“What is more morbid, a lifeless body in the system or a free body and mind in a hunger strike,” asks a Berlin-based activist in a commentary on the mass hunger strike against Abdullah Öcalan’s isolation.
As we all hear from the latest news, there are hundreds of people in Turkish prisons and people here in the heart of Europe on an indefinite hunger strike. Today is the co-chairwoman of the Democratic Congress of Societies DTK, Leyla Güven, on the 126th day, Nasır Yağız, member of the HDP on the 114th day, the prisoners in Turkey on the 89th day and the 14 Kurds in Strasbourg today reached the 88th day. (stand 14th March)
88, 89, 114, 126… We find ourselves counting the days of misery without thinking much about the fact that counting does not end.
We watch as time passes you by, as the numbers of the days rise more and more. And we notice, the higher the number of days, the more powerless we become in our acting and thinking and escape the thought: What if! What if one of the hunger strikers loses his life! We do not dare to imagine this, because this radical kind of resistance is alien to all of us in our reality, our understanding and struggle. It is strange to us that people with a strong willpower and a strong spirit of resistance are willing to give their lives for our common utopia.
This kind of resistance is nothing new in the history of the Kurdish movement and Kurdish society. It is the highest and most emotional form of action for society. The decision to go on hunger strike stems from a profound political conviction.
The resistance of Leyla Güven and many other comrades* in the hunger strike awakens the spirit of past hunger strikes in the prisons in Turkey and Kurdistan, in particular that of 14 July 1982 in the prison of Amed. The spirit of Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, Ali Çiçek, Akif Yilmaz and Kemal Pir, who lost their lives in death fasting, shows their unlimited love for freedom. Kemal Pir described their action before his death as follows:
“We love life so much that we are willing to die for it.”
What about us? With our love of struggle and life? What are we willing to give for the freedom of all oppressed people? Is a tweet or a status change on Facebook enough to express your sympathy? In a striking way, I refer to the numbness that we take from the ruling system without thinking about what it actually does to our body. Do we get existential staple foods from the system such as freedom, justice and the free development of identity and gender?
In addition to the existential foods of humanity that keep our body alive, man also needs social values that keep our soul and spirit alive. But in everyday life we are confronted with other realities – an abundance of food and an unjust distribution of food in all corners of the world – and the result? Living dead. People live in an uncontrolled accumulation, so that it is unimaginable for them to go on hunger strike. Why go on hunger strike when people lose themselves in their lack of feeling, when mass society feeds on indifference? No matter whether you only exist for the state or also start to live!
In capitalist modernity we absorb state ways of thinking and structures. Our body, our soul, our way of thinking and our actions are nourished by it. The state nourishes us and thus also has influence on our bodies through which it enforces its wars and goals.
For nothing else does the state need the human body. We submit to this modern form of exploitation. It is a vicious circle in an activating state like the Federal Republic (of Germany), in which people have to work for the interests of the global market under precarious conditions and minimum wage in order to be able to maintain themselves in the existing system. It is a cycle of different institutions, all of which maintain the system. In order to make people compliant again, all institutions – job centres, family offers at work, offers from health insurance companies, insurance companies, sanction, visits to the doctor up to medicines – are focused on pushing people or their labour force in the interest of the state. They are used as a means to an end in order to give people the feeling of being important, to care for the health of the individual, to make them functional or to make them part of the ‘free’ labour market. Who are we to be ‘made available’ to other corporations and powers? Nothing but objects to fill the cracks and gaps of the capitalist system. And we feel and treat each other just as pathologically, but we don’t notice it in everyday life because we don’t have time for it.
Well, what does it mean in global capitalism not to take anything – to strike? Is it just that, not to take anything? Not eating does not only mean not to eat food! It means making your own decision to use your own body as a weapon for political demands. To actively decide what happens to one’s own body and that also means to put an end to one’s own life at the same time. It is not the capitalist system that decides what happens to the body and mind, but the strong and independent I myself!
The method to go on hunger strike for a socio-political change and demand does not only appear in the history of Kurdistan and Turkey, but was in the 19th century with many resistant groups and people in Europe a usual kind of resistance. Many of these groups are known to us – the suffragettes in England in 1913, the RAF in Germany in 1973, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Ireland in 1982.
It is important to mention the suffragettes that went on hunger strike in prison to demand labour and women’s suffrage. Many members of the suffragettes went on hunger strike with women’s rights activist Emmeline Pankhurst in prison and were force-fed by the government. After forced feeding caused horror in the British public at large, the state reacted by temporarily releasing the prisoners until they were able to recover from the consequences of the hunger strike and have them imprisoned again. Through their militant action, women’s suffrage was introduced.
The radical resistance of Emmeline and that of Leyla Güven, two women who were prepared to push through the demands of many women and who continue to sacrifice their lives, is repeated in our history. And here we must also bear in mind the attitude of the state, which 106 years ago showed the same mentality in Emmeline Pankhurst and today in Leyla Güven. With releases from prison and disregard the action power of these people is to be contained, because the state has no control over their body and spirit.
All hunger strikers show this strength – they question their lives for the change of the political situation and are actors* in their own history and identity! The hunger strikers and their relatives need empathy and compassion for their action. It is more important than ever to show solidarity with the hunger strikers in the form of stronger organisation, more publicity and enlightenment for this emotional form of action and its demand. Not to watch comrades lose more and more weight and their health situation worsens.
Begin to understand and feel the importance of the hunger strike. And answer the question for yourself: What is more pathological, a lifeless body in the system or a free body and mind in a hunger strike?
A comment at the end: In view of the respectful decision of the hunger strikers, however, we should also be critical of this form of action, because it is the privilege of those who have access to food at all times. A starving person who has no access to food cannot choose this form of action, let alone have hope of enforcing demands.