From Colonialism to Consent

Syria to the U.S. American Left

 

(Notes: Feature picture shows Azaz, Syria to the left and Afrin in Rojava to the right from the Turkish border in Kilis. Written in January, 2015 but published later. The terms IS, ISIS, and Da3esh are used interchangeably. This article does not largely address the settler colonialist and indigenous context in the U.S. simply because it was not written in that context. I took all of the pictures.)

 

Introduction

As I write this, I am about 60 km north of Syria.  An hour long taxi ride could take me to where I will be able to see the smoke billow and hear the clashes in the Kurdish city of Afrin in Rojava and Azaz in northern Syria. A friend in nearby Kilis, Turkey can’t sleep due to the noise. We can tell what type of bomb it is by the noise and the way the ground shakes. When I sit on the mountain in Kilis, I can see and hear the gunfire. Sometimes a mortar shell lands in Kilis. The stress and danger of the political and security situation on the Turkish side of the border is quickly escalating as well, between the war on Kurdish activists and the Turkish and U.S. air invasions of Syria that, are allied but working at cross purposes. Turkey wants of course to prevent a contiguous Kurdish state on its South-Eastern border. The U.S. wants a lot of things, not the least of them being geopolitical power against Russian and Iran, but also to lessen the spread and control of ISIS. Here in

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emmi b.- A Syrian revolutionary flag that was given to me and came from the funeral for Naji Jerf, Syrian activist and journalist, next to Roca the radical kitten.

Southeast Turkey, you can find Kurdish groups such as the PKK, nationalist Turks, ISIS members, and radical Syrian activists all living, and at times clashing, in the same city or even neighborhood. A few days back a Syrian journalist was assassinated by ISIS in broad daylight, a short walk from my home. All the while, Syrians in Syria struggle to continue their lives as normally as possible, in spite of the political-movement-turned-civil-war that rages on in its 5th [sic 6th] year.

The air here is muggy – hot and tense. The few international friends I have here are either buckling down or leaving. Meanwhile the majority of my friends, being Syrian, are in a constant state of worry about their families and friends, despite the surface of warm hospitality and laughter they ceaselessly share with just about anyone. Unlike them, I have the luxury and privilege of holding a U.S. passport, which means the freedom to leave, to go home. Also, I still have a home. The privilege of having a home is palpable as many of my friends must brave the seas and asylum processes of Germany or elsewhere to

find somewhere safe enough to call home for now. The glaring difference in privilege impels me to maintain constant vigilance of any shadow of orientalism, white saviorism, and “othering” (Illich, 1968; Said, 1979) that might leak through as I work and interact across differences of ethnicity, provenance, religion, politics, and direct experience of warfare. At the same time, every interaction is intersectional. By intersectional I mean, our experience is mediated by a variety of social identities and that each of those identities impacts our privilege and access in different, and often even contradictory ways. For example, I am privileged as a white U.S. citizen but I am also a queer/trans person living in an area of Turkey and culture that is, in many ways, quite conservative and homophobic etc. Yet despite these differences in access and experience, the connections between myself and my communities are deep and textured. A relevant piece of this was that I was invited by Syrians themselves. I was invited because I had certain specialized skills that were desired such as Monitoring & Evaluation. I taught and shared those skills while trying to keep myself expendable but, they wanted me to stay. I did not come to save anyone, but rather to learn and actively stand beside them. I am not a volun-tourist, but I am still a part of that power theater; it’s ethically important that I did not come unwelcomed but it’s also not enough. It’s a continuing process demanding intellectual and emotional vigilance coupled with action. Everyday we exchange rooted hope and stories of our mutual activism and I continue to be humbled. I also show up for them with action, mutual-aid, and service, the same way they do for me. Our connection transcends vast differentials and finds common ground more often than not: the key to this authentic connection is a complex and dynamic consent. Sometimes I make mistakes. I don’t do this perfectly. I have un-ethical impulses towards saviorism etc. and the mental viruses of whiteness. I mostly avoid acting on them and when I fail to subvert those tendencies, I am lucky to have friends who care enough about me to call me out or call me in (Trần, 2013). This foundation of consent and communication is what makes all of these processes possible.

