This past year we have witnessed a series of grassroots and popular uprisings around the world; some new, some part of decades-long battles for liberation. In this roundtable conducted in early spring 2020, Edward Hon-Sing Wong and Sardar Saadi sat down with Upping the Anti editor Niloofar Golkar to talk about different social movements around the world and the challenges of cross-borders solidarity, especially for leftists in the West.
Niloofar Golkar is a PhD candidate in Politics at York University. Until the summer of 2008, when she moved to Canada, she was active in a campaign in Iran to change discriminatory laws against women, and has since remained an activist in the diaspora.
Edward Hon-Sing Wong is a doctoral candidate in social work at York University and part of the Lausan Collective: a collective of activists, writers, researchers, and artists who explore anti-authoritarian leftist perspectives on Hong Kong politics.
Sardar Saadi is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at Wageningen University. He recently graduated from his PhD program in Anthropology at the University of Toronto. His work is on the Kurdish self-determination movement in the Middle East region, but particularly in Turkey. He is also a member of the Rojava Solidarity Collective in Toronto and has done other solidarity work with the Rojava revolution.
Can you tell us about the movement you are involved with?
Edward: In terms of the current protest movement, it was sparked back in March 2019 in response to the attempt of the Hong Kong government to pass a bill to allow for the extradition of people charged with crimes (including activists and labour organizers) up to mainland China. The mass protests of millions of people coalesced around five key demands. First, the withdrawal of the extradition bill, which was successful. Second, universal suffrage; the ability to vote for our government and to remove the corporate influences in the current electoral system. Third, the release of all political prisoners. Fourth, the reclassification of the protests away from riots because participation in riots could result in imprisonment of up to 10 years. And finally, an independent inquiry into police violence. This fifth demand has since morphed into the call for the abolition of Hong Kong police. More recently, the movement has died down a bit, partially because of the COVID-19 epidemic in Hong Kong. But the efforts have moved onto other areas such as a mass unionization drive which has resulted in, last time I heard, the formation of close to 70 new unions.
Sardar: My work is on the Kurdish self-determination movement in Turkey. I am also interested and have been writing about the Kurdish question in other parts of Kurdistan. In my doctoral dissertation, I am looking at the urban dynamics of the Kurdish movement in the process of establishing a Kurdish democratic autonomy project over the last two decades. One of the central parts of the work that I have done with Rojava, from the beginning of the revolution, has been around cross-borders solidarity, particularly the kinds of solidarity and relationships of mutual support that Rojava can build with different social movements around the world.
Niloofar: I’ve been involved with feminist and student movements related to Iran and was a human rights reporter for a few years. But, today I want to talk about the events concerning the government-initiated internet blackout in Iran in December 2019 and what that might mean for organizing in the diaspora. There wasn’t good coverage of the events anywhere as the result of the internet blackout, as well as government censorship. What began as demonstrations on November 15 against the increase of gas prices soon resulted in bloodshed—the killing of 1,500 people in one week. This was a reminder of the supreme leader’s extreme oppression measures that Prime Minister Rouhani, who posed as a reformist, is also ready to participate in. These demonstrations had similarities to the protests against Ahmedinejad’s gas-subsidies cuts in 2009, but these uprisings were of a different nature. To start, significantly more working-class people were involved in a greater number of areas. The demands were also more radical. One of the reasons for these differences was the unmet expectations of the election: the hope that electing reformists would help restore the subsidies and the dwindling social safety net. As a result, people’s messages reflected the desire for meaningful regime change: “Down with Khameini,” “Down with the government,” or, “We don’t want them anymore.” Unfortunately, because social movements in Iran took a hit after the 2009 uprising, in the form of mass arrests, exiles, and imprisonments, they haven’t regained their power since. They also face the challenge of moving away from defensiveness toward envisioning the kind of society we want, and also risk co-optation by other reactionary movements including monarchists who share some of the same frustrations but seek solutions in the instalment of a constitutional monarchy.
What has been the international response to these struggles from the Left and the right?
