London Anarchist Bookfair

Today I was invited to speak at the London Anarchist Bookfair, an event I was excited to attend, to talk about the situation in Syria. Unfortunately the event did not take place.  We were shut down by a guy called Amir Taaki (a British-Iranian who claims to be a developer of Bitcoin and someone who apparently Forbes magazine considered ‘their top 30 under 30 list for 2014’ as he had previously proudly told me by email) along with around seven of his friends (one dressed in full military garb, a real revolutionary maybe?)

Firstly, I would like to apologize to those who attended the event and had wanted to learn about the situation in Syria, an issue of critical importance. Some had come from as far afield as Birmingham to hear myself and Robin Yassin Kassab speak. Unfortunately as we were about to begin, Amir and his friends stormed the event chanting “PKK”, “YPG” and accusing myself and Robin of being “fascists”, “Arab nationalists” and “supporters of jihadi groups such as Ahrar Al Sham which advocate stoning women to death”. I will not respond to the claims as anyone who is familiar with mine or Robin’s work will know they are absurd. And for those not familiar, I refer you to our book ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ (Pluto Press); make up your own minds.

Amir had previously contacted me by email demanding (not asking) that he be given 30 minutes of our talk to talk about Rojava, as he had spent some time there fighting for the YPG and working with various committees. (He had previously been refused a platform by the Bookfair). I responded that we already had a Syrian Kurdish anarchist, Shiar Neyo, invited to come and talk about Rojava for the second half of our talk (he was  speaking at the No Border’s session for the first half) and that our talk was not just about Rojava, but about Syria as a whole, plus there was another talk organized at the Bookfair for 5pm which focused specifically on Rojava. He responded claiming he “is probably the person who knows the most about Rojava at the moment” and that he is “qualified to speak about Syria more than anyone else right now.” Such arrogance epitomizes everything that is wrong with egotistical western solidarity. That he – a foreigner who has spent a few months in the region – believes he is more qualified to speak on Rojava than a Syrian-Kurd from Rojava himself.

So, as a result of his bullying, he was given a 10 minute platform to speak, even though the organizers had tried to get him off the stage. He used his time to talk about “Mesopotamia” and “pyramids” and then refused to leave the platform. It then descended into a physical punch-up between Amir and his cronies and audience members who had come to hear myself, Robin and Shiar speak about Syria – both Arab and Kurdish struggles. We had in particular wanted to focus on anti-authoritarian struggles, self-organization as well as issues of militarism, sectarianism and the rise of Islamist extremist groups. There would have also been one hour for audience questions and discussion, to learn from each others views and perspectives. But we were met with aggressiveness. I have spoken at events with Shabiha in attendance where we were treated with more respect. In the end the audience, myself and Robin left. And Amir remained talking to his seven friends …

Amir and his friends did a great disservice to the Kurdish struggle today by claiming to represent it and shutting down open debate. Myself, Robin and Shiar had gone in the spirit of mutual solidarity across Kurdish and Arab struggles and we were faced with blind sectarianism by people who rudely and aggressively prevented our event from taking place. If anarchism is about cult-like chanting the name of a political party and preventing Syrians from talking about Syria, then I am not an anarchist.

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19 thoughts on “London Anarchist Bookfair

  1. Sorry to hear this, Leila. Not an anarchist, but honest discussion is needed if we are to learn from the Syrian experience and possibly aid our comrades there. In solidarity Earl Silbar

  2. So sorry about what happened today. I looked forward to your meeting, the most important scheduled at the bookfair for years, in my opinion. I was disgusted by this man’s behaviour, and as you say this man and acolytes did a great disservice to his cause. Solidarity to you.

    • This is not specifically for R, but for everyone and especially Leila and Robin

      I would attempt to talk to the organizers of The Anarchist Book Fair to get them to denounce this attack on free speech at their event. Prepare a public statement for them and negotiate hard so they don’t water it down. I would consider it permissible to threaten them with similar exposure if they balk at defending your right to speak at a conference they invited you to speak at. I would additionally demand that they join with whatever organizations you can pull together to make another meeting for Robin & Leila that everybody in London who gets this issue builds the dickens out of. It could then be a Defend Syria and defend the right to free speech meeting, which might be even broader than just a Syria meeting. Maybe The Mirror would sponsor such a meeting, that would help. I would, in other words, make this an opportunity to take the battle to them on pretty favorable political terms for us.

  3. Really disgusted at the behaviour of Amir, his ‘friends’, and some of the tacit support he had among a very few of the audience.

    Just a slight quibble in terminology on the bit where you say he was earlier refused a platform by the bookfair. He had demanded a workshop at very short notice and was told they were fully booked up, the same way that anyone would have been at that short notice, rather than being ‘refused a platform’ exactly. Anyway…

    Really sorry about the experience for you and Robin and all of us that have learnt from your talks and writing. The way that the people with Amir behaved was disgusting, and people in Rojava would have been horrified to see that level of disrespect and arrogance from people claiming to be acting in their interest.

  4. I am a quite intrigued by this. I say this because some time ago I met somebody called Amir at the London Hackspace, who was into bitcoin and hacking. On the wiki page about him it says that he lived in an anarchist squat in Barcelona,so I think it is the same person, (as he told me that he had lived in a squat just outside Barcelona). I am intrigued because I didn’t realise that he was so political, or at least not enough to bust up a meeting! At any rate inventing a new currency will not solve the world’s problems, and is certainly not transformational, so I find it somewhat surprising he was at the Bookfair at all. If it’s the same person.
    Anyway sorry to hear about this incident, Leila, I’m glad I wasn’t there

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  7. Awful. As an anarchist, I find that behavior truly disgusting. I just read your book and am hopeful that this is an exception, and that your message will continue to get out to a wider audience among anarchists and other folks.

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  9. I understand your frustration and indignation. I could only see a bit of the situation (with additional thread of a senior gentleman hollering about being filmed). Please let me say that this kind of confrontation is nothing special among Kurdish, Arab and Greek people I had a chance to live with recently. There are some effective (and conciliatory) methods to deal with such situations (I saw them in practice and was deeply inspired), but sadly none of them was available on Saturday.
    Having said that, I understand that British audience could be totally shocked and scandalized.

  10. Pingback: Article by Leila Al Shami about the incident at the London Anarchist Bookfair – Kurdistan Solidarity Network

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