Kurdish Londoners March for Ocalan on His 23rd Year of Incarceration

On February 13th, the Kurdish Diaspora and their allies marched from the BBC building to the Kings Cross area to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the illegal capture and incarceration of Abdullah Ocalan (APO), Kurdish liberationist and co-founder of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

The Kurdish freedom movement has long deemed the kidnapping of Ocalan from Nairobi, Kenya in 1999 by Turkish military forces as an international conspiracy and a threat to a Kurdish people’s liberation everywhere, specifically the freedom of women and jineology (the principle that without the freedom of women within society and without a real consciousness surrounding women, no society can call itself free). 

While his sentence was reduced by the Turkish state from death penalty to life imprisonment in compliance with EU law, the conditions of his incarceration remain controversial. In an interview İbrahim Bilmez, Ocalan’s lawyer for the past 18 years, described the conditions of his incarceration in İmralı: from being denied visits with family and legal support from 2011 until 2019, to direct attacks and imprisonment of 40 lawyers connected to Ocalan’s representation. It took a series of hunger strikes to motion a break in his isolation, when his lawyers were finally permitted time-limited and restricted visits in 2019. Bilmez further stated: 

“The government has done whatever it wants with him since 1999. No law applies, there’s no transparency there.”

The conditions of Ocalan’s imprisonment demands the attention of global human rights organizations for the unfair court process, illegal capture, and inhumane treatment while in prison. Kurdish movements across the globe also require Ocalan’s immediate release as a prerequisite to any glimpse of a future peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question in South West Asia. His imprisonment is symbolic torture for the Kurdish freedom movement, as well as a sign of hopelessness for the over 10,000 people who are charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation” in Turkey. These so-called “terrorists” are no more than local lawyers, journalists, MPs, co-op members, and human rights activists, risking their freedom to see the end of Turkish state-sanctioned terror.

During this year’s demonstrations in London, speakers recited Ocalan’s literary work, ideology and vision for a liberated future through speeches, chants, and music. 

A commonly known phrase used amongst Kurdish liberationists is “berxwedan jiyane” meaning “resistance is life.” The spirit of these words breathes hope into struggle, paints a vision in the midst of atrocity, and ignites a sense of justice and solidarity for international hevals (comrades) who are trying to build simultaneous and revolutionary movements across the world. This year, those who marched the streets of London on February 13th, chanted the words “berxwedan jiyane” at the top of their lungs, for hours, and in the pouring rain. 

The demonstration concluded with a speech in the Sorani dialect, first thanking those who came out to stand in solidarity despite the weather forecast, and further stating:

“We have Reber Ocalan, we will not give up, even if all guerrillas, all Kurds cease to exist, we have the freedom on our side. Many international countries stood up to demand the freedom of Reber Ocalan, so we must join to yell: Bji Reber APO, Freedom for Reber APO, Freedom for Reber APO” 

Image credit: Wikimedia

Politics over Hijab in Karnataka: a Precursor to State Elections 2023

This weekly briefing is being published in retrospect due to the CCRJ solidarity with the 2022 University Staff Strike.

The Hindu nationalist movement (popularly known as Hindutva) is known for its conservative position and Hindu supremacist ideology. Since 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government has been the political force translating the ideology into policies and governance. It has once again flared up controversy by pursuing policies that target religious minorities in India. One instance of this is the number of institutions in the state of Karnataka which are witnessing protests predominantly led by upper-caste Hindu students against their Muslim peers wearing hijab in class. 

In January 2022, six female students in the Udupi district were denied access to their college campus for donning the hijab. Since then the state, with a BJP government at the helm, has witnessed similar incidents where students wearing hijabs were not allowed to enter their institution’s premises. In some cases, radical Hindu organizations mobilized Hindu students to protest against their Muslim peers by wearing saffron scarves, claiming that there was no equality in allowing religious clothing in “secular educational” spaces. There are video reports of saffron-clad men heckling women wearing hijab and burqa.

A Muslim girl student filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court against institutions claiming that Article 14 and 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees theirright to practice their religion and should protect them from discrimination. The State Government shutdown  colleges for three days until the High Court announced its decision on the matter, but the High Court has only passed an interim order so far, to prevent students from wearing any religious clothing until the final order is out. This order has established a false equivalence between hijab and saffron scarves: unlike the hijab, worn by only some Muslim women as part of their religious expression, the purpose of saffron scarves has been to intimidate Muslim women. 