Edward: There has been a real lack of nuance in attempting to understand the intentions and context that Hong Kongers are dealing with. I’ll start off with the Left’s response. I’m grateful to the anti-authoritarian leftists who have reached out, written articles, and have tried to really home in on some of the reasons driving people out onto the streets. But there are also elements within the Left that have seen the events in Hong Kong solely through the prism of narrow international geopolitics, specifically those which frame the Chinese government as anti-imperialist and Hong Kongers as pro-Western imperialists. This framing latches onto images or elements of Hong Kongers waving American or British flags. Although these groups of people consist of problematic, fascist groups like the Nationalist Party and people like Chin Wan who we need to oppose, they do not represent the broader movement. Instead, the movement is made up of many different factions, including socialists and anarchists, and is still largely inchoate with very little ideological coherence. These nuances are lost in this framing. There’s a failure to consider the Hong Kong government’s support of big business and corporations, and the overt influence corporations have within the political system. In fact, half of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is made up of functional constituencies, representing sectors like banking and textiles, where corporations have undue influence and directly elect legislators to the body. All that is ignored and it’s all simply seen as Western imperialists encroaching on Hong Kong and China.
The right has similarly also tried to co-opt the movement. People like Steve Bannon are seeing this from the prism of the Cold War, with Hong Kong being the new Berlin. Unfortunately, because the mainland Chinese government is seen as a common enemy by some people on the ground, they interpret this Western right-wing intervention as support for our interests; in the context of less visible support from the global Left, the Hong Kong movement is willing to latch onto anything. This is one of the main reasons why we saw more and more waving of American and British flags and all those problematic elements. Amongst all these Left and right-wing groups is the lack of desire to understand the actual demands of the people on the ground and an attempt to impose their own political interests.
Sardar: The Middle East is in crisis and has been in this crisis for quite a long time. The human tragedy and suffering that this has cost the people of the region is enormous. The response by the West and progressive organizations and groups has been incredibly disproportionate. On the one hand, mainstream media primarily reproduces the dominant geopolitical order by supporting what their respective governments have on their agendas. You seldom see an in-depth analysis that would take the calamity in the lives of the people of the region as its point of departure. I believe if what has been happening in the Middle East right now and in the years before had been happening in any part of the West, we would have seen totally different discussions and changes in some key political notions that the modern nation-state political structure is built upon, and which a regime of international relations relies on. These notions are also mainly coming from the West, and they are mostly inherited from the Enlightenment era and the later rise of capitalist modernity, among them the notion of sovereignty and who the sovereign is in relation to democracy, human rights, and representation of the people’s power. We would have seen another form of polity that fundamentally changes our understanding of international relations. Right-wing theorists and politicians are pushing to bring their understanding of these notions to the table, but among the Left, we are still following similar rhetoric in regards to our understanding of political movements in the region and in relation to the politics of solidarity that we need to pursue.
As Ed mentioned, when it comes to right-wing politicians, we do see some serious—and scary—discussions in favour of authoritarianism and anti-left politics as a critique of liberal democracy and the political system around it, something that Bannon and others are proposing. On the other hand, we in the Left have been struggling amongst ourselves, scattering our potential, and creating many divisions along the lines of political tendencies that we find to be correct. So I totally agree with Ed, and I don’t want to oversimplify the nuances in the different ways that people have shown their solidarity, but among the Left, the response has been very much fragmented, selective, sometimes pragmatic, but most of the time Western-centric.
