We Need To Spread This Freely: JN On HK Under National Security Law
This week, I speak with JN, an anarchist who works with the decolonial, leftist HongKonger platform, Lausan, talks about where the uprising against Chinese integration in Hong Kong stands, the National Security Law, tankie and rightwing narratives and international anti-authoritarian solidarity and resistance.
The interview about Belarus that I mentioned before was from a recent episode of Elephant In The Room, from Dresden, Germany, which is a member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts.
I’d like to remind folks that the 2020 Republican National Convention is going to partially be held in Charlotte from August 20-24. One group that is doing anti-repression work in the area is CharlotteUprising, which can be found on twitter at @CLTUprising, where you can find info about the protests at the event as well as their jail support, including how to make donations. You can learn more by following the hashtags #CharlotteUprising and #ResistRNC2020
To all in solidarity with the Prisoners Human Rights Movement:
We are reaching out to those that have been amplifying our voices in these state, federal, or immigration jails and prisons, and to allies that uplifted the national prison strike demands in 2018. We call on you again to organize the communities from August 21st – September 9th, 2020, by hosting actions, events, and demonstrations that call for prisoner human rights and the end to prison slavery…
On August 21 – September 9, we call on everyone in solidarity with the prison class struggle to organize an action, a panel discussion, a rally, an art event, a film screening, or another kind of demonstration to promote prisoners’ human rights. Whatever is within your ability, we ask that you shake the nation out of any fog they may be in about prisoners’ human rights and the criminal legal system (legalized enslavement).
During these solidarity events, we request that organizers amplify immediate issues prisoners in your state face, the demands from the National Prison Strike of 2018, and uplift Jailhouse Lawyers Speak new International Law Project…
The prison strike demands were drafted as a path to alleviate the dehumanizing process and conditions people are subjected to while going through this nation’s judicial system. Following up on these demands communicates to the world that prisoners are heard and that prisoners’ human rights are a priority.
In the spirit of Attica, will you be in the fight to dismantle the prison industrial slave complex by pushing agendas that will shut down jails and prisons like Rikers Island or Attica? Read the Attica Rebellion demands and read the National Prison Strike 2018 demands. Ask yourself what can you do to see the 2018 National Prison Strike demands through.
SHARE THIS RELEASE FAR AND WIDE WITH ALL YOUR CONTACTS!
We rage with George Jackson’s “Blood in my eyes” and move in the spirit of the Attica Rebellion!
Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami
This week on The Final Straw we’re featuring a chat with Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami. In this conversation, Joey tells us of some of the history of Lebanon, since the civil war that ended in 1990 and up to the current demonstrations against the clientelist warlords in power in that country. Intertwined with this, Leila speaks about the sparking of the resistance to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the tumult of the civil war, and the state of anti-authoritarian and social justice organizing and media work in that country. Then the two talk about the experience of countering disinformation, conspiracy thinking and poor solidarity in the so-called Left in the West and ways to combat ignorance.
This is another long conversation, covering a lot of the last 30 years in these two neighboring nations. The guests proposed speaking about the interrelations across that border because of the similarities, differences, and shared experiences between the two places. Lebanon has Syrian refugees, it was occupied by Syria until 2005. Both spaces share Palestinian refugees, experienced war with Israel, are politically influenced from Hezbollah, mostly speak Arabic and even the flames of the recent wildfires that ignited anti-regime sentiment in Lebanon last fall crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria. We hope to have future chats that play with borders in this way to explore ways we can bridge these borders in our understanding in hopes of increased solidarity.
Lebanese Protests of 2015 & 2019 [00:21:35 – 00:31:40]
Syrian Revolution to Civil War [00:31:40 – 00:41:34]
Current Social Justice Struggle in Syria [00:41:46 – 00:45:56]
Daesh / ISIS and Syrian Civil War [00:45:56 – 00:49:56]
Solidarity with Syrians in Lebanese Protests [00:49:56 – 01:05:38]
Leila on Tahrir-ICN [01:05:50 – 01:09:18]
Educating Ourselves on Syria and Lebanon [01:09:18 – 01:23:07]
White Helmets and other Conspiracy Theories [01:23:07 – 01:32:59]
Syrian Diaspora and Western Left [01:32:59 – 01:37:19]
Rojava and the Syrian Revolution [01:37:19 – 01:41:56]
Better Practice in Solidarity with people in Syria and Lebanon [01:41:56 – 01:53:38]
Michael Kimble Benefit
Last week we announced a fundraiser for Michael Kimble. Because of issues with the platforms, the fundraiser for Michael Kimble’s legal benefit to help raise money for his fight to get him released from prison has been moved. Now you can find it at ActionNetwork.org/Fundraising/Support-Michael-Kimble . Because the fundraiser had to be moved a couple of times, some of the initial push to get word out and initial donations may be irreplaceable. So, folks are asking for an extra push to help rasie this money to get our comrade out and organizing on the outside after 33 years behind bars.
BADNews February 2020 (#31)
This month, the A-Radio Network released it’s monthly, international English-language podcast featuring voices from anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio shows, pirate stations and podcasts from around the world. The episode is up at A-Radio-Network.org by clicking the B(A)DNews. If you’re interested in joining the network or learning more, info’s up on that site.
Thank you both very much for taking the time to chat with me.
Leila al-Shami: Thank you.
Joey Ayoub: Thank you.
FS: I thought we could talk about anti-authoritarian aspects of popular movements against the regimes in both Lebanon and Syria and for new ways of living, and what solidarity can look like, within that region and from outside, with those popular anti-authoritarian movements. This is a really big conversation, and I’m very excited for the information that y’all are going to present.
First can y’all lay out a thumbnail of the post-colonial development in the respective countries—in Syria and Lebanon—including a bit about the interrelation between those neighboring countries, at least up until those anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian protests known as the Arab Spring?
JA: The primary thing to remember when it comes to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is that historically they are the same region, “Greater Syria.” With regard to contemporary events, what’s important to understand from a Lebanese perspective is that the Syrian regime was one of two military occupiers of Lebanon—the other being Israel—between 1976 and 2005, when it was essentially forced out after a popular uprising.
Since then, the relationship between the two countries is extremely complicated, to say the least. On the one hand there is a major Lebanese political party that is active in supporting the Assad regime in Syria—I’m talking about Hezbollah. On the other hand, when we speak of Syrians in Lebanon we have to differentiate between the Syrian regime and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees are effectively powerless and living in pretty bad conditions—I’m phrasing this lightly. It is really bad these days. They are often the victims of scapegoating by xenophobic sectarian parties that have played the same card against Palestinian refugees in the past—they are just using it against Syrian refugees today.
Any relationship is very complicated; there are historical links, but there are activist links as well. But other than that, the two countries are fairly separated due to this power dynamic.
LS: From my side, I think it’s important to understand how the Syrian regime, the current regime, came to power. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963 through a military coup, and it was founded upon an ideology which incorporated elements of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, both of which were witnessing popular resurgence in the wave of decolonization. Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup within the Ba’ath Party. It was under him that the totalitarian police state was built, which repressed all political freedom. Any opposition or dissidents were dealt with very severely under Hafez al-Assad, and what became known as the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ was built. People were not able to express themselves politically.
Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, and when he came to power, Syrians were hoping for an opening—that they would have more rights and freedoms. But really he continued the policies of his father in terms of political repression, and the prisons were full of Muslim Brotherhood members, Kurdish opposition activists, leftist activists, and human rights activists. And there was also a very desperate socioeconomic situation: a wave of liberalization of the economy under Bashar which really consolidated the wealth in the hands of crony capitalists who were loyal to or related to the president, meanwhile subsidies and welfare that the poor relied on were dismantled.
It was these two factors, both the political repression and the very desperate socioeconomic situation, which led to the uprising which broke out in 2011—which of course arrived in the context of this transnational revolutionary wave that was sweeping the region.
FS: I think a lot of people in the West get confused with the term socialist in the expression of Ba’athists, and don’t have a specific understanding of what that term means in that instance. Can you break it down for those of us who are confused about what socialism refers to in terms of Ba’athism?
LS: The Ba’ath Party advocated socialist economics, but rejected the Marxist conception of class struggle. The Ba’ath believed that all classes among the Arabs were united in opposing capitalist domination by imperial powers, proposing that nations themselves, rather than social groups within and across nations, constituted the real subjects of struggle against domination.
So when they came to power, they pursued top-down socialist economic planning based on the Soviet model. They nationalized major industries, and engaged in large infrastructural modernization to contribute to this nation-state building enterprise: redistributing land, erasing the land-owning class, and improving rural conditions. It was these kinds of populist policies which brought the party a measure of cross-sectarian public support.
But at the same time, leftists were purged from the Ba’ath Party right at the beginning. Hafez al-Assad’s coup within the Ba’ath Party was against the leftwing faction. And later, all left opposition was either co-opted or crushed. Independent associations of workers, students, and producers were repressed, and para-statal organizations said to represent their interests emerged—a kind of corporatist model.
And like I said, under Bashar there was an increasing liberalization of the economy; it really moved away from any kind of socialist economic model towards a model which created a great deal of wealth disparity within the population.
FS: Joey, I wonder if you could set up how, after the civil war and occupation in Lebanon, power was distributed through the state structure there.
JA: It’s been thirty years since the end of the civil war. The postwar era, as we call it, started in 1990, when the civil war officially ended with the signing of the Taif agreement—Taif being the city in Saudi Arabia where they signed it. So it’s been almost exactly three decades since then.
The postwar era is defined by a number of things. The primary two components relevant to what is happening today are the format in which this so-called peace happened, and what happened after that. The format can be symbolized through an amnesty law that was passed in early 1991, which pardoned most crimes which were committed during the war—the only exception being the killing of other important people. If you had assassinated a prime minister or something like that, you might be exempted from the amnesty law. Other than that—if you were involved in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, murder, all of these things—all of your crimes were wiped clean overnight.
Warlords who made their names during the war became the warlords who entered government in the nineties. They removed their military uniforms, put on their business suits, and became the government. The people we’re dealing with today for the most part are the exact same people who were the warlords during the civil war. The two very easy examples I can give are the current president, Michel Aoun, who was a warlord in the eighties, and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who was also a warlord in the eighties.
These people have each created clientelist networks—we call it wasta in Arabic—and the result is we don’t really have one state. We do in theory—but that state is subsumed within these sectarian networks.
The second thing that happened in the postwar era which is also important is what you might describe as actually-existing neoliberalism. There was a rabid form of capitalism, the “shock doctrine” scenario that Naomi Klein famously coined in her book, wherein all the ruins of the war were further demolished. The most symbolic example of that is downtown Beirut, which saw a lot of the violence. Large parts of it were completely demolished instead of being renovated and public spaces being made accessible again, and everything was privatized.
Fast forward three decades: what we’ve been seeing since October 17, 2019, this symbolic date when the current uprisings started, are attempts by a number of protesters to reclaim this public space that has been privatized, and to reclaim a sense of identity that transcends these sectarian limits which were implemented in the postwar era.
They were always there—they have been part of Lebanon’s de facto legal reality. Sectarianism is institutionalized. Political confessionalism is the official term for it. In the postwar era there have been quite a lot of protest movements trying to move beyond sectarianism, calling for some kind of secularism, some kind of trans-sectarian identity, with the knowledge that sectarianism isn’t just a social ill in itself (as in, it’s bad to be sectarian) but also understanding that sectarianism is used in a specific way in Lebanon that benefits those who are already at the top.
That’s a simplistic summary, of course, but that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing since October 17. And this time there is a momentum that is explicitly anti-sectarian, and an awareness that as soon as sectarianism wins, the movement immediately loses. There’s an extreme sensibility towards remaining anti-sectarian.
FS: Would you mind talking a little bit about how the clientelism and expectations of social infrastructure, and the lack of following through on these expectations, led to the October protests, and how clientelism stands in opposition to the idea of a social contract?
JA: It is very difficult in Lebanon to do anything unless you have the connections. Education, healthcare, basic services like electricity and water—people tend to rely on private networks for all these things. I went through a private education. Most people in Lebanon have to pay two electricity bills, one private and one public, because the public one is not 24/7. For water, technically you pay three different bills, because there’s public and private running water, and separately there is bottled water because the tap water is not potable. This is a small example of how the clientelism functions in Lebanon.
It really precedes the civil war, and going all the way into that would require a different kind of analysis which I’m not the most capable of giving. But what we saw in October—and in the months and years preceding October 17—was this lack of social contract becoming even more painful. Before then, there was always a way for a percentage of the population—I can’t even say for sure it’s a majority—to sort of get by. There was always a way to make ends meet, so to speak, one way or another. Living conditions were never extremely good, but they were decent enough for you to have an okay life. Especially, obviously, if you’re middle class. That has declined in the last decade or so.
The 2011 uprisings had an impact on Lebanon. Cutting off Syria economically from Lebanon impacted business locally. It also reduced significantly any kind of Gulf investment, which had been reliable up until 2011-12. That’s what has been breaking down slowly in the last decade, and that’s part of the spark that led to October 17, 2019. But that week, that same week, there were very bad wildfires that ravaged through the country and even reached parts of Syria; it was over forty-eight hours before they were fought off through a combination of luck—it started raining—and airplanes that were donated by foreign governments.
And just a day later, the government decided to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls, which are obviously free and used by virtually all Lebanese because actual phonecalls are so expensive due to the corruption and clientelism. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
On the night of 17 October, the day the WhatsApp tax was proposed, people spontaneously went to Beirut, to Nabatiyeh in the south, to Tripoli in the north—people went out in cities across Lebanon. In the first couple of weeks, the momentum was so overwhelming. It was on all levels across all regions of Lebanon, with almost no exceptions, touching all socioeconomic classes (there were even protests where I live; this has never happened before), and there was a very explicit anti-sectarian component.
This is remarkable because sectarianism in Lebanon has created a reality where it is virtually impossible—in practice it just never happens—that if you are from a certain region and you’re just used to seeing people from a certain sect (with the exception of the big cities like Beirut), you don’t really know much about other parts of the country where a different sect has a majority. If you come from Mount Lebanon you don’t necessarily know much about the south or the north, unless you have family connections.
That’s been our reality for three decades. And nonetheless in the first month or so, it was very common to see people in Tripoli (the Sunni-majority city in the north) sending their solidarity to Nabatiyeh (the Shia-majority area in the south) and vice versa. In Jounieh (which is Christian majority) and Beirut (which is very mixed) and Mount Lebanon (which is Druze majority), there were always explicit statements of solidarity from one region to another, from one sect to another, saying, essentially: we have this thing that unites us beyond our sectarian allegiances.
The other extremely important component is summarized by the chant kelon ya’neh kelon, which means “All of them means all of them.” It’s very simple. Every single politician that has participated in this postwar status quo has to go. It’s a complete rejection of every single political leader of the postwar era, basically, whether they are currently in government or not.
That’s very important, because there have been a number of sectarian parties that were previously in the government and currently are less so—they still have MPs but they are not the ruling parties—that have been trying to ride the wave of the revolution by presenting themselves as opposition parties, trying to play with the binary that is the March 8 and March 14 movements.
What are these two? March 8 and March 14 are the names of two coalitions that were formed on those dates in 2005. Following the assassination of then-prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, there were mass mobilizations on these two dates with different orientations towards the Syrian regime. On March 8 was the pro-Syrian regime protest, led by Hezbollah and Amal at the time. On March 14 was the anti-Syrian regime protest, led by the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalangists, and the Progressive Socialist Party and other parties. Since then they have created a power-sharing agreement following the model of the postwar era, where it’s one coalition or the other that’s ruling, always fighting with each other but always finding more things in common than things that distinguish them—especially when there are independents trying to run against both of them, that’s when they close ranks.
Because the current government, for various reasons, is a March 8 government—Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement—there are parties that were traditionally associated with March 14—the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangists—that have been trying to place themselves in the position of opposition against the March 8-led government.
The protesters are rejecting that. No. All of them means all of them; you will not be able to ride the wave of the revolution. In five days it will be the four-month anniversary of these protests, and the momentum has changed, but it is still firmly anti-sectarian.
FS: Let’s turn and rejoin Leila in the chronology of how anti-corruption movements had been developing in Syria and then come back to anti-corruption in Lebanon. Leila, Joey had mentioned Syrian refugees being present and the way the forest fires crossed the border; these two countries have had a lot of interaction between each other. I’m wondering if you could talk about how the anti-corruption and reform movements and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring effected and impacted Syria, with the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war.
LS: People in Syria were generally quietly against the regime prior to 2000. The last major uprising had been at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, and started off as a broad-based movement against the regime but ended up becoming very dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood due to the severe repression of those who were participating in it. It culminated in the massacre of Hama, when thousands of people were killed and much of the old city of Hama was destroyed by Assad’s forces. In addition to that, thousands of people disappeared into regime detention; many of them were never seen again. This experience of such brutal repression had kept Syrians quiet since that time.