Any observer of Indian politics would not find it surprising that a communal issue on religious lines has been instigated in a state with upcoming polls. Karnataka will be due for its Legislative Assembly elections in May 2023 and will be one of the few states where the Prime Minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  will be in direct competition with its principal national opposition, the Indian National Congress (INC). The last elections to the house in 2018 resulted in a hung assembly with BJP winning more seats despite INC winning the popular vote. 

BJP has been known to instigate communal issues in poll-bound states and foster a polarised atmosphere to score electoral points and support. In 2021, civic bodies in Gujarat state, where elections will be taking place in December 2022, announced regulations against the sale of non-vegetarian food in public spaces. The Delhi riots in 2020 and the demonization of Shaheen Bagh protestors (which was led by Muslim women in the Delhi neighbourhood) occuredjust before the Delhi elections in May 2020. A similar attempt was made to demonise farmers’ protests as a Khalistani plot in January 2021 as the year-long movement was led by farmers from Punjab and Haryana, states with significant sikh populations. But the government had to concede as Punjab is due for polls in February 2022. 

It is a recurring strategy and somewhat tired script of Hindu nationalists to target religious minorities and impose hypocritical standards.  Despite empty political declarations to the contrary, the promise of secularism has always been in contradiction to the Hindutva project. Hindu nationalists, led by the BJP, argue that secularism is a tool of appeasement for minorities which is why there has been a systematic attempt at subverting the constitutional promise of equality. 

Prime Minister Modi, a member of the BJP, promised an “inclusive India” after winning his second term in 2019 but his party has continued to engage in communally polarising election strategies across the country. This controversy over hijabs has created tensions and division among students who were previously studying together, disrupted Muslim female students from accessing their educational institutions ahead of their final exams and set a disturbing precedent of religious discrimination. It is imperative that Mr Modi intervenes and reassures his commitment to his promise. 

Image Credit: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Toxic Waste Mountain: How The Occupation Also Harms Israelis

Israel is explicit about the objective of its supposedly sustainable projects: to achieve full sovereignty over “the lands of Judea and Samaria” by whatever means necessary, i.e. present-day Israel combined with its occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories. Let’s imagine this objective were to magically be achieved overnight: Israel would literally have a mountain of toxic waste on its hands. 

Israel uses the West Bank as a dumping ground for its own waste and the waste from illegal settlements. Israel also systematically denies Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza suitable access to resources and infrastructure for the responsible management of their own waste. This has led to the widespread adoption of unsafe waste disposal practices in the area. Israel is attempting to circumscribe both the Palestinian people and all of the waste in the region within its eight meter walls, and it will eventually fail on both counts. The ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinian people seems to thus entail the ongoing degredation of the lands by Israelis; both practices continue to harm their intended Palestinian victims as well as unintentionally backfiring on Israelis.

Let’s be clear– the occupation of Palestine is a war crime violating a seventy-three-year-long list of human rights; it is wholly inappropriate to compare the suffering of an Israeli to that of a Palestinian. In addition to our awareness about the myriad ways in which the Israeli occupation harms Palestinians, it is also important to pay attention to the ways that the occupation harms Israelis: when a bare foot in the grass crushes an unsuspecting bee, the bee is killed– but not before leaving a nasty sting. 

Israel and Palestine are enmeshed in a relationship of coloniser- colonised “stuckedness” as explained by Ghassan Hage: they are bound to one another, destined to be doomed or flourish collectively. Hage states that no matter what, they are in fact “stuck with each other.” Building on this concept of stuckedness, the June 2020 UN report illustrates that Palestinians and Israelis are stuck with their collective toxic waste as much as with each other.

Achille Mbembe’s conceptualization of the “racist affects” of borderwork explains that the Israeli borderworkers are expected to inflict injury on the Palestinian ‘other.’ The omnipresence of “racists affects” within Israeli society have not only perpetuated the ongoing genocide of the Palestinians, but has also led to widespread trauma and chronic mental illness among the Israeli population of indentured soldiers. But there is a third loser in this war: the ‘sacred’ land on which it’s waged. Mbembe shows us that Israelis are encouraged to undertake unsustainable environmental practices (like the mass dumping of toxic waste) as one of many tools for inflicting harm on the Palestinians. These practices are backfiring: poisoning the neighbours’ garden harms yours too, especially when you’re actively stealing their land.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delivers a speech on stage during a meeting at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Obsessive anti-Israel bias': Erdan rips up human rights report at UN podium  | The Times of Israel

Two events last month encapsulate the hypocrisy of Israel’s greenwashing. Israeli PM Bennett was outspoken at COP26 about Israel’s green-tech ‘innovations’ and its self-declaration of ‘successfully’ having implemented the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). Elsewhere, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN tore up the annual human rights report on the podium at the UN General Assembly. By using the global stage at COP26 to greenwash Israel’s inherently unsustainable practices, the international community itself is not just greenwashing but also gaslighting the continuation of Israel’s human rights violations and war crimes. Israel’s allegedly “successful” implementation of the SDG’s serves as an offensive cover-up for their policy of genocide and environmental degradation, and also as state approval for the continuation of unsafe practices like toxic waste disposal in the West Bank. These Israeli efforts to destroy Palestinian land are destroying all the lands for all those in its midst, and eventually the toxic waste will be the last one standing.

