If Ocalan met Attenborough

Today in Edinburgh, as in cities across the world, we were out in the street with our flags and banners to mark Freedom for Ocalan day. It is 22 years since Abdullah  Ocalan was forced to leave sanctuary in Syria and to begin a search for a safe place to stay: a journey that ended in his capture in a CIA-led plot and his imprisonment in Turkey.

I have been away for a couple of weeks and separated from my usual intensely political bubble – which has made me think again about how to bring Ocalan’s ideas across the divide and introduce them to a wider world. And, as I was thinking, I came across a surprising source of hope.

Last Sunday, Sir David Attenborough, pillar of the establishment and national treasure, released a film that he described as his witness statement and his vision of the future. It looked at what humans have done and are doing to the natural world, and called for a different way of doing things. It made a powerful message, but the problem was in what it didn’t say. Attenborough studies animal society, but not human society, and he had nothing to say about how the necessary changes might come about. As in so much discussion about the future, social science and critical political theory might as well not exist.

But then, later in the week, I heard a clip from a BBC podcast in which Attenborough clearly stated that the profit system ends in disaster, that greed does not actually lead to joy, that living more economically will also mean living more happily, and that helping the natural world would make this a better place for everyone. He clarified that he was not saying that the capitalist system is dead – but, even so, he had opened a small door to allow concepts of system change into the mainstream.

Last week, too, Attenborough’s friend, Prince William, launched a new prize for ideas to save the environment. And, as the voice on the radio went on about technological genius (with the obligatory reference to the egotistical Elon Musk), I again chaffed at the failure to consider societal change.

We know there is a different way of living life, which sees human society as an extension of the natural world and which organises that society for the benefit of the common good, rejecting the dominance of profit and greed. We know how this can be made real, and we can even see the beginnings of such a society emerging in Rojava, where Ocalan’s ideas are being put into practice. And I briefly imagined another universe where Prince William and David Attenborough congratulated Ocalan on a prize-winning solution…

Apologies. That’s quite enough British establishment. We can’t wait for princes and knights to save us, but we can and must intervene in the debate to introduce real social solutions. Attenborough has responded to a changing public mood, and used his influence to give that change a big boost. Ocalan’s ideas can help us find and implement real solutions, and a wider world is waiting to learn about them.

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