But when the Arab Spring, as it came to be known in the West, emerged in 2010-11, people in Syria were seeing what was happening in Egypt, what was happening in Tunisia, and the governments being brought down there, and they began to ask, “Why not us?” This gave people—a new generation that hadn’t directly experienced the repression that had occurred before—the strength to go out onto the streets and start demonstrating themselves. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, though, people in Syria didn’t go out into the streets calling for the fall of the regime, initially. What they were calling for was reforms: things like a multi-party system, the release of political prisoners, a free press.
These were demands which had been taken up in 2000 when Bashar first came to power, and people thought there was an opening for change. There was a small movement—it wasn’t a popular broad-based movement like we saw in 2011, but it was a movement among intellectuals and human rights activists that started to call for reforms when Bashar came to power. That movement, again, was severely repressed, and all hope for change under Bashar died at that point—until 2011, when what happened in Tunisia and Egypt really reignited the hopes of a new generation.
So they came out onto the streets calling for reform, but the brutality of the response by the state—which immediately began meeting peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters with gunfire, massive waves of detention, and repression—radicalized the movement. It caused it to spread rapidly across the country, and it encouraged people to start calling for the fall of the regime and even for the execution of the president. It was the regime’s repression which really catalyzed the movement’s spreading and becoming a revolutionary movement.
I think it’s very important to recognize that when this happened in 2011, it was a broad-based, inclusive movement. It included many women from all different backgrounds, a diversity of Syria’s religious groups and ethnic groups, all united around the demands for freedom, for democracy, and for social justice. The social justice element is often not focused on very much in the West. But it was a large component of the revolutionary demands.
Many people went out on the streets and chanted against the crony capitalists who had amassed a great deal of wealth under the current regime. For example, Rami Makhlouf, who is Assad’s maternal cousin, was estimated prior to 2011 to control some sixty percent of the Syrian economy through his business interests—in real estate, mobile telephone companies, etcetera. There were large chants against him on the streets and against other crony capitalists.
There was a strong element of awareness and strong social and economic demands as part of the revolutionary movement, but those were not focused on very much in Western reporting.
FS: In your book Burning Country that you coauthored, y’all made a point of saying when people took up arms to defend themselves against the government, the inclusivity of the popular movement started to dissipate. That’s how I remember reading it, at least. Can you talk about what the integration of armed struggle into the movement against the government did to the dynamic of the revolution, and how it became a civil war?
LS: Taking up arms was a response to the massive repression by the state against peaceful protesters. At the beginning it was still inclusive—this wasn’t an organized military or army. This was people taking up weapons in their communities to defend their communities and their families from assault. People were being taken from their homes and detained; there was also a mass rape campaign carried out in oppositional communities by Assad-affiliated militias. So people took up arms to defend themselves in loosely-coordinated defense brigades.
By the summer of 2012, we started to see the Free Army label being used. Now, the Free Army was never really an organized army; it was never centrally controlled or centrally funded, although there were failed attempts to do so. It was an umbrella which different groups and different militias could come under with two main aims: one was the fall of the regime, to force Assad out of power, and the other was to see some kind of democratic transition take place. The people who signed up to the Free Army label were people who were united behind those aims.
But as time went by, the armed opposition became more and more fragmented, due to external pressures on them. They couldn’t get the weapons that they needed to really defend themselves and their communities from regime assaults. There were light weapons going in, but the anti-aircraft missiles which people desperately needed were not being provided. Aerial assaults were the main cause of destruction and main cause of death, and it was Assad who was controlling the skies—later alongside his Russian ally.
We also saw, around December 2013, an increasing Islamization among armed groups in Syria. The main reason for that was the failure of the democrats of the Free Army to attract funding and support from the Western states that they were reaching out to. Some brigades started Islamizing their rhetoric in order to attract support from Gulf donors specifically.
So there was an increasing Islamization of the opposition groups, and an increasing fragmentation of armed opposition groups. There were so many different armed brigades that were present at that time, and we see now that most of the armed groups operating in Syria do have an Islamist leaning and have eclipsed in strength the democrats of the Free Army.
But while there was this fragmentation of the armed opposition—which was due in large part to this competing struggle for weapons, competing struggles for military dominance and political dominance in areas they were controlling—there was also, in parallel, a continuing civil movement which was committed to the original goals of the revolutionary struggle and remained an inclusive and diverse movement.
FS: Fast-forwarding now into what has been nine years of one of the most deadly civil wars of the twenty-first century so far, I’m sure what a lot of people are experiencing on the ground in opposition areas at this point is simply a struggle for survival against this genocidal regime. But can you say anything about what exists, as far as you’re aware, of democratic movements for social justice in Syria?
LS: There are plenty of Syrians who are still committed to those ideals of the revolution, and there are plenty of Syrians working today within their communities trying to keep things functioning; plenty of civil society organizations that are continuing to do media work, continuing to assist the displaced, trying to keep hospitals functioning. But it has become a matter of survival, a struggle for survival. Today the main area which is outside Assad regime control, or still in the control of rebel groups, is Idlib. Idlib today is facing an absolutely relentless assault, a war of extermination against the civilian population there.
Since the assault on Idlib began in April 2019, over a million people have been displaced, nearly 700,000 since December alone—just gone. There have been massive attacks on civilian infrastructure; dozens of hospitals put out of action. People are fleeing for their lives. It’s very hard in such circumstances to talk about any kind of organized movement, because people are really just struggling to survive. People are fleeing outside of Idlib city or to the north of Idlib, and there’s no place left to go, no remaining safe haven for people. Many of these people had already been displaced multiple times, when their communities came under attack or were forced to surrender and recaptured by regime forces. And the borders are not open. The situation on the ground today in Syria is completely desperate.
In areas that have come back under regime control, whether we’re talking about Dera’a in the south or the Ghouta around Damascas, there have been massive waves of repression against the population who stayed. Anyone who is seen to have been in any way affiliated with the opposition has been arrested and detained. Young men have been rounded up and sent to the front lines to fight, basically on missions from which they are not going to return.
But we have also seen that resistance has continued. There have been waves of protests happening in Dera’a. Extremely courageous people in regime-controlled areas have still been protesting, calling for things like the release of prisoners, protesting against the desperate economic situation. Just in the last couple of weeks in Sweida, which is a Druze-majority area, people have been out on the streets protesting against a very desperate economic situation, protesting against the corruption they’re seeing.
In Dera’a, we’re seeing waves of assassinations against regime forces as well. So while the organized resistance movement and organized civil society has been very much crushed over recent months as the regime has taken control, we see that those desires for freedom, for justice, for this regime to end, have not gone away. And when others have a chance to organize, they’re still trying to organize—they’re very clear that they’re not going to accept this regime. There’s no life for people under this regime.
FS: This is a subject that I’m sure gets brought up a lot in conversations about Syria with Westerners, but it seems like the democratic social movement had a few different fronts on which they were being attacked, including with the uprising of Daesh as a movement across Iraq and Syria. In your experience, is Daesh still a threat against social movements, or has it been crushed, as it’s been presented in the Western media?
LS: Daesh hasn’t been crushed. There’s this idea that you can defeat an ideology militarily when the conditions that fed that ideology are still very preset, when the chaos which allows such extremist groups to thrive is still there. Daesh has certainly lost a lot of its organized power, but it has the ability to regroup and re-form—we’ve seen that in Iraq, and in attacks that have been carried out in Syria in recent months.
It’s not just Daesh which is a threat. If we look at Idlib—I said that Idlib was the main province still under rebel control. The group in control of a large part of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, which is a very extremist Islamist militia. They have repeatedly tried to wrest power away from the democratic opposition structures which were established in Idlib following the liberation from the regime, and have tried to impose their own extremely authoritarian religious strictures upon a population which overwhelmingly rejects them.
This is something which is not spoken about much in the West. People often say Idlib is an “al-Qaeda enclave” because this group HTS was formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda. What they’re overlooking is all the people protesting against the group. We’ve seen continuous demonstrations in Idlib, up until now, people calling for HTS to leave their communities and hand over power to democratic opposition structures.
So yes, Syrians have had a battle on two fronts. They’ve had a battle against this fascist tyrannical regime which is committing genocide against a population which demanded freedom, and a struggle against extremist Islamist groups such as Daesh and HTS and others.
The third battle, of course, has been against people in the West, often people who identify as being on the left, who have continuously slandered revolutionary Syrians, have equated revolutionary Syrians with groups like al-Qaeda, and have in fact thrown their support behind the Assad regime. Free Syrians have found that they have very few friends. But they retain their desire for freedom, and they continue to maintain that they are not going to accept one tyranny being followed by another.
FS: Joey, on an episode of the Arab Tyrant Manual from November 2019, you and another guest, Timour Azhari, were talking about calls for solidarity with the Syrian people that were coming up in the chants of Lebanese protesters, and I wonder if you, or both of you, could talk a little bit about solidarity against authoritarian structures across that border, between Lebanon and Syria, and between the popular mobilizations against sectarianism that you’ve seen.
JA: The anti-sectarian component of the protest movements in Lebanon essentially appeals to some kind of national identity. It’s one thing to have my religion as a Christian, as a Shia, as a Sunni, as a Druze, and that’s fine, but there should be something that unites us further than that—we’re all Lebanese. Of course that’s a double-edged sword: nationalism can unite people across sects within one nation-state, and it can also otherize people who are not Lebanese.
That’s a very common thing, and it’s a reality that anti-authoritarians, progressives, radicals, lefties, and others in Lebanon have to contend with: the overwhelming presence of xenophobia. Much of it was created during the civil war; the Syrian regime was an occupier, so many Lebanese, especially those of the older generation, equate Syrians with the Assad regime. This is very ironic and self-defeating, because obviously Syrian refugees in Lebanon are fleeing a conflict that was started by the Assad regime; there could have been opportunities for cooperation and unity. But what is happening is xenophobia and nationalism.
In the same way as in Hong Kong, where there is a segment of the population which is anti-China in the ethnic sense rather than being anti-Chinese-government, there is in Lebanon a segment of the protesters that is anti-Syrian, not just anti-Syrian regime. There are even Lebanese who oppose the Syrian regime, who oppose Hezbollah, who still share the same xenophobic, racist attitudes towards Syrian refugees.
And this power dynamic is worsened by the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon is already shit. It’s really bad. It creates the opportunity for scapegoating Syrian refugees, modeled after the scapegoating of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba: they faced this type of attitude, especially during the civil war because there was an armed Palestinian faction, but that’s a different story.
To try and counter that, there is a segment of Lebanese protesters, most notably the feminists, who are trying to create a movement that is more inclusive. They are openly intersectional and speak about class struggle, and about gender equality beyond the confines of citizenship—which is already very restrictive in Lebanon. You cannot become Lebanese other than by marrying a Lebanese citizen or inheriting it—and even then it is only passed on by a man. You can inherit citizenship if your father is Lebanese, but you cannot inherit it if only your mother is Lebanese. So there is a percentage of the population in Lebanon that are “not even Lebanese” but who are in fact Lebanese. What the progressives are saying is that if someone can be Lebanese and not Lebanese at the same time, we can also accept that there might be more than one way of being Lebanese. This is why I insist on calling myself Lebanese-Palestinian, to refuse to relinquish my grandfather’s identity. It’s not even considered something that can be a reality. You’re either one or the other, and that’s it.
Something being called a “revolution” or having revolutionary momentum does not automatically mean that everyone participating in that uprising has the best politics in the world. Even in Syria in 2011-12, there were conservatives who would take part in the protests. That’s completely normal. There’s more than one way of expressing opposition to illegitimate authority. If we’re talking about the Assad regime, there are multiple ways of opposing it. There are even Islamists who oppose the Assad regime. As a progressive who would not want to have an Islamist regime either, you still can’t automatically reject everyone who doesn’t share every single one of your politics. It’s complicated.
In Lebanon it’s complicated in different ways. In the beginning, there were sectarian people participating in the protests. There were members of Hezbollah, members of the Lebanese Forces, and members of other sectarian political parties among us. Even to this day, there still are, but to a lesser extent. They were in fact going against their own parties, without renouncing their parties. What happens in that space, within that momentum, is a sort of negotiation. Chanting kelon ya’neh kelon made lots of people uncomfortable. Calling out certain specific politicians by name made certain people uncomfortable. That alienated some people, whereas other stuck around. Some people were “converted.” Other people still participate without chanting these specific chants.
So there’s an ideal: kelon ya’neh kelon, anti-sectarianism, a vision of a fair society. And within that ideal, there are multiple ways of negotiating, because at the end of the day, if I want a society that is better than the current society, I have to face the contradictions of that society. Those contradictions, whether we’re talking about sectarianism, xenophobia, nationalism—all of these things exist everywhere in Lebanon. They exist within your own family, within your community networks. It is very difficult just to say, “Screw all of you, I am going to create something without all of you.”
FS: Leila, the reason I first heard your name besides Burning Country was in reference to Tahrir-ICN coming up in the 2010s. Can you talk a little bit about that project and what became of it, how it developed, and what impacts you saw it have?
LS: Tahrir-ICN was an attempt to address the issue of a lack of knowledge of anti-authoritarian struggles in the region, outside of it. A group of activists came together, myself included, with the idea to build this network among anti-authoritarian activists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. It had two components to it. The first was an information-sharing platform, establishing a blog and social media accounts. The second was to build a physical network where we could work on practical actions and build solidarity together, sharing experiences.
The first aspect of it was quite successful. It started in 2012, just after the revolutions in the region broke out. Different collectives from across the region and in Europe started sharing information of what was happening in their country. This was a time when there were lots of uprisings across the region and also in Greece and in Spain: the Occupy movement, a lot of exciting things were happening. It didn’t have one vision. It was trying to learn from a wide variety of experiences and struggles loosely labeled anti-authoritarian. We had quite a wide readership for our blog, and I think it was very useful for people outside, in Europe or in America, to find out more about anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, and vice-versa..
The second aspect, building a physical network—we had a number of discussions about having an event to bring people together. There was certainly a lot of interest in that. But then the counterrevolutions broke out very strongly. People became very bogged down in what was happening in their countries. People started losing a lot of energy, and the network kind of fizzled out. I myself decided that I had to prioritize what was happening in Syria due to my connections with Syria. People got very caught up in their own stuff, and it kind of died out. But I think that for the time when it was operative, it provided a useful source of information to learn about each other and to see the wide variety of struggles that were occurring.
FS: For the sake of us staying informed and educated about what’s actually going on in this region of the world, can y’all talk about maybe some resources that we have, particularly in English, that we could be relying on to get a better grasp? And also maybe some resources that you think are trash and we should avoid? That would be very helpful.
LS: I would encourage people to look for resources which are produced by people who are living in or connected to the regions themselves. It’s very important to try to go to native sources where possible, to people who have a very real understanding of the issues because they’re directly affected by them. We’ve been very privileged that there is so much information available in English. There are so many activists who are very active on social media across the region who we can connect with on Twitter, on Facebook, who are telling their stories. From Syria, there are so many great independent media initiatives. There is Enab Baladi—Joey worked on producing a book of some of their texts—which was established by women in one of the main revolutionary towns known as Daraya. There were some amazing experiences of self-organization in that town. There is al-Jumhuriya, which was established by Syrians, which is great for analysis of the region.
I would encourage people to find out a bit more and to go to these sources, and to try to educate themselves. The first and most important aspect of solidarity is correcting the information. There is so much disinformation circulating about what is happening in the region. It’s so exhausting for activists who have much more important struggles than focusing on correcting the narrative. It would be great if some of that work could be done from the outside. It would certainly free up Syrian activists to focus on other more practical things that they need to address.
JA: On the Lebanon side of things, I can start by recommending a podcast that’s called The Lebanese Politics Podcast. Starting with the episode which was released just after the October 17 revolution started, they’ve put out about an episode a week, in English, in which they go back to the events of that week and interpret them and talk about them. It is as objective as you can get, from an archival perspective. Both of them are on the left and are analyzing from the anti-sectarian angle.
Other than that, most good media in Lebanon is in Arabic. Recently, especially since 2015 when there was another uprising—which was not as successful but laid the groundwork for what was to come—there were things like Megaphone News, which is mostly in Arabic but sometimes has English stuff; they are really good. There is the Public Source—again, these are mostly in Arabic but occasionally have some English stuff.
A lot of the voices of anti-authoritarian Syrians are present in mainstream Anglo media. Just recently there was For Sama, the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar and won many film festival awards. There was the White Helmets documentary from 2017. There are a bunch of really good war-related but more personal-narrative documentaries popping up. All of these are available with English subtitles, and are very easy to find these days.
The main thing to challenge, really, is disinformation. The decision is whether people want to believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. For Sama is literally just footage put together to tell a story. You can think whatever you want, but if you’re starting to doubt what you see with your own eyes, the bombing that you’re literally seeing in front of you, then we’re entering a world that has not just implications for Syrians and Palestinians and Lebanese and others, but indeed implications for everyone else.
