“Welcome to the struggle”, I told a Dutch friend this week who asked me rather desperately what she could do against upcoming fascism in the Netherlands. That was not an easy conversation because she wanted something big with an instant effect. That’s not how struggle works, I have learned over the years from the people who are really, really good at struggle. Kurds, I mean.
It’s been news in many countries and I’m sure you heard about it: in the Netherlands, the extreme right agitator Geert Wilders has won the parliamentary elections with a landslide. He is anti-democratic to his core: not just his racist hate-spewing speeches against Muslims and asylum seekers; his ‘party’ too is a scam: he is literally the only member, and he decides everything. In 2021, the highest court in the Netherlands convicted him for ‘group insult’ (without giving him an actual punishment).
No wonder many of my friends, myself included, are shocked that so many people in the Netherlands voted for this dangerous man. We talk about why he won a majority, but this friend asked me specifically what she could do that was concrete against strengthening support for fascism in this country and against Wilders in particular. And not only what she could do, but also what ‘the left’ could do – she voted for a small leftist party that lost quite a few seats in parliament, and wondered what they could possibly have done wrong and how this could be reversed.
How to struggle? It’s an extremely important but also an extremely difficult question. And I can’t answer it. I can only share my thoughts about struggle – thoughts for which I am indebted to the Kurdish political movement. Educate, organise, analyse, are the three words that I have learned are key.
Coincidentally, the organisation that started the most recent Kurdish uprising against the Turkish state and against other oppressors of Kurds, the PKK, celebrated its 45th birthday this week. It all started in 1978 in a hamlet in Diyarbakır province, where Abdullah Öcalan and a small group of men and women around him founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The PKK is of course an armed organisation, but let me make it explicit that of course I am not trying to suggest here in any way that an armed resistance is necessary in the Netherlands – that would be absurd. Armed resistance is not even what I learned about when I spent a year with the PKK to write a book about them, because the struggle of the PKK is not about weapons. It’s about envisioning and building another society, and educating and organising people around that vision.
And the vision is anchored in an analysis of the problem. In Turkey and Bakur (Kurdistan in Turkey) the problem started with the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, this year a hundred years ago. Kurds and Turks fought together against invading European armies to secure a homeland for themselves, after which the Turkish leaders started to deny the existence of Kurds, culminating in a century of occupation, forced assimilation, suppression and mass murder.
If you want to end this violence, which has continued until this day, you will have to correct a century-old mistake. This is hard, especially because most people in the country don’t even recognise that a mistake was made. Even Kurds themselves, forcibly assimilated for generations, weren’t fully aware of their own suppression. The Kurdish movement started to educate the people, and build a large mass movement to struggle.
This required, and I want to make this explicit, that Kurds became aware of dynamics in the country that they could and needed to resist in order to wage a profound struggle, not a shallow one.
In the Turkish context: if your analysis is that Erdoğan is the problem, you struggle against him, which is what most of the Turkish opposition is doing. If your analysis is that the Turkish state itself is the problem, you struggle to replace it by a better system which respects the diversity of Anatolia and Mesopotamia.
In the Dutch context, there is also a shallow analysis. That is: how can we make sure we win the next elections with the biggest opposition party, a co-operation between Greens and Social-Democrats? How can we make sure fascism doesn’t grow stronger? The more profound analysis dives deeper into history, like the Kurdish analysis does.
Let me share a short quote of the leader of that biggest opposition party during the election campaign. The topic was Gaza, and at some point, this leader said: “We are a culture of life!”, referring to the Netherlands. That’s when I knew that I shouldn’t vote for that party, not even to prevent Wilders from winning. Because if you truly believe that Dutch culture is ‘a culture of life’, the gap between you and me is just too big. We have a dirty, genocidal colonial history and we have never truly left that history behind us. We never dealt with it. That is why Wilders could become the biggest. That is why the biggest opposition can not only not solve the problems, but is actually part of the problem.
Just like the CHP [Republican People’s Party], which presents itself as the most important opposition party in Turkey, is not part of the solution but part of the problem, because it doesn’t analyse the problem accurately.
What can we do? Educate ourselves. Face the deeply rooted problems the Netherlands has, and acknowledge that colonialism is an ongoing characteristic of it. That colonialism has defined and continues to define who we are now, from our wealth to our racism, from our arrogant mentality to how we shrug our shoulders over people who drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach our shores. Read about this, and talk about it with friends and family.
What she answered, was telling: “But I don’t know any Wilders voters to talk to.” It’s not about Wilders voters. It’s about your friends and family who vote for a leftist party and think they are part of the solution. Who think that we have a culture of life. Like how I talk to you, like how other people talk to me – we all have so incredibly much to learn before we can solve the problem.
“So, you are telling me to read a book?”, my friend asked me in shock. Yes. Read a book. And then some more. Talk to people. Confront yourself, confront others, confront me with how we all relate to our colonial history. Realise this is bigger than the most recent and the next election.
Welcome to the struggle. Be in it for the long haul.
Audio: “Welcome to the struggle”
Google Podcast: https://is.gd/QYjtpP