In North America, the solidarity movements have been suspicious of political engagement with the situation in the region, particularly in Syria and Iran. This is mainly justified by the lack of knowledge about different parties, different histories, and internal conflicts. For example, we have many sides of the Left in Iran, and not all of them are close to each other and some are openly hostile against others. If one of these groups develops strong solidarity with activist groups in, let’s say, Canada, this Iranian group dominates the way that solidarity with the Iranian people’s revolution and their demands are being shaped. There are, of course, political and ideological alliances as well, but many times a solidarity politics that is not inclusive creates some serious issues among the community, and in response, some groups are excluded. This absence of inclusiveness has many reasons, but we rarely see in-depth discussions around it and what sort of solidarity we need to mobilize our communities around. Similarly in Syria, a lot of hostilities against the Rojava Revolution have been shaped by Arab nationalism, either for or against Bashar Al-Assad, under the cover of leftist anti-imperialist rhetoric against the Kurds. So in Rojava, while we have seen some forms of incredible support from the Left in North America and Canada, most of the responses have been embedded with a lot of suspicion. Of course, there were marginal leftist groups, such as the Spartacist League, that even saw ISIS as an anti-imperialist group. But I am not referring to those that see ISIS, Assad, Erdoğan, or the Iranian regime as anti-imperialist; I am talking about the people that I know and whose politics I trust. Those that when it comes to Rojava, Syria, or Iran, would prefer to keep suspicion and remain inactive, as their action might disrupt a leftist common sense that is obsessed with imperialism. It’s just very bothersome and in many cases silences the people who can provide a nuanced understanding of anti-imperialism from the region.
Edward: In terms of the diversity of left groups in the Middle East, similarly in Hong Kong and China a lot of Western leftists, especially those with a selective understanding of imperialism as that confined to the West, completely erased our existence. Whether it’s New Left or Maoist groups, many of whom are in jail in China for doing labour organizing in Guangdong’s factories, or whether it’s anarchist and other left groups in Hong Kong engaged in land justice or sex work organizing, all of that has been erased. We’ve seen some interesting support from leftist groups across Asia and Africa; and leftists in many Asian and African countries like the Philippines, India, and Zambia are staging their own resistance against Chinese imperialism. However, the response seems to have been more mixed here in the West. There are many leftists that have extended solidarity to the struggles in Hong Kong, particularly anti-authoritarians and anarchists. But far too many Western leftists have taken a clear stance against the protest movement in Hong Kong, buying into the idea that the protest movement is directed by Western interests or simply unwilling to wade into the messiness produced by contradictory discourses, such as narratives produced by Western right-wingers attempting to appropriate the struggle in Hong Kong. This refusal to accept political struggles as inherently marked by contradiction mutates into a politics based entirely on critiquing Western mainstream media, instead of engaging with people on the ground.
Niloofar: During the 2009 protests in Iran, most of the international Left held the belief that Ahmadinejad and the Iranian government were anti-imperialist. Many lefty Iranians in the diaspora worked hard at challenging some portion of the Western Left’s discourse on it. But in the recent uprisings, due to the total blackout of the internet and the selective news coming out of Iran, there was no real representation of what was going on. As a response, the Western mainstream discourse revolved around protecting human rights. Although it’s important to show the brutality of the regime, there was absolutely no show of the successful actions and resistance of people on the streets; how they burned more than 200 governmental buildings, paramilitary offices, and banks. In other words, Iranians were being disproportionately portrayed as helpless victims rather than as empowered actors. This projection enables the right-wing to sell war and sanctions as the solution. Lack of information also prepares the ground for the Western Left to fall into anti-imperialist rhetoric and believe that every evil happening in the Middle East and Iran is just because of the sanctions.
When Iran’s major general Soleimani was assassinated by the US in Iraq in the early days of 2020, many in the Western Left and within Iran’s liberal media rallied in support of Soleimani and portrayed him as a national hero. Far from that, Soleimani was a murderer, especially of people belonging to marginalized ethnicities in Iran, such as Afghanis, Kurds, and Baluchis. Although he was praised for stopping ISIS, in reality, he would not have done anything about ISIS if they hadn’t threatened the Shia nationalism of Iran. When the threat of war was very high, I witnessed the resurrection of the so-called anti-imperialist Left. They portrayed the authoritarian regime as anti-imperialist and tried to organize mosques and more right-wing factions of Iranian and Middle Eastern communities against the threat of war.
