Barbarity And Civilization: Parallels between The Fight Against ISIS And The Spanish Civil War

Kurdish Peshmerga troops take part in intensive security deployment against Islamic State // Flickr

The Islamic State (ISIS) is designated as a terrorist organization by numerous countries and international bodies due to its violent and extremist activities.

The course of the conflict against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) remains chaotic and uncertain, complicating Western intervention.

Given the complex geopolitical landscape, identifying reliable allies in the region is challenging.

Historical experiences with ‘regime change’ are not promising. The Kurdish militias, particularly the Peshmerga, are not universally designated as terrorist organizations. Designations vary among different countries and international entities.

This diverse group includes retired soldiers from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, driven by a motivation to defend civilization.

In a March 2015 column, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, emphasized the historical importance of protecting antiquities threatened by ISIS and even hinted at volunteering himself under different circumstances.

Diverse Individuals Joining The Fight Against ISIS

Unexpected participants, including biker gang members, bounty hunters, outdoorsmen, and adventurers, join the fight against ISIS.

Some, like Ivana Hoffman, a 19-year-old German Communist and feminist, see the conflict as a form of political self-expression.

Despite diverse backgrounds, they share an unwavering belief that this is a ‘Just War,’ crucial for preserving societal values and common decency.

This phenomenon parallels the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the involvement of British volunteers, marking a historical touchstone for leftists in the struggle against Fascism.

The International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, December 1936 – January 1937 // Wikimedia Commons

The legality of foreign involvement in both conflicts, even on the anti-ISIS side, raises concerns about potential terrorism charges and citizenship issues upon return, mirroring the Spanish Civil War.

In that war, 2,700 Britons defied non-intervention policies, facing legal repercussions. Both conflicts showcase politically motivated militias often at odds.

Then, the Spanish Republic used guerrilla tactics against Franco’s organized forces, emphasizing the flexible nature of their military engagements.

Moreover, the PKK and PYD reflect a decentralized structure. Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, the first Briton killed fighting ISIS, belonged to the ‘Lions of Rogava’ unit, which included young Americans.

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Peshmerga And ‘International Brigades’ In The Fight Against ISIS

The Peshmerga and ‘International Brigades’ share strong international camaraderie. American (Lincoln) Brigade had an Irish Company, and the British Battalion had prominent writers.

Further, the martyrs were eulogized for sacrificing lives for ‘British liberty’ and national pride. Famous volunteers in Spain included Communist Ralph Fox, poet John Cornford, and Julian Bell.

Similarly, Independent politicized militias, including the POUM, had George Orwell injured in Spain. Stalin crushed the quasi-Trotskyist faction, altering Orwell’s perception.

Volunteers returned to Britain in 1939, contributing to the defense of their homeland. Tom Wintringham, a former commander with the British Battalion, crafted directives for the Home Guard.

Ties To Gender Equality In Kurdish Feminism And The Spanish Civil War

The involvement of women in the fight against ISIS holds significance, given its severe misogyny.

Ivana Hoffman and Gill Rosenberg, representing Kurdish and international female volunteers, challenge oppressive ideologies.

In the Spanish Civil War, women like Dolores Ibárruri played crucial roles in defense. Likewise, Felicia Browne, the first British volunteer killed, symbolizes women’s commitment, though her exact fate is unclear.

Also, the entities engaged in the conflict against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, particularly the Kurdish militias, don’t share a unanimous designation as terrorist organizations.

The assessment of their status varies among different countries and international entities. The complexities arise from divergent geopolitical interests, differing views on the nature of these groups, and the intricate dynamics of the conflict in the region.

Further, it’s crucial to consider the multifaceted nature of the situation and the nuanced stances held by various actors involved in the fight against ISIS.

Michele Haapamäki, who earned her education at the Universities of British Columbia and McMaster in Hamilton, Canada, holds a Ph.D. in modern British history.

She delves into contemporary and historical facets of war and society in her latest publication, “The Coming of the Aerial War: Culture and the Fear of Airborne Attack in Inter-War Britain,” now available.


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