Consent here is the explicit desire from all sides to participate in a process that involves breaking through difference, biases, and the obstructions of privilege and oppression. This degree of consent to engage across such differences, of course, is hardly the norm, here or elsewhere. Essential to this process is reciprocal invitation welcoming each other in a way  that is not assumed to be static but is rather a prolonged process of trust-building. A foundational piece of this is maximizing and trusting each other’s agency, autonomy, and political self-determination.

This interpersonal dynamic mimics a larger socio-political dynamic in which the right of Syrians to political self-determination is being blocked by international agents driving a proxy war. Mostly foreign agents such as the U.S., Iran, Russia, and ISIS are ignoring the consent of Syrians and Kurds to determine a form of self-governance that is in line with the values and hopes that spurred the revolution and live bravely still in the hearts of so many Syrians. Contrary to what many western leftists think, many Syrian people welcome, or even hasten, Western international involvement, even militarily, in Syria. However, many more have a learned fear of international (and especially Western) forces, manipulating the formation of Middle Eastern governments with neo-colonial and neoliberal intentions and practices.

This idea of consent also has historical and political connotations in anarchist praxis especially in regards to free association, mutual aid, and non-coercion. Explicit consent is the framework upon which a radically different society can be built. We must struggle at both the interpersonal and structural level to find pathways to subvert colonial and other oppressive interests that prevent us from consensual exchange and connection between cultures and people. Through this struggle to resist marginalization and power concentration — through deep connection and transformation — we can attempt to build a politics of consent that subverts the mediums of separation, oppression and, foundationally, capitalist colonialism.

 

Colonialism and Consent

Colonialism is an epitome of non-consent in that it depends on mass exploitation and coercion. In terms of power, natural resources, and cultural heritage, colonialism is literally rape between countries or persons. What makes it more hideous is that it often employs measures that make it seem appealing, or at least unavoidable, to some of the colonized “subjects” (Cohn, 1996; Mrinalini, 2006). This produces not only a form of denigration in the colonized beings, but also (as wisely noted by Césaire (2000), Fanon (1965) and others) a particularly cruel and dissociative psychosis in the colonizer. Césaire (p. 41) explains this as follows:

“They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his consciousness gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this boomerang effect of colonization that I want to point out.”

This psychosis of the privileged continues to thrive today in the form of cognitive dissonance needed for the oppressor to maintain structures of oppression while keeping them hidden from their conscious mind and vision (Leary, 2005). This obfuscation of privilege or exploitation is a neoliberal tendency up and down the micro to macro scales of interaction.

Colonization cannot be fully conflated with other forms of oppression, but the small and large scale structures and mechanisms of colonialism are exceptionally relevant to the study of undermining all forms of oppression. Postcolonial and subaltern theories give glimpses into the ways in which seemingly disparate political consciousness or resistance to hegemony have effectively thwarted or overturned imperial projects. This diverse spectra of theories also looks at the ways in which, even after former colonies become independent, the mechanisms of domination can remain or even be effectively recreated. Exchange, connection, and the spectrum of consent and coercion in the micro and macro realms can exhibit these same tendencies of resistance and reification.

Methods of Colonialism

The diverse methods of colonialism, both past and present, reveal the relationship to various forms of consent or coercion. What follows are some examples used to reveal this relationship more fully.

Currently and in U.S. history, many indigenous persons were forced to attend boarding schools in which they were banned from speaking their native languages in efforts to assimilate them into U.S., white, Christian, and otherwise dominant culture. In hearing these stories personally it is clear that this was a profoundly coercive trauma that manifested in physical and psychological ways, such as a friend’s internal shame about her straight, black hair as a result of her fear that people would know she was indigenous and judge her harshly. She always curled or tied up her hair until one day her mother confronted her about it and she considered the implications for the first time (Personal Communication- Diné, 2014). U.S. settler-colonialism, in this micro-example, ignored the history of its own violence or her story that preceded the conquest of North America. They instead attempted to destroy the rich culture of an entire people through forced, or coercive, assimilation into the boarding school system.

