Being funny gets old when the world is burning around you.
So there’s this thing called “Weird Twitter.” You might have read about it. It’s a loose group of Twitter users with goofy usernames who make bizarre wisecracks to each other. It’s pretty fun, but making jokes all day can get old?—?especially when the world is burning around you.
For the user @PissPigGranddad, kibitzing online about the situation in the Middle East wasn’t enough. He wanted to actually make a difference for people whose lives have been ravaged by ISIS and the Assad regime.
So he flew to Syria in September to join the YPG, the Kurdish militia that is working to liberate towns in the north of the country from ISIS occupation.
This isn’t a joke or a prank?—?you’d be forgiven for thinking so, because Weird Twitter loves that shit. This former florist from San Francisco without any combat background voluntarily traveled to one of the most dangerous parts of the planet on the strength of his moral convictions.
Once there, the YPG welcomed his help, giving him the new name Rashid Fouad* and putting him behind the wheel of a massive improvised tank made from sheet metal and concrete.
How does an American join a foreign military force? Surprisingly easily, it turns out. In 2014, Jordan Matson, a former US army soldier, launched the Lions of Rojava Facebook page. Through it, US citizens can get in contact with YPG forces and arrange to meet up with the resistance. At least 400 people from all over the world have done so.
Not everybody can hack it, though. In early 2015, the world learned about Dean Parker, a Florida surf instructor who claims to have heard “God’s call” commanding him to travel to Syria and take up arms against ISIS.
Parker told the media before he left that he was in it for the long haul, committing to stay in Syria until ISIS had been completely purged from the country. He estimated that could take as long as 2 years.
He lasted a little over two months. Conditions on the battlefield were too much for the 50-year-old grandfather. On Facebook, Parker complained that “Its cold, rainy, muddy, no heat, no hot water, your gonna get sick a lot, mice, crappy food, protein and vitamin deficiency.”
No shit, dude. It’s war. What did you think it was going to be like?
Fouad’s resolve, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be flagging. He posted joyfully about YPG’s liberation of the town of Kobane, which was taken by ISIS in 2014, and his unit is now preparing to aid in the attack on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, Syria.
Service alongside the YPG isn’t a walk in the park. Many volunteers have died in combat. Fouad seems to have been fairly lucky so far in staying out of the line of fire, but he’s not harboring any illusions as to his safety.
Unlike many of the other cowboys who joined up thinking they could get some action, Fouad’s ideological leanings are pretty far to the left: full communism or bust. This isn’t unusual among Weird Twitter circles, where the Democratic Party’s failed tack to the center is seen as a deep betrayal.
Here’s an interview with Fouad from ARA News, where he expounds on his political philosophies a bit more:
PPG’s Twitter updates are as sporadic as you’d expect from a guy in a war zone, but he’s also been communicating by text with Jacobin writer Connor Kilpatrick. After the election, Kilpatrick passed along PPG’s thoughts on Trump: “Everyone’s mad. Anti-socialist, fascist, capitalist. Anti-women is the big thing they hate.”
PPG also reports that his cohorts really like the song “The Boys Are Back In Town,” by Thin Lizzy.
Kurds in Syria are the country’s largest ethnic minority. The Assad government claims that because many Kurdish families immigrated in the 1920s, they’re not Syrian by birth and therefore can be discriminated against. Many Kurds wish for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state or for the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to annex the Kurdish part of Syria. Needless to say, the Assad regime isn’t excited about this.
In 2012, the YPG performed its first major act of resistance against the Syrian government?—?occupying the area around the Syrian city of Kobane. The group was pointedly neutral during the Syrian civil war, working primarily to protect Kurdish settlements from collateral damage. But when Al Qaeda-aligned forces took the city of Ras al-Ayn, it forced their hand and they began fighting back.
After multiple skirmishes, the YPG established themselves as the only effective group in the country at battling back ISIS, and Kurds united in their support.
It’s still up in the air how the Trump administration will address the situation in Syria. Trump’s closeness with Putin has led some to believe that he’s more likely to side with the authoritarian Syrian government over the rebels. Whether that means a crackdown on the YPG is anybody’s guess.
So what happens next for our Piss Pig Granddad? It certainly looks like his enthusiasm for the fight isn’t going to wane anytime soon. In another set of texts to Kilpatrick, he said they were “taking villages like crazed hounds.”
There are numerous geopolitical forces working against the liberation of Kurdish Syria. The idea of throwing yourself in the middle of it with not much besides good intentions seems crazy. But Fouad is showing the rest of us jokesters and irony boys that direct action always gets results.
All images via @PissPigGranddad on Twitter.
*Dose chose to keep @PissPigGranddad’s name confidential to protect his privacy.