LAST Friday, our increasingly through-the-looking-glass politics saw the pretrial hearing of Paul Newey for the crime of giving his son, Dan, £150. Paul is being charged with funding terrorism, and his other son, Sam with assisting terrorism. Dan Newey is a member of the Kurdish YPG in north-east Syria, the same forces that have spearheaded the fight against Daesh, with the backing of the US, France and the UK.

The YPG is not on any terrorist list, but it shares an ideology with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, and the PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Moreover, since the YPG has been forced to defend north-east Syria against the unprovoked and brutal invasion by Turkey, their relationship with Turkey’s Nato allies has become more complicated.

The Turkish government is moving closer to fascism. It locks up its critics and meets protests with violence in an attempt to frighten dissent into silence. Meanwhile Ocalan – like Nelson Mandela before him – is calling for a peaceful solution from the island prison where he has been held in isolation for 21 years.

The PKK no longer seeks Kurdish succession. It promotes a radical grassroots democracy and wants to negotiate a future where Kurds and other minorities can enjoy their own culture with dignity. Yet it is the PKK, not the Turkish government, that is widely classified as “terrorist”.

This terrorist designation, which is of course constantly pushed by Turkey, has been adopted by the US, the European Union and several European countries, including the UK.

Last summer the assembled delegates of the British Trade Union Congress turned their conference hall yellow as they held up placards printed with Ocalan’s image. The action was organised by the Freedom for Ocalan Campaign, which recognises Ocalan’s central role in the struggle for a peaceful democratic future for Turkey and beyond, and his huge contribution to the evolution of an equitable and practical alternative to capitalism.

You won’t have seen many pictures of this action on social media, because sharing an image of Ocalan can – uniquely – get you banned from Facebook.

Trade unionists, who are notably politically cautious, don’t usually support terrorism – so what is going on?

Looking further at that terrorist designation we find that, even within the European establishment, it has been challenged and is not accepted by all countries. January saw the final defeat of a decade-long attempt by the Belgian government to charge 42 people and two organisations with terrorism based on their links to the PKK.

The country’s highest court ratified an earlier appeal ruling that the PKK should not be considered a terrorist organisation because it is a party in a non-international armed conflict, which makes it subject to the laws of war and not criminal law.

And in 2018 a challenge in the European Court of Justice to the EU’s terrorist listing of the PKK succeeded in getting it annulled for the years 2014-17, on the grounds that the Council of the European Union had not provided sufficient justification.

Somehow, though – and a similar legal farce had taken place a decade earlier – they evaded carrying the argument forward, as logic would have dictated, to impact the current situation. Clearly, there’s much more than legal argument at stake here. Neither the EU nor Nato wants to annoy Turkey – and the UK has been particularly firm in insisting that the PKK stay on the terrorist list.

A terrorist designation sets a person or group outwith the bounds of humanity and empathy. And, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, the call for a war on terrorism can be used to justify all sorts of state violence, including actions deliberately conceived to induce mass terror – or “shock and awe”.

“Fighting terrorism” is the reason given for a whole range of attacks, including the mass punishment of entire populations such as the Palestinians in Gaza and, of course, the Kurds in Turkey and Syria. Turkey claims that its unprovoked invasion of the Kurdish majority areas of Syria, its violent repression of the Kurdish majority areas in south-east Turkey, and its incarceration of democratically elected Kurdish mayors and other Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members are all responses to Kurdish “terrorism”.

Political leaders who value Turkish trade and political alliances over truth and Kurdish lives are ready to echo these claims. Long before Trump’s venal volte face in Syria, Theresa May had stuck her own dagger in Kurdish hopes with her sycophantic reference to “Kurdish terrorists” on the occasion of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 2018 visit to the UK. Every mainstream news report makes sure to mention Turkey’s “fighting Kurdish terrorism” claim.

But, I can hear some say, haven’t the Kurds of the PKK taken up arms against the Turkish state? What about those people who are happy to describe themselves as guerilla fighters?

First, as the Belgian court recognised, involvement in a civil war does not equate to terrorism. Beyond this we need to question an increasing reluctance to accept the right to resist oppression and tyranny. Without this right we are effectively left with a bullies’ charter.

Modern nation states are organised on the premise that the state has the monopoly on violence, and liberal societies are conditioned to regard violence against the state with a special horror and in a very different light to violence committed by the state. There is an unspoken expectation that once those resisting oppression take up weapons they can no longer be seen as defenders of human rights, and must forgo wider sympathy and support. Resistors to state violence are expected to do so with their arms tied behind their backs, because pure martyrs are more acceptable to a human-rights discourse than effective freedom fighters.

We are taught to honour Gandhi’s call for non-violence alongside Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek.

In a recent essay on the Kurdish movement in Turkey, Nazan Ustundag explains that liberal human rights discourse can serve to entrench the state’s monopoly on violence by accepting and normalising a legitimate level of state violence, while condemning violence by non-state actors.

THANKFULLY, from the point of view of humanity and societal progress, human rights need not be so limited. The right of resistance to tyranny is a well-developed concept going back beyond the era of the modern nation state to the time when people sought to contest the divine right of Kings.

It was an important subject for protestant reformers, such as George Buchanan here in Scotland, who argued that the ultimate political authority lies with the people, who can thus legitimately remove a tyrannical ruler.

