Finding Freedom

words by william defebaugh

photograph by Hoda AFSHAR

 

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

photograph by Hoda AFSHAR

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“Thinking about love has been a cure to my wounded soul throughout the years that I’ve been in this prison,” says Behrouz Boochani. “To me, love is the only shared language among people of the world—it’s what we all desire and what gives our being a purpose and meaning. And that is what has been taken away from us in Manus and Nauru: We’ve been denied the right to love and to be loved back.”

 

After being forced to flee the oppressive political situation in Iran, and leave behind his war-weary Kurdish homeland, Boochani was intercepted in Australian waters while seeking asylum by boat in 2013. His first attempt to reach Australia failed and he nearly drowned; he made a second dangerous journey from Indonesia and was picked up by a British tanker after being lost at sea for a week. He was then transferred to the Australian Navy and detained on Manus Island for six years—finding freedom at last on the shores of New Zealand this week.

 

While on Manus Island, Boochani managed to release an award-winning and critically-acclaimed book, along with nearly one-hundred articles and even a documentary film from the island. He also contributed an original poem to our new issue, in which he reflects on what helped him resist the violence of the prison system—and find freedom within: love.

 

Boochani is one of about 30 million Kurdish people spread across the Middle East who have been fighting for their own state for more than a century. Many, like him, have been forced to flee the various regions they once called home. Last month, Turkish forces invaded northeast Syria, and the autonomous region of Rojava—a society built by over 5 million Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, and others founded on the principle that a multi-ethnic society can peacefully coexist outside of a national state. Decentralized self-government, gender equality, regenerative agriculture, and minority inclusion have all been the principle values of Rojava, which has faced raining napalm and extreme violence in the last month.

 

It’s estimated that as many as 300,000 people have been displaced since the attacks started on October 9, with many preparing to set up at refugee camps in Kurdish Iraq, which are ill-prepared to shield these numbers from the coming winter.

 

The attacks—deemed war crimes by Amnesty International—were made possible by the Trump administration betraying the Kurds (our long-time allies) and withdrawing U.S. forces, paving the way for Turkey. Even now, the Trump administration cannot keep its story straight as to its current motivations in Syria. “Let’s be clear: this is intentioned-laced [sic] ethnic cleansing,” said U.S. diplomat William Roebuck, the head U.S. diplomat in Syria. “It is a war crime.”

 

Many are calling for the U.S. to make things right with our allies, and publicly endorse the Kurdish hopes for a democracy built on ecology, equality, and democracy. Leaders from indigenous communities and social movements around the world have declared that they stand in solidarity with Rojava. In many ways, it represents the same conflict we are seeing collectively as a species: individualized short-term greed and destruction versus long-term sustainability and social and environmental harmony.

 

“Making such communities work in more and more places, by regenerating ecosystems, healing our collective trauma and creating social structures of solidarity and trust, is the transformational work of our times,” said the Guardianin an open letter of solidarity for Rojava. “Once we see our struggles as inherently interdependent with each other, and with the web of life itself, no army on the planet will be able to stop the inevitable transition.”

 

As Boochani alludes to with his poem, a force of unity—which is what, if not love?—is our only sure path to finding freedom, both within and without.

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