This influence does not happen out of the blue. The Iranian government has put lots of resources in the past decade into targeting Latin American leftist governments with the aim to create an economic alliance. For example, through HispanTV the Islamic Republic government has tried to make Latin American leftists believe that the Iranian government is their ally in fighting US imperialism, hiding their murderous oppression of Iranian socialists since the revolution. Back in 2009 and 2010, a group of friends and I had worked hard to reclaim the anti-war movement as anti-government using the specific slogans “No to War” and “No to Dictatorship in Iran.” We wanted neither the re-establishment of government sanctioned religious, authoritarian power nor war in Iran. Instead, we want to envision a different kind of society where decision-making and power comes from grassroots organizing. For instance, our campaign to change discriminatory laws against women grew all over the country very rapidly. But in the face of a murderous brutal government, constant sanctions, and the threat of war, it is hard to maintain hope and for people to survive the economic situation.
Sardar: Can I say something related to Iran? One of the reasons behind the growth and spread of right-wing Iranian political opposition especially in North America, such as monarchists, is that Iranian leftists face limitations in presenting the other face of the current revolutionary situation in Iran. Of course, this is mainly because of the fragmentation within the Iranian Left as well. I believe the only way we can understand what’s going on in Iran, Rojava, Syria, and also in Hong Kong is to talk to people who are part of the struggle there. It is a complicated situation that begs more effort to deal with. Indeed, it requires more sensitivity but without principles, we can end up on the wrong side of what is happening in the region and exclude a lot of people who are close to us. There are people in Montréal and Toronto using anti-imperialist rhetoric to support Assad, and they are friends with many members of the community. In Toronto, a few well-connected people have very much affected the Left’s limited response and mostly led to confusion, suspicion, and inactivity.
I am sure there are people who read this roundtable who will find it to be exclusionary of those claiming to be anti-imperialists from Iran or Syria. If you have not listened to the people on the streets who demand the fall of the authoritarian regimes, you cannot ask, “how about the role of the imperialist powers?” If you follow the news and the history of what’s happened in Iran in the last four decades, you should know that Qassem Soleimani is a butcher and responsible for a lot of atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and in Iran. Anti-imperialism that cannot recognize that is a total fraud. One of the reasons that leftist movements in the Middle East and Rojava are facing existential threats is because of those very people who call Rojavan revolutionaries “collaborators” because of their coalition with the Americans in the fight against ISIS. These accusations have been incredibly hurtful and exclusionary. Rojavan politicians have been struggling to build connections, and the dilemma they are facing is real. On the one hand, there is an existential threat against them posed by authoritarian nation-states and their Jihadist pawns in the region, and on the other hand, they must maintain their appeal to the global Left and progressive movements that criticize Rojava for tactically working with the US.
In the case of Iran, Kurdish and Iranian leftists are accused that our position on sanctions or the potential for war is not clear. Meanwhile, right-wing political opposition groups are taking advantage of our inactivity. We need to discuss what is happening to our people in Kurdistan, Syria, Iran, and the region, and how we can actively take the lead for change in the region, keeping geopolitical relations and situations in mind. These discussions need to happen because there are no simple answers. If we stop silencing leftist activists who may have a different way to approach the presence of imperialist powers in the region, we would probably develop a much stronger solidarity movement. This movement must aim at forming a strategic coalition in support of those who are hopeless in the face of the most vicious forces. I don’t know any Kurdish, Arab, Turkish, or Iranian person who is not anti-imperialist, but these people know that something has to be done. It is no longer about a political change but about the life and death of the people that we know back in our communities in the region.
Edward: Going off of what you both were talking about, in the Hong Kong context there is a very scary, similar flattening or polarization of the debate. Hong Kongers resisting the state have always been called “dogs of British imperialism,” until it got replaced with “cockroaches.” The framing of the political struggle as purely between Chinese nationalists who are anti-imperialists and worthy of leftist support on one end, and very problematic far-right and liberal elements on the other, is particularly damaging to leftist organizing in Hong Kong. The reality is that most Hong Kongers are very pragmatic in their approach to this political movement. The political discourse in Hong Kong has always been quite local and insular, with little appreciation for international geopolitics or traditional left-right spectrums. Considering Hong Kong’s founding myth as a haven for refugees from “Communist China” and fallout from tactics of indiscriminate bombing by pro-CCP activists during the 1967 riots, left politics have very little presence in mainstream political discourse, despite continued organizing by anti-government leftists. Instead, the rule of law has problematically remained the most widely accepted political value, a value seen as under threat from Beijing, and so, political parties tend to drift toward this centre.