Prior to Indian Independence, the British colonial administration employed many Indian elites to promote colonialism in local languages, manipulating the “wonders of science” and various other forms of trickery and denigration (Cohn, 1996; Mrinalini, 2006). These Indian elites were then given special privileges which appealed to many in the struggling peasant class. This made colonialism desirable to a select few empowered peasants across the vast and multi-lingual country in exchange for their service to the colonial empire. In this example, manipulation is the thread of colonial breaches of consent in that, even while a selected few from the peasant class may have accepted the shifts into colonization through the limited information they had available, their consent was put into question in that it was not fully “informed consent” nor was their elite status representative of the diverse wills of the Indian populace. Another example of this question of informed consent is the hacienda system in Bolivia wherein indigenous farmers were asked to sign away their rights and land on documents that they couldn’t read because the documents were in Spanish not their native tongue (Postero, 2008). Even if, by signing, they technically agreed, no one could consider this an ethical encounter or informed consent.

In the 1990’s, the neoliberal ethos guided the trinity of the IMF, World Bank, and the World Trade Organization’s imposition of economic and trade “structural adjustments.” Instead of helping, these structural adjustments simply opened nations up for massive multi-national corporate exploitation of resources, privatization, increased inequality of wealth, collapsed economies in the service of free-market, neoliberal, late-capitalist, corporatism. These trade agreements are in a sense the pinnacle of modern multinational technologies of coercion in that they remove the viability of all other options until nations, or their greedy leaders, are forced into cycles of perpetual debt. This neo-colonialism marks attempts to hide coercion by draping it in a veil of seemingly benign “global economic integration” and “poverty alleviation”, although history shows that these results are the exception and not the rule.  Crucially as well, agreeing to something when there are no other options is not consent.

Israel continues to use “pink-washing,” or exploitation of its purported LGBT “friendliness” to justify the Zionist colonization and occupation of “savage” (i.e. purported non-gay accepting) Palestinians and their territory. But when speaking for themselves, many Palestinian queers support boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Zionism (Pinkwatching and PQBDS, 2015).

Of course, no examination of colonialism is complete without that most visible and invisible abomination of humanity, slavery. In the U.S., neo-slavery through mass-incarceration and an all-out war on black bodies by police and the prison-industrial complex (PIC) is effectively colonizing a labor-force and demolishing the basic human rights of huge swaths of people (Alexander, 2011). This act of violence, only recently realized by mainstream American media (*long side-eye to mainstream media……*), is built upon the destruction of opportunities for persons of color in the U.S. to consensually self-determine their paths without the restrictions of entrenched state and cultural violence.

The non-consensual/coercive aspect of colonialism is of particular note in that it highlights the unequal playing field on which neo-colonial “negotiations” or colonial slaughters occur(ed). The structural difference of privilege makes full consent nearly impossible in that the cards are always stacked against those with less access to resources and opportunity. The privileged are under a near constant cognitive dissonance which often disallows them from realizing that they are even being exploitative, or at worst, they just don’t care. For example, I know several truly decent employees of the World Bank, who believe their employer’s mission is to end poverty, even though historically these economically liberal institutions have created great damage and inequality of wealth in many areas of the racistly named “developing” world. The tarnished track record of the World Bank or USAID, for example, are oft written off by their apologists and supporters as the cost of doing business or the “learning curve” of implementing rapid liberal economic reform. However this “learning curve” of rapid liberalization has literally devastated entire global regions, and although the tools may be changing, the paradigm of economic liberalism still underwrites the logic and obscures imperialism (Essex, 2013). The “agreements” that go into these processes are assumed to be consensual, but how can they be when the stakes are so stilted? How can we deem an interchange to be consensual when, from the outset, parties involved are not given the same privileges and choices? How can anything be consensual when one party doesn’t truly have a choice?

