“We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” -Mikhail Bakunin
This week Hamilton had the unfortunate distinction of being the only city on Eva Bartlett’s Canadian tour to host not one, but two presentations by the self-described independent journalist. In the days since, some of us have been asked by people in the Hamilton activist scene our thoughts on the events and, given that anarchists were publicly named as opponents of the event, “authoritarian” ones at that (the irony is not lost on us), we would like to clarify some thoughts.
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian blogger who has focused her writing on the middle-east: specifically Palestine and Syria. She recently shot to sectarian-internet fame when she managed to get filmed taking questions in front of a UN backdrop. According to her backers, Bartlett, unlike the Main Stream Media, is one of few sharing the “truth” about Syria. Unlike these outlets, she can lay claim to being “on the ground”, and not under the influence of the NATO-backed western media.
While we appreciate the skepticism towards the mainstream media, as well as a general disdain for western imperialism, the so-called anti-imperialists who back Bartlett want us to believe that the near-consensus global and small press reports of the atrocities carried out by Assad regime simply didn’t happen. Or, to paraphrase Bartlett, it’s possible that a few mistakes have been made by Assad’s army, but she hadn’t heard of anything in particular. Sound conspiracy theory-ish yet? There’s more.
Bartlett’s conspiratorial claims, many of which have been debunked online (by sources which, by virtue of contesting Bartlett’s claims, are considered unreliable), have found a welcome home on such websites as GlobalResearch.ca, a site that sounds very professional and…well…researched when she’s citing it in front of a crowd. When you check the site out though, you’ll find that it devotes an entire section of it’s content to 9/11 truth articles, hosts articles by Alex Jones/Infowars, alt-right figure Paul Joseph Watson, and describes itself as “a major news source on the New World Order”.
That the far-right and the authoritarian left are feeding at the same conspiracy trough should give us pause, and all the more so when Bartlett, practically quoting Donald Trump, dismisses all information that doesn’t fit her narrative as fake news. As well, the conspiracy theory that there must be a guiding, conspiratorial hand behind mass movements because oppressed people could never rise up on their own has its roots in anti-black right-wing American conspiracy theories that refuse to accept that black people could possibly organize to make demands for justice. It doesn’t stop being condescending and racist when it’s said about Syrians.
Bartlett’s selling point for her material is that she, again unlike mainstream reporters, has been “on the ground”. That’s true inasmuch as she was in the region still understood as Syria, but she has not set foot in any non-regime areas.  In fact, she distinguishes between the people whose stories she claims to be innocently recounting as true “average, every-day Syrians”, contrasting them with the millions of Syrian people who have populated areas that have been out of Assad’s control, who she only refers to as terrorists. One of these “average Syrians” she quotes is an Assadist army general who, wouldn’t you know it, tells a western self-styled journalist getting the Assad tour of Syria that he’s refusing to attack a neighbourhood because there are too many civilians. Woah! Really digging deep with your investigation, there, Eva!
Unfortunately for Hamiltonians, Eva is not the only one who has sipped heartily of the kool-aid. She was hosted by a couple small Hamilton groups, at least one member of which has referred to Assad as “benevolent” at a rally for refugees and has had a state-sponsored tour of regime-held areas. Indeed, the true colours of the organizers were shown when a Syrian comrade whose family has been affected by the Assad regime was initially going to be denied entry, and when these same revolutionaries invited the cops to stand guard at the event’s entrance.
While we have no interest in defending the liberal and hollow “freedom of speech” that the organizers disingenuously heralded, if we do support a “free speech”, it is one of preventing a centralized government from controlling the expression of ideas – something obviously absent in the “anti-imperialists’” socialist-utopia Syria  – rather than a free speech of there being no consequences to one’s ideas. As anarchists we believe that talk is not divorced from action, that spreading conspiracies and pontificating about conflict in another country have real-world impacts: allowing state violence in Syria to continue. It is for this reason that we encourage people on any of this tour’s stops to disrupt Bartlett’s spouting of dictator-worship. Many of the “anti-imperialists” have great ideas, some of them are our friends, some of them have done work that we support. But we maintain that their position on the Syrian conflict is unprincipled, despicable, and, paradoxically, imperialist. 
The “anti-imperialists” would retort that there is no room for nuance, that not picking sides is playing into the imperialist plan: one is either with Assad or with empire. But if they were listening, they’d know that we have always picked a side: in solidarity with the Syrian anarchists, antiauthoritarians, and thousands of other rebels who managed to organize neighbourhood councils and mutual aid networks while up against insurmountable odds and the attacks of a bloodthirsty dictator’s regime.
As anarchists, we oppose imperialism and we also oppose authoritarianism wherever people rise in struggle against it. We do not recognize the rights of local powerful cadres to draw borders and use the discourse of sovereignty to oppress the people inside those borders; we do not believe that elections, especially not ones carried out amidst immense repression, give any legitimacy to those elites; we do not believe in lesser evils or that the Russian state is somehow not imperialist; we reject the absurd and disempowering narrative that behind every social movement there must be a conspiracy. In the Syrian revolution, we see many inspiring models of large-scale grassroots organizing that seeks to reduce hierarchy and transform society, in spite of the immense violence they have experienced from Assad and his allies, western bombs, and reactionary religious militias. This struggle will continue in the years to come and we need to continue organizing to support it.
For more information on the story of Syria’s revolution and counterrevolution, we heavily recommend checking out the work of Leila al-Shami, who happens to be speaking in Toronto on February 9th. Below are some links to some of her pieces as well as others who refuse to toe the line of either NATO or Putin.
Down with Assad, Down with NATO, Down with the Islamists, long live the Syrian revolution!
-some anarchists in Hamilton
1 – The Assadist state has been using these kinds of carefully guided tours for select foreign “journalists” and activists since the beginning of the conflict. How is it that people who were so critical of the mainstream press for embedding with the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan are willing to accept much greater limits on their ability to move, converse, and report from the Assadist state?
2 – Let us not forget that the rebellion against Assad started with some teenagers having their fingernails torn out for putting up anti-Assad graffiti.
3 – It’s a multi-polar conflict — the so-called anti-imperialists are wrong for trying to advance a binary reading of it, where everything is evaluated relative to opposition for what the views of the United States military are assumed to be. This represents an impoverished understanding of anti-imperialism, which is part of the shared legacy of all anti-capitalist movements and which they shouldn’t get to control. In its origins, anti-imperialism involves an opposition to the belligerence of states in the territory of other states, recognizing that war, no matter the reason, favours the interests of authoritarians over those of the oppressed. The idea that the world is divided into pro- and anti-imperialist camps is a legacy of the post-sixties cold war American social movements that no longer wanted to openly claim support for the Soviet Union and increasingly abandoned the discourse of Marxism.