The question of China’s role in Hong Kong so dominates politics that when battle lines are drawn as a fight between pro-China leftists and the pro-West right-wing, it erases Hong Kong’s political context and further marginalizes efforts by local leftists to engage with concerns held by Hong Kong workers. This leaves a vacuum for right-wingers to appropriate the struggle and make further inroads into capturing public support. And when it is Western right-wingers providing the most visible support to Hong Kongers, gravitation toward these forces is unsurprising, though disappointing.
The Left was already quite marginalized in Hong Kong, and this framing led to even greater marginalization to the point where even organizing in the diaspora has been difficult. For example, Lausan faced backlash in our attempt to reach out to Palestinian activists for solidarity. When we had done so, we received concern from more liberal Hong Kong diaspora organizations that we threatened the support we were receiving from Western groups. If anything this shows the flimsiness of Western support—support that is contingent on the movement remaining quiet on issues of Western imperialism. This became abundantly clear when we posted a solidarity message with Wet’suwet’en recently. Our Twitter post was littered with white right-wingers expressing shock and suggesting an abandonment of support for Hong Kongers, they were saying, “we don’t support you anymore,” or, “I thought you guys were on the side of liberty.” So other than being intellectually dishonest by flattening the discourse, there is also the real danger of these discourses ironically further marginalizing leftist organizing in Hong Kong.
What obstacles do you see around organizing here in the West in solidarity with what’s going on on the ground in these other parts of the world?
Sardar: As I said, the main obstacle facing activists is silencing them based on anti-imperialist politics. Organizing meetings, talks, and solidarity actions can be the way forward, but we need to ask some really serious questions: what is imperialism in the region? What could anti-imperialist politics look like when there is an existential threat coming from brutal regimes of oppression who hide behind their sovereign power protected by geopolitical dynamics and international relations? What sort of tactical coalitions could be developed in this environment where freedom is also about survival? An anti-imperialist politics that ignores the conditions that people deal with in the region is only to put a false leftist consciousness at ease in the face of human suffering. This ultimately puts the onus on progressive groups in the region for their failures without any accountability on our part. For instance, when America withdrew its troops from Rojava and the Turkish army attacked, so many people in the anti-imperialist bloc were saying, “We told you so,” or, “Kurds, once again, have been betrayed by Americans,” and so on. Despite that, we see that Rojava continues to resist, and part of this resistance has been because of their tactical agreements with global powers who are in the region. But one other important part of this resistance is internationalist revolutionaries in Rojava who fought against both ISIS and Turkey alongside their Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Turkish comrades. We need to redefine anti-imperialism, or our political understanding will remain stuck in what I see as the Western Left’s orientalist view of the region.