MACRO – Resistance or Re-creation?

In an increasingly globalized late-capitalist world, global elites and power-brokers are promoting economic and social hegemony. But, as Gramsci so rightly pointed out, any hegemonic project is (thankfully) doomed to eternal incompletion thanks at least as much to human unpredictability as to free thought and the potential for unified resistance against dominant forces (Gramsci, 1992). Colonialism continues, but the ability to share information across the internet prevents the underbelly of colonialism from remaining hidden. During the Arab Spring, videos of dictatorial domination and repression scattered across the internet quicker than any efforts to contain them. The secret was broken. Did this stop the violence or cause the world to stand up against oppression? Not really. The global elites continue to initiate proxy-wars across the world, but anyone with access to the internet can experience a hugely diverse array of experiences and opinions surrounding the violence in a way that is unprecedented even in the recent past. Uploading a video of violence committed under orders of the Syrian regime dictator Bashar al-Assad is literally an act punishable by death (or worse) by the regime or shabiha (mercenary police), and yet there is a torrent of these videos. The fear of torture has become less of a motivator than the courage to stand against injustice. These individualized resistances interacted with countless acts of protests, both non-violent and retaliatory, and although the final result is yet undetermined, Assad’s stranglehold on a hegemonic project is shattered. Yet, in its place emerges a wide array of state-building projects, several of which, such as Da3esh or the “Islamic State”, are employing even more centralized and equally brutal dictatorship, albeit with less access to military machinery such as barrel bombs, chemical weapons, and fighter jets (Arango, 2015).

 

The example of the situation in Syria, both close to my heart and doorstep, is important in that it highlights the failure of a government to respond to the demands of its people, and what’s more, the failure of the international power centers to overcome their own historical and current colonial disputes in order to facilitate a political “solution” to a war that has created a humanitarian crisis unseen since World-War II (ECHO, 2015). This edges toward the question of macro-consent and the colonial legacy of aggression in that, as the Westphalian state system begins to collapse under the weight of neoliberal globalization and terrorist rhetoric, so too does the concept of state-sovereignty and the “right to govern” as a whole (Agamben, 2005). To the exact extent that a “state” is incapable or unwilling of enacting the genuine will of the people, it becomes illegitimate. For this reason, many persons rightly question whether the modern, top-down “democratic” model is even capable of producing anything resembling a legitimate governance or state, especially if that democracy was installed through multilateral liberal interventionism. Depending on the way we define our terms, the concentration of power necessary to create a “state” makes legitimate representation of the diverse will of the populace impossible. The reduction of complexity lends itself to a coercive power imbalance that is arguably inherent in statebuilding.

The diverse will of the people of Syria is irrelevant to the majority of global actors actually in a position to determine their fate. It’s a hideous paradox. This is a failure not just of human ethics but also of strategy. The U.S./Iran/Russia/Saudi/Qatar etc. (global military-industrial complex) clusters of influence are pushing civilians into the line of fire and increasingly into the recruitment pool of violently hegemonic, anti-statist states such as Da3esh who recognize only one true people of Allah: ultra-conservative and unquestioning Salaafi’s and well-trained former (secular) Baathist fighters and military elites (Weiss & Hassan, 2015). Da3esh also does not acknowledge borders, such as those established by the Sykes-Picot treaty, as they were often drawn by colonial powers. This hatred of colonialism is all the more ironic placed beside the fact that IS is predominantly a non-Syrian occupying force, albeit one with a rhetoric of pan-Arabism and pan-Muslim ideology taking in the tradition and many of the practices of the fairly recent Ottoman empire. This whole situation is rife with contradictions and strange bedfellows. The will of a peoples to self-determination has been subsumed by infighting and UN veto volleyball, as evidenced by world-wide applause when the UN finally managed to release a consented-upon statement for the first time in 2-years (UN Backs Syria, 2015) . In the heart of this mess, the Kurdish PYD in Rojava, a Leftist organization vehemently opposed to IS, are led by a notion from Abdullah calan (2011) and his inspirator, Murray Bookchin, that nation-states themselves are the cause of this situation of mass exploitation and violence, yet they themselves privilege a single political party, the PYD (much like a state would), over the diversity of pre-war Kurdish parties in Syria.

