Rojava Is Holding Off ISIS But Needs Better Guns to Prosper

Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

Ever since the Ottoman Empire dissolved and the various world powers got their hands on it, the Middle East has been ensconced in conflict. For much of that time, the United States has been heavily involved in Middle Eastern politics. Specifically, it has recently battled the terrorist groups Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. As a result of President Bush’s occupation of Iraq, Obama’s “War on Terror”, and Trump’s continued refusal to eject troops from the region, America still ravages an entire subcontinent. Despite this damage and death, America remains ineffective at quelling terrorism. Though ISIS has a greatly reduced presence, they and the other groups remain a significant problem for many Middle Easterners. But amidst America’s “well-intentioned” but damaging military action, local armies are also rising up to defend their own homes. The most notable of these is the Kurdish-based army, Rojava

A Brief History

Rojava formed on the 19th of July in 2012 after a Kurdish Nationalist uprising in Northern Syria. This uprising was backed by the Democratic Union Party, as well as a few other groups, with the aim of establishing a Constitution for their region. Rojava, actually, has quite an interesting philosophy in ethics, governance, and economics. The regions Rojava governs now, mostly Kurdish majority cities in Northern Syria, are living in decentralized communes. Along with that, they perform semi-direct democracy, have built an egalitarian society, and have decentralized many of the systems the tyrannical Syrian government had put into place

Despite governing a relatively small territory of the Middle East, and despite being armed with only arcane weaponry in comparison to both ISIS and the United States’ armed forces, Rojava has been one of the most effective armies combating terrorism. This is perhaps due to the fact that Rojava and the land it controls is not a state, but instead just a nation. Rojava might as well be a very large militia protecting its own people. The violence Rojava enacts as a militia is strictly defensive and protective.

Rojava vs ISIS

ISIS remains such a problem for Rojava and its land because of how Rojava’s values as a political actor fly in the face of the radical and theocratic values of the Islamic State. In what is technically Syrian land with what are technically Syrian laws, Rojava has managed to evict the Syrian state and outlaw child marriage and honor killings. They’ve also dismantled their region’s theocracy which ISIS had formerly established.  Rojava also protects their citizen’s right to religious freedom, which ISIS regularly threatens, to say the least. Tied to this, Rojava protects the rights of ethnic minorities. Both the Syrian state and ISIS strip Kurds and Assyrians especially, of their rights. In Rojava-protected schools, Kurds and Assyrians are able to learn and speak in their own languages. All cultural and ethnic groups are also able to express themselves freely.

It wouldn’t be right to pretend Rojava is a shining utopia on the peak of a sand dune. Like any movement, nation, or ideology, it has its flaws. Besides acting as a state in itself, I can’t help but notice some of its more “problematic” policies. Despite calling themselves egalitarian and acting in a mostly egalitarian way, Rojava still has quotas for ethnicity and sex when it comes to positions of leadership; this is especially true in their military. This contradicts the core of egalitarianism, which stands for equality of opportunity– not outcome. And while at first Rojava was taxless, in 2017 the army started to collect an income tax to build the roads.  

An Imperfect Shining Beacon

They’re a stark contrast against their background of comparatively useless and immoral Middle Eastern combative forces. This is especially impressive because their weaponry is remarkably primitive, often not advancing past the 1930s or 40s. While Rojava is the United States’ ally, their military might doesn’t match that sentiment. Why would it?

Genuine change in the Middle East does not benefit the U.S. Military Industrial Complex; the torment of war is extremely profitable to us on a national level. Activist groups and liberation unions should instead turn their attention towards one of the world’s biggest centers of oppression and notice the one decent force there. 

Rojava in Need

Rojava needs guns: good ones, from this century. But this cannot be the job of any world government. After all, government intervention over the past two decades has certainly made the region less stable, not more. Not to mention, this would be an unjust burden on the citizens of the country, who would be forced to support the cause they may or may not agree with. This leaves private individuals and companies with the task. However, a war that goes poorly may require even more weapons than a war that goes well, so a company’s profit motive could turn deadly in this case. But the reality is, private companies are the only practical way to assist Rojava meaningfully without involving the government. Consumers and individual activists must keep these companies in check. 

There are many with enough love for liberty and human well-being to help support Rojava in the way American colonial citizens helped their revolutionary militias. But the regulations around the entire Middle East supposedly for the safety of Americans and its adjunct nationalities are only hindrances to Arab liberation. Lifting these may allow more aid, humanitarian and military, to reach Rojava.

Rojava is an effective Arab army, but they are just getting by. They are not influencing outside territory because all of their resources go towards protecting their own. Because Rojava is fundamentally a military, private weapons donors need to work extra hard to maintain their “practical pacifist” record. The goal of an expansionist Rojava or Kurdish proto-nation cannot be physical. It must be ideological and born out of foreigners realizing a society based on egalitarianism and libertarianism is more livable than one based on theocracy and genocide. 

The Best Option

In order for the most powerful force against ISIS and oppression in the Middle East to fully succeed, it needs help. They are holding their own for now but Rojava could begin teetering on the edge of defeat. And although they are exceptional, Rojava suffers from the same problems other Arab armies have; they’re somewhat disorganized, overestimating, and flighty. That, however, is not an excuse to dismiss them in the wake of a tragedy that someone, anyone must remedy.

Rojava, despite its flaws, is more effective and importantly, less harmful, than the armies of various world powers. They are doing the work against ISIS, for Middle Eastern people, that the world seems unable or unwilling to do. It is the responsibility of those who value freedom and human rights to assist in the most practical ways we can.

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