The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote and the so-called wave of far-right populism (which is a nice euphemism for fascism a lot of the time) didn’t really surprise a lot of us who live on this side of the world and have been involved with anti-authoritarian politics. Some of the signs that we were going into a dangerous international moment were already present in Syria as early as 2013, with the chemical massacre in Eastern Ghouta, among other things. The reactions to that started signaling that we’re slowly moving towards a normalization of blatant violence against civilian bodies.
What progressives in Lebanon are trying to do right now is create a different media landscape outside the norms, a counternarrative to the dominant narratives in Lebanon, because they are very influenced by the sectarian status quo. Many of them are owned by the sectarian parties. With Syria it was very different at first, because there wasn’t really any independent media before 2011. But an explosion of creativity came after 2011 (Enab Baladi, the project I worked on, is one of the examples of that), so now it is very easy to get very decent, advanced, sophisticated information. The question is how much energy people are willing to put into it.
It’s always good to inform yourself as much as possible about what’s happening in the rest of the world, just as a general rule, and there tends to be enough information these days. But the other thing is calling out disinformation when you see it online. To do that convincingly, you do need to arm yourself with quite a lot of knowledge, because the disinformation campaigns, especially since Russia decided to intervene militarily in Syria, have been pretty extraordinary. We’re not just dealing with RT and Sputnik. There are horrific takes being taken for granted which if they were on Palestine would be the abode of the far right, but for some reason when it comes to Syria, lots of lefties repeat basically the same things that rightwing Zionists would repeat on Palestine—the same takes! They just go with that narrative instead of looking at the facts on the ground and reading the books by Syrians who have been writing for decades now, many of whom are translated into English.
Information is power, and it can be used for good. But we have to deal with all of the disinformation around us. It’s been exhausting. Many of us have experienced months of burnout. Most activists I know, including those who were in Aleppo until recently, or in Ghouta or in Idlib or in the south or wherever, have completely given up on trying to challenge anyone online, or are just working locally. Some still spend entire days sometimes arguing with mostly Westerners online about their own country and their own homes that they just had to leave.
Westerners are not going through fascism in the same sense that Syrians are. There is definitely that threat, especially these days, but it’s still not at the level of the Assad regime controlling everything and dropping barrel bombs, and having foreign militaries invited into your country. I don’t know how to say this, but privilege is a responsibility. Having privilege means you should do something with it. Use the access to knowledge that you have and inform yourself on what’s been happening in Syria, especially since 2011, or since 1982 with the Hama massacre as Leila mentioned, or wherever you want to start, instead of just getting stuck in these echo chambers which have been so common, unfortunately, with the Western left.
FS: I’m wondering if either of you have the energy to talk really briefly about that or touch on some of the conspiracy theories we need to challenge? You don’t have to answer if you don’t have the energy.
LS: Very briefly, the White Helmets are volunteer first responders, men and women, people who are often the first on the scene to assist victims of Assad and Russia’s aerial bombardment, taking bodies from the rubble, taking people to makeshift hospitals for treatment. I think it’s because they are first on the scene to record and witness these state crimes that they have come under vicious attack. A lot of the assault on the White Helmets does originate in Russian state media; the Russian state has carried out a massive disinformation campaign against the White Helmets. We’ve seen them being accused of being al-Qaeda operatives; we’ve seen them being accused of being behind chemical weapons massacres. There have even been reports that they are engaged in organ harvesting. All sorts of horrendous and malicious accusations have been thrown at them.
The problem is that a lot of these accusations, which are starting in Russian or Syrian state media, are then being propagated and spread by people who identify as being on the left. We’ve seen a lot of these disinformation campaigns carried out by purportedly leftist activists, and these kinds of conspiracies also find their way into the mainstream. It’s very difficult now to even mention the White Helmets. I spend quite a lot of my time traveling and giving talks about Syria, trying to build solidarity for Syria, and even when I come across people who are generally sympathetic to what I’m saying—they’re not supportive in any way of the Assad regime; they seem to want to stand in solidarity with free Syrians—they’ll come up to me at the end of the talk and say, “Well, what about these White Helmets? We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that.” So this campaign of disinformation has been very successful in polluting the public space in such a way that really makes any kind of practical solidarity with revolutionary Syrians almost impossible.
It’s so dangerous at the moment in a place like Idlib, where international aid agencies have all pulled out. We’re seeing massive targeting of residential infrastructure and survival infrastructure—hospitals, schools, water supplies. It’s the White Helmets who are there, who can provide any kind of lifeline to people who are facing that kind of assault. They are maligned and slandered, when they are really the people who we should be standing behind and supporting—they are in desperate need of funding to continue their work. It’s very difficult to constantly face these kinds of attacks.
JA: Russia’s online disinformation campaigns have been widely studied by now. The discourse that Russia appeals to, or that pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah folks appeal to, is identical to the War on Terror narrative that was popularized by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The whole “You’re either with us or the enemy” mentality was literally almost quoted verbatim by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, just a few weeks ago. This discourse has been reinforced and rendered hegemonic in some circles of the broader left, especially (but not just) the Western left. Russia has an obvious interest in people believing that the White Helmets are terrorists, because under the War on Terror, terrorists are fair game. You can shoot them. It’s really that simple.
The Russian embassies on Twitter (some particular embassies, like the one in South Africa, have a particular notoriety for some reason) post disinformation against the White Helmets, and against the documentary about the White Helmets—they posted a photo of Osama bin Laden receiving the Oscar. All of these things are Islamophobic smears that have been widespread especially since the aftermath of 9/11. Russia has utilized this in the past, in Chechnya. Chechnya is particularly important to mention here because one of the Russian embassies also tweeted at one point some years ago, during the fall of Aleppo, a before-and-after picture of Grozny—eradicated by Putin and rebuilt—and the message was, “This could be Aleppo.”
If those among us who call ourselves anti-authoritarians do not understand the consequences or the connotations of this, then we’re basically saying that we do not really care about groups of people that are vulnerable in our own societies, let alone in other societies or in the wider world, including Syrians in this case. The disinformation campaigns don’t just tell you something—they also tell you what not to think. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. It’s that sort of mentality. It stays in the back of your mind, it just festers there, and that alone is enough to reduce any momentum towards solidarity. What it does is discourage people from looking further.
That is the success of the disinformation. You pollute the media sphere. If you just google the White Helmets, on the first pages you will find a lot of horrible things being said. If you go on Twitter it’s dominated by Russian disinformation campaigns. When I say Russian disinformation I don’t just mean RT and Sputnik, but anyone who hovers around that world. That is extremely dangerous in a situation where these people are literally being murdered as we speak. They have even been targeted by al-Qaeda. Calling them al-Qaeda is not just a horrific, racist, Islamophobic smear—it actually puts their lives in danger.
FS: We haven’t really touched on the Syrian diaspora. I didn’t think about how a lot of this conspiracy theory stuff plays into the rightwing xenophobic rhetoric about people escaping the civil war there or escaping war in Libya or other parts of the world that the West often views through an orientalist and Islamophobic lens: that they are bringing this contagion of terrorism with them or whatever.
JA: Leila’s coauthor Robin Yassin-Kassab observed that before Syrians arrived on the shores of Fortress Europe and were being demonized by the far right as terrorists and demographic threats and all of these slurs, they were already being demonized and treated with hostility by large segments of the left. That scapegoating was already there—it’s not just that suddenly Syrians started appearing in Europe and there was massive reaction against them by the right. Of course there was that as well. But the stories of Syrians arriving in Europe (most are not in Europe, obviously; they are in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan and so on) were canceled, deleted, smeared, and demonized in advance, accelerating the process of dehumanization.
Understanding what’s happening, the context of a country, especially one in “conflict” like Syria, also means supporting the refugees that come to your shores.
FS: A lot of the coverage that this show has done on war in Syria has been specifically focusing on the struggles in northern Syria, particularly as relates to the Kurdish-majority areas and the PYD and the PKK-affiliated Kurdish movement. This is partly because there’s a better infrastructure for communication and discourse in the West, but also a lot of anarchists and leftists have been for a long time in very active solidarity with PKK-related struggles.
Leila, as someone who’s covered the war in Syria and the revolution before that, could you talk a little bit about how the PYD has related to that?
LS: That struggle has certainly gained much more solidarity in the West, and you touched on the reasons for that: the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the US has been there for a long time and has been able to build solidarity networks that take a long time to build, and Syrians living in other parts of the country had not had that. They didn’t have so much connection with the West. It’s very difficult, obviously. Even prior to the revolution it was difficult for Syrians to travel, to get visas, to be outside. So there wasn’t that much exchange built up for people to know what was happening in other areas.
Some of it also comes down to a Western orientalism that often likes to focus on minority groups as being the most persecuted, combined with Islamophobic racism towards Sunni majorities in Syria and elsewhere. This does tend to have a disproportionate impact on the way minority groups are able to attract solidarity.
That said, there are lots of very inspiring things happening within the Kurdish movement in northern Syria which are directly attractive to anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the West, and I see why there’s an appeal. But there have also been plenty of very inspiring things happening in other parts of Syria. One of the untold stories of the Syrian revolution is how in the absence of the state, when the state collapsed or was pushed out of the majority of the country, people came together and began to build alternative structures for self-organization within those areas.
For example, when the state withdrew and pulled out services, people realized that they needed to build forums to keep their communities functioning. The model that they looked to was developed by a Syrian anarchist called Omar Aziz, who advocated for the establishment of local councils, grassroots forums in which people could come together to discuss the needs in their community and self-organize to keep services functioning, such as electricity supply, hospitals, water supply systems, education systems. That model spread throughout Syria, leading to the establishment of hundreds of local councils throughout the country.
These experiences of self-organization and autonomous politics that happened as a direct result of the Syrian revolution should have been something that people outside were looking at and learning from, and that was a missed opportunity. Possibly some of that was on us, on our inability to communicate effectively what was happening. But also we had a lot of other priorities. It should have been people on the outside looking at what was happening inside Syria and seeing how they could find access to better information.
FS: To close, where do you think the people’s more democratic movements in these two venues are going? Are there any things to keep an eye on? Any direct ways, other than countering disinformation, that folks in the listening audience can support people who are struggling for autonomy and to uplift their dignity in Syria and Lebanon?
LS: I would love to talk about all the opportunities for political solidarity, to build the free Syria that we all want to see. But Syrians are facing a war of extermination right now. The situation on the ground is so absolutely desperate in places like Idlib that any immediate call has to be a purely humanitarian call, to try to pressure a ceasefire, to stop the assault by Russia and the regime on residential communities, to stop this humanitarian crisis from spiraling absolutely out of control, which it is doing at the moment.
I would encourage people to look at some of the Syrian-led organizations which are providing support to these internally displaced people on the ground. The Molham Volunteering Team is a wonderful organization doing wonderful work. Violet Organization, Kids Paradise—the immediate needs for survival take precedence over any other call I think of right now.
And then I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying about being more informed—there are still many Syrians working to try to hold this regime accountable, to try to keep going with their desire to live in a free country. I encourage people to find out who they are and to see which ways they can stand in solidarity with them.
JA: As for Lebanon, what’s been happening in the past almost four months is often described as a rebirth. There is a lot of very new momentum. Some of the media outlets that I mentioned before were literally launched in the past few weeks. A few of them are the offspring of the 2015 movement, but others are really much newer than that. There are websites that only have half a dozen articles and they are just building on that.
That’s the exciting part. We’re having an emergence. There is an emergence of a civic-society mentality—though that has a lot of limitations. Sometimes it’s limited by a liberal paradigm. But it creates a space. It’s a moment to push for ideas that are more progressive. That’s what folks like me are trying to do. I am just a writer. Other people are doing much more direct work on the ground. There are soup kitchens that have popped up in places like Beirut and Tripoli. There are independent unions being formed because the current unions are either co-opted or useless. There are independent media workers—while there are good people working within mainstream outlets, they tend to be limited by those outlets’ priorities.
At the same time, in the same way as in Syria, there has been an outburst of creativity. Arts and music genres that hadn’t been explored before are now being explored, like metal and rap and hip-hop. Lebanon is freer than Syria as a society, there are fewer restrictions. There is a lot of self-censorship, but not as much of the overt censorship that there is in Syria. You can pretty much say whatever you want, within some limits sometimes, and that has allowed us a little bit more breathing space compared with what Syrians have had, to create some of this infrastructure that is now booming. Currents like environmentalism, feminism, queer rights, and so on are also finding momentum in the ongoing revolutionary upheavals.
The only limitation so far is refugee rights, and migrant domestic worker rights. The revolution hasn’t really addressed these issues as much as it should. But hopefully the more we continue and the more progressives and others manage to steer the revolution in a certain direction rather than in a nationalist direction, that might be possible in the near future. I personally think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but there is hope in that matter.
LS: One other area that I’d like to draw attention to is the prisoners’ struggle. The prisoner issue is something that everybody should be supporting. There are thousands of Syrians in prison, and we know the horror stories of how widely practiced torture is within regime detention. Those are our people. Those are the peaceful pro-democracy activists who were struggling against this regime. They are the people who are inside prison who we should be supporting.
There are some fantastic organizations that people can get behind. Families for Freedom is a women-led movement set up by Syrian women: the mothers, wives, sisters of political prisoners. It is a movement that was inspired by Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and by a similar women-led movement looking for the disappeared in Lebanon. They’re doing as much work as they can trying to keep the issue of prisoners on the international agenda, calling for the release of not only those detained in regime prisons but also those detained in prisons by Islamist groups.
That’s something that everybody should be getting behind and finding out about and seeing how they can support, because it’s never on the agenda even though for every Syrian, it’s one of the most important issues because we all have family members or friends who have disappeared in regime detention.
We spoke a lot about how exhausted and traumatized Syrian activists are right now because of the strength of the counterrevolution and what they’ve gone through over the past few years. But one thing that has given us so much hope and strength and inspiration is seeing the protests happening in Lebanon. Also in Iraq, where people have been out on the streets and going through extremely challenging circumstances—this is also very inspirational in the way they are using anti-sectarian slogans. Also what’s happening in Iran with the protest movement there. All these movement have given us a lot of hope and courage.
Syria has been used to silence people across the region as a kind of bogeyman: if you raise your voice and demand freedom, this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up like Syria. The revolutions and uprisings that happened in 2010-11 have been crushed, they’re over. But they haven’t been crushed. This is part of a long term process. Although each country has its own specific situation, there are a lot of similarities: the authoritarian regimes, the corruption, the bad socioeconomic situation. And people are not being silenced. Something changed in 2011, and despite the massive repression these protest movements have faced, something has changed within people. That’s going to have a massive impact on the future. There’s going to be a lot of change happening in the region, and we’re only at the start of that process.
FS: Thank you so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate it.
This week on The Final Straw we feature a chat with a translator of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran to share perspectives from membership in Iran and abroad about resistance to the regime from within, solidarity from abroad, the impact of US Sabre-rattling.
An inspirational movement arose out of the Cold War period among anarchists who found themselves on either side of the international chess-board. In the US this was called Neither East Nor West. The movement published a journal called On Gogol Boulevard, which after 1990, lived as a column in Profane Existence (an anarcho-punk journal), Fifth Estate and other journals. This project seems to have existed for about 15 years, from 1980 to 1994. The Final Straw lost the opportunity a few years ago to interview a New Yorker deeply engaged throughout this project, Bob McGlynn, when he passed away. He was obviously not the only person involved, but sharing his experience and story is a missed opportunity on our part. A link to an article that McGlynn penned about the project will be linked in our show notes.
Today, we find ourselves as anarchists in the USA, 20 years into the so-called War On Terror. This war of destabilization has targeted criminalized populations in within the U.S. borders and has had massively violent and deadly consequences across the globe. What we call a War, for lack of a better word, serves to destroy, enslave, maim and kill animals, human and non-human, around the world. And throughout the whole of this 20 year period a constant boogey-man has been that of the Iranian state, whose people have lived under the varying pressure of US-led sanctions. The US war machine hovers close to shifting from it’s regional proxy wars and an active war with Iran as the Trump regime’s rhetoric and economic policy close around the throats of the Iranian people.
In the interest of international solidarity and understanding and the spirit of the Neither East Nor West, we are quite pleased to be having a conversation with people from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. In this conversation we’ll be learning about Iranian struggles and what solidarity from the West might look like. We hope that in the future we can talk more about the impact of the 20 years of war on the peoples of Afghanistan perpetrated by the US government and it’s allies and the work of anti-authoritarians on the ground.
More than 2000 people have been arrested on charges related to the Chilean uprising. To raise funds for arrestees mounting legal fees, comrades in Santiago had the idea to organize an international tattoo party fundraiser to raise money for legal funds and increase the coordination across territories. The date will be February 15th. Currently, events in Santiago and Atlanta GA have signed on and we are waiting for confirmation from Valdivia and Punto Varas. A flyer announcing the international tattoo party is forthcoming with more details on how we can link up the different events. The idea is to cross promote the different events to build a broader network, showcase different tattoo artists, and take advantage of our our shared capacity across territories.