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Kurdish colors on a hair tie

To the extent that sovereignty involves a breach of consent of the will of the people, statehood itself is rendered illegitimate. With an illegitimate statehood, the individualized and unified resistance of the people will continue to spark a wide array of forms of dissent that seek consent and integrity between internal and external values.

MACRO – Colonialism and Cultural Exchange

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Istanbul, Turkey

Colonialism is also a gross perversion of inter-cultural connection. Cultures, like persons,
have always sought to connect with others different from themselves, even as they often stay most loyal to those more apparently similar. Colonialism existed before the tortured primitive accumulation of capital that led to the shift out of feudalism, as did elaborate trade rituals that allowed cultures to share and connect, often in spite of huge linguistic and cultural differences (Graeber, 2013). Colonialism, as a rule, does not have the desire
for authentic, un-politically mediated connection as an inherent piece of its values. Its main goals are control, extraction, commodification, and profit. However, it is through the clashes and trade between empires in history that one can travel to Istanbul, or other areas in Mesopotamia, and see the large and small remnants of a incredibly diverse historical record of exchange. One example is the great Churches of Byzantine Constantinople surviving in form as Ottoman mosques with painted over murals in now “secular” Turkey. Others are the textured
duende-filled music of marginalized Roma persons spanning millennia of influences and geographic areas from Rajasthan to Andalucia, and the quirky ranchera-polka “Norteño” music found in northern Mexico and the Diaspora as a result of Dutch settlement and exchange.

The connection of cultures is seemingly always mediated by power, and yet the siloing of cultures is a plague of close-minded racism, xenophobia, tribalism, and the like. In the era

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A shop in Gaziantep, Turkey featuring Elvis Presley statues and a bizarre and racist model that is supposed to be a Native American person wearing a US flag as something like a kilt.

of globalization a new form of late-capitalist hegemony is arising and as of yet, not thoroughly understood. Disparate persons and cultures are being increasingly brought together through things like access to the internet and facebook, or multi-national (and often unstable) trade networks such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, BRICS, or even the European Union. At once, pluralism and diversity has become celebrated and white-washed; enjoyed and commodified. Yoga has become a hipster mainstay in California while U.S. American music spreads across many Asian nations. As I sit here in my apartment in South-eastern Turkey I just heard, “Bitch Better Have My Money” by Beyoncé blaring from the car of a Turk. Much of the population of my area, does not speak a lick of English but loves Beyoncé. In Istanbul I even heard a Rihanna song (I think it was her) on the radio, sung by Rihanna, but in Turkish.

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Antiques from all over the world in a Turkish shop including an old diving helmet.

There is much to rejoice about in the collaboration of cultures and yet these exchanges are endlessly marred by the racism and structural injustice that are not only a part of them, but literally the vehicle through which they occur. This being said, humans must continue to find ways of subverting these socio-economic vehicles for an attempted connection that is as close to being politically un-mediated as possible. If we do do not pursue this, our connection, that is our possibility of deeply authentic love, exchange, encounter, and respect between the individuals comprising these massive cultural systems, will serve simply to recreate and maintain the political (and colonial) norm that profits from our intimate human exchange. The obvious and age-old question stands; “Can authentic and unmediated connection occur between individuals with different levels of intersectional privilege and oppression?” My hesitant response is, “sort of.”

