Syrian Wars and Colonial Bores
By Vijay Prashad.
On September 25, 2017, the Iraqi Kurdish population will go to the polls for a referendum towards their independence from Iraq. The picture above – taken by Shama – is of a pro-independence rally headlined by Masoud Barjani, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan. Some say that Barjani asked for the referendum to consolidate his own power rather than to consider the full meaning of this vote not only for the Iraqi Kurds, but for the Kurds in Iran, Syria and Turkey. Nonetheless, the referendum is on the table.
Last week, I talked to my contacts in the Turkish military, one of whom is now at the Syria-Turkey border. What interested me were the rapid Turkish troop movements towards the Turkish-Iraqi border as a show of strength against the referendum and towards the Turkish-Syrian border as a show of power before the inevitable Battle for Idlib. Their views on what the Turkish military and government are doing was invaluable to me. It was a useful supplement to the views put forward by the Kurdish political forces both in Iraq and in Syria.
The upshot of the Iraqi Kurdish referendum and the move by the Syrian Kurdish forces across northern Syria has been a hair-trigger Turkish government. Ankara has even said that the region will be inflamed further by war if the referendum passes.
So, this is the context for my report from the Syria-Turkey border, which appears this week at Alternet. You can read it here.
As the Turkish troops move towards the border with Syria in anticipation of the Battle for Idlib, the al-Qaeda backed Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has moved its forces closer to the border. There is a great unevenness here, with the Turkish army – the 10th most powerful in the world – on one side with its heavy machinery and the HTS on the other, a band of dedicated fighters who have been largely abandoned by their Gulf Arab supporters. Once more the Toyota trucks – as you can see below – but much less heavy armor mounted on them.
From these Syrian wars to the colonial bores. It stuns me that in 2017 one has to make the case that colonialism is abhorrent. But then so many arguments that we thought were settled – on racism, on sexism, on economic justice – have had to be made once more in the context of the degradation of the public sphere.
A journal with which I have been proud to be associated – Third World Quarterly – recently ran an offensive article that made the case for colonialism. At first I thought the essay was a send-up, a joke that would clarify the value of this journal that was founded in 1979. But matters were worse than that. It had been published, we were told, to stimulate debate. In fact, what is terrible about that idea is that we were being told – in our modest journal – that the debate on colonialism should be conducted in terms set by the colonial, not anti-colonial, thought.
No wonder, then, that half the international editorial board – including myself – resigned.
Reflecting on the objectionable essay and the resignation, I wrote a short essay for Scroll (one of my favorite websites) on anti-colonialism and the return of colonial thought. You can read the essay here. [there is also a blog post by my colleagues at LeftWord Books here]
The essay begins with Aimé Césaire, runs through the Indian experience with the British, discovers that the ‘return to colonialism’ narrative is linked to the American War on Iraq and then suggests that the essay that ran in the journal was against its values.
The painting above is by the Egyptian communist feminist Inji Efflatoun (1924-1989). It is from 1940. Her horizon was always mediated by colonialism and nationalism. It is her kind of work that made our world moderately humane. I was thinking of people like Inji when I wrote this essay.
Finally, friends, another Indian journalist has been killed. Shantanu Bhowmik – pictured above – is from Tripura. He was beaten to death by a BJP-backed group in the state. Shantanu was a progressive journalist, close to the left, open-minded. These forces just killed Gauri Lankesh. Now they have taken Shantanu Bhowmik. May their deaths spur us to continue their struggles, to be determined to fight for decency and dignity against hatred and inequality.