These reformers drew on earlier (pre-reformation) ideas on the right to (immediate and moderate) self-defence, on the contractual relationship between ruler and ruled, and on just war theory; and their arguments were further developed by John Locke, writing over a century later.

Of course, acceptance of the right of resistance does not mean acceptance of all means of resistance in justification of the end. An important examination of the ethics of revolution was given by Norman Geras in an essay in the Socialist Register in 1989.

I was first alerted to Geras’s argument hen I read that this essay had triggered the UK Government’s much-criticised anti-terrorism scheme, Prevent.

While including it on a student reading list, a Reading lecturer had felt it necessary to warn the students only to look at it in a secure setting, and not on a personal device. Inadvertently, the anti-terrorism legislation was providing a perfect example of the essentially political nature of the war against terror.

The danger posed by the article is not the promotion of terror, which it rejects, but that it shows that revolution is possible without terror, and that, in the right circumstances, it is the ethical course to take. For a state that wants to retain the belief that only state violence is legitimate, this is, indeed, a dangerous concept.

Geras argues that when the state becomes a bastion of injustice there is a right to revolution – though to be acceptable this should have a realistic chance of success and of not resulting in greater suffering.

But he then goes on to ask what means can and cannot be justified for pursuing revolution, and, like earlier resistance theorists, he turns for answers to just war doctrine and the rules of war.

These rules, the importance of which is widely acknowledged even if they are never fully adhered to, define who is a legitimate target and what constitutes a legitimate form of attack.

They lead Geras to argue that a revolution should target the military and police, but not civilians, so not “making war on people who are not themselves making war”.

It should also avoid “extreme and purposeful cruelty, beyond what is necessarily involved in any act of killing or wounding”, never forgetting that every individual is a human being with rights they only lose through warring themselves. And these limits should only be overridden if to do so were the “sole means of averting imminent and certain disaster”. Geras also insists that revolution promotes and demonstrates democratic support.

Kurds in Turkey are reacting to a situation where attempts at peaceful and constitutional change are met with brutal reaction, and where years of imprisonment are the norm for those who try to protect Kurdish cultural rights.

Ocalan and the PKK saw the revolutionary road as the only path to Kurdish survival. For them, revolutionary ethics can be summed up as legitimate self-defence, or, more poetically, the Theory of the Rose – social groups have a right to defend their existence and values and to defend freedom, just as a rose defends its flowers with its thorns.

In earlier years not every PKK target was military, but since 1995 it has been signed up to the Geneva Convention. This is not to claim that the convention is always and everywhere followed to the letter, but recent attempts to blame the PKK for attacks on civilians have been shown to be the work of the Turkish military or of a breakaway group that does not accept the PKK leadership. The legal position underlying the Belgian court ruling is actually a limited international acceptance of the right of resistance, which was developed in response to the fight against fascism and colonialism.

It limits recognition of that right to warlike situations and the PKK’s lawyers had to demonstrate not only that it was capable of abiding by the rules of war, but that it has the potential to engage in serious conflict. Logically, it makes no sense to restrict rights in this way, though in the PKK’s case it makes little difference.

The misuse of the terrorist label to delegitimise political opponents has become a source of growing concern, with climate activists (“domestic terrorists”) among its most recent victims.

This has been facilitated by an extraordinarily broad definition of what constitutes terrorism. Although the word first came into use to describe government action designed to terrorise the population into submission under Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, most legal definitions today assign the term to acts against the governing authorities rather than by them.

And although terrorism is presented as our number one enemy and a threat to civilisation, the UK’s legal definition of what constitutes a terrorist act includes serious damage to property or web disruption in support of an ideological cause.

In fact, it is not necessary even to carry out such damage. Merely collecting information on how to do so is enough to get someone convicted. The defining feature is not terror, which has become incidental, but oppositional ideology.

Support for the Kurdish movement is doubly politically dangerous for the powers that be. It questions their tactical support for the increasingly fascist Turkish government – which is courted as a strategic and powerful Nato member, as a major trading partner and arms buyer, and as the guard that keeps migrants out of Fortress Europe – and it projects an alternative to capitalism.

Even when that support is shown towards the Kurds in Syria, and not the officially beyond-the-pale PKK, the terrorist label still hovers in the air.

The Syrian Kurds may be recognised for their role in the fight against Daesh and they may have fought side by side with US and “coalition”, troops but politically they also follow Ocalan’s philosophy.

Last year it was made illegal for UK citizens to visit or remain in north-east Syria at all without a ‘‘legitimate reason’’, with the threat that those whose reasons are not deemed legitimate could face up to 10 years in prison. The charging of Dan Newey’s father takes this persecution to a further level.

The Kurdish case demonstrates how a politically motivated designation as “terrorists” can be used to attempt to delegitimise a political movement, undercutting and criminalising its support. Removing the PKK from the terrorist list is a central demand of those who support resistance to Kurdish oppression and freedom to pursue a radical democratic future, and who hope to see peace in the Middle East. This delisting must be part of a wider understanding and reassessment of what constitutes terrorism, and of the significance of the right of resistance.

Paul and Sam Newey will appear at a further pretrial hearing at the Old Bailey on May Day, and expect to go to trial in Birmingham on June 8, together with Daniel Burke, a former soldier who has himself fought in the YPG and has been accused on similar charges.