Deadline to sign on is February 1st, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved
Solidarity w Greek Antifascists
Comrades abroad are doing a campaign for the persecuted antifascists that are charged for the attacks of the offices of the greek fascist party, they will have to gather 30000 until 17/1. Show solidarity support/spread it!
Check out the support site for Chip Fitzgerald, Black Panther activist in the California prison system for 50 years now. Chip is an elder who has suffered a stroke inside prison and is sometimes confined to a wheelchair, often uses a cane and is the longest held Black Panther prisoner. He has served 3 times the usual sentence served for folks convicted of similar crimes and has been denied parole over a dozen times since he became eligible in 1976. More on his case and how you can help to bring this aging revolutionary home is up at https://www.freedom4chip.org/
Transcription of the interview with a member of AUAI
Thanks to A-Radio Berlin for the transcription. German translation available soon via that project.
TFSR: Today, we find ourselves as anarchists in the USA, 20 years into the so-called ‘War on Terror’. This war of destabilization has targeted criminalized populations within the US borders and has had massive violent and deadly consequences across the globe. What we call a war, for lack of a better word, serves to destroy, enslave and maim animals, human and nonhuman, around the world. And throughout this whole 20 year period, one of the constant boogeymen has been that of the Iranian state, whose people have lived under varying pressure from US-led sanctions. The US war machine hovers close to shifting from its regional proxy wars to an active war with Iran, as the Trump regime’s rhetoric and economic policy close around the throats of the Iranian people. In the interest of international solidarity and understanding and the spirit of ‘Neither East Nor West’, we’re quite pleased to be having a conversation with a translator from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. In this conversation, we’ll be learning about Iranian struggles and what solidarity from the West might look like. We hope that in the future we can talk more about the impact of the 20 years of war on the peoples of Afghanistan, perpetrated by the US government at its allies, and the work of anti-authoritarians on the ground.
So, right now I’m speaking with a translator from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak and do you want to introduce yourself further than that?
AUIA: Thank you for having me. And no, that’s adequate, thank you.
TFSR: Can you talk about the makeup generally of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran and what its aims are? Like, why does it include both of those territories and not others and what are the unifying principles of the Union?
AUIA: The Union is composed of the ‘Anarchist Era Collective’, which is a community of anarchists from Afghanistan and Iran, operating both inside and outside of the respective countries, ‘Aleyh’, an anarchist group based out of Afghanistan and the ‘Revolutionary Radical Anarchist Front’ who is based in Iran. Our members are about two thirds in Afghanistan and Iran and one third outside of them. With many of those in Europe, Canada, and the United States. The vast majority of our new members are recruited from within Afghanistan and Iran. The reason why it is those two countries is because they share Persian as a lingua franca, referred to as Farsi in Iran, or Farsi and Dari in Afghanistan. Peoples in these territories as well share similar struggles and the states of the respective countries and the political elites share commonalities as well. We have many points of unity, though one thing to know is that we are open to all anarchists, except pacifists, sectarian religious anarchists and those who call themselves so-called ‘anarcho-capitalists’. Due to different situations on the ground in Afghanistan and Iran, we embrace a multitude of different strategies and except many different tendencies of anarchists, depending on the situations that they face.
TFSR: Can you give an explanation very briefly, of why – I can understand why an-caps, because they are not real, and partisan-religious anything wouldn’t be able to work with other people without those other people turning to their side, so that makes sense. What is it about the pacifist anarchists that puts them in with those other categories of groups that can’t be a part of the Union?
AUIA: Our reason for not accepting pacifists into the Anarchist Union is that pacifism does not effectively confront the state and in many ways reifies the legitimacy of the state. We also accept the necessity of armed struggle and armed self-defense, which pacifism does not encompass. But for people on the ground in the struggles and protests in Iran, it is necessary for us to use violence when necessary against the regime.
TFSR: That makes sense. So, as we’re speaking, tensions are ratcheting up between the US regime and the Irani regime. What does the Anarchist Union think about the assassination of major general Qasem Suleimani of the Quds Force, of the Irani Revolutionary Guard and how has the assassination affected living and resisting under the regime? How have people reacted to the states threatening one another?
AUIA: We are happy that Qasem Suleimani is dead and many found his death cathartic. He has been terrorizing the region in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, as well as in Afghanistan for quite some time and he was an important figure within the Revolutionary Guard, which unleashes domestic forces on protesters, demonstrators frequently, including the uprising in November. At the same time, we also condemn the reckless actions of Trump’s executive branch in Iraq and their self-interested strike, which served to stir up tensions in the region and bring more suffering on Iraqis and Syrians who are in the lines of fire. This recent international incident emerges from decades of conflict between opposing imperialist blocks, who are largely responsible for the wars, famines, and displacement of many people, that is so common now in the Middle East.
We believe that the death of Suleimani will not change Iran’s approach in regions that border it because his longtime deputy commander Esmail Ghaani is being appointed to replace him as commander of the Quds. As well the militia leader who was killed, al-Muhandis, his death will not end his militia or any other militia that Iran backs. On the opposite side, Iraq did request American forces leave, and many NATO operations were suspended during the last week, but there is no indication Western powers will dramatically change their policies or their presence in Iraq. So far there has been little effect on resistance under the regime. There was a day of state mourning, there were many state-mandated parades, and the regime banned any sort of protests or rallies against these.
There may be a lull due to a nationalist fervor, but it will not last long, because the economic conditions, the domestic conditions, the repression, that is forced on the Iranian people, will lead to riots and uprisings again. For this, we’re pretty certain. In Iran, the regime’s reaction has to be understood as well within the upcoming election. There is an election that is being held in Iran on February 21st 2020, and the strong condemnation and retaliation to the strike by the Americans was expected. So if Trump has an election, he’s currently in the cycle, he’s campaigning for, so too are Iranian politicians.
TFSR: What are the conditions of life in Iran under the regime? Many listeners in the West and in the US, in particular, will be curious to learn about the experience of day-to-day life. We understand that Iran is a large and heterogeneous territory, so whatever you can do to inform us, will be appreciated.
AUIA: The current situation should be seen as a part of the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the regime that was born in 1979, during the revolution. The current situation is a result of four decades of divisions and splits within the government and since the beginning the regime has been gradually eliminating one group after another that has supported the revolution, getting rid of parties and curtailing their prominence and stopping political participation and excluding voices from the political arena that don’t support the revolution that occurred in 1979. While there are elections, the people who may run for the elections are carefully chosen by the Guardian Committee. So they are not the same as elections that happen in the US or Canada, where the party apparatuses are responsible for electing their own representatives to run as leaders of the parties or as presidents.
In the economic arena as well, there is a large gap in income. A majority of Iranians are either in absolute poverty, or they’re in relative poverty. There is a large working class, as well as a large unemployed population. And this is because neoliberal policies are being imposed by the Iranian regime, to kind of pave the way for the seizure of public property by political elites, and the impoverishment of many. Money that could be redistributed to the people has been instead funneled towards proxy wars that Iran is fighting as well as being funneled into the hands of clerics and the Revolutionary Guard. Iranian state assets are owned by four organizations, including the ‘Holy Shrine of Imam Reza’, the ‘Foundation of the Oppressed’, and the ‘Seal of the Prophets’. These organizations own companies in vast amounts of wealth and assets, including various factories and companies, as well as property that was confiscated from the Shah Regime. And the policies that Iran pursues, by taking much of the economy for the elite and to fund proxy wars and their own repression, is having a negative effect on the country and the livelihoods of normal people who live there.
TFSR: For listeners that are in the US and are concerned around the sanctions that the US has been imposing, it sounds basically like it’s just being passed on to the population and not actually affecting the policies and choices of the regime directly in Iran. Does this seem like a correct assessment?
AUIA: Yes, that is a correct assessment. Though some businesses and some members of the Iranian regime do feel the pressures of the economic sanctions, much of the actual burden of these is held by regular people.
TFSR: Could you talk about the protests that rocked Iran in November? Their genesis, and what role, if any, anarchists played in them? And also what sort of political, social, religious or gender strata participated in the protests? Were there demands? And how successful was it? Sorry, that’s a very big question.
If you want to more generally, would you tell us about those protests? And who participated, what went on, and how they went?
AUIA: These protests emerged from the pressure of US economic sanctions because they’ve paralyzed the government, which means that the regime is facing a severe budget deficit. A first spark for these protests was the regime deciding to cut the subsidies for gasoline in order to pay for some of the other parts of their budget. This created an outcry from the vulnerable parts of society and those who were lower income. What is perhaps surprising is that many of those who form the base of pro-government support were out in the streets: the lower classes. And they have been driven onto the streets to protest because of the economic pressure and the organized corruption in the country.
There are also reports of young people from affluent classes as well as people from the middle class and many students who joined. However, we can suspect that it wasn’t necessarily economic reasons that made those protesters join in the demonstrations. As to anarchist presence, there was serious and widespread anarchist participation in the protest that happened in November of this year as well as December 2017/2018. In the aftermath of the 2017/2018 protests, we know of at least some anarchists who were arrested and tortured, though it is not clear to us that the government knew that they were anarchists. And the Union does not have links with all Iranian anarchists, so we don’t know how many were arrested or were killed. As for this November, as far as we know, there were no anarchists associated with the Union who were arrested or killed, but again, we can’t know of the fate of all anarchists. And anarchists have participated in the uprising in different ways, in each location, because it involved a variety of different events, different rallies, different marches, depending on the circumstances and the severity of state response. We can’t really get into that due to security reasons.
But during these protests, there were three key drivers that brought people to the streets, and those were domestic politics, the economic situation, as well as the international policies of Iran. People were in the streets protesting Iran’s involvement in Syria, in Iraq and in Lebanon. We also know that Afghan refugees participated in the demonstrations because nine were killed, and many more were arrested. So we know that there was widespread participation by all classes and people in society against the regime, and the economic situation, and the imperialism that Iran has been inflicting on the rest of the region.
TFSR: There was what appeared to be an inconsistency between those two answers and so I would like to just address that and get a clarification if that’s ok. Because in the prior question that I asked [you said that the economic sanctions do not affect the Iranian regime]. So the sanctions are in fact affecting the regime, but the elite as individuals don’t feel the burden as much as the majority of the population, is that a correct understanding? Because you said that subsidies had lead to…
AUIA: So, the regime as a whole and the political elite as a class, do not feel the burden of the economic sanctions. They don’t go without food, they have plenty of fuel, it hasn’t affected their electricity or their internet, it hasn’t affected their day-to-day life. It has affected the running of the Iranian state. And Instead of directing money to the people, who are feeling the burden of the sanctions, they’re instead hoarding the money for themselves or using the money to rage proxy wars.
TFSR: The Iranian government has shut off the internet in a reaction to protests at various times. Can you talk about the impact that this has had on the resistance in Iran and social and technical workarounds that people have constructed or found?
AUIA: Definitely. Shutting off the internet did a great deal of damage to internet businesses, but did not have too much of an effect on protests themselves. The protests had begun before the internet crash and while the shutdown did limit the amount of information we could receive from the streets, people instead just decided to speak face-to-face, and they didn’t really use internet access to create the protests, to begin with, and so they just continued not using the internet. Given the events that happened over that week, we don’t believe the internet had much of an effect of protests, people tend to be organizing these protests and getting involved in demonstrations against the state through face-to-face interactions. Considering that many common social media tools that activists use in the West and other places to organize clandestinely with encryption and security aren’t available in Iran. And some apps and platforms such as Twitter are not accessible in Iran without VPN services.
TFSR: We often hear in the West about the Iranian state repression for feminist stances, for queerness, unorthodox religious expression and practice. How much is day-to-day life policed around issues of gender, sexuality, and religion? How free are people to live their identities as they see fit, love and worship as they will, and how much room culturally is there for these expressions?
AUIA: Day-to-day life in Iran is heavily policed, and one of the main organs that polices the expression of sexuality and gender is the Gashte Ershad, which translates to the Guidance Patrol, they’re also known as the morality police. We can see the effects of repression of women especially through the symbolic videos that have been coming out of Iran of women taking off their hijab. That doesn’t mean they’re not Muslims, it doesn’t mean they’re anti-Islam, but it means that they are performing a symbolic protest to reject the type of the Islamic rules that are imposed by the state. In general, women, all religious minorities, oppressed genders, and minority nationalities are under constant police pressure and control, they’re subjected to constant repression. Women must usually travel with a father or a husband or some other male guardian, and there are many human rights issues that Iranian feminists attempt to address.
LGBTQ people are oppressed by the religious police and the Iranian state’s interpretation of Islamic law, meaning that if a homosexual is discovered and it’s proved that they have had gay sex, they can suffer a death sentence. Largely, relations between men and women in society are very limited and in public, there is always police supervision or Guidance Patrols, who are tasked with enforcing the coverage of women, and the separation between young men and women. There are instances that even at parties that people are having in their own homes, police and Guidance Patrols come to attack them and arrest those who are in attendance if they find that the party is in breach with any of the state’s laws. The Iranian state has used religion to create this prison for marginalized peoples.
TFSR: So the last question didn’t really touch on ethnic differences, and you mentioned ethnic minorities and repression from the Iranian regime. Can you talk about the struggles of non-Persian peoples within Iran, the forms that those struggles take and the relationship between the Anarchist Union and those struggles? You already mentioned that the union has a stance in support of armed struggle against the Iranian state.
AUIA: As you have said, we are supportive of armed struggle against the Iranian state, and we have made two communiqués calling for an armed united front to defend unarmed protesters from security forces during these demonstrations and further uprisings. Iran has different ethnic groups and they all have their own struggles. The territory of Iran is home to many different peoples who speak Iranic languages, such as Balochs, Kurds, Lari, Luri, Mazandarani, Bashkardis, just to name a few, as well as Arab speakers. There are speakers of Turkic languages, like Yazidi. As a nation-state, Iran has continued ‘Persianization’, to forcibly assimilate non-Persian nationalities. Many minorities are kept out of the decision making positions in their regions, by Tehran, many languages are also discriminated against and economic distribution is kept away from minority regions, like Baluchestan and Kurdistan. Tehran wants access to resources in these regions and strategic ports and roadways but wants to keep the local people suppressed. The Anarchist Union had run a Twitter poll, and although Twitter accounts for about 10% of Iranian internet users and there aren’t too many Iranian internet users, according to the poll, out of Irans 31 provinces there are 30 with anarchists. There are anarchists among all the non-Persian ethnicities. There are also anarchists in the only province that no anarchists selected for the poll, but they don’t use Twitter or the internet and they can’t participate in those polls.
We shouldn’t forget that in Iran, anarchists are largely disadvantaged and impoverished and don’t always have access to the internet or to an internet café, and rarely have access to smartphones with that capability. The Anarchist Union itself does not rely solely on its own members and has a multitude of anarchist audiences and groups who coordinate union activities without direct contact to keep it decentralized for security reasons. We don’t want everybody to be in direct contact with us or to be a member of the Union because that could leave the Union open to being targeted easier by the Iranian regime. Many of the anarchists are movement-oriented and involved in many different initiatives including ethnic minority struggles. Non-Persian anarchists mainly fall outside of ethnic parties, that are organized, and have their own independent activities as anarchists that we are either about in contact with or indirectly coordinate with, though the non-Persian peoples of Iran and their anarchists are definitely involved in union activities and we do respond to the need and the struggles of everyone who lives under the Iranian regime.
TFSR: A painful truth of ignorance is the inability to see the bounds of that ignorance. Would you please speak about Orientalist approaches of Western leftists and anarchists as you’ve experienced it as the Union, as least since you’ve participated in the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran? And insights that we in the West can act from to overcome some of these shortcomings?
AUIA: Western leftists are very quick to defend states opposed to the US. Western chauvinism prioritizes a worldview that centers the United States and therefore makes opposing American imperialism at the expense of other states a priority. This orientalism subordinates the struggles of Afghans and Iranians who have to confront both their own governments, as well as many competing international interests. Many Western leftists are ignorant of the complexity of situations in places like Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Instead of listening to authoritarians on the ground or in the diaspora, they are quick to make judgments that confirm their own biases about the United States and American imperialism. For example, we receive negative feedback from Western leftists, mostly Marxists, to our own statements to the death of Qasem Suleimani, because we condemned him and found catharsis in his death in addition to condemning reckless American actions. For the Union, it is paramount that we both oppose American sanctions and warmongering as well as the Iranian regime’s corruption and brutal oppression. The insight that Western leftists can take away is to focus on and raise up the voices of those who are suffering from oppression abroad and people of those diasporas who have rigorous analyses of all imperialisms, not merely reflexively falling back on American imperialism and its allies.
TFSR: I raise that question because there is a certain brand of authoritarian leftists. In the US, and in the West I guess, we have a brand of so-called leftism that often supports repressive states that are viewed to be oppositional to the US state. However, they are also standing on the throats of the people that they claim to rule over. So, often we call those people ‘Tankies’. That nickname came from a derisive nickname, an insult for British communists who supported the Stalinist repression of Hungarian workers’ democracy in 1956. So, that is kind of why I raise this question because we have also gotten some push-back for trying to help amplify the voices, to American audiences mostly, of people in resistance in Hong Kong or Rojava. And ‘Tankies’ come at us on Twitter and they’re like ‘actually, you’re just anti-Chinese’, or ‘Assad is actually a Socialist’. Can you talk a little more about ‘Tankies’?
