Features

WHY DID U.N. ABANDON CONGO OPERATION?

by Christoph Vogel, IRIN

GOMA — This week, a long-awaited military offensive began against a Rwandan rebel group based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It had been planned as a joint operation between Congolese government forces and a unique combat unit of United Nations peacekeepers. But by the time the gunfire began on Tuesday (Feb. 24), the partnership had broken down and the UN had been side-lined.

Three days later, the UN mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO, tweeted: "The #FARDC [DRC army] is carrying out the operation alone after rejecting support from #MONUSCO." How did it come to this?

SYRIA'S KURDISH REVOLUTION

The Anarchist Element and the Challenge of Solidarity

Rojava

by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate

The north Syrian town of Kobani has been under siege since mid-September by forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, popularly known as ISIS. Early in the siege, world leaders spoke as if they expected it to fall. The US took its bombing campaign against ISIS to Syria, but targeted the jihadists' de facto capital, Raqqa—not the ISIS forces closing the ring on Kobani. But the vastly outgunned and outnumbered Kurdish militia defending Kobani began to turn the tide—while issuing desperate appeals for aid from the outside world.

The defenders and aggressors at Kobani are a study in extreme contrasts. ISIS is charged with committing massive war crimes and crimes against humanity in areas under its control—most notoriously, the massacres and enslavement of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq. Rights for women have been utterly repealed, and a trade in sexual slavery (hideously called "marriage") established.

Kobani lies within the autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Syria (now partially overrun by ISIS), which has issued a constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women in all spheres of life—domestic, civic, labor. An experiment in direct democracy has been launched, with power devolving to neighborhood and village assemblies, where seats revolve and women have a 40% quota. These assemblies also send empowered representatives to canton assemblies. A parallel Women’s Assembly, on the same model, has veto power over the canton assemblies.

OMAR AZIZ: SYRIAN ANARCHIST

His Legacy and Impact on Self-Organization in Syria's Revolution

by Leila Shrooms, Tahrir-ICN

Omar Aziz (fondly known by friends as Abu Kamel) was born in Damascus. He returned to Syria from exile in Saudi Arabia and the United States in the early days of the Syrian revolution. An intellectual, economist, anarchist, husband and father, at the age of 63, he committed himself to the revolutionary struggle. He worked together with local activists to collect humanitarian aid and distribute it to suburbs of Damascus that were under attack by the regime. Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he "did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press… [Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the 'hijacking' of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony."

DEATH OF LITERACY: DIGITAL TOTALITARIANISM

by Bill Weinberg

OK, there's an irony to the fact that I'm writing this on Facebook. I just posted a clip about the terrifying reality that penmanship is being dropped from grade-school curricula nationwide. Massachusetts is apparently one of the last states to keep penmanship lessons in the classroom. To my surprise and dismay, the post was met with a barrage clueless dismissal and techno-optimism; smarmy comments about bringing back quill pens; and glib assurances that "The world is always changing, sometimes for the better." Although nobody is paying me for this, I feel compelled to spell out the critique, mostly out of sheer alarm at the degree to which my "friends" don't "get it."

Throughout my adult life, I have seen the fields of writing of and publishing radically decline under the assault of ditigital technology. The set of skills we call literacy are deteriorating as our minds are occupied more and more with "programs" and "code" and "apps" and "texting." Anyone who has spent time with Orwell understands that this inevitably means a decline in our ability to think.

WHAT NEXT FOR LIBYA?

by Mary Fitzgerald, IRIN

TRIPOLI — If any further evidence was needed of the importance of ending the power struggle that has plunged Libya into chaos since last summer, it was the reminder this week that sympathisers of the so-called Islamic State (IS) are keen to exploit the resulting power vacuum. In a January 27 attack claimed by IS, gunmen stormed a luxury Tripoli hotel popular with UN officials and diplomats, killing at least nine people, among them five foreigners. It was the deadliest in a series of incidents, which suggest that IS supporters in Libya are growing more assertive as the country's political crisis continues.

