Friday, August 7, 2020

Pipe dreams

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week 5 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts.

My “Secret Subject” is:

What makes a place a “happy place”?

It was submitted by:  

*I'm not sure this is the answer anyone was really looking for, but given this entire year, it's all I can think about.
**I'm going to try to do this as succinctly as possible because there are decades worth of conflicts and multiple acronymed organizations at play with my answer. I don't want to lose you along the way, so be gentle if you're already aware of the background. I'm trying to make this easier for anyone who has no idea about it to understand. 


I think many of us in America who existed and were aware of society in the years following 9-11 have a kind of collective PTSD. Maybe that seems obvious because what happened on that day did, in fact, change a lot about this country and how we view the issues of privacy vs freedom, but it was also that post 9-11 world that led us to the Iraq war, to the lies we were told about the intent and reasoning for the Iraq war, to the loss of life and years of meaningless fighting.

Iraq was our Vietnam. And it left it's mark.

Now anytime any mention of foreign aid or intervention hits the news we collectively stick our fingers in our ears and hum to drown it all out. If we don't know anything about it, it will be fine. If we don't know, then is it really happening? And we assume, because the lies of Iraq burned us so badly, that more lies are being told to try to get us to care about people that don't look like us or live here.

That's what happened with Syria and how our collective trauma cost almost a million Syrian lives (so far?). No one wanted to believe Bashar al Assad was doing the things he was accused of--things he was most definitely guilty of--because if we did, there we were involving ourselves in yet another Middle Eastern country's problems when it had always gone so badly before and really why couldn't we let them solve their own shit.

Why can't entire regions stabilize and take care of themselves after decades of behind the scenes u.s. coups and shit? Hm. I wonder.


Obama understood that collective PTSD, I guess, and so we stood by while barrel bombs, torture chambers, and chemical weapons were used to decimate any dissent. More than twice as many people were killed by torture in Syria's prisons than in the entire near decade of conflict in Libya. That doesn't even begin to include all the other methods Assad used on his own people while his wife bought thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and joked about being the real dictator.

And that's the basic gist of it. People in the Middle East were rising up against mistreatment by dictators throughout the region in the early 2010s beginning in Tunisia. When Assad took over for his father in the early part of the century, he'd dangled a few carrots of freedom over the people and just as quickly snatched them back when he found out most people don't really care to be ruled by a dictator, so it's kind of surprising he didn't predict the dominoes of rebellion falling in "his" country as well, but I guess being a dictator makes you get a little too full of yourself. Dictators take huge gambles, and this time, he made a mistake thinking he had full control of things.

well. Sort of. He also bet that we wouldn't interfere, that no one would, if he had to quell any uprisings and in that way he was 100% correct. 

The people of Syria were tired of their leader and his family profiting off the land while mostly living in poverty, tired of knowing what could be if he wasn't ruling after all he'd given them a taste himself, so rebellion was guaranteed especially for the Kurds.

The Kurds are an ethnic group living in regions of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The vast majority of these people consider themselves Muslim, but they also have their own language, customs, and culture--non-Arab Muslims. And in Syria, even through they're the largest ethnic minority in the country, they have been denied statehood meaning they are not recognized as members of the country but also cannot leave the country because not enjoying statehood means no passports for travel, no recognized identification, etc. Not only that, Assad kept up the tradition of attempting to erase Kurdish culture that has existed in this region. In order to be a member of Syria, the Kurds must give up their practices, their language--everything about their ethnic identity--to assimilate.

When civil war broke out, Kurds were a large force in the rebellion. No one wants to be erased. And with the instability of Syria and the attacks by ISIS attempting to take advantage of that instability, the Kurds in Syria were able to create Rojava. Think something like what happened in Seattle during protests but better organized, armed, and with a solid ideology--a sort of leftist's paradise (besides the constant threats of violence) and an smallish scale experiment of how leftist ideas could be modernized for a working society now. 

As I said as a disclaimer in the beginning, this is dramatically oversimplified, but if you're interested in the more in-depth story, you can find those details online anywhere, but Rojava is the important part of this story, because I feel like if I had a happy place, it would be similar.

