Green policies for a safer Middle East

Green Party International Coordinator Derek Wall explains how Green approaches could bring safety and security to the Middle East

Derek Wall

Originally published in Green World 91

The recent attack on Paris and the UK Parliament's decision to bomb Syria have drawn attention to the terrible consequences of the conflict in the Middle East. Too often, the choice seems to be between either continuing with policies that have made the conflict worse, such as US and UK military intervention, or doing nothing at all. Despite the complexity of the multi-side conflict in Syria and Iraq, the Green Party approach is clear.

First, via our MP Caroline Lucas, we have opposed further UK support for bombing in Syria. The Iraq invasion led to chaotic bloodshed. Indeed, the core of ISIS, or if you prefer, Daesh, is made up of ex elite troops and secret service operatives who supported Saddam Hussein. They know that bombings of centres of population like Mosul and Raqqa are likely to led to civilian deaths and increased support for their evil regime.

Greens believe there are ways of challenging the problem. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have all supported jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. The British government has failed to challenge this. Turkey is a major offender, but has not been criticised by the Cameron government.

Strikingly, the most successful local forces opposing ISIS/Daesh have been the Kurds in Syria. Incidentally, the Kurds and their allies in Rojava (which means the 'West') advocate feminism, grassroots democracy and even green politics inspired by the American ecological philosopher Murray Bookchin. In August 2014, the Yazidis were evacuated from the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq by means of the PKK, a Kurdish guerrilla force. The Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion condemned as devil worship, were attacked and threatened with annihilation by ISIS. Women soldiers of the PKK, lightly armed, disobeyed their officers and rescued the Yazidis.

The Syrian Kurds, besieged at Kobane, have swept ISIS out of much of Northern Syria, yet the Turkish government has said they will attack the Rojavan Kurds if they remove ISIS from the remaining border between Turkey and Syria. Turkish forces have already reopened their war with the PKK in Iraq after a long ceasefire and attacked the allied Syrian Kurds. Cameron's government has sided with Turkey and recently a British woman was imprisoned, not for fighting for ISIS, but because she was accused of wanting to join the PKK fighting against them.

Greens argue that war is rooted in deeper causes, and military solutions are never the source of peace. Some have argued that climate change has accelerated the violence in the Middle East, as competition for resources becomes more acute. Across the planet, environmental damage and neoliberal austerity economics are causing more and more instability and suffering. An evolving social, economic and ecological crisis is driving varied forms of political hatred, polarisation and conflict. ISIS is one example, but there are many other groups seeking to sharpen such polarisation. ISIS aims to carry out atrocities that encourage attacks on Muslim populations, so as to accelerate recruitment. They seek to eliminate the 'grey' to divide non-Muslims against Muslims and to drive Muslims into their arms. We've seen this before, as sectarian attacks in Iraq were used to polarise the population to create support for ISIS's previous incarnation.

The polarisation of different communities including Sunni, Shia, Alawite, et cetera, has led to worse and worse conflict. Non sectarian solutions that build trust are essential. The defeat of jihadism is impossible if Sunni Muslim populations fear their Shiite neighbours.

In Rojava, the Kurds have adopted Murray Bookchin's ideas of confederal democracy, rejecting division of Syria and the creation of a purely Kurdish nation. Political leadership is based on the green principle of male and female co-leaders and rotated between different ethnic groups. The Rojavans face huge difficulties in making this work, but they have now created a Syrian Democratic congress of different groups opposed to ISIS, working for a democratic transition in the country. Over the border in Turkey, the Turkish Greens have joined the Kurdish HDP, which is one of the country's largest parties. While there are many challenges in the Middle East, one alternative is being created by people who directly seek to introduce Green ideas. We should engage them in dialogue, provide solidarity and learn more. Green values have the potential to heal conflict.