Armed groups allied to Libya's rival governments—one a militia-backed self-declared administration that took power in Tripoli after the internationally recognized government of prime minister Abdullah al-Thani fled to eastern Libya—are locked in a battle for control of the oil-rich nation.

UN officials overseeing talks in Geneva aimed at uniting the warring factions hope the hotel attack will help focus minds. It might prove "a wake-up call," said UN envoy to Libya Bernardino Léon, who argues only a unity government can tackle the IS threat. "The country is really about to collapse."

NEITHER EAST NOR WEST

How a small group of anarchists took on the Soviet Union and won!

Russian anarchists

by Bob McGlynn, Fifth Estate

With the war in Ukraine and renewed US-Russian rivalry, the need has emerged for a "neither-nor" position of the kind some anarchists and anti-authoritarians took in the Cold War—building solidarity between anti-war and left-libertarian forces on either side of the East-West divide. In this context, the US anarchist journal Fifth Estate last year ran the following look back at the ground-breaking group Neither East Nor West, which took on such work at the height of the Reagan Cold War. Neither East Nor West co-founder Bob McGlynn recounts the little-known role of this and related efforts in a period whose history has suddenly become frighteningly relevant.—World War 4 Report

During the Cold War, there was always a sector within the anarchist/left-libertarian milieu in the West that took a special interest in dissidence and repression within the Soviet Bloc. This interest was in part due to the ultra-closed nature of Soviet Bloc societies and the lack of information about opposition and activism within them that did not come from a pro-Western perspective.

This changed in 1980 with the formation of Poland's Solidarity free trade union. With a nationwide general strike and 10 million workers signing on in two to three months, Solidarity exploded Communism's frontiers. Neither East Nor West-NYC (NENW-NYC) traces its roots back to this time, when a number of anti-authoritarians in the New York City metropolitan area took advantage of Solidarity's opening. Individual activists and members of the anarcho-syndicalist Workers Solidarity Alliance, along with the (now disbanded) Revolutionary Socialist League, met while doing Solidarity support.

NIGERIAN LIVES MATTER

The Baga Massacre and the Numbers Controversy

by Obinna Anyadike, IRIN

NAIROBI — Two thousand killed or 150? Controversy surrounds the death toll in the northern Nigerian town of Baga and nearby villages following an attack in early January by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

BBC report on the fighting published on January 8 quoted a local government official giving a civilian death toll of as many as 2,000, although it did add that other accounts put the number in the hundreds. Amnesty International used the 2,000 figure the following day in a press release, and despite the caveats strewn through the statement, the number stuck and was taken up by the world's media. The Toronto Star did a chronology.

The government's response, some days later, was that "only" 150 people had died. The military spokesperson tweeted: "RE: @Amnesty International on Boko Haram's 'deadliest act'. They are the Evil we must all Fight not Government."

Ryan Cummings, chief of security analysis for Africa at the crisis management outfit Red24, asks: "is it credible to believe that Boko Haram had indeed killed as many as 2,000 people in a single act of mass violence?"

JIHADIST SCYLLA, IMPERIAL CHARYBDIS

Bennoune

Double Bind
The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left and Universal Human Rights
by Meredith Tax
Centre for Secular Space, New York, 2014

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here
Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism
by Karima Bennoune
WW Norton, New York, 2013

by Bill Weinberg, Dissent News Wire/Middle East Policy

Psychologist Gregory Bateson defines a "double bind" as a dilemma in which people are given conflicting sets of instructions so that obeying one means violating the other.

Meredith Tax in her brief study Double Bind (first published in the UK and now released in an American edition) explores that faced by the human rights community and progressives generally in confronting the "war on terrorism," in which Western states have committed horrific abuses in an ostensible struggle against reactionary political Islam. How do we defend the right to dissent when those being abused by the state do not recognize the right of others to dissent from their authoritarian dogmas?