AUIA: Of course. ‘Tankies’ represent a threat to internationalism, especially in the region of Afghanistan and Iran. They support the Iranian regime even though Iran represses and targets anarchists as well as Marxists. They support the Assad regime, which is opposed to leftist thought as well as liberty and egalitarianism and has waged a war to keep authoritarianism in that country. They go back, as you said, they support the People’s Republic of China, as well as supporting Russia and Putin. For us, it seems that these self-described leftists do not support any sort of leftism, they have merely taken up a different imperialist block in these struggles. And they’re again centering the United States and Western action and agency, rather than centering the resistance of people who live in the places where struggles are ongoing and where different imperialist blocs are attempting to influence the region to install governments that are amicable to them. This creates complications in their geopolitics, especially in the case of Afghanistan, where the Americans have been waging a decades-long occupation and the Afghan state has been fighting a civil war against the Taliban. However, the Taliban are being supported by Iran, Russia, and China, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and Pakistan. So, for the ‘tankie’ this raises a question: if Iran and China and Russia are always on the side of anti-imperialism, would that make the Taliban anti-imperialist? Would that make Pakistan, who also supports the Taliban, anti-imperialist? We also must look back.
‘Tankies’ often defend the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and present the Mujahedin as the precursors of al-Qaida, even though al-Qaida were Arabs and not Afghans. The Afghan Mujahedin was also supported by Iran and Suleimani himself participated in supporting the Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban, which the Americans also supported. So we see how the pragmatic opportunism of Iran and other imperialist states sometimes coincides with American and other imperialist interests that these ‘Tankies’ definitely don’t support and these are problems with their worldview. It is based on some simple heuristics that they know about the world and that they apply to everything in order to make it simple. And perhaps in isolation, they can make sense but they can’t explain the global system unless they out and out become supporters of Russian imperialism or Iranian imperialism globally.
TFSR: That point is very well made. And I could see them – I mean if people relate the Mujahedin to the Taliban, there is the Osama bin Laden connection, right?…
AUIA: Following the fall of the PDPA (the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) government, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, that was ruled by Najibullah, who was installed by the Soviets, there was a civil war among Mujahedin commanders. And out from the Pakistani refugee camps, where Afghans were kept, emerged the Taliban movement and it joined the civil war. So the Taliban were largely fighting against who we would think of as the Mujahedin. And the Northern Alliance and many of the political elite that formed a coalition government are from the Mujahedin but they are also from the PDPA. So, the narrative that the Mujahedin became the Taliban is not true. There are fighters from the Mujahedin who joined the Taliban but by and large, the majority of factions and commanders that fought in the Mujahedin opposed the Taliban.
And to the second point of bin Laden: bin Laden was responsible for Maktab al-Khidamat which was an organization that helped bring Arab fighters, Arab foreign fighters, to Afghanistan, and fight in the Mujahedin against the Soviets. They never brought very many, they may have been no more than 5.000 in Afghanistan at any point in time. Most of the money that was raised by bin Laden came from private investors in the Gulf states. Some of the money came from Saudi Arabia’s security apparatuses directly, in order to do things that they did not want the Americans or the Pakistanis to know about because the Americans and the Saudi government were funneling money through the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, the ISI, and the ISI controlled the distribution of funds to the major Mujahedin groups. So, there’s no evidence to suggest that the Americans had any ties to bin Laden. Most of the time that comes from orientalism and assuming that Afghans and Arabs are the same, and that bin Laden was a participant in the Afghan Mujahedin, which he was not.
TFSR: Thank you for the clarification.
Switching gears a little bit: Anarchists in other parts of the world may be interested to learn about how you all from the Anarchist Union learned about anarchism, what anarchism looks like in Iran, such as what tendencies or influences there are. Maybe if it has subcultural roots in Punk or Metal as can be seen in a lot of other parts of the world or if it comes more from labor roots? And does the praxis hold any particular religious, secular, or anti-religious sentiment?
AUIA: Our own praxis definitely holds secular sentiment, and there are some who hold anti-religious sentiments. Much like Bakunin who said, “no gods, no masters” when he was living under a time of Christian hierarchy and when Christian organizations represented an authoritarian presence in society, so too does anti-religious sentiment stem from the authoritarian usage of Islam by the Iranian regime. What we have found is that there are many anarcho-syndicalists in Iran. However, there are also anarchists of other tendencies as well, anarcho-feminists, green anarchists, anarcho-communists, and other anarchist tendencies. Many people do not emphasize a branch or tendency of anarchism that they hold, they merely say that they are anarchists. Since 1979 there have been translations of anarchist works that have made their way into Iran, normally in zines. There are European, Western thinkers like Bakunin or Kropotkin who were able to introduce anarchism into Iran. Though anarchism in the region goes back further. There were Armenian anarchists and other anarchists, who were located close to the Ottoman Empire and Iran, that wrote in Persian as well as other languages, like Armenian and Turkish. So there is anarchist literature that is from the region as well.
TFSR: Iran is one of the states that overlap with Kurdistan. We would be curious to hear what sort of impact the Rojava revolution has had within Iran, particularly since decentralization, agnosticism, and plurality, feminism, and anti-capitalism appear as they might be in conflict with the aims of the Iranian, and any, state.
AUIA: Yes, we take inspiration from Kurds in northern Syria who are part of the PYD and the other groups who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Autonomous Administration of North-Eastern Syria. They have shown us another political system that strives to achieve a society where there is respect for all citizens. In addition to that, they have opposed imperialism and reactionary politics by fighting against the Islamic State as well as Erdoğan’s fascist government in Turkey. In addition to this, there is an equivalent to the PYD and PKK operating in Iran, called PJAK, and they are present in the North-west and western provinces, such as Kurdistan, West-Azerbaijan, Kermanshah. And they have been waging a domestic armed struggle against the Iranian regime for quite some time with the support of their affiliated organizations. We also encourage everyone to participate in protest actions and rallies that support northern Syria and communities there.
TFSR: Iran is surrounded by nations destabilized by US wars over the last 20 years and beyond, and the borders are often just lines in the sand. The news hit the US media this year that much of the power vacuum left within Iraq by the US invasion and occupation has been filled by the Iranian government and its proxies. This comes as the US puppet state has failed to realize, unsurprisingly and thanks in part to the extremists and the extremism and ethic and religious feuds stoked by the US leading to the rise of Daesh and other groups… Unsurprisingly they haven’t been able to reach stability, this puppet government. Recent protest movements in the streets of Iraq have called for jobs, for security, for self-determination. This has been met with bloody consequences at the hands of security forces and para-state actors like those militias. Can you talk about the relationship between Iraq and Iran in this period and maybe give an assessment of the recent struggles in Iraq? Is there any chance of extending the Anarchist Union into Iraq as well?
AUIA: The situation in Iraq needs to take into account that Iraq and Iran have been in conflict since shortly after the Iranian revolution. There was a decade long war, the Iraq-Iran war, and following that and the invasion and occupation by the United States, Iran has been attempting to influence and control the Iraqi government. So recently Iran has played the role of regional imperialist by creating mercenary Muslim groups, they’re mostly Shia, to export their revolution throughout the Shiite Crescent, and they are injecting large amounts of money to support their own state intervention and support non-state proxy groups throughout the region. This is largely being done by the Quds force and was built by the late Suleimani. So far the amount of money that the Iranian government has pumped into militias and segments of the Iraqi government has been successful. And parts of the Iraqi government have begun affiliating with Iran. And we can see that from parts of the Iranian security apparatus opening fire on protesters in October who were protesting against Iranian imperialism, as well as instances of Iranian-backed militia members joining the police or the Iraqi military and firing on Americans. Much of the Iraqi resistance was suppressed and crushed by affiliated organizations of the Iranian regime including their militias and Qasem Suleimani played a large role in these events. Many of the activists in the Iraqi people’s movement were assassinated or tortured by Iran and Iranian-backed forces. And the struggles extent beyond Iraq to Lebanon, Iran itself, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. All of these conflicts are intertwined because of the amount of money that Iran is spending and the organizing that they are doing to create militias in these areas or to infiltrate groups that already exist, like the Taliban which I mentioned previously. And if the Iranian regime falls, then the peoples in these countries will witness the collapse of the Iranian infiltrated parts of their own governments and the Iranian-backed militias would be defeated or disintegrated very easily without the constant funding from Tehran.
Speaking about anarchists, in Iraq, there are many anarchists in the Kurdish part and there are anarchists throughout Iraq as a whole but in order for our Anarchist Union to expand into the geographical area of Iraq, we would need more people in the Union to know Arabic, as that’s the language of the majority of the population in Iraq. And currently, we are focusing on Persian-language content and the struggles of people who speak Persian.
TFSR: Yeah, that makes sense. So in the West, we hear in our media and from the US government that the survival of Jews in West Asia is only possible by repression of the Iranian state through sanctions and military actions, in defense of Israel as a state. May people, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and of other faiths, or a lack of faiths, or various identities, suffer under the Israeli state. Has there been any show of solidarity between anarchists and anti-authoritarians living under these regimes and can you say some words about the role of religious regimes and stoking hatred among working peoples? Do you have any hope that international solidarity could surpass these limitations?
AUIA: We’ve seen demonstrations of solidarity from Palestinians and other people who are living under this regime and we have shown solidarity in return. We see the function of religion by oppressive regimes is similar to the functions of how fascist regimes operate. They create hatred among their people and fear and creating internal enemies through the use of propaganda. And this hatred is not only confined to religious differences, as it reinforces ethnic differences, racial differences, and the differences between nationalities. And it has produced, along with the colonial borders in the Middle East, much of the tension and ongoing conflicts that we see. We believe our international solidarity has already broken the barriers in many cases, we have developed very strong international relations with anarchists and resistance groups in other parts of the Middle East and are hoping to be better able to support and show solidarity with them in the future too.
TFSR: What should folks living in the United States or other Western states know about resistance in Iran? What can we do to support liberation struggles in Iran and against the State in Capital And how can we build stronger bonds across borders? Is there a way to avoid having our support being used by the Iranian regime as a reason for further repression?
AUIA: Resistance in Iran is very difficult. There is minimal access to secure communications technology in order for people to plan actions. It is also illegal and heavily policed to have demonstrations and have protests and rallies, where it is very easy in Western countries to either get permits or have spontaneous protests. This means that Iranians must operate clandestinely or wait for massive uprisings and demonstrations that the police can’t immediately respond to and must bring in the Revolutionary Guard or the military in order to suppress. Supporting Iranians fighting in Iran must at the minimum include criticism of the regime. Support that valorizes the regime as anti-imperialist in any way makes it difficult to create internationalist support for Iranian resistance. This is something that we see in Hong Kong as well as Iran and other parts of the world, where authoritarian self-described leftists are very quick to support the imperialist power, whether it would be the People’s Republic of China or Iran and this leads to conservatives, republicans, hawkish liberals, being opportunists and siding with, say Hong Kong or Iranian protesters merely because it suits their interests because they oppose Iran or China geopolitically. And as internationalist leftists, we should not allow that to happen and we should not cede that space to conservatives. Western leftists cannot hesitate to show solidarity with Iranian and Afghan struggles against their own states and all imperialist actors for that reason.
The Union has been approached by organizations around the world, in Belarus and Mexico, to exchange written interviews to learn more about the struggle happening in other places and this is a way to build stronger bonds between borders and share struggles and the ways that different anarchist groups approach those struggles and approach confronting their own states as well as the other international interests that have effects on their lives.
TFSR: Are there any topics that I failed to ask you about, that you would like to address?
AUIA: No, I think we covered them all.
TFSR: We covered a lot. Can you talk about how folks can learn more and keep up on the struggles of Iranian anarchists and anti-authoritarians? How can we keep up on the Union in particular?
AUIA: You can keep up with our work by following the Twitter of our media collective @asranarshism where we post translations of our communiqués and statements as well as news and prisoner letters that have been translated. You can also visit our website which you can find on our Twitter, though it is primarily made for Persian speakers. However, all of the translated content you can find by searching our Twitter handle. You can also access and join the Telegram group, though that is also largely written in Farsi.
TFSR: Well thank you so much for taking this time to chat and going through the effort personally of translating these words from Farsi on the spot, I really appreciate this. And also I realized a thing before we started chatting that after I sent you the questions and that little script about ‘Neither East Nor West’. I didn’t realize that that was actually one of the chants that were used within the Iranian revolution which was, of course, a lot of different tendencies pushing before Ayatollah Khomeini took over and his group took over. I really like the idea of sharing information and building solidarity through it, so thank you so much for participating in this.
Digital Security / Tenant Organizing / #MeToo Hong Kong
This week, we feature three portions.
Lauren Regan of CLDC
First up, we share a chat with Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, or CLDC, to chat about safer practices around technology for activists, as well as the “reverse search” warrant used by the NYPD with Google to capture info on antifascists and the Proud Boy attackers last year. More at https://cldc.org. An article about tech security and phones that Bursts references is called “Never Turn Off The Phone” [starts 10m 08s]
Palm Beach Tenants Union
Following this, Withers (a new collective member at The Final Straw) shares a chat with Adam and Amy, two organizers with the Palm Beach Tenants Union out of Florida about their work and the sorts of mutual aid disaster work they’ve done with Hurricane Irma and advocating for and organizing with renters in their communities for dignity in housing. More on the Union at https://pbctu.org and more on how you can get involved in mutual aid up at https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org. There are a number of donation sites around the region to prepare for this Hurricane season, as well as distribute support to Bahamas that you can find by searching social media for DRASL (Dorian Response Autonomous Supply Line), as mentioned on itsgoingdown.org. [starts at 54m 06s]
#MeToo and Updates from Hong Kong
Finally, you’ll hear a conversation with Enid and Rebecca, who feminist activists in Hong Kong about the current state of protests there. Content warning, that segment deals in part with organizing around sexualized assault by police and by protestors. To hear our prior interview with Ahkok on protests in HK, check our website and see the great articles up at crimethinc. Also, the guests talk about the term 自由閪, or “Freedom Cunt” as a re-appropriation of a misogynist insult by police from the protests. [starts at 1hr 15m 51s]
*Correction to the HK conversation: The full name of the IPCC mentioned in regards to the establishment of an independent police inquiry is called the Independent Police Complaints Council. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam appointed two new committee members to the already existing committee, not independent investigators. However, the IPCC has hired five foreign investigators to participate in examinations, though it must be clarified that the role of the IPCC is observational rather than investigative. The IPCC has no jurisdiction to either call witness nor collect evidence for the independent inquiry called for by citizens.
If you’re listening to the radio version, as usual, we suggest that you check out the podcast version for longer versions of all three chats in this episode as well as Sean Swain’s audio this week. You can hear that at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org or via various streaming platforms we publish to, such as youtube, soundcloud, stitcher, pandora and so-on.
For the hour, we spoke with Ahkok who identifies as a humanitarian, antifascist and musician who grew up in Hong Kong and has participated in protests over the years including the Umbrella Movement and current protests today. We talk about the mindset of the Hong Kong protests, the situation in China, decolonization, racism and more.
Y’all may have heard that over the last 8 weeks or so, Hong Kong has been rocked by protests to undermine efforts by the government to create an extradition treaty with China. The protests have included barricades, interesting uses of AirDrop, Telegram and whatsapp and other digital platforms to avoid censorship to spread information, street fights against police and attacks from criminal gangs they and the Chinese government hired (the so-called “White Shirts”) and a raucous romp through the empty legislative chambers of governance leaving wreck and ruin behind. The street actions come on the 30th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Protests of 1989 when student sit-ins demanding democratic political and economic reforms were killed in Beijing and around by the so-called Peoples Liberation Army. Currently, western reporting and word from dissidents inside of China has come about the Re-Education camps such as in Xinjiang where the Chinese government has been interring Uighur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in order to stamp out their religion and socialize them to a more homogeneous Chinese lifestyles, definitely a reason for Hong Kongers to take the streets to keep dissenters there from easy deportation to China.
If you’re in the Asheville area, on Friday August 2nd from 6:30-8 at Firestorm Books, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross will be showing the documentary “Love And Revolution” about autonomous and anarchist responses to austerity, police violence and resistance to borders and love for the people who cross them in Greece. More on the film at the website lamouretlarevolution.net. Then, on Sunday August 4th from 5-7pm BRABC invites you to it’s monthly political prisoner letter writing. Show up to scrawl a few screeds and meet some nice wingnuts.
Bennu Hannibale Ra-Sun
Supporters of Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun, recently moved out of solitary confinement after years in the hole for organizing non-violent resistance behind bars, are asking folks to show up in Montgomery, AL to support a court hearing for him at 10AM Montgomery County Courthouse, Courtroom 3C, 251 S Lawrence St. Montgomery, AL 36104 held before Circuit Judge James H. Anderson Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.
