[In order to help facilitate a wide-ranging discussion about the limits, possibilities, and ethics of doing research with/on stateless people and political movements, and to create a venue for addressing the challenges of feminist and decolonial methodologies, the Jadaliyya Turkey Page editors are reposting this open letter recently circulated by the Jineoloji collective in Europe. The editors have also invited the authors of the article discussed here to respond to this open letter; their response will be published shortly.]
Concerning material mistakes and methodological shortcomings of the article ‘Beyond Feminism? Jineolojî and the Kurdish Women’s Freedom Movement’ signed by Nadje Al-Ali and Isabel Käser which was published in the journal Politics & Gender, the Jineolojî Committee Europe sent a letter to the journal editors. On the basis of the right to reply the Jineolojî Committee requested from the editors to provide the opportunity to write an own article which would be published in the journal.
After a long period, the magazine editors wrote an answer letter which did not reply to this request. Instead they requested evidences concerning the claims made by the Jineolojî Committee to carry out further investigations. In this situation, the need arose to share our critics on the article with the public. In the following text, we aim to express our attitude towards the mentioned article, which was written without reading the basic sources and publications of Jineolojî and without carrying out researches in places where the works of Jineolojî are being developed.
February 17, 2021
Jineoloji Committee Europe
To the editors of Politics & Gender,
We are writing this letter in response to the article Beyond Feminism? Jineolojî and the Kurdish Women’s Freedom Movement authored by Nadje Al-Ali and Isabel Käser and published in your journal in 2020. Below, we have listed our objections to this article. To summarize, we find it unacceptable that the article neglects feminist methodologies and objectifies us and Jineolojî— the science of woman and life—that we are developing. It misrepresents various aspects of our practice and disseminates false information. For these reasons, we want to express our disappointment in the reviewers’ and editors’ decision to deem this article publishable. Considering the basic principles that have been developed as a result of the numerous instances in which women from the south, Black feminists, indigenous and migrant women have exposed white feminists’ “othering” of non-western women, we are surprised that an article doing just that – othering indigenous Kurdish women and our women’s movement – has been published in your journal.
Until now we, as women in the Kurdistan women’s liberation movement, have opened our doors to everyone that wanted to research and write about us. This openness springs from our desire to convey and reveal the struggle we lead on our land against colonization by four nation-states and against the ongoing denial of our identity and right to exist. Our openness also springs from our commitment to reach out to other struggles with the aim of building alliances. Meanwhile, we have also taken important steps to represent our identities on our own terms. Frankly, we are stunned that an article, essentially orientalist and patronizing towards the people it researches, methodologically unsubstantiated and neglectful of ethical standards, could be published in a respectable academic journal. In order to protect ourselves from future harm, we now realize we may need to be more selective about research engagements in the future. Below you will find our objections to the article divided to three sections namely, methodology, content and argumentation.
Let us begin with the problems that pertain to the article’s methods and methodology:
1. In the beginning of the article, the authors state that between them they have interviewed 120 Kurdish women in various research they have conducted. However, they refrain from clarifying how many of these 120 women that they interviewed for their wider projects are in fact reflected in this particular article and to what extent. Also no contextual and methodological information is given about the specific interviews conducted for this particular article. Those of us, who have been interviewed by them however, see that our words presented as evidence in the article for their various theses have been taken out of context entirely. Rather than giving full account of our statements, certain parts are cut out and instrumentalized to fit the authors’ arguments.
2. The authors seem to have not engaged with the growing body of publications about which they make epistemological claims. Indeed the admission in the first footnote of the article casts doubts on the article’s validity and reliability. The footnote states that no sources in Kurdish and Turkish were consulted for this article. This is striking, as these are the two main languages that broadcast/publish information on Jineolojî. For example, the two Jineolojî programs that are broadcasted by Jin TV, where the authors conducted interviews, are one in Turkish and one in Kurdish. Nor it appears have the authors consulted any of the publications that elaborate on the theoretical and conceptual terms within Jineolojî, such as the Jineolojî Journal, published regularly, every three months, in the Turkish language. The journal just published its 20th issue. Moreover, the major publications entitled Jineolojî Tartışmaları [Jineolojî discussions], 2015 and Jineolojî’ye Giriş [Introduction to Jineolojî], 2016 do not seem to have been read.
