The British fighter killed in Syria

Sister in arms: Anna Campbell was 26 and trained as a plumber before going to Syria.

Is Anna Campbell a hero? The British civilian was killed in Syria after joining the fight against ISIS. Her father praised a “loving daughter” who devoted her life to fighting injustice.

One day when Anna Campbell was 11 years old, she saw some classmates tormenting a tiny bumblebee. She immediately stepped in to protect the creature — something her father says she was “ridiculed” for. Nonetheless, he claims this determination to fight injustice and “create a better world” stayed with her.

The same burning spirit eventually took her far from her comfortable home in Sussex, to the bloodstained battlegrounds of Syria. Yet it was here that the cause Campbell fought for would claim her life.

From May last year, she volunteered to fight for the YPJ, a Kurdish militia embroiled in the brutal war against ISIS.

Recently the fighting intensified, as Turkey — which views Campbell’s Kurdish comrades as terrorists — began a brutal bombardment against them in northern Syria. True to her spirit, Campbell wanted to go straight to the front line.

Initially her commander refused, saying her blonde hair would make her too conspicuous. So she dyed her hair black and persuaded them to let her go.

But just a few days ago she was killed when a Turkish missile hit her convoy. She is the first British female fighter to die with Kurdish forces in Syria.

Yesterday, in an emotional interview her father paid tribute to his daughter who “would go to any lengths to create the world that she believed in”. He also described her as “very idealistic”.

Such idealism has long been a potent force, and Campbell joins an historic line of British civilians who have risked their lives for foreign causes. For example, during the Spanish Civil War, thousands of Britons fought against Franco and the rise of fascism — writer George Orwell famously among the volunteers.

Whilst some call it folly to get involved in foreign battles, columnist Simon Jenkins sees something understandable in the mindset of Campbell and those like her: “the urge to step outside our comfort zone, to find a cause worth fighting for, lies deep in the human soul.”

But is Anna Campbell a hero?

Freedom fighter

Of course, some argue. If we all had the drive and sense of justice that Campbell had, the world would be a much better place. And for those who criticise her idealism, it is only through imagining a better world that positive change can happen. That she fought, and tragically died, to make her vision a reality makes her nothing less than a hero.

We must choose our words carefully, others respond. Whilst her passion, integrity, and personal qualities are to be admired, we must not uncritically laud the decisions she made — decisions which ultimately lead to her death. To do so would be to encourage other idealistic young people down a similarly deadly and regrettable path.

You Decide

  1. Is it right for UK citizens to fight in foreign wars?
  2. Is it wrong to be idealistic?

Activities

  1. According to her father, Anna Campbell went to fight in Syria because she wanted to help change the world for the better. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Do you think your aim is realistic? Share your ideas with your class.
  2. The Syrian Civil War is a complex conflict with many different sides. Watch the videos in Become An Expert to get a sense of what is happening now in northern Syria, and how the war has developed in general. Draw a simple diagram which summarises the conflict.

Some People Say...

“Better to fight for something than live for nothing.”

George S. Patton

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Anna Campbell is the eighth British fighter to die in Syria whilst fighting for the Kurds. The force she was fighting for, the YPJ/YPG, are part of a US backed coalition which was assembled to fight ISIS. However, Turkey view the group as a terrorist organisation due to supposed links with the Kurdish PKK. Whilst NATO and the US also designate the PKK as a terrorist group, their classification excludes the YPJ/YPG.
What do we not know?
UK nationals fighting in Syria face uncertain circumstances when they return to Britain. Police have warned that anyone joining the fight may be charged with terror offences. This happened to Aidan James, 27, who was charged with the preparation of a terrorist act and attending terrorist training after he fought in Syria with Kurdish forces.

Word Watch

YPJ
The Women’s Protection Unit — an all-female militia linked to the main Kurdish force in Syria, the YPG (People’s Protection Units). Both forces are supported by the US.
ISIS
ISIS is now largely defeated in Syria. A key turning point was the fall of their final stronghold, the city of Raqqa.
Terrorists
Turkey claim that the YPJ/YPG are controlled by the PKK — a Kurdish group it designates as a terrorist organisation (a designation shared by NATO and the US). Turkey is currently fighting a PKK insurgency within its own borders.
Northern Syria
The epicentre of the attack has been the city of Afrin. For more on why Turkey is involved in Syria watch the videos in Become An Expert.
Convoy
Two Kurdish women were also killed in the attack.
Idealistic
Unrealistically aiming for perfection.
Franco
Francisco Franco ruled Spain as a dictator from 1939-1975. Known as the “White Terror”, his forces killed up to 400,000 dissenters and political opponents during the Civil War and the first years of his reign.
George Orwell
His experiences were chronicled in the book Homage to Catalonia.