Support Workers Coop Efforts
Finally, comrades in Carbondale, IL, have put together a gofundme to help fund a workers cooperative. You can find the site by searching “Carbondale Spring Fat Patties Cooperative”, an effort to re-open a closed burger joint to feed the working class, not some fat cat CEO. More info about organizing efforts in Carbondale can be found at carbondalespring.org.
BAD News: July 2019
This month for the A-Radio Network’s “Angry Voices From Around The World” podcast we feature a shortened segment from our previous episode of TFSR with Perilous Chronicles, as well as A-Radio Berlin with notes on the National Socialist Underground trial in Germany and A-Radio Vienna with call-ups for the August 23-30 International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners and support for prison rebel, Andreas Krebs.
. … . ..
This week, we featured “Jab Cross” by Lucy Furr from their recent album, The Jungle, as well as the track “4K Punk Rock” by antifascist post-rock band Remiso’s album, Pleasant With Presentiment.
Y’all may have heard that over the last 8 weeks or so, Hong Kong has been rocked by protests to undermine efforts by the government to create an extradition treaty with China. The protests have included barricades, interesting uses of Air-Drop, Telegram and WhatApp and other digital platforms to avoid censorship to spread information, street fights against police and attacks from criminal gangs they and the Chinese government hired (the so-called “White Shirts”) and a raucous romp through the empty legislative chambers of governance leaving wreck and ruin behind. The street actions come on the 30th anniversary of the Tianeman Square Protests of 1989 when student sit-ins demanding democratic political and economic reforms were killed in Beijing and around by the so-called Peoples Liberation Army. Currently, western reporting and word from dissidents inside of China has come about the Re-Education camps such as in Xinjiang where the Chinese government has been interring Uighar Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in order to stamp out their religion and socialize them to a more homogeneous Chinese lifestyles, definitely a reason for Hong Kongers to take the streets to keep dissenters there from easy deportation to China.
For the hour, I spoke with Ahkok who identifies as a humanitarian, antifascist and musician who grew up in Hong Kong and has participated in protests over the years including the Umbrella Movement and current protests today. We talk about the mindset of the Hong Kong protests, the situation in China, decolonization, racism and more.
TFSR: Could you introduce yourself to the audience?
Ahkok: Ok, yeah, my name is Ahkok. Originally I’m from Hong Kong, now based in London. I just came back from the Hong Kong massive protests starting from June, lasting until now, really. I’m a musician and I’m also a member of the Hong Kong antifa group. Yeah, that’s basically who I am.
TFSR: Do you identify as an anarchist as well?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah, I..
TFSR: It’s ok if you don’t…
Ahkok: I, I do, but I like to call myself a humanitarian more, maybe. But sometimes I’ll put on an anarchist hat and, for to, make my ground or something. So, yeah, I would say I’m an anarchist.
TFSR: So,I got ahold of you because there are these ongoing and incredible protests going on for the last 8 weeks…
Ahkok: yeah, mmm
TFSR: …in Hong Kong. Can you talk a little bit about where they came from, recently, and sort of what’s gone on, please?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s basically… it started from a murder that happened in Taiwan. So, basically there’s a Hong Kong guy, I think he was going out with this Taiwanese girl. That girl got murdered and he flew back to Hong Kong. And there wasn’t any extradition bill between Hong Kong and Taiwan. So, the Hong Kong government was trying to use this as a chance to introduce this extradition bill. But, it’s not for Taiwan, it’s basically trying to bridge this gap from Hong Kong to China. So, yeah, that happened I think in April. And then a lot of different people trying to reject the bill, but the Hong Kong government was really, really determined to pass the bill. So, on the 9th of June there was this massive protest about this extradition bill worldwide, really. I was in Berlin, and I was participating in a gathering in Berlin. There’s a lot of Hong Kong people living there, about a couple of hundred people.
And then it just… went more aggressive along. There was, on the 12th of June, there was a protest outside of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong and the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. There was a guy, I think he is a reporter, and he got shot in the head, so everyone was sort of watching it and he was in a pool of blood, almost died. I was just really shocked, so I took a flight back to Hong Kong just to be with all of my mates and with the protesters. It just escalated from there and continues right now.
Well, it’s actually a little bit different now because initially we all gathered outside of the Legislative Council, it’s basically like a Parliament in Hong Kong. So there are a lot of protests there. On the first of July some of the protesters actually broke into the Parliament, I think people have seen the videos. Then they trashed the Parliament with lots of graffiti and then came out safely. But the Legislative Council isn’t really operating now so people start to organize different protests in different districts around Hong Kong. Like, for instance, last week it was in Lin Yao and the week before it was in Xiao Tin and so on and so forth. So, it’s basically that there are a lot of smaller protests now rather than just one big, gigantic one happening outside of the Legislative Council.
TFSR: So, is the Legislative Council between sessions where it’s taking an official break that is timed or is it that they are on pause because of the amount of disruption that’s occurring?
Ahkok: They are on pause because of the destruction, yes. Actually, the Chief Executive in Hong Kong, she said the bill is dead but we all think that’s a big lie because there are no options about the bill going dead. You can either pass the bill, approve it, or you withdraw it. But she never said ‘withdraw’, so we think she’s just trying to bide her time and maybe try to reintroduce it later on. So, the protesters keep on protesting her to say ‘withdraw’ but she never used the word. So we just don’t believe her and think the bill is just hanging there.
But, yeah, the Legislative Council is trashed pretty badly and it’ll take a couple of weeks to reinstall. But there will be a somewhat of a break later on anyway. We think that if the bill is coming back, it’ll be in October. But now I think it escalated more than just the extradition bill. It’s more about the independence or the staying away from the evil control from the Chinese government, really.
TFSR: So, I think it’s a good time for people in the audience who may not understand the situation with Hong Kong’s government. SO, basically, for a very long time China was in control, right, and then that was wrested away by the British during the Opium Wars, which gave it back in 1997. Can you talk a bit about that transition and what say the people of Hong Kong had in that and sort of what conflict there would be between the methods of governance that were present or expectations of the ways society ran under British rule versus under Chinese?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s a very complicated and long story. But, there is this Sino-British joint declaration. Basically, Hong Kong is a British Colony, right? I think we got pretty wealthy because of the Cultural Revolution. There’s a lot of businessmen, maybe from Shanghai or somewhere, who tried to escape the Cultural Revolution so they went to Hong Kong to establish their business.
TFSR: And this was the Maoist attempt to change the cultural landscape in the 1960’s…
Ahkok: Yeah, totally. This was the attempt to try to introduce this really rigid communism around the 1950’s and 60’s. So, the economy was pretty much flourishing under the British colonial government. There was this Sino-British joint declaration saying “we have to hand over in 1997” so the British were handing over Hong Kong back to China. But they had this joint-declaration saying that there will be one country, two systems within this 50 years. So, from 1997 to 2047 we should be benefiting from this one-country-two-systems. Basically, meaning we have our own legislative system, we have our own declarations and so on and so forth, but we’re still a part of China. But as you know since 1997, it’s only been 20 years. Things are just going really really fast.
A lot of people are really scared now. Especially with this extradition bill. Meaning, if the Chinese Govt thought you broke some law in China, they can take you from Hong Kong and try to punish you in China. What this means is that we still have some Free Speech in Hong Kong, we can still criticize the government. We can still criticize the Chinese Communist Party, but if this bill passed then there will be no more freedom of speech whatsoever. They can just take you and put you in a jail in China. So people got really scared. Especially since we’ve been having this Freedom of Speech for a long time, we’ve been saying things about the Chinese government for ages. So, yeah, I think the Hong Kong people are really, really scared about this extradition bill.
The tricky part is that we’ve moved on from one colonial system to another one, I would put it that way. We were a British Colony and we feel like a Chinese Colony right now. So, the younger generation is having a stronger mind on the Hong Kong independence, more than ever, really. In the old days we usually talked about trying influence China as a country so Hong Kong can benefit from it. But now the younger generation is just trying to break apart from China to have their own way, their own system. They don’t really care about the Chinese democratic movement that much anymore.
TFSR: Just to sort of put a pin in what you said about dissent and the suffering at the hands of censorship. I’m reading through this CrimethInc article “Anarchists in the Resistance to Extradition in Hong Kong” that just came our recently. And the person being interviewed talked a bit about booksellers in Hong Kong who were disappeared for selling publications that were banned on the mainland. And activists in Hong Kong who have been detained or deprived of contact while cross the borders with no real possibility for challenging the situations. It seems like this isn’t just based in some conspiracy theory or fear based out of nothing, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, it escalated really fast in the last couple of years. Basically, we have a lot of different bookstores in Hong Kong selling censored books in China, so it actually is quite profitable because a lot of Chinese tourists would like to come and buy some censored books and bring them back to China.
I think the bookstore owner.. there was three of them. Three of them vanished for several months. What happened was this guy, I think he was trying to work with the Chinese government and go back to the store and try to get these phone numbers, so he has these customers information. I think the Chinese government wanted to have this. So, he was told to go back to Hong Kong and take it. But when he went back to Hong Kong, he changed his mind and reported to the mass what happened. So, actually, he’s now in Taiwan and because of this extradition bill he thinks he may not be safe anymore. He went back to Taiwan and thinks that Taiwan is still safe in a way. Don’t know for how long. A lot of people like him feel really that Hong Kong is not a safe place to stay away from the Chinese government anymore.
TFSR: You mentioned a younger generation having a perspective that this was imperialism being imposed after a different form of colonialism and imperialism. Does that mean that young people engaging in this wave of protests against the extradition, are they coming from more of a populist or nativist perspective? Is there nationalism underpinning it? Or is it more of a request of not being, or a push to just not be controlled by a power that is out of their own hands?
Ahkok: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question and very critical. I have to be honest, the younger generation are mostly organized by localists. They are in this spectrum, they are actually quite right wing. The younger generation that is now trying to pick up the identity of what Hong Kong people means, but there are a lot of privileges and discrimination that are behind it. I think, softly speaking, Hong Kong was… they have this elitism in their own sense of identity. Like ‘Hong Kong is much better than China. Hong Kong are a little better species than the Chinese…’. I think that’s the biggest problem about the movement happening it he last couple of years.
There’s a lot of localist leaders in jail now, so these sort of notions that the ‘Hong Kong people are better than the Chinese’ are dying down I think. But at the backbone it’s still the same localist thing. So, what happened was… there’s a lot of fights with the riot police but there are also organized groups to… We have some Chinese buskers, Chinese street performers in Hong Kong and the localists will go and attack them or try to kick them off from the park or something. I think that is not covered in mainstream media at all but that actually makes me really concerned, that sort of backbone of right-wing, localist identity. The tricky part is, how can we address the Hong Kong identity that we aren’t the Chinese and aren’t the British. But at the same time not be discriminating, especially against the Chinese. So, that’s the tricky part.
TFSR: It seems like there’s a possibility, and this is based again on my reading of that article, but that there’s a part of the Hong Kong identity that lies in the identification with refugees who have sought their own life-ways in spite of larger powers trying to control them. And that could be maybe some sort of unifying and non-xenophobic approach. I don’t know if that’s a correct reading on a part of the myth of what it means to be from Hong Kong.
Ahkok: I think, as a local Hong Konger… I spent 30 years in Hong Kong, I have to say that Hong Kong people are fucking racist, man. We had these Vietnamese refugees in the early 90’s. They were treated like rats, man, honestly. They were thrown into concentration camps and having really, really inhumane treatment from the government or the citizens. I think there’s this really powerful colony, the Hong Kong people usually are really.. they prefer the British or the Americans. If your people are black or brown… quite a lot of people from India and Pakistan live in Hong Kong but they are still treated like second-grade citizens still. It’s so difficult to tackle that.
They have this sense of ‘white people are better than the others.’ So, Hong Kong people have been trying to be white for ages. I think that’s one of the most successful colonies, British colonies you can find on earth. So, now, even going to protests, some of them will still wave the British colonial flag, it’s so fucking embarrassing to see. Even some protesters who trashed the parliament they actually took one of these colonial flags with them from inside the parliament. That actually reflects this kind of, really…
Ahkok: … reactionary… Yeah, yeah. I think it’s really naive as well. They thought ‘We have to stand strong and fight off the Chinese colonial power, the Chinese imperial power, so we have to stand aside with the British colony. You know what I mean? It’s like, oh my god can you think of something else. So that’s a pity, really.
TFSR: So, this is an instance that these days, since the end of the cold war, I haven’t heard very much of like how… Hearing from populations resisting a leftist imperialist force. You’ve mentioned that localism and a right wing populism is really frequent and, at least an inherited xenophobia from British colonialism or white supremacy. But, are there many conflictual or resistance movements in Hong Kong that come from an anti-capitalist perspective? And how do they relate to the fact that the Chinese imperial force calls itself ‘Communist’?
Ahkok: Ah, good question. I think one of the key protests was in 2011 with… well we actually had two Occupy Centrals. One was called, really lamely, “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” that was not actually part of the Umbrella Movement but was .. they had this plan with occupying Central with love and peace for a long time but they didn’t know how to execute it because it was a plan from the university elites. But we actually had an Occupy Central in 2011. We spent one year occupying this Hong Kong HSBC bank, the headquarters of this bank. So, we were at the ground-level of this bank for 1 year and then we got kicked out. But that was actually echoing the Occupy movement around the world, so it was basically anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian. But it wasn’t that popular in Hong Kong, actually.
When it was started, actually, we got a lot of attention but gradually, maybe it was just like 5 or 6 tents left at the occupying space. It is actually very difficult to introduce anti-capitalist ideology in Hong Kong because that is precisely the core identity of Hong Kong people. They think they have the economic power, much better than China. Not so, now, but in the 80’s and 90’s that we were much better than the Chinese because we were rich. That we were much better than the other Asian countries because we were one of the strongest Asian countries in terms of GDP and so on and so forth. So, that makes up a lot of Hong Kong’s identity, and people are proud of it because of the financial power.
Part of this Sino-phobia is because we are losing that privilege and China is growing into the second biggest Imperial power in the world. So, Hong Kong is actually losing this privilege. A lot of middle class, right wing Hong Kong people are actually frightened because we don’t have this privilege now. Rather than saying ‘Freedom of Speech’ or ‘Freedom of whatever’.
** 32 minutes **?
TFSR: If there was room for anti-capitalism or if it was so tainted by the dialogue coming… or the monologue coming from the Chinese Communist Party…
Ahkok: I think in the 1960’s and 70’s there was actually more left-wing, anarchist movements. I think because, precisely, in the 80’s and 90’s the financial power in Hong Kong was soaring. People tried to be a-political in order to not cause any trouble. You know, capitalism needs a really smooth, operating system. So they tried not to disturb it. So they became very a-political in the 80’s and 90’s.
I think since the early 2000’s, we tried to pick up social movements again from the 80’s generation. We, who were born in the 80’s, stated to pick up a lot of different protests from that point in the early 2000’s. So, within these 19 years, we actually went on this crash course. Before that, we went to protest and if we tried to snatch a barricade, we got maimed really from the media (saying that we’re Thugs and shit). But, until now we have gotten really good with tear gas, setting up barricades, trying to stop the riot police. This is actually moving so fast, faster than anyone could imagine.
Nowadays in the really front-line, trying to fight off the riot police, are actually people who are like 16, or 16-21. Really, really young. People like me in their 30’s, we are like the older generation already. We actually try to participate by saving the kids in the front, or just providing the resources, the tools that are needed. It actually changes so fast. I got arrested a lot of times before, but usually I was charged with unlawful assembly. The charge wasn’t really, really serious. I got social service for 80 hours and things like that. But now, it’s escalated so that whenever you participate in this kind of demonstration you participate in a riot. So, it jumps from social service to like 8 years of prison time.
Ahkok: So, yeah, actually, the risk is really, really high now. But the young generation knows it, but they are really very desperate. This desperate feeling, you can get it from the young generation. If this one-country-two-systems is ending in 2047, that’s actually not.. it’s 20 years later. So, maybe this is.. I think that a lot of people think this is our only chance to stop this from happening. This is the only chance to introduce or try to ask for Hong Kong independence. So, the young generation would risk that 8 years prison time to fight for their future.
TFSR: So you mentioned that capitalism requires a lot of smoth running for it to be able to extract resources and move them up the chain in a population. And this sort of disruption, of course, it will bring a reaction from a capitalist state. Earlier, you mentioned that the two-state-one-nation approach… Can you talk a bit more about the shifting power towards China within the decision making within Hong Kong? For instance, representation of the CCP within whatever supposedly democratic institutions that exist in Hong Kong? And how that might impact things like the passage of this extradition rule or punishments for participating in disruptions and such?
