AN ICON OF LIBERATION
On monday january 26th 2015 the liberation of the kurdish-syrian city Kobane from the armies of the IS, Islamic State, succeeded. The symbolic site of victory was Mistanour Hill on the western outskrits of Kobane. One of the images that circulated in socials media celebrating the victory was this one. Two woman soldiers from the Women’s Defense Units, YPJ, erecting their flags on Mistanour Hill. YPJ has been fighting alongside their male militsia collegues People’s Protection Units, YPG.
WHAT IS IT WITH THIS IMAGE THAT IS SO FASCINATING?
One remarkable feauture is of course that the two soldiers are women. They are wearing combate gear and machine guns. Their faces are visible and the expression on their faces are proud and strong. There are many signifiers in this that marks a difference. A new beginning. The obvious thing is of course the lack of traditional middle-eastern markers of feminity; no hijabs, no scarves. These are pro-active, fierce women, who act on their own behalf.
The strangest feature of the image might be the weapons: why is it that a woman wearing a machine gun over her shoulder is such a different thing that an image of a man in the same posture? The female freedom-fighter and the whole idea of a Woman’s Defence Unit is such a strong marker of resistance and confrontation against the ’ fundamentalist aggressors performing an apocalyptical masculinity’ as Julie Kristeva has termed IS, the Islamic State.
As referred to in my former entry, Kristeva has posed the question: ’Who can revolt?’ What is so powerfull and encouraging is exactly what this image shows us: The women of Kobane can revolt! Just by the fact of being female fighters these women step out of the reciprocal logic of apocalyptival male violence that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are spiralling towards. It is the women that can liberate us from this deadlock. By opening up a third position in the cultural deadlock between the US/western-coalitions and the fundamentalist islamists, the YPJ/YPG armies and the Kobane/Rojava provinces shows us a light at the end of the tunnel of war.
Another significant feature in the image is the fact the the flags raised on Mistanour Hill is not national flags. The flags represent the YPJ-militsia and the democratic cantons of Rojava/Kobane. This is not an attempt at a new nation. The local government of Kobane uses the word ’cantons’ to designate the 3 small province on the northern borders of Syria where a new democratic rule has been installed.
canton |’kantn, ‘kan,tän| noun
1 |’kant∂n| a subdivision of a country established for political or administrative purposes.
In the 3 cantons of Rojava-Kurdistan the local governments has managed to create a secular multi-racial, multicultural democracy with equal rights for all religions, equal rights for women, a constitution for all. Abandonned by the syrian dictatorship and not yet taken over by Islamic State. It is from this proto-socialist kurdish area the womens army has emerged. They not only mark a realistic resistance to IS on the ground – a presence in the ground war that neither the western coalition nor any other regional actors in the fight against IS has been willing to deliver. They also mark the existence of a resistance to the global hegemony of liberal capitalism AND a proposal of another format of societal organisation than the nation state: An alternative to the patrichal dominance inherent in the concept of the nation state. The air-strike delivered from the western coalition in support of the YPJ/YPG has been controversial, especially in Turkey where it is seen as support of the Kurds in general.
All that hope, compressed in just one single image. To re-quote Timotheus Vermeulen / Henning Klungtved: ”The thing is we can’t afford pessimism anymore”. This is urgent message from Kobane: Another world is still possible!
Maybe this image disappears in the slipstream of global news, but to me it has the potential to become a new ’icon of liberation’. All that hope!
PLEASE SPREAD IT!
I have taken the term ’icon of liberation’ from the norwegian writer Inger Elisabeth Hansen who in 2011 called Tahrir Square the next great icon of liberation after Che Guevara.