3. On the other hand, Al-Ali and Käser write: “Most of the Jineolojî research is taking place in Rojava, where the autonomous government has included Jineolojî in the official education curriculum, and a Jineolojî Academy and Jineolojî Faculty at Rojava University in Qamishlo have been established” (p.12). Interestingly, and despite their own statement, the authors do not seem to have spoken to anybody involved in these efforts.
4. Another important issue relates to the relationship between the research question and methodology. We wonder if, as stated on page 5, the aim of the article was to study the meanings that women give to Jineolojî, why was the research not designed accordingly? Why did the authors neglect to systematically address the interpretations different women have of Jineolojî and instead used each statement made by their interviewees as evidence of another claim they (the authors) made on Jineolojî? Moreover, later on in the article, the authors divert from their original research question with no explanation. Instead, the focus shifts to defining Jineolojî and its relationship to sexuality. Given this new focus, one would expect that it would have been even more important for the authors to examine the materials produced by Jineolojî on these topics. However once again, no such effort is made.
5. Similarly, an article that argues that Jineolojî is not developing a new epistemology should have at least conducted a content analyses of the previously mentioned key publications and included claims made about epistemology in them. The fact that the authors do not fulfill such a basic methodological criterion suggests a prejudice on the part of the authors. That is, Al-Ali and Käser seem to believe that the Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Movement, which has been writing on these and other topics despite many obstacles, is not actually producing knowledge worthy of Al-Ali and Käser’s consideration.
6. The article puts great emphasis on Jineolojî’s relationship to LGBTQI+ identities. However, although the authors state that there is a considerable participation of LGBTQI+ individuals in Jineolojî camps, only one person seems to have been interviewed. This person is tokenized and their view is treated as if representing all other LGBTQI+ participants.
7. The authors frequently refer to transnational feminism, decolonialism, and many other critical feminisms positively. Research that draws on such feminist approaches normally centers horizontal engagement as a method. However, in this article there is absolutely no indication that the claims put forward by the authors were in any way discussed with the interviewees. For example, two of us who were interviewed, requested to read the article before publication, but never heard back from the authors. As such it seems that the authors regard their interviewees as experimental subjects to be used rather than as equal partners in a collectively designed research project.
Largely due to neglecting research coming from the communities that they studied, we found numerous factual errors in the article:
1. The article’s abstract and methodology section claim that the research is based on interviews conducted with people engaged in the development of Jineolojî. However, as evident in the main body of the text, the majority of interviews were done with Jin TV workers. Jin TV is a television project led collectively by Kurdish, Arab, Turkish and European women. The TV, which has studios in the Middle East and in the Netherlands, broadcasts weekly programs, among them two on Jineolojî. Other than this, Jin TV as an institution itself has no direct connection to the development and spread of Jineolojî. As we have stated previously, the article lacks any information that would make the validation of its methods possible (why, where, how and who were interviewed). Therefore the content of the article is suspect from its very beginning.
2. Footnote 11 claims that the Kurdish Freedom Movement’s notion of “truth” references life in Neolithic society. It is thereby suggested that the movement believes that truth can only be revealed through archaeological and historical excavation. In reality, truth (hakikat) is one of the most important topics that the Kurdish Freedom Movement has dedicated many years and much labor to conceptualize. Abdullah Öcalan elaborates on these ideas in several of his works, works cited but seemingly not read by the authors. In various sections of the book Building Free Life: Dialogues with Abdullah Öcalan, again which the authors also cite, multiple academics discuss the Kurdish Freedom Movement’s concept of truth. However, rather than genuinely engaging with Kurdish concepts of truth, the authors confined the issue to a misleading footnote.
3. The statement on page 12 that the Kurdish Women’s Movement founded a Jineolojî Center in Diyarbakır that was afterwards closed by the Turkish state is not correct. Other than the Jineolojî Journal, which was launched in 2016 in Diyarbakır (and which continues its publications), there is no formal institution operating under the name of Jineolojî. This is an error that could have been avoided had the researchers seized the opportunity to visit the Diyarbakır office of the Jineolojî Journal in their fieldwork period (2015-2018) to speak to its editors. This leads us to the conclusion that the authors have no issue with presenting information to their audience without doing the necessary fact checking.
