By Jean McKeowin for Rhodes University, April 11 2011
Tariq Ali brought his charismatic presence and gift for oratory to the Rhodes University Faculty of Science’s Graduation ceremony last week. In his speech, before he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate by the University, Ali showed that none of his fire has died out, although it is over forty years since he gained his reputation as one of the twentieth century’s most outspoken activists.
Born in 1943 in Lahore, now in Pakistan, into a family of some privilege, he grew up as both an atheist and a communist. As a student at Punjab University, Ali was elected President of the Young Students Union, and led several public demonstrations against Pakistan’s military dictatorship. This resulted in his being banned from further participation in student politics and his parents sent him to study further at Oxford University’s Exeter College.
After graduating, Ali almost single-handedly founded the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) becoming its leader and outspoken envoy.
Throughout the last years of the 1960s the VSC became a rallying point for those in opposition to the Americans’ involvement in Vietnam. Ali’s articulate and well argued anti-war stance gained him a great deal of prominence in the media, and a reputation for passionate anti-Americanism, which he retains to this day; indeed in his speech he regretted the lack of tangible change introduced by Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States.read more