Tuesday, 8 November 2016

London Anarchist Bookfair Collective Statement

 6th November 2016 Via Kurdish Solidarity Network, by e-mail.

AMIR Taaki contacted us a week or so before the Bookfair asking that he be given space to speak about Rojava.  Below is the statement we sent out in respect of this on the Friday before the Bookfair. 
Leila Al Shami would define herself as an anarchist. Robin Yassin-Kassab would not. They co-wrote a book “Burning Country, Syrians in Revolution and War” and it was because of the issues in this book that we asked them to speak at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair. We stand by this decision. Leila and Robin also asked Shiar Neyo, a Syrian Kurdish anarchist, to speak as well.

Amir Taaki and around 15 others decided to occupy the stage at the start of this meeting. We are still unsure if this was on the false accusation that we wouldn’t let him speak or his accusations that Robin Yassin-Kassab supports fascist groups.

There were a large number of people present who wanted to hear the speakers, so to progress the meeting those present let Amir could speak for 10 minutes at the start of the meeting. This he did. But this wasn’t enough for Amir and his followers. They still refused to let the meeting continue and silenced anyone who tried to speak except for Amir. Robin left the room although Leila stayed.

The Bookfair has a policy of “no filming” at the Bookfair and when we saw one of Amir’s group filming we asked her to stop. This she constantly refused to do even though people in the room were asking her to stop as it could compromise some people’s security. Eventually someone took the filming equipment from the woman which led to a very short scuffle lasting no more than a few seconds.

We asked Amir and his associates if they would now leave the stage and let Leila speak and the meeting continue. Amir refused stating that Leila is also tainted as she is connected to Robin. As it was obvious Amir considered himself to be the only legitimate voice of what’s happening in Rojava we, as the Bookfair organisers, cancelled the meeting and asked people to leave. We left the room to Amir, his group of (we assume) supporters and 2 or 3 other people.

We are disgusted by the way that Amir and his associates behaved. Firstly, a number of people wanted to hear what Leila and Robin had to say. Many were Kurds, Arabs and Syrians and some had travelled to the Bookfair specifically to be part of this discussion. We apologise to all these people and to Leila, Robin and Shiar.

Secondly, we know some people wanted to ask Robin about the accusations being made against him by Amir.

Thirdly we find it ironic that in the end the only people who heard from Amir were a load of people who he already knew. Amir and his friends left the Bookfair immediately after the meeting and did not participate in further meetings.

The meeting about Rojava did happen later on at the Bookfair, as scheduled, and over 100 people participated in a good debate. The Bookfair collective welcomes this debate (as we have in previous years) and will do so again in future years if it’s appropriate.

We have seen emails stating that Amir and co’s actions could damage support for the Kurds and/or Rojava. From the London Anarchist Bookfair’s perspective we in no way blame any sections of the Kurdish community. These were the actions of a very small group of people (some Kurdish – some not) who decided (1) they wanted to close down any free discussion on the issues, and (2) only the word of Amir could be heard. Likewise, we hope our Kurdish comrades do not see the actions of Amir and co as having the support of most anarchists. He does not represent anarchism as we perceive it.

There were over 70 meetings at this year’s Bookfair and over 100 stall holders. Amir and co disrupted one meeting which most of those at the Bookfair didn’t even realise had happened. We need to keep this in perspective.

Many discussions were had with Amir before the event explaining he wasn’t being stopped from contributing – which was his initial request. At no time initially did he say Robin shouldn’t be allowed to speak. He only made this demand when we explained to Amir he couldn’t speak from the stage and the meeting wouldn’t be “his meeting”. We wonder just how much of this story those who supported Amir on the day knew.

Statement from the London Anarchist Bookfair Collective, 28th October 2016 (the day before the Bookfair)

The London Anarchist Bookfair has Leila Al Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab speaking at this year’s Bookfair. As the description on our website states “Leila and Robin will discuss the current situation in Syria with a focus on grass-roots resistance to all forms of authoritarianism.” Leila would describe herself as an anarchist and we know Robin wouldn’t. However we have often had non anarchists speaking when we think they have interesting things to say. Amir Taaki has made allegations against Robin both to us and to Robin & Leila. Robin categorically denies these allegations.

Amir contacted us about a week ago telling us we needed to let him speak signing off by saying “I’d love to speak at the anarchist book fair, only if you give me a good speaking slot and advertise it properly”.

We explained to him that the programme was fully booked, all the publicity had now gone out and the programme printed but he, like anyone else, is welcome to attend the Bookfair and any meeting to participate in the debates. His reply to us was “I want 1 hour to talk from the Syrian and technology talks”. Again we explained that at this late stage it just wasn’t possible but again said come and take part in the discussion. We have also had a friend of Amir’s call us telling us we must let Amir speak. We have never said he can’t speak. We have said we are not going to change the main speakers but that doesn’t stop him participating from the floor as the meeting will be a general discussion. We have discussed this with Amir as well by phone. It is now that Amir is making allegations against one of the speakers.

Amir is also claiming “This event is not having anything about Rojava, even though their main talk is about Syria. They’re trying to sideline Rojava”. He also calls Robin “the main speaker” at the Anarchist Bookfair. Both of these points are untrue.

Firstly, we do have a meeting about Rojava and this is a separate meeting to the one we are having about Rojava. We also have a meeting about the situation in Turkey. Amir has been told this but decides to say something completely different.

Robin is not the “main speaker” at the bookfair. We have 70 meetings and as the organisers we see all the meetings and discussions have equal billing. We have a number of speakers coming in from outside the UK and we feel it is an insult to these and speakers from within the UK to describe one person, as Amir does, as the “main speaker”. We would question why anyone who would define themselves as an anarchist would “rank” speakers in order of importance.

We cannot, and would not, stop Amir expressing his views. However we don’t agree with them for the reasons stated above.

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