In this era, in which the end of the distinction between right and left is apparently dead, in this historical period in which people seem to have no more need for physical spaces to be subtracted from the overflow of capital, in the international situation that sees alliances change, disintegrate then return to life and change again, a boy, born in 1989 to an Italian father and Moroccan mother, decided to have precise political ideas. He defines himself as a communist, and he hangs out in the social scene of his Moroccan city, where he spent his childhood and which he returned to after leaving Italy due to family matters.
In Italy, driven by a commitment crouched in paternal genes, he followed what was happening in the world and decided to participate in solidarity actions in one part of the planet that for many of his peers was something that may as well exist in the hyperuranium. But not only for them, if it is true that “the Middle East does not get any luck at our place.” After going into those places, he came face to face with a historical event, multifaceted in its genesis and dramatic in its present. The war, which in Syria assumes simple circumstances in its duality of life and death, just a few thousand kilometers to the West has come to gain a horrendous reputation as a “clash of civilizations.”
This boy discovered what was going on, but it was not enough. It was not enough to bring food, clothes and solidarity. Or to inquire. Or to witness. And when two child soldiers, aged 8 and 12 years, encountered him near a besieged, tired, destroyed, battered city, Kobane, he realized he must leave something behind and take the place of those two children.
Karim Franceschi explains the motivations that led him to go to Kobane twice in one year. It was to fight in support of the Rojava Kurds, a social experiment of democratic confederalism, a socialist and feminist project in a world permeated by Western capitalism and ISIS’s attempt at bringing a large territory under strict religious control.
Rojava is total heresy. In our country, even where “good” people live, it is not easy to understand a heresy. So, not surprisingly, the first question he’s often asked is: “Why did you go to fight in somebody else’s war?” Perhaps simply because we live in the era of disengagement and reduction of the tragedy, one might say. Franceschi, on the other hand, decided to live the tragedy to the fullest, becoming a recruit, then, after one week of preparation, a soldier on the front line among voluntary troops defending Kobane from the YPG, then a defender at a besieged fort that was liberated only with the help of bombs from the American-led coalition. Later he became a sniper. “It is not a war of the Kurdish Rojava,” he says. “It involved even the Syrians. It is a war of humanity.”
On the other side of it are the monsters of ISIS. Franceschi lives his life under their mortar fire, with their inexhaustible ability to recruit and appear suddenly, forcing Heval Marcello (his nom de guerre) and the other member of his brigade to keep their eyes open for three days. And just shoot. Shoot and lose the sense of time. He sees ISIS men — “the evil,” Franceschi calls them — mostly when they’re already dead: charred after raids or in grotesque poses after receiving the outpouring of Kurdish loaders (either Russian or American made). Any of those ISIS fighters could have killed him just the same.
The war’s growth path is extraordinarily quick. Franceschi knows well where he ended up. He knows who he is with, for what and why. But in the war, he perceives the limits, he educates his ego to stop, because there is more at stake than just his life (as if that were not enough). There is definitely a remote source in the reasons for his presence there: The presence of his father, who died when he was 12, who had fought with the partisans against the Nazis. Today his father would be 86 years old.
Franceschi already knew, before going to Kobane, what it means to take part, but he still was a 26-year-old kid. Oscillating between his fear and his “desire to excel,” between the adrenaline of shooting a Kalashnikov for the first time, discovering that he is a great marksman and the fear of being in “shitty form” just after joining his new teammates. While patrolling a recaptured neighborhood, he discovered the location of the ISIS sniper from some adult diapers. No time to piss if you have to submit in the name of God.
Franceschi did not know that soon he would become a sniper. It’s an existential processes, enclosed in the space of a few sleepless nights. And in that case, the force will be the ability to draw a line to mark a boundary between him and the others. Murderers, or potential ones. But for quite different reasons, to be found by digging deep, like a miner who does not see the light.
Franceschi decided to tell this and more in a book, making use of the writing of Repubblica journalist Fabio Tonacci. The book is called The Fighter: History of the Italian Who Defended Kobane from ISIS (Bur, €17). “Now that I’m back,” he tells reporters in Rome, “I want to help the Rojava cause with this book.” The ideas are clear and perhaps will disappoint those who expected some kind of geopolitical trajectories or analysis. Franceschi saw the war as a soldier.
And he reasons as such: “I wanted to do this book to give a wider audience the opportunity to know what happens in those areas.” Testimony with an important insight: “I hope that this book will be read by people my age.” So that they know, he says, what it means to fight for democracy and defend a just cause, the Rojava’s, against all odds: against “evil,” which manifests as ISIS and requires weapons.
Against other forms of evil that require ideas, as in the case of Turkey and, more generally, of the great powers. Their agenda does not look at lives and is often too ready to exalt the only “democracy in the Middle East,” even though that one does not hesitate to destroy Gaza from time to time. Franceschi says he had no prior military experience and that he has seen people die in Syria, some of them his friends, his comrades. And before Kobane, he had fired guns only on PlayStation. He is not going to return to Syria. Now he wants to do something here.
When asked, in fact, “What will you do?” he says quietly, “Political activism, what I did before.”