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The spirit of Kobani

This week, we return to the Orange Bubble. Even those who did not leave Princeton over Intersession are returning to the familiar rhythm of problem sets and papers, applications and auditions, of immersion in ideas and academia.

Halfway around the world though, another community is making a very different return. After months of fighting, against all odds, the people of Kobani — the Kurdish outpost in Syria against the Islamic State — have driven the black flags of the Islamic State from their city. They return, not to a bubble, but rather to the rubble of homes, dreams and lives. As we face classes and Bicker, these Kurds face violent extremists, starvation and apathy — but rebuild, hopeful in spite of it all. Do not ignore the fragile hope of this far-off land — let it discomfort and inspire you, and lift your isolation.


What happens when the homeland you fight for is gone? How do you carry forward, against impossible odds and reckless evil, when that evil has already destroyed everything you ever knew or lived for? This is the spirit of Kobani.

Perhaps because they have been used to decades of existential threats in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, the Kurds have shown incredible resolve against the Islamic State. Where the Islamic State had modern heavy weapons stolen from the U.S.-supplied Iraqi army and Syrian revolutionaries, the defenders had ancient AK-47 rifles and trucks rigged with pipes and metal plates. Where the extremists had ransom, oil and drug money, the Kurds had reluctant support from a remote and fickle United States, and the obstruction and enmity of Turkey, on whose doorstep the battle raged.

And yet, outnumbered, face-to-face with the epitome of modern evil, they struggled forward. The ever-persecuted, defending their homes and families, beat back an army of hate and despair. At Kobani, a wave of darkness broke on their iron-clad resolve, and receded.

The defenders celebrated the liberation of a city which has, quite simply, ceased to exist. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the city and its surrounding villages were forced to leave livestock and vehicles behind as they fled into Turkey. Half the city was flattened.

We can certainly never repay our debt to this people who have sacrificed their city to stop a tide of hate focused against American ideology, and we will likely fall short of even a worthy attempt. The Kurds proved to the world that this false caliphate — the enemy of our ideals — could be defeated, and for what? Whole villages are starving in Turkish camps or in the dust of their homes. Turkey, a U.S. ally, continues to prevent people and aid from crossing the border, while suppressing protests against the blockade with tear gas, water cannons and, allegedly, live ammunition. The Kurds will likely continue, stateless, a pawn of U.S. realpolitik. This is your world’s gratitude for extremism’s foes.

Does this make you uncomfortable? Is this an inconvenient intrusion into your Princeton schedule and social life?


Good. Embrace it.

Isolation has never been acceptable. We cannot claim to study in the service of all nations while passively watching global struggles against hate and subjugation. In Kobani, Nigeria and Eastern Ukraine, but also in cities across the country — even a train-ride away from campus — hate and despair live on.

Discrimination does not always wave a black flag, but its spread is no less insidious — in the classroom, job market or poll lines. Hatred doesn’t always wield guns and tanks — it lives in harsh words, harsh policies or broken friendships. Dogmatism need not behead — sometimes, it can be found in our refusal to entertain uncomfortable ideas in the classroom or legislature.

Maybe you are lucky enough to have the resources or political capital to help rebuild Kobani, or to reverse decades of injustice in Kurdistan. If not, do not turn away from the good fight.

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Your survival and home likely do not depend upon it, but that is no reason not to struggle forward. Root out evil in every form — whether you find it in institutional injustice, or in your own callous or simply thoughtless acts.

This struggle goes beyond the quintessential struggle bus. This is constant striving, with every fiber of our being, to make ourselves, our community and our world the best they can possibly be. This, too, is the spirit of Kobani.

Bennett McIntosh is achemistry major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at