Omar Raii spoke to Gona Saed from the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women's Organisation.
Daesh (Islamic State) has been strategically defeated and driven away in Kobane, and in major areas in Shangal, but they still exist in some surrounding villages and are still a big threat. They occupy many cities in Syria and Iraq, they launch attacks here and there; recently they attacked the city of Kirkuk in north Iraq. They were defeated, but there are reports of them putting together forces to attack again.
Not many [independent] reports have come out, but we have seen how Daesh behave in their own propaganda and publications, how they have enforced the most barbaric rules for people living under their control. For example the rule that women must wear the niqab or burka, women can’t go out without a male guardian and can’t be treated by male doctors.
They prohibit men shaving, they have closed down all barber shops, and they have publicly stoned women for “adultery”. They recently threw an elderly man from a high building, accusing him of being homosexual. They killed a group of young men for watching football. We have seen their outrageous manifesto for women [marriage at nine, women’s role is to be a mother, education up to 15]. Most people living under Daesh are in total fear, even those Sunnis who in some ways welcomed them when they first attacked Mosul city [June 2014], thinking that this force will save them from the persecution of Iraq’s majority Shia government.
In Kobane and Rojava women had and still have a great role in the armed resistance. The social contract — some call it the “Equality Law” — from the Jazira canton [guaranteed equality free marriage, prohibition of polygamy, passed November 2014], is clear evidence of the lasting effect of women’s participation in armed resistance: being in the front line in Kobane has also brought a political victory for women.
This has not been the same in Iraqi Kurdistan where women are also fighting Daesh. Women don’t play the same role because the resistance to Daesh is controlled by the two ruling parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
In their 23 years of governing Iraqi Kurdistan, the KDP and PUK have not allowed women to fully participate in any areas of the social, political and economic administration of society. There are around 600 women peshmergas in Iraqi Kurdistan but they are not equally trained; nor do the KDP and PUK depend on them as a fighting force.
The two ruling parties never gave women a real say or role, never empowered women to play the same role as women in Kobane. Both parties have been very patriarchal in their structure and policies and therefore discriminate against women. Also Islam as a religion and the influence of political Islamist politics plays a significant role in their laws, and polices on every level. They have encouraged Islamists in making laws over women’s freedom and participation; this has driven the whole of society into being very conservative, traditional and reactionary towards women.
Although the women of Kobane have inspired many young women in Iraqi Kurdistan to participate in the resistance, they are neither encouraged nor given the opportunity to do this.
There are some very good signs of people’s power and women’s role in Rojava administration. There are also signs of participation of all people as equal citizens despite ethnic and religious differences. I think all these signs are positive and should be celebrated. But there are still questions around Kurdish nationalism and its political parties; when they take power they don’t allow much freedom to opposition political parties to operate freely and openly. This is certainly our experience in Iraqi Kurdistan and it has been an issue with the PKK in the past.
But it is hard to make an assessment because of war and uncertainty. I think there will be problems in Rojava once there is peace and their power has been established. But for now I think the administration should be supported and defended, not only because it resisted Daesh but also because it formed one of the most progressive administrations in the whole region
I think the left in the west has taken little interest in the rise of Daesh for various reasons. The left is not strong enough to make an international stand against this capitalist system as a whole; it is lacking an international leadership that could analyse and understand the global capitalist system and the way it works.
It is very clear that this has limited their ability to understand the role of political Islam and it’s place in backing up the maintenance of the global capitalist system.
Secondly I think the left is still very traditional and religiously ideological, dogmatic, in its approach to the new world order and today’s capitalist system.
Third I think the left is still too occupied with their traditional resistance to the role of imperialism. This of course had its significance and necessity up until a few decades ago, but now America and other western (former direct imperialists) have now changed how they control global politics, resources and economy and that they need political Islam (states, religious parties or terroristic groups) to have that control over the rich Middle East.
The left lacks the understanding that all political Islamic states, forces and oppositions have been either created, or supported by America and the west.
To me as a Middle Eastern person, and millions like me, political Islam does not represent our societies. The bottom line is if the left in the west still have any belief in socialism, equality and a worker’s state, it is time they listened to the left from the Middle East and not to religious or nationalist groups or movements who are allies of capitalists in the west.
For Kurdish communists freedom is the right of people to determine their political future; we have advocated a referendum since the early 1990s for Kurdish people in north Iraq so they can decide whether they wanted to stay with Iraq or to be independent. We believe that we should go by what people decide, the same as people in Scotland or south Sudan.
For the nationalist parties Kurdish freedom and independence is only a playing card; this was proved at least twice in Iraqi Kurdistan in the last 23 years, since the KDP and PUK have been ruling Iraqi Kurdistan. They use independence in negotiations to gain more power, money and secure economic deals such as oil deals; they do this for their sectarian parties or the coalition government. They are not interested in independence or solving people’s problems and sufferings. Since 2003 the KDP and PUK and all other parties that more recently started to share government with them are very keen on federalism for Iraq. The PKK showed a different approach in Rojava, but we are still very far away from being able to assess that at this time. Things could change and in different ways .
Nationalists have sacrificed women’s rights issues politically. In their sectarian competitions over political and economic power and votes they long relied on two bases: religious and tribes. We know that both these groupings have patriarchical values and are discriminative against women.
Women’s rights have been attacked in every way; the most reactionary traditions and norms have been brought back to life. Relying on values of patriarchy and Islam for regulations and legislation, they have pushed the society’s progressiveness back decades.
And then there has been the rise of Islamic parties, many Islamic TV and radio stations, hundreds of workers of literature and over 5,000 mosques giving conservative , religious and anti-women’s rights messages every Friday to over 600,000 men .
The result is that we have had the phenomenon of honour killing that took the lives of thousands of women, also self-emollition and suicide is very widespread amongst women; violence against women has risen rapidly.
It is different for women in Turkish Kurdistan and Rojava of course, as women have been active participants in the nationalist movement. I think women’s participation has forced the PKK to take women’s rights and roles seriously.
Women issues have been in the forefront of communist activism since the establishment of our forces in Iraqi Kurdistan
In the 1990s the socialist movement played a big role in highlighting women’s issues, calling for equality, mobilising women in their own organisations, supporting women who faced violence, having a radical newspaper called Equality and announcing a shadow Personal Statutes law called the “equality law “ in opposition to Iraqi personal statutes law that allowed for polygamy and honour killings.