Rojava is based on the ideology of Murray Bookchin, an American leftist, learned by the Kurdish activist Abdullah Ă–calan (Apo) while he was in a prison in Syria. So a Kurdish activist in Syria led a revolution from prison based on literature from the United States. The things that had to line up for this to occur are pretty amazing. Apo created a system after reading Bookchin called Democratic confederalism which operates on the ground in a very anarchist way. It's based on self organization as a whole that focuses on environmentalism, feminism, multiculturalism, self defense, and a sharing economy. Power is distributed from bottom to top not top down as in our system. Local community groups handle most of the problems and distribute for social programs as well as taking on most of the defense of their particular areas. And if a problem can't be solved locally, it goes to a higher community level. There isn't so much a heirarchy as a horizontal passing of issues. And all the committees and communes and organizations in charge of decision making are directly elected by the people in the communities they represent.

Women, life, and freedom.

That's one of the most common slogans of Rojava. While in prison, Apo came to understand that the patriarchal society he'd grown up in was flawed and that if society was going to move forward and be successful, women would have to hold the same positions in life as men. Women's importance and right to power and equitable treatment is written right into the constitution. Women took up arms and gave their lives to help fight off ISIS and the Syrian army itself. Women started women's houses to give women education and economic help. Abused women were rescued from their homes and given the options to live in villages for women and children only to allow them to heal outside the presence of men while they learn. And when asked, many of the male soldiers in the area are the first to admit that without women, Rojava wouldn't be. No not every man has made this miraculous change in less than a decade, but the changes that have been made and sustained in an area that is steeped in toxic masculinity and patriarchy tied to religion are huge, and they feel unreal. They feel too good to be true until you hear about them, read them, hear the men and women talk.

Restorative justice is also a huge focus. Police aren't ever the first on scene for smaller, nonviolent issues, and even when violence does occur, the community is just as involved as police are. When a murder happens, local community organizations take the perpetrator to authorities who will send him to trial and sentencing, but those same organizations also immediately set out to make sure both families are at peace and when that is achieved through mediation and negotiation, a feast with both families takes place. Even ISIS soldiers are given less than 20 years in prison and put through de-radicalization programs. They're educated and given the same resources as the Rojavans jailed for their offenses. The goal is to stop the root issues causing any crimes to happen not to merely punish someone for breaking a law.

Anarchy is not chaos. It is community support and outreach.

My happy place looks a lot like this. People who have no power imbalance where all different kinds of folks have equal footing in society, where problems are solved by involving the community, where the point of the society is to provide and give everyone a chance to have some sort of success. It's not a wealthy region partly because it has had to fight so hard to exist and remain existing, but there's not a wealth gap that leaves some in mansions and others on the streets dumpster diving to survive either which is no small feat given everything they've faced and that at its height nearly 3 million people lived there.

I don't know the future of Rojava. Turkey has made good on threats to push them from their homes by force and is backed by Russia. For a good while the U.N. presence and some U.S soldiers kept them at bay, but Trump pulled our troops from the region in late 2019 which has left the region with less stability forcing the Rojavans to ask for help from the Syrian regime that tried to erase them, and for now there seems to be a tenuous agreement but Assad has never made good on such agreements. I rage and cry every time I think about the nearly 1 million people that Bashar al Assad has murdered often in the most heinous ways because we could have stepped in. We could have, for once, saved lives instead of taking them. But we have too many scars from wars raged by careless, reactive men and too much fear anytime we hear about involving ourselves in foreign issues. also gives me hope that people aren't eternally destined for capitalistic greed, that community isn't lost and, that it is, in fact, possible to provide for everyone and for everyone to work together to ensure it. And if I have to have a queer femme commune to do it on the small scale in an apocalyptic America amidst another civil war so be it.


I'm going to link the other participants in this this month's Subject Swap, but before I do, I recommend the podcast Women's War about Rojava hosted by Robert Evans and written about a trip he took there as a journalist to find out if what was being written about it were true. And I also recommend the two part episode of Behind the Bastards (also hosted by Robert Evans who was in Syria itself for awhile) about Bashar al Assad. Both are incredibly informative and a lot of what I've written here was learned in those podcasts as well as the many articles online and the Rojava website and reading literature. 

Baking In A Tornado


  1. For me, the most frustrating thing I see societies do (most of them and definitely ours) is to, after taking one step forward, following it by 2 steps back. There will never be a successful society that does not value all of their members and provide them the means to reach the best of their abilities. How much further along would science, medicine, the environment be if those who may have contributed hadn't been unable to reach their potential, held back by the very society they could have served.

  2. The problems keep coming back to over-privileged, old white men who trying to keep the rest of us from succeeding. I didn't know it as well as you do, but I know some of it and it just breaks me. Men are evil.