Category Archives: Middle East

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Photo taken from Al Jumhuriya

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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.

Joey Ayoub is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor and researcher. He publishes frequently on https://joeyayoub.com/ as well as on the blog https://hummusforthought.com/ and the related podcast by the same title.

Leila Al-Shami is a British-Syrian activist and co-author of ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘, a founder of the international solidarity site, TahrirICN and writes on http://leilashami.wordpress.com/ .

Below are links to some resources that Joey and Leila suggest interested listeners check out to for perspectives by folks on the ground in the region:

Lebanon links:

Syria Links:

Timestamps:

  • Sean Swain [00:02:32 – 00:09:34]
  • Intro to Lebanon & Syria [00:09:34 – 00:21:35]
  • 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]

Announcements

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.

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Playlist

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Transcription

The Final Straw: I’m very happy to be joined by Leila al-Shami and Joey Ayoub. Joey is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor, and researcher; he was the Middle East and North Africa editor at both Global Voices and IFEX until recently, and is co-editor of the book Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising. Currently he is doing a PhD at the University of Zurich on postwar Lebanese society. Leila is a British-Syrian activist and the coauthor of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War.

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 BaladiJoey 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 Sourceagain, 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.

LS: Thank you for inviting us.

JA: Thanks a lot.

Perspectives from Iranian Anarchists

Perspectives from Iranian Anarchists

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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.

[00:03:58 – 00:59:39]

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 information from the Union can be found at https://asranarshism.com/ (posts are mostly in Persian), they can be followed on twitter at @asranarshism, @asranarshism on instagram, on Telegram (also mostly in Persian) and fedbook.

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Sean Swain’s segment [00:59:39 – 1:07:29]

Announcements

Tattoo Benefits for Chilean Arrestees

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 tatuajessinfronteras@protonmail.com 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!

https://www.firefund.net/persecutedantifa

Freedom for Chip Fitzgerald

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/

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both tracks are from Salome MC

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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.

 

2 views on migrant struggle in Germany + the E.U.

Migrant Movements in E.U.

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In this hour we’ll be hearing two perspectives on migrant struggles in the EU, Germany in particular, dating back to roughly 2012. The first we’ll hear is Adam Bahar. Adam is an immigrant from Sudan who currently works on emergency phone networks connecting Coast Guards with migrants cross the sea in distress. In the second, we hear from Adams interviewer, a Berlin-based German-born no-border activist about their experiences. We tried to cut overlapping information to decrease redundancy but there will be a little overlap in order to make space for both differing experiences expressed.

In this first interview Adam Bahar talks about his participation in migrant struggles, including taking part in the public migrant march in 2012 from Wurzburg to Berlin, the tent occupation of Oranienplatz in Berlin by 150 migrants for a year and a half followed by the squatting of an empty school building. In German, the word Lager is used as a storage place, also used for the camps or shelters where asylum seeking refugees are kept isolated from the rest of the German population. Another word that may be difficult for listeners to understand is Adams phrasing of Guardsea, comparable to Coast Guard. Adam also talks about the cooperation between corrupt African governments and the German government either in their business of dictatorship or the deportation of Africans back to their continent of origin.

For the rest of the hour we’ll be hearing part of an interview conducted by myself and William with the activist who held the conversation with Adam in the first half hour. Here, our German friend talks a little more about the occupation of Oranienplatz from 2012-2014 in Kreutzberg, Berlin and more generally we discuss the Shengen Zone for the understanding of non-regional audience members. Later, they speak about their understanding of border situations in the Balkans as they’ve been closing down and thoughts about relationships between richer countries and the intolerable situations in the poorer nations from whence come many of the refugees.

Thanks to our buddies affiliated with Anarchistisches Radio Berlin for helping us out with setting up these recordings. More content from them at http://aradio.blogsport.de

Announcements

Prison Resistance Updates

First, a couple of announcements. Here’s a wrap up of prisoner resistance activities this week around the U.S., followed by a few specific prisoner updates.

Momentum is growing behind the bars. After two intense rebellions in four days at Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama last month things have really heated up. Prisoners in Texas called for and initiated a state wide series of work strikes on April 4th, the Free Alabama Movement announced a shutdown of ADOC for the month of May and prisoners across the country announced and called for a nationally coordinated strike and protest this September.

Reports from Texas prisoners are still coming in, but at least 7 facilities participated enough to get locked down by prison authorities. There have been a lot of threats and harassment by staff reported, but no specific reprisals or people targeted as leaders, yet.

On Saturday, April 9th outside supporters gathered for solidarity events across the country, including, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, the Bronx, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Providence, Denver, Tucson, Minneapolis and Fayetteville Arkansas, as well as a protest at Holman prison in Alabama by the Mothers and Families of the Free Alabama Movement.

