Violence, Revisited

One of the most absolutely fascinating (and admittedly Anglo-centric) developments to appear out of the human catastrophe of the Syrian Civil War is the handful of Westerners running away to join the Kurdish militias.

They’re former humanitarian workers who join all-female battalions in the bloody struggle to retake Raqqa from ISIS, like 28-year-old Kimberly Taylor. They’re “hardcore leftists, anarchists and communists,” like Brace Belden, a former heroin addict from San Francisco.  They’re just two of the 100-or-so (obviously, precise numbers are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain) Westerners who have dropped their lives to fight, bleed, and die for a Quixotic dream of an anarcho-libertarian Kurdish state.

They resemble nothing (at least, in my historically ignorant perception) as much as the “coalition of Republicans, communists and anarchists” who fought fascists in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. It’s a terrifically interesting topic, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it places my own shortcomings in sharp relief:

In all (semi) seriousness, this phenomenon has prompted me to revisit my conception of the application of violence against injustice. Previously, I’d written that

Fascism is a disease. Fascism is a cancer. Fascism is an abscess. And in the face of vile rhetoric and threats, it seems like the only sensible solution is to #shutitdown. But when one group descends on another for the express purpose of making sure their voice cannot be  heard, that is fascism, no matter what vocabulary you use.

And later, I wrote that

Any act of violence, anywhere, by anyone, for any reason, erodes the foundation of our Society. Using violence for the sole purpose of removing violence is not sufficient, because you have done nothing but contribute to the destruction of societal norms.

Not to brag (I am absolutely bragging), but this is essentially the view of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A policy of principled, radical non-violent resistance, where hate is fought with love and the closed fist is met with the open hand. In “The Power of Nonviolence,” Dr. King wrote that “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.” Dr. King’s entire path, all of his teachings, and his long legacy, are built on the idea that when you are confronted with injustice, you cannot meet it with violence, which will only serve to perpetuate more violence; instead, it must be met with nonviolent resistance, which will serve to erode the oppressive status quo and create a more positive outcome.

Dr. King wasn’t wrong. Isn’t wrong. I believe that–I have to. And to suggest that his teachings are somehow obsolete, that he wouldn’t have recognized the kind of threat posed by ISIS and by home-grown entho-fascists is myopic and ahistorical. He lived in occupied territory, where fear was in the air and violence was a constant fact of existence.

ISIS wouldn’t look unusual to Dr. King.

But surely you can say that there’s a difference between ISIS and the Jim Crow South. Not in terms of the injustice. Not in terms of the violence. But in terms of the goal. Jim Crow, British India, the modern Complex, these are all Imperialistic concerns. They’re inherently economic. They all rest on the bedrock of having a repressed, disposable underclass for cheap labor. But the relationship is, if not symbiotic, then at least somewhat reciprocal. The Empire can only allow so much of the Colony to die before it starts to affect the bottom line.  At that point, as it did in India and during the Civil Rights movement, there has to be a policy shift. Usually, it’s just a matter of letting a few more people have a seat at the table without changing the underlying attitudes. But the fact remains: the Empire doesn’t want to go to war with the Colony, because it’s ultimately self-defeating.

That isn’t the case with ISIS, or with any of the other far-right threats to our safety and sovereignty. They don’t want or need to keep us alive. Their goals aren’t economic, they’re ideological. Their goal isn’t to maintain the status quo on the back of a labor class; it’s to demolish the status quo and erect a new one in its place.

ISIS isn’t a Colonial power, it’s a Crusading one.

So maybe if that’s the case, if the threat is more than economic, if it’s more than just a matter of dollars, cents, and pragmatism…

Maybe picking up a rock is a good first step.

But I don’t think I’m getting on a plane to Syria any time soon.



Categories: Dispatch

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