as I found it. Wasn’t looking for it, but came across this. The spokesman for the PYD-installed council in Manbij calls the anti-Assad anti-ISIS activists of Raqqa is being slaughtered Silently, people who risk their lives to report on ISIS barbarism, ISIS. https://twitter.com/Raqqa_SL/status/795619909933928448 I’m looking forward to the real council of Menbij returning.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    November 8, 2016 at 7:37 pm

  9. I liked your thoughts on anarchism, and will just post something which always comes to me when anarchy is discussed. Keep on keeping on, my friend.


    November 16, 2016 at 9:06 pm

  10. […] Publicado originalmente en inglés en Qunfuz el 31/10/2016 […]

  11. […] like IRPGF or CrimethInc make of the kinds of criticisms made by the likes of Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab, and those close to them. Are they just suckers taken in by Islamist propaganda? Or are the things […]

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