These events were either protests at corporations that profit from prison slavery, or workshops and planning sessions about prison slavery and supporting the growing wave of prisoner resistance. Supporters hope to see this tide continue to rise leading up to the September 9th work-stoppage, since attention from the outside is essential to protect striking or otherwise rebellious prisoners from violent reprisals.

The Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee of the IWW is heavily involved in support efforts. You can keep up to date by following their website at http://IWOC.noblogs.org or by monitoring and signing up for the email list at http://SupportPrisonerResistance.net.

on twitter:
#SupportPrisonerResistance
#EyesOnTexas

Alvaro Luna Hernandez (Xinachtli)

Supporters of Alvaro Luna Hernandez sent this message:

“Alvaro is in dire need of immediate, practical solidarity from all who support his emancipation from unjust incarceration and cruel punishment.

Alvaro’s Recent Hardship
In these past few weeks it has come to our attention that Alvaro is enduring multiple forms of inadequate and cruel treatment by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

He is in need of dire medical attention; the TDCJ has placed him in more inhospitable holding conditions; the TDCJ has confiscated and stolen from him; the TDCJ has limited his mail correspondence; and when in transport to Lubbock, TX, the TDCJ transported him with—what you will certainly agree is—little to no regard for his health or comfort.”

Therefore, Alvaro’s supporters are urging you to email or call relevant TDCJ authorities by Thursday, April 14th, 2016 (at midnight) to protest these conditions and demand immediate improvements. More information at http://FreeAlvaro.net

Playlist

Paul Z. Simons on the Dispaches from Rojava; part 1 of 3

Paul Z. Simons pt 1

Download this episode

In 2012, a power vacuum formed in parts of northern Syria as a result of the civil war. These areas, part of the lands inhabited by Kurdish peoples,soon became a testing ground for an implementation of an anti-state communalism influenced in part by an American former Anarchist turned Communalist named Murray Bookchin. Bookchin’s thought helped to shape the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, ideological leader of the Kurdish Worker’s Party, PKK, in neighboring Turkey. The people participating in what’s been branded The Rojava Revolution are organizing administration and defense based from the neighborhood councils. Popular militias are attempting to fight external enemies like the Syrian military of Bashar Al-Asaad and ISIL/Daesh as well as the internal structures which hold in most societies such as patriarchy, class division and xenophobia. Anarchists, anti-capitalists of all stripes from around the world, feminists, ecologists… these peoples and more around the world are among those engaging with the 3-year-runnning experiment of Rojava.

This week’s episode features the first of three segments of conversation with Paul Z Simons,a post-left anarchist and co-editor of Modern Slavery Magazine. Paul, writing under the name El Errante, documented his recent tripto the Rojava region in Northern Syria. This first episode will not be followed up immediately by another episode on the subject, however we are making the second and third episodes content availablealongside of this one online. If you’re in a hurry to hear the complete conversation on his observations of institutions and organizing On The Ground in Rojava, follow this link for part II and this link for part III. These segments will make their way into radio versions in the near future.

Bursts and Paul talk about Democratic Confederalism, gender, ecology, international intervention, religion, ethnicity, anti-capitalism, competing tendencies, holding tensions, international fighters and much much more

To follow the links that our guest mentioned in this interview, just click these websites below!

http://kurdishquestion.com/
http://rojavaplan.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tev-Dem

To see more of Paul Z. Simon’s work, you can visit this website

Next week on The Final Straw, you’ll hear a conversation with an anarchist in Spain about recent and continued repressions of anarchists in that country. Updates on that situation can be found at https://efectopandora.wordpress.com/category/english/ and for past episodes of The Final Straw check here.

Announcement:

At Grand Valley Institute for Women (GVI), a federal prison in Kitchener, Ontario there has been a recent crackdown against LBTQ2+ prisoners and/or prisoners in relationships amongst themselves. Intimate relationships between prisoners are being attacked by a clique of guards acting without apparent direction or oversight from the Corrections Canada administration. We need your support with a call-in campaign to end these practices.

Harassment of prisoners includes throwing them in solitary as punishment for being in a relationship, threatening them with transfers to remote parts of the country, separating partners by placing them in different parts of the prison, and laying spurious institutional charges that can lead to being locked in the maximum security unit.

Most troublingly, guards have been using physical intimidation and invasions of personal space to harass prisoners who speak up against these practices.

The prisoners have been organizing in response to these attacks, but have faced increasing repression for their efforts.

Outside support right now can make a major difference in putting a check on the repression of prisoner relationships and dissent among prisoners.

To protest this treatment, it’s asked that people call Grand Valley Institute for Women at (519) 894-2011. For more guidance about how to conduct this phone call and for updates on this situation you can visit the website https://gviwatch.wordpress.com/

Playlist