The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity

Published by Verso, 2003

In The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Tariq Ali puts the events of September 11 into sweeping historical perspective. As we have come to expect from him, he is lucid, eloquent, literary, and painfully honest, as he dissects both Islamic and Western fundamentalism.

The aerial attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, a global spectacle of unprecedented dimensions, generated an enormous volume of commentary. The inviolability of the American mainland, breached for the first time since 1812, led to extravagant proclamations by the pundits. It was a new world-historical turning point. The 21st century, once greeted triumphally as marking the dawn of a worldwide neoliberal civilization, suddenly became menaced. The choice presented from the White House and its supporters was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against terrorism or be damned.

Tariq Ali challenges these assumptions, arguing instead that what we have experienced is the return of History in a horrific form, with religious symbols playing a part on both sides: ‘Allah’s revenge,’ ‘God is on Our Side’ and ‘God Bless America.’

The visible violence of September 11 was the response to the invisible violence that has been inflicted on countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine and Chechnya. Some of this has been the direct responsibility of the United States and Russia.

In this wide-ranging book that provides an explanation for both the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and new forms of Western colonialism, Tariq Ali argues that many of the values proclaimed by the Enlightenment retain their relevance, while portrayals of the American Empire as a new emancipatory project are misguided.

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Reviews:  Socialism Today, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the archive

  • ‘Dr Tariq Ali on history and politics’

    April 18, 2011

    By Sarah-Jane Bradfield for Rhodes University, April 14  2011

    Writer, journalist, filmmaker and public intellectual Dr Tariq Ali addressed a capacity crowd at Eden Grove this week on the current uprisings in the Arab world and their links to contemporary history and the international community.

    In his talk entitled “The West, the Arab World and its Discontents”, Dr Ali, who was born in Lahore in 1943 and educated at Oxford, attributed the current uprisings in the Arab world to widespread dissatisfaction with the neo-liberal capitalism system.

    “This particular system punishes the poor and rewards the rich, who are blinded by greed. Things reached a breaking point and uprisings were triggered because of the inability of the elite to deal with the discontent and the refusal of the poor to continue living in dire conditions,” he said.

    To fully understand the current  …

  • ‘Venezuela After the Referendum’

    December 3, 2007

    ‘Venezuela After the Referendum’ by Tariq Ali for Counterpunch, December 3, 2007

    Hugo Chavez’ narrow defeat in the referendum was the result of large-scale abstentions by his supporters. 44 percent of the electorate stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either understand or accept that this was a necessary referendum. The measures related to the working week and some other proposed social reforms could be easily legislated by the existing parliament. The key issues were the removal of restrictions on the election of the head of government (as is the case in most of Europe) and moves towards ‘a socialist state.’ On the latter there was simply not enough debate and discussion on a grassroots level.

    As Edgardo Lander, a friendly critic pointed out:

    “Before voting in favour of a constitutional reform which will define the  …

  • A Review of The Stone Woman

    October 1, 2000

    A Stone Woman reviewed by  Hugh S. Galford for Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 1, 2000

    “There are always two histories” may be a well-known saying, but how many of us actually take the time to look at an issue from both sides, to learn both stories? In each of the first three books of a planned quartet, English historian, screenwriter and activist Tariq Ali saves us the work involved in such an endeavor. Taking as his subject matter the intersection of Islamic and Western history, Ali presents three familiar episodes—the Reconquista, the Crusades and the final years of the Ottoman Empire—in a distinctly unfamiliar fashion: from the viewpoint of the Muslims.

    Written over the last six years, the first three books of Ali’s “Islam quartet” provide not only great reading, but an extremely useful corrective  …