Edward: I want to echo what you just said. In the Western Left and also among the broader movement in Hong Kong, there is a notion of solidarity as zero-sum solidarity between nation-states as opposed to solidarity with real people. These approaches see political possibilities as limited to the existing nation-state order, and so, to be opposed to Western imperialism, it is believed that one must support states like China that are supposedly in opposition. Alternatively, right-wing elements of the Hong Kong movement may actively engage in lobbying and exalting Western states. Fundamental to both of these perspectives is the erasure of struggles and oppression in either locations and a lack of imagination around the potential for building radical alternatives rooted in social movements and community-based struggles. This approach is so damaging in terms of building our movements. Elaborating on the specific circumstances in Hong Kong, these narrow political framings erase the continued role of Western capital in producing inequalities in Hong Kong and the legacy of British rule in relation to our governmental institutions, and police force. Among the chief executives that have served under Chinese rule, Donald Tsang had been knighted by Prince Charles before the handover and Carrie Lam was a high ranking civil servant under British rule. The US State Department has long provided training to the Hong Kong Police Force. Western corporations and institutions have also been happy to collaborate with the Chinese government in relation to surveillance and repression. Instead, the Hong Kong movement must seek allies in other oppressed peoples fighting the very same battles we are, whether it is racialized communities within Hong Kong or mainland workers across the border. We must also seek allies in the many peoples affected by Chinese and Western colonialism. In this allyship, Hong Kong leftists must consider parallels but also distinctions between our struggles. Hong Kong’s experience is somewhat unique in that few other colonies were transformed into an international finance centre. These conditions produce particular class dynamics and muddy the waters in terms of what type of political struggle is needed to address material inequalities. Without conflating our experiences, we have much to learn from other struggles just as we have much to give in solidarity.
I would also urge the leftists in the West to give primacy to people’s struggles instead of forging alliances with states. I have often seen claims that we should only criticize China in private for fear that it provides Western imperialists with ammunition, but this shows a naive trust in state forms and a distrust of people power. There is always a real need and urgency to challenge Western imperialism, but anti-authoritarian leftists should reject this belief in states as the only means of protection against imperialism and instead, work at delegitimizing all forms of state power through abolitionist projects informed by political struggles on the ground. Oppressed peoples and their experiences should not be erased or reduced. And the Chinese, Iranian, and Syrian States should not be absolved on any grounds. Those on the Left who become uncritical defenders of supposedly socialist states remove people and their material condition and replace them with fantasy.
Niloofar: One of the main obstacles facing the Left, as Sardar mentioned, is re-theorizing to respond to the complexity of new situations. Using the old anti-imperialist lenses is very simplistic in the cases of brutal dictatorships in the Middle East. As a result, the leftist movements in the West become disconnected from the current daily reality, from culture, art, and people’s consciousness and it becomes less and less effective. Many non-Iranian, anti-imperialist socialist groups are just positioning themselves as anti-US and, in some cases, as allies to the authoritarian regime. They might even travel to Iran with government funds, visit highly controlled spaces by the government, and come back and work as ideological extensions of the Islamic Republic. Syrian, Lebanese, Chinese, and Kurdish diaspora activists face similar issues with these groups.
Another obstacle is being in a constant state of emergency that keeps many of us in a reaction mode. Instead, being more proactive will require concrete forms of re-theorization. For example, the creation of an organization to document and archive the oppression, imprisonment, and execution of socialists in different countries. Or, the creation of a forum for the socialist, feminist, anti-racist anarchist groups and families to take their grievances beyond the fora provided by the United Nations. The Iranian government’s propaganda is a problem, but so is the lack of Left international organizations that can provide archival evidence besides media coverage. While the ruling class that Western leftists call anti-imperialists are living a luxurious life, many industrial workers might not get paid for over a year and end up in jail if they protest.
The re-theorization of anti-imperialism should come from this simple reality. What is the situation of workers, the labour movement, women, and ethnic minorities in the country we want to claim solidarity with? You can be anti-war and anti-sanctions in solidarity with the workers or you can be anti-war and anti-sanction in solidarity with the government. Understanding the difference between these types of solidarity is a matter of life or death for the oppressed groups.
What kind of solidarity can we do in Toronto, which is where our organizing is based?
Sardar: What Palestinian solidarity groups are doing to align their struggles with Indigenous peoples’ struggles in Canada is really valuable. At the same time, however, we have to expand our solidarity politics beyond Palestine to include the region as a whole. It’s obviously fantastic that a part of our daily political focus is on Palestine, but this should not limit us from developing critical discussions, and as Niloofar said, a re-theorization about what is going on in Iran, Rojava, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan. In Toronto, we have people from the Academics for Peace in Turkey who are very active; there is the Rojava Solidarity Collective; and there are also many Iranian activists who are working with the community. We have networks, resources and channels like Upping the Anti. But, I personally haven’t seen or felt, except from a few people, that people in Toronto care about what’s happening in Syria or Rojava or around the region. It is sad and very much discourages many of us from political engagement in social movements here in Toronto. People in Rojava are doing what they think is best for them, and the best way to contribute to their revolution is to give them a voice, to participate in solidarity actions, and to find out how we can be more supportive from here, especially as Leftist and progressive activists from the region face a lot of pressure from liberal and right-wing opposition.