Ahkok: You know, we were pretty proud of Hong Kong not having any corruption at all, it’s not like in China. But I wouldn’t say so now, because there are so many new construction plans coming up. It costs fortunes, billions and billions of dollars, even for just one pedestrian bridge or something. So, we actually know that the Hong Kong gove3rnemnt is answering to the Chinese government and trying to maneuver all the money to the Chinese by these kind of construction works. It costs a fortune but the quality is shit. So, the new train stations, for example, even the construction site is sinking a couple of inches, a couple of inches. But, literally, no one got arrested, they still have a way to get around it. They were able to find some specialists to say ‘it’s safe’, that kind of bullshit, but it costs a fortune and things aren’t safe anymore in Hong Kong.
I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are very sensitive to this kind of money investments. So, that makes a lot of people angry in the society in general.
We know this Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong is actually behind almost everything. The Hong Kong government is no longer answering ot the Hong Kong people anymore, it is directly answering to Beijing, and the Liaison Office is actually more powerful than the Hong Kong government.
So, what we saw with the thugs attacking people randomly in the train station last week. A lot of evidence shows that they were actually hired by the Liaison Office. That’s why the Hong Kong police were working so explicitly with them. Because, it came from the highest order of the Liaison Office, so they weren’t interfering when the thugs were attacking. There were no police whatsoever for like 40 minutes and the thugs were just attacking people with pipes and sticks and whatever, randomly. It’s actually state-sponsored terrorism happening in Hong Kong. It was happening in the street called Yuen Long, so a lot of protesters went back to Yuen Long yesterday, Saturday, right. But, the riot police came and they actually… last week we were beaten up by the terrorists and this week we were beaten up by the riot police. Actually, it’s the same, but they’re just dressing different coats really. But they all isolated this Liaison Office. It’s actually an open secret, we know that this government in Hong Kong has this kind of attitude, shamelessly having so much of this police brutality. Because they aren’t really answering ot the Hong Kong people anymore, they are actually working for the Beijing government.
TFSR: So, these thugs that you mentioned, for people who may not have seen the video. There was a video shared online that showed this so-called ‘White Shirt Gang’, a bunch of men in their teens and 20’s, rather large, wearing white t-shirts and attacking protesters in public transit stations. And this isn’t, I mean, but it may be getting worse but this isn’t a new thing, right? In 2014 during the Umbrella Movement, there were also noted cases of Triads or thugs being hired or working with the police to undermine the occupy encampments and beat up protesters, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s not new, but the scale is quite different. It’s not so explicit now. The police just don’t give a shit. They would go and talk to the gangsters saying “Yeah, well done.” Something like that we can see on the videos. I think, back then in 2014, they were still pretty shy to show that the police were working with the thugs. But now, they just don’t care and just admit it. When people were under attack, when people tried to go to the police station to report, they actually closed the police stations. If you call *999, it’s like calling 911 in the States, they actually hang up. If you say, ‘the thugs are attacking’, they’ll hang up or just say ‘if you think it’s not safe, just don’t go out on the street’ and hang up. So, it’s really explicit now, they’re actually the same. **chuckle**. Yeah.
I’m not saying that the police were a fine unit before, we’re not that naive, but this kind of explicitly working together in front of cameras is quite new. I think in 2014, thugs were trying to blend in with the protesters. Their mission was to make the protesters look dirty on the media by throwing things at the police or something like that. Or trying to harass the protesters to make the occupying area less safe. But the mission now is actually quite different. They actually go out and terrorize people. I mean, they aren’t attacking protesters, they are attacking pedestrians, they are attacking random people taking the train.
Yah, I think the scale is actually quite different. I would say that now it’s like corporate terrorism, it’s actually like state-sponsored terrorism. And before it was actually just a little bit different.
TFSR: I think that the US doesn’t have a very proper understanding of the term ‘terrorist’. Recently there was some legislation that was pushed by a few senators, including Ted Cruz (who’s very far right wing), to accuse antifascists or ‘antifa’ being terrorists. When in fact over the last 5 years how many, like 100, people have been killed by right-wing extremists. But, whatever. But to imply, to actually impose terror and make it so that people don’t want to go outside would be an example of terrorism, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s actually a very different kind of context in the States, I think. But, yeah. Maybe it’s not a really good term to use, ‘terrorism’, but the thugs in Hong Kong… I think we have to go back to the history of how these thugs happen to be really snobbish in the first place. Actually, they claim to be the indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong because their ancestors actually helped by fighting the colonial government. With plows and stuff like that. So, the colonial government tried to say to them, ‘You and your off-springs will have the right to claim the lands” as a way of making a truce. So, what happened is that all of the males from these indigenous inhabitants will have the rights of the land. You know, in Hong Kong, land is really scarce. We have a lot of different living issues, living in really cramped places. But these ‘indigenous inhabitants’, they have the land, so they become one of the privileged classes in Hong Kong. They actually think they own the place. They actually think they own the territory, so they become their own group of people, the main part of these thugs or the gangs that are operating in these terrorist attacks.
The notion that they came out to beat people randomly, saying that they were trying to protect their land. It’s actually really funny. They actually think that the Black Bloc will come to start trouble. So, their first intention is to punish the Black Blocs. So, I think they are trying to go out and beat people in black shirts, and it just escalated to beating up people no matter what they’re wearing. That’s one of the really strange things happening in Hong Kong.
The gangs that are wearing white, the Black Bloc is actually the protesters. Because within this anti-extradition bill, we dress wholly in black, actually, I think it helps a lot of introduce Black Blocs, really. Starting in 2014, we saw Black Blocs, but never in this scale or therefore this kind of organization. I’m actually really proud of the organized Black Blocs, they’re really really powerful and have gained a lot of momentum in the last few weeks. You have to understand that in 2014 it was really just a few people wearing black clothing and throwing objects at the police. But now we’ve become so strong that we can organize many different resources, help people by having our own medics. Yeah, it’s become a really organized groups. I should write something about these Black Blocs coming together in this last couple of months. It’s really interesting.
TFSR: Yeah, I think that you mentioned before the difficulty of engaging barricades and other such things. And now, they seem to be really commonly used and somewhat dispersed among the population. Critiques that people may have gotten for resisting the police in the past have sort of gone by the wayside as wider parts of the population have experienced how difficult the situation is and how dangerous it is. I think it is really impressive and a lot of people have also commented on the very intelligent use of buckets of water to stop teargas. Most people try to throw it back and burn their hands. Can you talk about some of the improved tactics and usch that you’ve seen used in the protests?
Ahkok: Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the punishment, it’s getting really scary. So, when, back maybe like 10 years ago and we would go out protesting and set up barricades, we didn’t even think of covering our faces because the jail-time was so short. But it escalated with the Hong Kong government trying to prosecute people with riot charges, with 6-8 years in prison. So people think seriously about hiding their identity whenever they go out. So, I think that makes it more popular to have Black Blocs go out in Hong Kong.
I think we learned a lot in the 2014 Umbrella Movement by organizing really big occupying spaces, how to move the tools and resources, how to fight the riot police. Yeah, well after that 79 days of occupy8ing movement in Umbrella Movement, a lot of people went home feeling really pessimistic for almost 5 years, actually. But, in these couple of years, actually, we had a lot of time to really chew on what happened in 2014 and let it sink in. So, when we went back out ot protest in 2019 we came back really strong and really prepared. I think, especially the really young generations don’t have the…
I would say that when we went out to protest maybe 10, 20 years ago, a lot of mainstream politicians were afraid to look dirty on mainstream media. They also calculated how we were actually represented by the media, ‘are we doing things right? Are we looking good?’ Because we thought images would mobilize people to join in.
But, nowadays the younger generation doesn’t give a shit. I mean, they don’t really care about if they try to hit the riot police, if it looks bad on the news. They don’t really care. So, I think from representation to being present in the riot is really different now. So, the younger generation participates and they actually are present in that and don’t really think about representation in the media at all.
And one of the reasons that we have escalated into this kind of mobilization and organization is because a lot of the leaders were arrested **laughs**, they’re actually in jail. I shouldn’t laugh about it, they’re having really hard jail time, but this time we don’t have leaders or main-stages telling what people should do or what people shouldn’t do. So, I think we actually benefited from all of those mainstream political leaders being arrested. So, people have literally no leaders telling them what to do. And now they mobilize with Telegram, or co-location social media… We actually have this main, massive discussion board called Ling-dung, so basically they’ll go online and discuss strategies, what to do and what not to do. Or how to coexist with different knid of risks and tasks. I think that’s the main difference, thinking about it, we don’t have one idealized leader trying to steer away the movement. So things are just born naturally. Some people, maybe they would like to take more risks, to do more things, or some people want to participate in some really peaceful demonstration and go home when things are getting dirty. But they can still work with the Black Bloc. Yeah, I think it’s a new era of protest in Hong Kong.
TFSR: Do you have a sense of how, as trust and this sort of knowledge gets dispersed among more people and decentralized, how people know at what point… I mean, because the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government are watching what’s going on, are listening to what decisions are being made and I’m sure trying to engage and trying to confuse peoples activity and trust with each other. Is there an understanding that at a certain scale we need to devolve our methods of approaching things or have people come to that point yet?
Ahkok: I think that since 2014, there’s a lot of, we call them ‘Ghosts’, undercover cops who would blend in and try to start things or escalate to something more violent, or whatever. They try to make the scripts play out by the movement. I think we still have a lot of those. But we spent a lot of time trying to catch the ghosts in 2014, ‘oh those are undercover cops, those are protesters’ but how do you identify and distinguish them? I think that now people are so aware of it, we always try to remind ourselves ‘don’t spend time catching ghosts, just do your own thing.’ I think this actually works quite well, we don’t really spend time trying to call other people out from the protests ‘they aren’t one of us or they are ghosts or they aren’t protesters’. We don’t actually care now. We do our own stuff, we stay with our own groups of people. But I think that people are getting really smart at the same time. We try to analyze the situation, where to stop and what not to do.
There was this incident on the 1st of July when people trashed the parliament. Actually, four people had this death oath that they wanted to stay inside until the riot police came inside and they wanted to (it was actually suicidal). They actually made this oath to stay inside and fight off the riot police. Before the police came, 100 protesters went into the parliament to pick them up. They said ‘We either leave together or stay together.’ I think this was a very powerful moment of the protests, we actually learned a lot of trust. We’re on the front-line all of the time and we can analyze what would be really harmful fro the protesters, for the Black Blocs and where to actually call it off for the day and come back later on.
It’s just a lot of trial and error, really. But I would say that we’ve been waiting for this moment of leaderless protests for a long time. Because, even in 2014 there were so many idolized leaders that had their mics and said shit, making deals with the police… a lot of people just chanting what they were chanting on the stage. But not anymore. Even some of the politicians, some of the mainstream politicians they know this is not their time. They would just go and try to encourage the protesters to be safe or whatever, Even the lawmakers in Hong Kong know they know shouldn’t take the stage or take the mic to give orders anymore. That’s what makes it really powerful at this time.
TFSR: So, this show sometimes gets heard in China, gets downloads in China and I seriously doubt this will get past the censors.
TFSR: But, in the hopes that someone has a VPN or TOR and can hear this. As you said, things are feeling very dire for people and especially the youth who see a future in 27 years or whatever of China fully taking control of Hong Kong and it losing it’s autonomy and independence, whatever it has now. And it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Tianeman Square massacre, which I know is not allowed to be covered and is censored highly from within China. And I wonder if you have any words for people that are within the mainland about this situation and any hopes that you have… if you have any hopes… for their independence and autonomy. And what you want them to understand about what’s going on in your home.
Ahkok: Yeah, I mean we have a lot of really strong connections with activists in China. We have a lot of respect. Because they are paying a really high price for being dissidents in china. I would say, look, all tyranny collapses. I’ve actually been quite positive. Of course, if the Chinese Communist Party is still around in 2047 Hong Kong will become a part of it and then maybe there’s no escape. But, who knows, maybe the Chinese Community Party might collapse any time soon, man. Part of the reason why there are so many people obedient to the Chinese Communist Party is because of the economic power. There’s only one reason why you obey them, because of money (honestly). Even from Hong Kong. Even some people in Hong Kong are pro-Beijing because they will be made rich.
But I think the economic structure in China is so unstable that it might just collapse at any time. They just make up their numbers. We have been waiting for the bubble to burst for like, for a long time. It might happen any time soon. Once that happens, there will be no more obedience. People will question about the Communist Party in China. Things will be very different.
You know, they have this one… one row one belt, what’s it called, initiative in China. So, in the UN people try to question about… they have these concentration camps, reeducation camps in China now. Actually, 27 countries support these re-education camps in China because they are in the pocket of China. They want to get a piece of it. But I think this time, because of this extradition bill, or maybe we should pay attention to how evil the Chinese government is. Of course, I know a lot of people are trying to go against the imperialism in the States, so they would choose to side with China. I think that is just nonsense, that is just two evil empires. You shouldn’t choose one of them and then think “I’m with the Chinese, so fuck the US government and US imperialism.” No, China is just another, maybe even more evil imperial power, they are just getting stronger and stronger and a lot of countries are supporting them. I think it’s actually a very good time to raise the question “Should we really side with the Chinese?” Look at what they’re doing, there’s no humanity in this system, and that’s why they can grow their economy so fast because there is no legal system, no humanity. Just money. They still use the term ‘Communism’, but they are on the most right side of the spectrum you could imagine on earth.. Let’s think about this. It will collapse pretty soon, man, I have a lot of faith in that.
TFSR: Yeah. I… I don’t necessarily have the faith but I don’t know any better. I can hope for it. And that people can have something better. Definitely not the US coming in but something for themselves.
You kind of addressed one of the questions I had, which was… There are communists, that are statists, who we call Tankies in the west which is a British term. It’s for authoritarian leftists who believe that the opposition to the main capitalist empire, which would be the United States as you said, which would be to support anything that anyone else does that’s in opposition. I appreciate you raising that.
Ahkok: My pleasure, man.
TFSR: So, in terms of that… and I won’t keep you too much longer, I’ve kept you an hour now… But there’s been rumors of the so-called People’s Liberation Army showing up in Hong Kong. Have you heard of that happening or does that seem like a thing that the Chinese government is likely to impose at this point?
Ahkok: Yeah, that’s maybe the worst nightmare of Hong Kong is what happened in Beijing in 1989 happening in Hong Kong. So, there’s always rumors when we do something to upset the Chinese that “The People’s Liberation Army is actually standing by somewhere closer to Hong Kong, maybe in Song Jen (?) or Guangzhou.” And now we have the high speed train, they can just carry all the armies into Hong Kong in no time. But, honestly, to me… I mean… There’s a lot of people saying it won’t happen because the Chinese capitalists still need Hong Kong to make money. If they send in the armies to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong economic structure will collapse and the Chinese government can’t benefit from it. Honestly, I think it might just happen. But, we shouldn’t worry about it. If that’s the trump card, then the CCP has it and they might use it. But we have to mentally be ready for this knkid of reaction to happen in Hong Kong. But I think that we shouldn’t be threatened by this army behind the Chinese.
Or to think that we shouldn’t do this to upset the government more, or we shouldn’t do that. Even going to protest at the Liaison Office, some people are scared because the Liaison Office answers to the Beijing Government. So, when people are throwing paint at the Liaison Office and Chinese officials say ‘We will deploy the army on you if it happens again.’ I mean, yah, just fuck them, just do it then, man. What happened in 1989, it might happen again. Maybe not in Hong Kong, maybe not in Beijing, maybe somewhere else. But we should be mentally prepared if we are still on the road of resistance then we’ll have this obstacle in front of us.
TFSR: Do yo mind if I step back for a moment of clarification for the sake of the audience?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah.
TFSR: So, when you are talking about the re-education camps that are being engage by the Chinese government, “re-education”, are you talking about the use of concentration camps to break up Ouigar and other Muslim populations within mainland China to socialize them in to, I guess, Han culture or Chinese Communist Party culture?
Ahkok: Well, China doesn’t allow for freedom of religion, right? So, they have been doing a lot of things, bad things, to Muslims for a long time. I think it was the BBC that had this really long coverage about these re-education camps in China. So, basically they throw Muslims from Sun Gong into these concentration camps to make them eat pork or brainwash them into something, until they are not Muslims and are free to go. We call them concentration camps because that’s what they are. I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are worried there might be this kind of concentration camps for Hong Kong Chinese, Hong Kongers. Because it actually might happen, you know? Yeah, yeah, it’s actually really frightening. I think the world should do something about it. We should organize… I don’t know…. We should save them from the tortures happening. We have news of this Muslim poet maybe just died inside the concentration camps. We have this kind of news all of the time. I think the world should really react to those.
TFSR: Boycotting and divesting countries that operate concentration camps such as the United States and China might be a really good idea for people internationally who have a sense of ethics. Or people domestically in those countries if they have that opportunity. Or sabotaging.
Ahkok: Absolutely, man, sabotaging.