Policy Brief Issue 4: November 2021

Ethiopia Needs Long Term Healing, Not Just a Ceasefire

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South Africa and its ‘Staggering Economy’


South Africa’s ‘Rainbow nation’, defined by its generational struggle for racial equality, has one of the  highest inequality rates in the world.  South Africa is unfortunately a country in which violence and state dysfunction continues to grow, and over many years these conditions have produced imminent mass unrest. 

Jacob Zuma has been described as both a tyrant and a saviour, but his supporters and detractors agree on one thing: he is a political survivor. Since apartheid, South Africa has done everything it could to move on from its turbulent and violent past, presenting an example of viable, if not successful, political transition. Leading that process in 1994 was the former president Nelson Mandela and his party the ANC. More than twenty years later, the ANC remains in power, currently on its fifth consecutive election victory, led by their second term President, Jacob Zuma. However, during this election cycle, South Africa was confronted with a governance crisis and a stagnating economy, with Zuma at the centre of it all. 

Although Zuma is known to have been involved in corruption in the past, including money laundering and racketeering stemming from a $2.5 billion (£1.98bn) in 1999, as well as accusations of raping a family friend in 2005 (albeit acquitted a year later), harming the reputation of the ANC and himself, it is his current activities which have done serious damage to South Africa to which his corruption nonetheless translates today. 

It was not the poverty, violence in the streets or rising unemployment that triggered the worst unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Rather, it was the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma on July 7th, 2021 that unleashed mayhem in South Africa’s two most popular provinces, Gauteng and Zuma’s hometown, KwaZulu-Natal. Lootings, violence, and the burning of vehicles, buildings and shopping centres, has left over one billion rand worth of damage and destruction. Protests, clashes with the police, vigilante attacks and stampedes have killed more than 330 people and the army, 25,000 South African National Defense Force soldiers being deployed by South Africa’s current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to quell the violence to afflicted areas, the largest deployment of troops since the advent of democracy in 1994.

Reports suggest that attacks on the streets were part of an effort to sabotage the economy, and destabilise South Africa’s democracy, raising a bigger question: were the riots politically motivated action taken by defenders of  Zuma? As Ramaphosa has said, “…the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack…”. Alternatively, the riots may have been the expression of outrage at insufficient punishments imposed on Zuma. 

On the 29th of June, the constitutional court issued a fifteen-month prison sentence to Zuma for failing to provide evidence of his innocence to numerous corruption scandals during his presidency. To which, many of those scandals are closely related to the two brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta who own one of the largest enterprises in Johannesburg, Oakbay Investments Ltd – which range from mining to real-estate to news and media. Their relationship with Zuma has caused issues over the years and is without doubt, complicated. Reports suggest that the relationship between the Gupta brothers and Zuma was more business than personal; Zuma would finance them with state funds in exchange for positive representation through Gupta’s media outlets. Therefore, anything close to the truth would be kept hidden and the world would be none-the-wiser until it’s too late. 

However, systemic economic corruption has always been a concern for South Africa particularly among politicians and businessmen, fat-cats, who draw their wealth from state funds, whilst neglecting a staggering economic crisis. The combination of mass unemployment and rises in the cost of living has resulted in citizens, young and old, being forced into starvation. So as the wealthy drain state funds and line their pockets, the impoverished suffer, having food taken out of their hands with opportunities for work few and far between. 

A notable example of such corruption is Gavin Watson, also known as the Kingpin of Bribes, who became headline news in 2019 for bribing officials. The testimony of four whistleblowers showed that Watson’s company, Bosasa (notably, prison services) garnered state contracts worth $140 million dollars between 2000 and 2016; all former Bosasa executives were paid around $5 million dollars in bribes. The whistleblowers alleged an operation that generated cash through money laundering and then distributed it to buy influence, secure contracts and prevent prosecutions. Transactions were described as cash stuffed into Louis Vuitton bags as gifts and handed over in monthly installments on the side of the highway. Unsurprisingly, Zuma was also at the centre of this scheme, playing a role in Watson’s case during investigations in 2007. Officials have gone as far as confirming that Watson paid Zuma a fee to stop the prosecution of his company and himself. Even Ramaphosa, elected on the promise of being a voice of reason and sweeping away systemic corruption, also accepted a fee from Watson to help with his campaign strategy. 