MICRO – Interpersonal Consent and Connection

In general, I subscribe to the “Accomplices Not Allies” (Assorted, 2015) notion that wherever possible, given differing situations, an accomplice is preferred to an ally. Solidarity itself, it is said to exist, is certainly not just white folks posting every Ta-Nehisi Coates article on facebook. That is, at best, allyship. Being an accomplice or seeking to practice solidarity means showing the fuck up in the real world, with all of its real consequences, standing beside those you care about. It is about recognizing that our intersectional liberation is interdependent. We cannot be free alone. While that is true, the intimate intricacies of those relationships are difficult and touchy.

Our realities, and thus our connection with each other, have been conditioned and informed by our social identities and the experiences of access or denial they cause. Yet we must strive to employ even these mediators as tools of connection. Whiteness, and the micro to macro aggressions it breeds, continuously devalues the lives and experiences of persons of color (Wise, 2005). This manifests in interpersonal forms such as increased intimate partner violence in inter-racial relationships (Fusco, 2010) that can be not only physical but also sexual, emotional, and intellectual. It is particularly depressing when this happens between persons who claim to “love” and “respect” one another but are yet so conditioned that they feel justified or able to commit non-consensual acts of violence or micro-reenactments of fetishization and colonization in the intimate realm. Anyone who has ever been in an interracial relationship knows, if you’re being honest, you have to talk about race and address privilege because it’s there whether you acknowledge it or not. If the partners are invested enough in each other and growth to do so, talking about race and racism can actually greatly deepen connection even as it runs the risk of recreating situations of harm by exposing raw trauma or unexamined privilege. And yet, of course race is not the only mediating identity/experience occurring between persons. We are all intersectional beings and as such, most relationships, and not only the romantic ones, deal with many mobile layers of difference and privilege, whether it is explicitly recognized or not.

U.S. Liberals (a strange breed indeed) are generally against such vestigial ideologies as racism, homophobia, sexism, and the like and yet are also either largely unaware of the functioning of their own privilege at a structural or personal level, or are paralyzed by the fear of enacting it, that they end up accidentally or unconsciously recreating it. Either extreme creates the same result: the refusal to engage with difference in a way that seeks to transcend or undermine the tools and patterns of oppression embedded therein. In terms of the being unaware, ignorance leads to the type of interpersonal conquest that devastates the victim in a way that the aggressor usually does not even notice, which in turn, doubles the harm done. For example, “There’s no way I am sexist because I love women.” “You’re so articulate for a Latina.” Or a more colonial example, “I was a member of peace corps and I helped so many Africans so there’s no way I’m racist. Plus my host family loved me!”  As Spivak stingingly commented, “White men saving brown women, from brown men.”  In terms of the paralysis I spoke of, a white person having friends of color so that they never feel like a racist is racism. A white person having only friends of color who will co-sign their bullshit is also racism. Having one queer or trans friend, who you keep around, but would never get too close to because you, “support their lifestyle but it just isn’t for me”, is still homophobic and transphobic. Having intersectionally oppressed friends who you never engage with on an honest level or who you always agree with even when they are wrong, is still oppressive. Practices like this prevent connection and recreate norms of alienation and exoticization despite their rampant occurrence in liberal, and even liberal activist enclaves. Liberals often additionally fall prey to rhetoric that individualizes harm rather than acknowledging its larger structural nature (the one “bad cop”), or the myriad ways that structural oppression trickles down into individual or small-group interactions (microaggressions as symptoms of larger issues).

Yet, many liberals do not commit these more common examples of errors. Many people want to engage in a meaningful way across difference, or have been doing so for extended periods of time, and yet struggle to stay afloat with the willingness to educate the privileged, or paddle through the moat of difference that allows people to actually see eye-to-eye. Let’s be frank, many people are not worth the exhausting effort and potential re-traumatization that the oppressed group themselves re-educating them can require (Trần, 2013). To be able to actually change your behavior and mindset from these interactions takes considerable empathy, self-reflection, honesty, and a form of intelligence that is not the monopoly of formal education. The hardest part is that it’s never done. Many people just get tangled in a paralysis of wanting to learn, not wanting to make people educate them, being afraid of “doing it wrong”, and also knowing and feeling more pressured by knowing that the whole matrix of relationships is incredibly important.

