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Worth fighting for: Bringing the Rojava revolution home

Worth Fighting For: Bringing the Rojava Revolution Home
Jenni Keasden & Natalia Szarek
Active Distribution, 2023
ISBN: 9781945678216

Authors Jenni Keasden and Natalia Szarek have dedicated their book to their dear friend Anna Cambell. Anna went to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) to help support this rare and inspirational region in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Also known as Rojava (Kurdish for ‘west’ as it sits in the south-west of the geo-cultural region of Kurdistan), the area became famous for images of the female battalions of the YPJ (Women’s Defence Units) who, along with the YPG (People’s Defence Units), have given their lives in their thousands in the fight against ISIS, especially in the pivotal 9-month-long ‘Battle of Kobane’, which ultimately saw the tide turn against the Islamic State.

Anna was killed in a Turkish missile strike on the city of Afrin in 2018. Turkey routinely attacks Rojava and is currently conducting drone bombardments of the region as I write this review. Jenni and Natalia had worked closely with Anna on a range of protests and initiatives for years:

“We battled and formed networks against evictions, education fees, climate destruction, cuts to benefits and services […] We formed stronger bonds, found and made beauty, took steps towards freedom, and even occasionally won a battle.”

In part, those strong bonds with their fallen ally took Jenni and Natalia to Rojava. But there was also the fact that there was a living revolution supporting the needs of 5 million ethnically diverse people (including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Ezidi and Syriac Christians) through a political system known as Democratic Confederalism. In the words of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned political philosopher of the revolution:

“Democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a state system, but a democratic system of the people without a state. With women and youth at the forefront, it is a system in which all sectors of society will develop their own democratic organisations. It is a politics exercised by free and equal confederal citizens by electing their own free regional representatives. It is based on the principle of its own strength and expertise. It derives its power from the people, and in all areas, including its economy, it will seek self-sufficiency.”

As a stateless society meeting the needs of millions of people, one which is actively building a new economy based on a network of cooperatives, and one which internationalists have flocked to defend, there are obvious parallels between today’s Rojava and anarchist Catalonia during the 1936 Spanish Civil War (indeed, some of the principles behind the Rojava revolution were inspired by the ‘social ecology’ of anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin). So, too, are there parallels between George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (Secker & Warburg, 1938) and Worth Fighting For. Each is ripe with honesty and hope, joy and frustration.

Hope has become a rare commodity in the opening years of the third millennium. As the authors of Worth Fighting For put it:

“Deep down, we’ve lost faith, and so as soon as anyone lets us down or harms us, we are ready to raise our hackles, hiss, and back away, caustically explaining why if only everyone were as smart as us, it would be alright. Of course, there’s nowhere actually to go. What none of us want to admit when we’re mad at society is that we are society.

The Kurdistan Freedom Movement insists we push ourselves to remember this at every turn. We carry the same poison from patriarchy, the state and capital. We are not pure. This already brings us back to eye level with society and makes us ready to engage. And where did we get all our revolutionary ideas anyway? They did not fall like thunderbolts from the sky. Our histories, our communities, our societies, brought us that legacy as well.”

Rojava offers a practical new way of organising society based on the three pillars of feminism (the Kurdish concept of jineology, the science of women), ecology (building on the social ecology of Murray Bookchin) and democracy (Öcalan’s Democratic Confederalism). Keaden and Szarek are honest enough to show that the system is far from perfect. It is every day and deeply human. But Rovava offers a vision, and with vision comes hope.

“It can be hard to cultivate hope sometimes, and often we forget that it’s not something that just comes and goes without our say. It’s something that we need to work on, a fire to feed in ourselves and in others. […] Many of us arrive in Rojava expecting to receive a top-up of our hope balance, putting ourselves in the position of consumer rather than a creator. But hope, which is entirely dependent on an external source, would only yield poor fruit; it can never thrive in the harsh conditions of the struggle we are in. So we need to insist on hope, not wait for it to arrive. The hope inside us exists in a reciprocal relationship with the world around us. […] It’s not surprising that the most precious thing we brought back from Rojava was a sense of hope. This time, it wasn’t the effervescent hope of youth and novelty but something more solid, deeply rooted and hewn out of hard struggle. In some ways, this whole book is about hope and why it’s one of the most important things we need to nurture if we want to win.”

In a world on the brink of collapse, isn’t hope worth fighting for?

Worth Fighting For: Bringing the Rojava Revolution Home is available here.

~ Warren Draper

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