Moreover, this corruption expresses itself in a nation that is still deeply affected by its recent colonial past, amplifying the consequences of injustice along racial lines. So as African resources are developed and sold ostensibly to give greater share to the Black population, the economy remains overwhelmingly in the control of White owners. 
The evidence presented here shows how easy it is to manipulate the system. Just like Watson, his colleagues, former and current Presidents, and the Gupta Brothers, have all abused the system to the exclusive benefit of themselves and ‘have captured the organs of the state to do so’.


 The shift in US Civil Society

When Joe Biden was chosen as the Democratic Party nominee, many young progressives were disappointed as he was an establishment politician with moderate views and willing to cut deals with Republicans. People were relieved when he defeated Donald Trump for the Presidency in November 2020 but they expected Obama era fiscally conservative policies to resurface. It’s important to understand how the neoliberalism of Obama and Biden became an intrinsic American phenomenon towards the end of the twentieth century.

The rise of the New Right and the Conservative Movement in the US led to the landslide victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980-81. American civil society at the time opposed large scale government intervention in the economy., The widespread assumption was that government regulations increase unemployment and tax cuts for companies allow them to invest more in human capital. Many Americans also believed that low deficits would lead to low inflation. This ideology started fading gradually as trickle-down economics proved ineffective as wealth was never passed from rich to poor. Simultaneously people started noticing that increased deficit spending doesn’t always lead to high inflation. 

One hundred days into the Biden administration, we see a shift from the moderate Democrat who was expected to compromise with Republicans on various issues. He had campaigned on giving stimulus checks to the lower middle class as a part of his American Rescue Plan. Most progressives were skeptical about Biden coming through on his campaign promises. But surprisingly he drafted the most comprehensive anti-poverty legislation since the New Deal of 1933. 

New Era of Social Democracy

In the Joint session of Congress, Biden’s speech made it crystal clear that he was the antithesis of Ronald Reagan. He laid out groundbreaking government spending programs. The American Families Plan will invest in future generations and could cut child poverty by 50%. Finally, an American President has openly declared that trickle-down economics has failed as a policy position. The post-Reagan era embraced the neoliberal agenda by making minor adjustments. The early signs under Biden are that the US is on the path of becoming a social democracy which seemed impossible at a certain point.

Social democracy is not socialism or democratic socialism as it does not hinge on collective ownership of means of production but rather a more equitable distribution of goods and services. It allows markets to grow but uses tax spending policies to fund social welfare in areas such as  education, healthcare and childcare. This is the biggest expansion of government in the US since 1968, when Lyndon B Johnson was in office. Biden needs to follow in Johnson’s footsteps to get most of his agenda passed. Like Biden, Johnson was a moderate from the South. The Southern Democrats were mostly opposed to any kind of civil rights legislation, due to the strict segregation laws in the South. After Kennedy’s assassination, the black community lost all hope as their fate was in the hands of a southerner. Johnson surprised many by passing not only key civil rights and voting rights legislation but also crucial healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Currently, in the US, the most important pieces of legislation is the For the People Act, which not only makes it easier for poor people to vote but also removes dark money from politics. Along with this policy reform, universal childcare and infrastructure are the most important policies that Biden must pursue. 

The Legislative Hurdles

The principal obstacles to Biden’s agenda are some conservative Democrats and all Republicans in the Senate who will block any legislation through the filibuster. It allows the Senate to debate bills for as long as possible. Sixty votes are required for cloture in order to end debate. So if there are less than sixty votes to end debate the legislation is blocked by the minority. It was previously only used to block civil rights legislation, but nowadays all legislation can be blocked in this way. Johnson’s success was based on his ability to use his influence and powers of intimidation to break the Southern filibuster. Republicans at that time were open to working with the other side. After Donald Trump’s polarisation, any Republican working with Democrats will be classified as ‘too liberal’. The only way Biden can successfully create some version of social democracy is to abolish the filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority. With a split senate, Conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin are standing in the way of this measure. The path to social democracy lies in the hands of a minority in the legislature. That is why Biden needs to use his lifelong political experience and keep fighting for the agenda he has laid out. This will be one of the toughest challenges after the first hundred days of his presidency.