4. On pages 22 and 23, based on their preliminary research and the statements of their interlocutors, the authors claim that the curricula of Jineolojî in the Middle East and Europe are the same. They then specify the topics in a footnote. This, too, is not accurate. While Jineolojî workshops and educations might have many common topics, the curricula are determined according to the specificities of the respective countries, even cities. The researchers do not seem to have any detailed knowledge of the curricula of Jineolojî educations and workshops specifically as they unfold in Diyarbakır, Mardin and other places in Kurdistan
Concerning the arguments of the article:
1. The women, who develop Jineolojî elaborate Jineolojî on a daily basis, thereby refining its scale and broadening its scope. If those, who develop Jineolojî refrain from pinning it down to an exact definition, but rather frame it as a collective, ongoing effort, why do the authors resort to a language that confines, in fact disciplines, Jineolojî by making authoritative claims on its behalf? Furthermore, although the “Introduction to Jineolojî” (Jineolojî’ye Giriş) book, as well as all written and oral sources of Jineolojî, repeatedly stress that Jineolojî draws on the legacy of global and historical women’s struggles, feminist movements, and the Kurdish women’s liberation struggle, why does the article insist on the claim that Jineolojî refuses to acknowledge the long history of feminist struggle?
2. Another contradicting approach of the article is the emphasis on standpoint theory, with much focus on the ideas of Patricia Hill Collins, even as the attitude taken in the text stands in total opposite to these works. Such approaches argue that women develop important, grounded knowledge on social phenomena based on their experiences and particular localities. Yet, astonishingly, the authors refute the Kurdish Women’s Movement’s ways of defining itself.
3. In the authors’ eyes, the refrainment of women and men guerrillas in the Kurdistan Freedom Movement from sexual relations shows that despite all their claims, Kurdish women remain oppressed and repressed. While in the west, asexuality is accepted as a queer identity, while respected feminists like Adrienne Rich spoke of “compulsory heterosexuality,” while Black feminists like Audre Lorde broke ground when speaking of eroticisms outside of sexuality, why is it that the Kurdistan Women’s Movement’s political choice to opt for asexuality under patriarchal conditions, and their struggle to conceptualize the philosophical meaning of love in relation to notions of freedom, nature, life, and humanity, are seen as forms of suppression of desire by Al-Ali and Käser? One wonders, could the authors have made such a claim in a context other than the Middle East, where it is always assumed that sexuality is repressed and would then, the editors have noted that this form of argumentation is far from feminist solidarity, something the authors claim to aspire to?
4. The Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Movement’s claim that a large part of women’s sexual relationships with men have a rapist character is a product of years of experience, research, collective discussion and theorizations. This view is simplified as essentialist by the authors, who also distortively claim that Jineolojî defines all men as rapists. For more than two decades, the Kurdistan Women’s Freedom Movement has been discussing and developing projects to transform men and to eradicate dominant and violent forms of masculinity. Had the researchers consulted the movement’s literature they would have seen that the approach to masculinity and sexuality are not essentialist, but fundamentally transformative.
5. Among the contemporary critiques in decolonial feminist literature of white feminists is the fact that western feminism dictates the exact same conceptualization and practice of LGBTQI+ identities that exist in the progressive circles of the west, everywhere in the world and devalues all radical movements that adhere to other conceptualizations and practices. What is often referred to as ‘pinkwashing’—for making other oppressions invisible—this is a way in which white feminists once again collaborate with colonialism and imperialism: No autonomous development of schools of thought is possible in the Global South without the progressive intervention of the west. This article is an example of this attitude. On the other hand, we strongly believe that criticisms made from LGBTQI+ identities and perspectives to Jineolojî are valuable and we welcome the transformative potential that engagement with these and other constructive and substantial critiques provides for our praxis.
It is of utmost value that the authors of the article wish to raise criticisms against Jineolojî as would be required by any women’s solidarity. However, if we consider the usage of their data, the positions they adopt, and the language and methods they employ, we come to the conclusion that rather than critique, their aim is to patronize and trivialize our work, and to legitimize and spread their point of view through this article.
We have written this letter because we feel that the article will lead to the spread of misguided judgment of our work and that we therefore need to correct these wrong perceptions. Academic views, suggestions and criticisms on Jineolojî greatly matter to us. However, we think it is important for such frameworks to be articulated outside of the hegemonic perspective of positivist scienticism and orientalist gazes, in a manner that strengthens the women’s liberation struggle.
We believe that it is important that your journal does not offer space to such attitudes and that we, as the producers of knowledge on Jineolojî, should be given the opportunity to voice our concerns and represent ourselves. In this sense, we request that you publish this letter in your upcoming issue as a response to Beyond Feminism and we hope that you can offer us the opportunity to contribute an article on Jineolojî in your journal in the future.
We wish the journal editors all the best of success with their work.