Edward: Both of you have introduced a lot of important critiques around how practices of the Western Left have really damaged the ability for meaningful solidarity in the Middle East. Although there are many parallels with China and Hong Kong, I want to highlight a few key differences. There are many important critiques within the Hong Kong diaspora and the Hong Kong movement centred around the key tenet of decentralization in political organizing. Born out of lessons learned from the failure of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, which dissipated after the arrest of prominent organizers, decentralization has real value in terms of sustaining and democratizing a movement. But the problem is what it has come to mean in the Hong Kong movement: blanket support for diversity of tactics that prevents criticisms of political standpoints of certain groups within the movement. There’s a hesitation to criticize groups with nativist positions or people waving Western flags, being encouraged by the argument, “we have so many thousands of people in jail that this is not the time for critique.” The danger of this is harming our ability, as the Hong Kong community, to build meaningful solidarity with other groups in terms of thinking through what the American flag represents to other communities where the US is the main imperialist threat. At the same time, there is a glimmer of hope. Although there have been many political actions in Hong Kong in previous years, the current round of actions is really the first time we’re seeing stronger, prominent leftist organizing among the Hong Kong diaspora. This has created new opportunities for solidarity. We’re drawing in a lot of knowledge and analysis from anti-police organizing by Black liberation movements and applying it back to policing in Hong Kong society. That has been crucial. We’ve had joint events with Puerto Rican activists in New York in order to explore what it means to organize in between superpowers, from a position of non-sovereignty and the rejection of the nation-state. This roundtable is another example of attempting to learn lessons from different movements across the world, which is a unique opportunity that being a part of the diaspora provides.
Niloofar: There are two grounds to organize within Toronto. One within our own communities and one within the wider Left in Toronto. Within our communities, there are different factions, opinions, and disagreements that serve as obstacles to building meaningful solidarity. To overcome these historical rifts, we need to connect at the level of values and what we want to see in our lives in terms of democracy, fair distribution of resources and access to the means of production, access to health and economic security, freedom of movement, and freedom of religion, and then we can talk about what kind of system might provide those. Also, how can we prevent another failed revolution? Lots of work in this direction exists, but we need to systematize it and keep building on it.
Further, it’s the duty of the Iranian diaspora to teach non-Iranians about the struggles in our communities and how to act in solidarity. Doing this consistently and on an ongoing basis, however, is very tiring, especially as the Iranian government targets some non-Iranian groups as allies. One of the main issues that we see is periods of silence in between rounds of organizing, something which the pro-Palestine movement has been more successful at addressing. They consistently talk about the issues and the culture of resistance through movies, poetry, and talks. For instance, the yearly Israeli Apartheid Week has helped pro-Palestinian organizing stick out in the popular memory of the Left in Toronto and other cities. Iranians, Hong Kongers, Kurds, and others should try to emulate this by dedicating a week or two to educating people about what is happening in these regions of the world. Authoritarian regimes are afraid of political artists, poets, and writers who can influence many people by building a form of consciousness. The Iranian government has assassinated many intellectuals, poets, and writers both inside Iran and in diaspora in the past as they know how art and culture are important in keeping the resistance vibrant and robust. It is upon us to revive what we have lost.
Sardar: Another way is to support the different communities. For example, the Kurdish community has their own events and protests, and they are also trying to support other groups. Some of us have been trying hard to keep the community away from the ways in which “ethnic” politics have been developed in this country based on liberal multiculturalism. Once again, our solidarity politics need to be centred around emancipatory politics that do not make a preference based on the kind of anti-imperialism that may suit us best. *