TFSR: One thing we haven’t really talked about really… I’d like to touch back on the idea of the youth coming from a kind of right wing, populist perspectve in their resistance to the imposition of rule by the Chinese mainland, by the Chinese Communist Party, which is a very absolutely undemocratic institution by definition. So, with these concepts of Free Speech and Freedom of Entrepreneurship, Freedom of Protest and Religion that exists in Hong Kong, which is very parallel to what I’ve experienced in the United States, is that people point to these beautiful rights that are enshrined in these documents and protected. There’s also incredibly large class divides. A lot of populations, often racialized populations that live at the bottom of society that don’t have the opportunity to partake of that GDP, that fast moving economy that is enriching ‘the country’. So, I wonder, nearing the end of the conversation, do you think that in this push for independence and for thinking outside of.. away from… What do you think it would take or do you see an inkling in the youth in Hong Kong who see that their officials and their business people are willing to make deals with the Chinese Communist Party and state capitalism in the form of Chinese Communism that they can find an autonomous anti-capitalist alternative that doesn’t support the police state authoritarianism of the Chinese or the capitalist creation of feudalism in the current conditions?
Ahkok: Oh, man, that’s tough. I was having this conversation with this guy who’s also participating in the protests. He actually doesn’t know he’s right wing. From this conversation, he said “We’re not welcoming the Chinese in here, we should welcome some people with more, higher standard. Mainly whites, English-speaking groups.” They don’t even know they’re being really right wing. But that’s a part of the problem of being colonized for so long here in Hong Kong. One of the really tough issues is how to decolonize Hong Kong. You know, actually, people still fantasize about the British ruling days. They think it was really good, the financial structure was strong and the legal system was a really smart way of colonizing a place. They haven’t got the tools to criticize about being colonized for so long. Maybe, I would say, we have to educate people, or we have to remind people how bad it actually was when the British ruled Hong Kong. It actually is just really smart. We didn’t have universal suffrage when the British ruled. They just gave a certain kind of freedom: you could criticize the government, you name it. But deep down, we were actually enslaved, we just got really wealthy because of this financial movement benefiting Asia. In the 80’s and 90’s it seemed really good. We should really education people about decolonization means. Also, I think these different places we can look up to or have a different exchange. For example, Catalunya in Spain. I think we have this really common problem around raising our identities while at the same time not being a right wing fascist, saying that people are lower than us.
I’ve been engaging with a lot of Catalan activists. They have a lot of experience to share. Maybe we should have more of this kind of exchange in the future. Actually, there’s a lot of this work to do, but I think now we are more active politically, but we should be educated better with what to do with our deep politics in the future.
TFSR: Well, so how can people abroad.. you mentioned going to a demonstration in Germany at one point… How can people internationally get involved in offering support to resistance to Chinese imposition and the Hong Kong police and how can people educate themselves better on the outside?
Ahkok: There’s a free press in Hong Kong that does a pretty good job in English. If you search Free Press I think you can find a lot of coverage of that. I think there’s a reporter based in Beijing, she’s been writing a lot of articles on Hong Kong and Chinese political issues. Her articles are, I think, in The Guardian, the UK Guardian. So, if you search Guardian and Hong Kong you can find some of her articles as well. So, by knowing the history and the political facts, I think would be quite helpful.
Hong Kong is a really tiny place, really, you know and I’m not really surprised if no one heard of it or thinks it’s a part of Japan. So, knowing the facts is really good.
So, how can foreigners participate? The G20 is happening. Some Hong Kong protesters actually raised a couple of million of dollars to have a lot of different countries front page newspapers saying to address the G20 leaders to help us in Hong Kong. That is so embarrassing, but that actually really reflects how Hong Kong, the majority of Hong Kong protesters think. They are actually trying to ask help from other, strong leaders, or evil organizations.
Well at the same time a lot of my friends in Asia, anarchist groups, actually came to participate in the protests. A lot of comrades from Japan and Taiwan and Korea actually came. We actually have this, really strong anarchist network in east Asia these days. We have meetings probably more than once a year. We always try to talk about how to participate in your countries demonstrations, or other movements. So, we should definitely think about that. Besides knowing the facts and how we can participate when you guys are mobilizing or having different demonstrations and so on and so forth. Yeah, having these kinds of networks actually make us feel better. Maybe it will become something really powerful later on, who knows? Yeah, we actually have this really strong collaboration starting from Fukushima. The No-Nuke campaign in Japan and Taiwan was really active and they were actually working together really well. And of course, in Hong Kong, we have nuclear power plants that have threatened us for a really long time. And China is building quite a lot of new power plants in the near future. So, we actually have a very similar threat. So, from this No-Nuke network we slowly developed this pan-Asian anarchist network. We should definitely think of how to mobilize later on.
TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you think listeners should know about? That I didn’t ask out of ignorance?
Ahkok: Uh, no, actually that was really good. That was some really tough questions. I tried to answer them but it’s not really easy. I tried to prepare for it, though. I think… I haven’t really engaged with media that have been asking things that deep before…
TFSR: Well, thank you.
Ahkok: Yeah, I feel like I’m still really stimulated by the questions. Yeah, I can’t think of anything to add ,really.
TFSR: Well, I really appreciate the candor and making this work. I know it’s really late where you are.
In the first Bursts spoke with two organizers of the Asheville Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair (ACAB2018) taking place the 22-24th of June. To link up with this project and for aaall the information, you can visit the website here! To follow on social media, you find @acab.2018 on Instagram, and for email it’s email@example.com. This segment begins at [11:46]
Then Bursts spoke with Tristan, an anarchist living in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia, about the riot that took the streets for 3 hours there on May Day. They talk about anarchist in Java, the feudal Sultanate they suffer under, the New Yogyakarta International Airport threatening to displace a village and more. This segment begins at [40:02]
As Tristan says in the interview, much of the resistance of the Committee Against Feudalism that raged against the police on May Day in Yogyakarta was in order to damage government facility as well as to undermine trust of local and international investors in the building of a New Yogyakarta International Airport, or NYIA. The airport has already lead to the displacement of people in the farming village of Kulon Progo, destroying trees & livelihoods, and authorities cut power supplies to intimidate residents into selling their ancestral lands in this southern coastal village. In place of the farmlands where 11.5 thousand people live, cultivating peppers, eggplants and watermelons, the state would destroy the erosion and flood-defending dunes around this area with a 2,000 hectare “airport city” containing hotels, industrial zones, shopping centers & other tourist ventures. Here is a chronology of resistance up to late 2017.
The airport would be operated by Angkasa Pura (state-owned Airport Operator), and constructed by the U.S. company Landrum & Brown, with offices in NYC, Orlando, SF, Tampa, Cincinnati, Bogota, Boston, Chicago Alongside L&B is the India-based megaproject conglomerate, GVK. GVK is named for it’s founder, Gunupati Venkata Krishna Reddy, and is also active in the Australian coal mining sphere. A Czech corporation involved in designing the NYIA is AGA-Letiště, s.r.o. (based in Prague). Mott McDonald, an employee-owned consultancy firm, also plays a role in this mess. Finally, the Rajawali Corpora (a heavy hand in five star hotels and media ownership) is involved and is owned by https://www.forbes.com/profile/peter-sondakh/.
The Sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, the second in his lineage to be given official governorship of Yogyakarta, is grabbing public and communal lands for sale and gifts to investors, selling it off for megaprojects like the NYIA and personally profiting, claiming a Feudal ownership. The real losers in this situation are the people of Yogyakarta, the real winners are the Sultan, the global rich and these megaproject proliferators who choose short-term profits over community autonomy and ecological health.
Since we didn’t get to it, I’d like to touch on what I understand of some of the racism that Tristan references. Among other things, the Sultan’s continued use of a 1975 law that is now in conflict with Indonesian national law against discrimination, is another tool at grabbing land and fueling ethnic populism. The law excludes ethnic-Chinese Indonesians (despite many having been in Indonesia for generations) and other non “pribumi” (or ethnically Indonesian) people from owning land and has been used to repress ethnic minorities in the archipelago in the past. This law also serves the Sultan, by denying property rights it allows his government (therefore him as feudal lord) to retain the rights to the land.
A few articles on resistance in Indonesia can be found at Agitasi, a site for Indonesian Counter Information and Analysis. If you can’t read it, learn Indonesian (or babelfish or googletranslate it). Some photos of solidarity can be found on InsurrectionNews. An article on resisting the airport from EF!Newswire, with more links inside. Indonesian embassies in the Americas can be found listed here.
Here is an update from the Appalachians Against Piplelines social media, which was posted two days ago:
Earlier this morning, on day 12 of the skypod on Pochahontas Road in the Hellbender Autonomous Zone (aka the Jefferson National Forest), fern was extracted and arrested.
Law enforcement began arriving to join the skypod’s existing 24 hour watch before 6am. For a couple hours, they discussed extraction, suited up in climbing gear, and attempted to coax fern down – but she refused to give in to their intimidation. Shortly after 8 am, a cherry picker drove up the road, by 8:30 fern was on the ground, handcuffed, and arrested.
Although the blockade of this pipeline access road has been removed, the fight is far from over. The Mountain Valley Pipeline remains a dangerous project, installed by force, and part of a network of dead end disasters for water, climate, communities, and ecosystems.
So before MVP and law enforcement even begin to breathe a sigh of relief, thinking they are one step closer to their goal of padding the pockets of executives at the expense of this forest and the lives of all along the route, let’s show them that they have not won.
Let’s remind them that this pipeline is not yet built, that it is not a foregone conclusion. Let’s prove that they have not extinguished the flame of resistance.
If you’ve been watching the efforts and sacrifices of the people confronting the MVP, if you’ve been grateful to know that this pipeline isn’t getting through without a fight, now is the time to move forward with actions of your own! None of us can do this alone.
And you can follow them on social media by searching Appalachians Against Pipelines on any platform you can think of.
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Following the recent murder of Roxsana Hernandez at the hands of ICE agents, the organization Familia TQLM (Trans and Queer Liberation Movement) is organizing a national day of action against ICE, to end trans detention, and to call attention to the dangers forced upon trans, gay, and queer people in detention on Wednesday June 6th. Roxsana Hernandez was a 33 year old trans woman from Honduras, and her passing is one of the most recent examples of the specific threats that Immigration and Customs Enforcement pose to LGBTQ people. A recent study found that LGBTQ people are 97 times more likely to face sexual assault and sexualized violence at the hand of ICE agents while imprisoned, as well as facing conditions akin to torture: being held in freezing cells, or ones that are dangerously hot, and being denied life saving medication, as in the case of Roxsana Hernandez.
If you would like to connect with this action on June 6th, you can follow the hashtag JusticeForRoxsana, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This week we spoke with members of Maharlika Integral Emergence, a collective in Davao. Davao is a large city in the south east of the archipelago of Maharlika, also known as The Philippines. We talk for the hour on the emergence of anarchism in this country, anti-colonial indigenous struggle, anarcho-punk, eco-resistance, green and post-anarchism, permaculture, anti-extraction and land struggles and more. Maharlika Integral Emergence is a collective in Davao working with communities to promote self-care, explore autonomy, build alternatives to the deadly duo of State and Capital and it’s ecocidal path. We apologize for the quality of the audio, at times it becomes difficult to hear the collective members due to tech issues. Check out ashevillefm.org/the-final-staw to find the blog entry for this episode which includes hyperlinks to some of the projects and publications coming out of Maharlika. For instance, here’s a pdf about projects that that MIE are involved in.
But first, a couple of announcements. If you’re in the Asheville area, we’d like to remind you that tonight, Sunday the 12th at 5pm is the grande-opening of Firestorm Cafe & Books at it’s new location at 610 Haywood Road at the intersection of Haywood Rd & State St in West Asheville. From their facebook event:
“It’s been sixteen months since we closed our doors at 48Commerce Street… We’re ready to start the next chapter! Join our seven year old workers co-operative for a day long celebration, featuring free coffee and other give-aways plus a 5pm local author showcase!
Located directly across State Street from Sunny Point Cafe, our new store features a unique selection of books for young folks and adults alike. Curious readers will find not only the rich assortment of titles on gardening, green living and political radicalism, for which our co-op is already known, but also an expanded inventory of children’s books, classics and speculative fiction.”
More at http://firestorm.coop
Relatedly, there’s a squatted anarchist social and community space working around some of the same causes as MIE. The space is called Feral Crust and in Manila operate a squatted infoshop, school and garden in a small squatted neighborhood. To contact them for more questions, drop them a line at feralcrust(aaat)riseup(dot) net
We’d also like to mention that AshevilleFM is currently at the Big Crafty Festival in Asheville from noon-6pm today, come check out the booth and sign up to be a volunteer!
Also an update on the occupation at the Che Cafe on the campus of the University of California at San Diego:
“On JULY 15 at 2 PM there will be a meeting with UCSD Chancellor Khosla.
For the FIRST TIME, representatives of the Che Cafe Collective and CCSN will meet with Khosla to see if he will call off the eviction. Che supporters are calling for a big crowd to rally outside the meeting. It’s requested that you come if you can and spread the word! Directions to Office of the Chancellor at www-act.ucsd.edu/maps/ enter search for “Office of the Chancellor”. Address is University Center 107, and it’s located facing the UCSD Town Square just south and west of Price Center.”
We here at The Final Straw are soliciting sticker/poster/logo design to provide fascinating swag for our listeners! The design must include our web address, show name & imagery reflecting the nature of the radio show. Chosen artists will receive gifts of t-shirts and other anarchy goodies. You can email your designs in pdf form to bursts(attt)ashevillefm(ddot)org or a physical copy can be sent to:
The Final Straw
864 Haywood Rd,
Asheville, NC 28806
A reminder: The Klu Klux Klan has called for a rally at the steps of the state capitol of South Carolina in Colombia on Saturday the 18th at 3pm. Folks are planning a counter-demonstration on the day to make it known that these jokers are not welcome in the streets. Check out http://columbiascdemocallout.tumblr.com/ for more info, or follow them on their twitter handle, @antiracistSC. From their site:
“On Saturday, July 18th, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan will assemble on the statehouse grounds in Columbia, SC. And we will confront them.
This rally is part of a recent wave of anti-Black terror, from the Charleston massacre to the arson of Black churches, that has strategically sought to build upon a white racist backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter, anti-police uprisings of the past year.
We call upon all those who can #BlackLivesMatter activists, community organizers, anti-racists, anarchists and other radicals, and anyone else furious with racism and the police—to converge on Columbia, confront the Klan, and defy their message of white supremacy. History has shown—from the armed standoff against a lynch mob in Columbia, TN, in 1946 to the 1958 Battle of Hayes Pond, from the Deacons for Defense to the armed defiance of Monroe, NC’s NAACP chapter, from the 1979 Greensboro Massacre to the 1997 confrontation with the Klan in downtown Asheville, NC—that we must oppose white supremacist organizing actively and physically, in our streets and neighborhoods.
The KKK is only a small group, whose ability to inflict racist violence actually pales in comparison to that of structures of oppression like the police, the economy, and the state. But the sentiment that groups like the KKK hold runs deep through the currents of whiteness in this country, and is a major obstacle to our struggles against these larger structures. Explicit manifestations of white supremacy like the Klan are one way that the state will seek to contain the #BlackLivesMatter organizing and anti-police riots of the last year; at this historic juncture, a large Klan rally in the South cannot go unchallenged.
Bring banners, bring a friend, and bring your anger and rage against the white supremacy that courses through the veins of this society. See you in Columbia.”
Along the lines of last week’s announcement of great audio projects to check out outside of asheville, I’d suggest folks interested in a fantastic North American prison related show give a listen to The Prison Radio Show on CKUT, out of McGill University in Montreal. The show airs on the second Thursday of every month between 5-6 pm CST as part of CKUT News’s Off The Hour & the fourth Friday of every month between 11am and 12pm CST. More at http://prisonradioshow.wordpress.com
Also for a great look at audio anarchy in the Philippines – and to see what this week’s guests typically work on – you can check out the pirate radio station RADYO ITIM at https://radyoitim.wordpress.com/, or at 107.9FM if you are listening in Davao.
Out of Middleton, Connecticut & Wesleyan University, WESU hosts a show called Anarchy On Air, a student anarchist collective radio show featuring interviews, panels, action updates and more. This show was formerly incarnated as The Horizontal Power Hour. This show More can be found at http://anarchyonairwesu.tumblr.com/ and it can be heard 2nd/4th Tuesdays 4:00-4:55 pm EST
Anarcho-primitivist & philosopher John Zerzan cohosts the weekly, years running, hour-long radio show Anarchy Radio on 88.1 KWVA at the University of Oregon, Eugene. Check out archives of the show at http://johnzerzan.net/radio to hear him and cohosts discuss recent news around technology, school shootings, alienation, ecological destruction and ideas. The show airs Tuesday’s at 7pm PST and express your views by calling 541-346-0645 during the live broadcast.
This week we’re speaking with Dr. George Katsiaficas, author and contributor to over a dozen books on Peoples Movements and the elucidator of the Eros Effect. For over a decade, Dr. Katsiaficas has been studying the culture and history of South Korea and it’s culture and has just published the first volume of a two part series on People’s uprisings in Asia, entitled “Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century” from PM Press.
For more of Dr. Katsiaficas’ writing, check out his website at www.eroseffect.com