The Scotsman interviews Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali interviewed by Claire Black for The Scotsman, July 26, 2010

Standing on the doorstep of Tariq Ali’s impressive Highgate house, the echo of the rung bell fading, it feels like an auspicious day to visit. Flicking through the paper on a stuttering train en route to leafy North London, there was a story about the first public sighting for four years of the 82-year-old Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro.

Wearing a white, Nike tracksuit and looking spritely for an octogenarian, it transpires the pictures are a first volley in a media salvo mainly aimed at the US by the veteran revolutionary. Given that Ali, the Pakistani-born, London-based historian, novelist and firebrand commentator, has a long-standing antipathy to what he describes as American “imperialism”, I assume the photographs will at the very least, amuse him.

As it turns out, Ali isn’t that bothered.

“Well, actually, they’re not the first photographs of him,” he says sounding decidedly unimpressed. “Oliver Stone has interviewed him twice over the last three years. Oliver Stone has had amazing access to him and there are photographs of them together. Anyway, he seems alive and well.” Ali shrugs his shoulders.

Ali has collaborated with the maverick American director on his new film, South of the Border. Already known for his fascination with presidents, Stone has previously made films about John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon and George W Bush, but South of the Border is something different. Ostensibly a documentary, it focuses on the rise of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his reformist allies in South America, including Evo Morales of Bolivia. It’s an unapologetically celebratory portrait. Shown first at the Venice Film Festival last year, and having already had its New York premiere, it’s proved to be just as controversial as Stone’s previous offerings, with critics objecting to both inaccuracies and its glowing assessment of Chávez.

“It’s very simple, very straightforward,” says Ali, sounding every bit like a man used to and happy about, ruffling feathers. “Its aim was very clear: in the United States in particular, but in Europe too, there has been so much disinformation about the South Americans and the Latin Americans, we just said let’s hear them speak. You hear the other point of view non-stop so there was no attempt to make a balanced documentary in that sense.”

Ali has written books about 9/11 (The Clash of Fundamentalisms), the invasion of Iraq (Bush in Babylon), Pakistan’s political situation (The Leopard and the Fox) and the rise of the reformist movement in South America (Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope). His involvement in Stone’s film, which he ended up co-writing, came about by accident, though. read more