New-age “we are all one” rhetoric “spiritually bypasses” (Masters, 2010) the very real differences that we who try to ethically participate in inter-cultural exchange face. Examples of this are: our own biases, very real differences in the way people use even the same language, difficulty comprehending someone else’s trauma or experience, not understanding a cultural context and making an embarrassing or hurtful mistake, or finding ourselves re-creating our superiority or inferiority at different moments even in the same encounter. At the same time, when you are able to connect through difference, whole new vistas of experience and empathy are opened up and one gains the ability to learn from more people with greater ease. This gift of the ability to learn is in a sense, sacred, in its ability to create understanding and motivate the needed work of overcoming oppressive structural and interpersonal mechanisms. It’s a gift as well because some of the other possible parts of connecting across difference are the food, the laughter, the tears, the touch, the smells, the songs, the stories, the sex, and if you believe in it, even the love. This is the food of emotional and intellectual being. It’s like oxygen to the metaphorical heart. The key to this recipe is consent. Without informed, enthusiastic consent to engage in the sometimes extremely difficult process of unlearning biases, we are doomed to recreate the tools of domination.

Personal solidarity?

On the personal and interpersonal level, the vast majority of people I am living and working with are Syrian activists despite the fact that I myself am not Syrian and in fact, represent a fractured splinter of one of the nations most directly culpable for the protracted violence in this region. Yet despite this, I am constantly treated with a love and respect that I cannot easily describe… after I’m thoroughly vetted. I have to be on guard of my own biases, colonial impulses, and conditioning as I continue to support my friends and colleagues in the truly humbling work that they do. This raises the question of solidarity and whether it is even possible, as critiqued so poignantly in the “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen” viral twitter protest (John, 2013). Whether solidarity is possible or not is a recreation of the question of whether or not unmediated connection is possible. Will I ever truly understand the experience of the people I love here? No. I can’t. It’s not my direct experience and to try runs the risk of commodification and the desire to “know the other” that so plagues postcolonial encounters. However, if I let that stop me from embracing the hundreds of stories I hear as they enter and affect my heart, then I’ve done a disservice to my growth and a grave disrespect to the possibility of deep connection and solidarity. And what’s worse, I’ve likely recreated the mechanisms by which the U.S. continues to ignore Syrian voices for self-determination. In this way, their bravery for sharing with me, and my ability to listen deeply, are both forms of micro-resistance to culturally imperial hegemonic projects in the Middle East.

I practice solidarity based on my willingness and ability to take action that is directly informed by the voices, stories, invitations, agency, will, and consent of those persons directly affected. That means that when invited, I am given the chance to show up continuously for the big and small acts as an ally and accomplice. There are some things I can’t say on the Internet, but I didn’t just build my trust with daily pleasantries, although the mundane is an important aspect of trust-building. I built it by repeatedly being an accomplice. I built our relationships by putting myself at risk, when possible, to serve the stated aims of my comrades and community. In return, they did the same for me whenever possible.

Conclusion

Although colonialism is inherently coercive/non-consensual, connection and support between people and cultures does not always have to be, even though they will always be mediated by intersectional differences of privilege and experience. Our efforts to employ the cracks in capitalism and oppressive systems in order to resist hegemony will continue to be dogged by commodification as long as we exist within this macro-economic system. Yet, we must continue. With each connection made, with each crack widened, unpredictable and nearly invisible networks are creating the foundation for alternative modes of interaction and exchange. Consent, although not beyond critique, provides a valuable compass for this process at both micro and macro levels as we seek to create a world in which autonomy and consideration can co-exist and where humans can collide, connect, exchange, and separate as equals.

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Brightly colored Turkish lamps in a store in the Grand Bazar market in Istanbul, Turkey.

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