On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Coversation

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Published by Haymarket Books, 2011

In working together on two challenging new documentaries—South of the Border and the forthcoming 13-part, 13-hour Untold History of the United States series for Showtime—filmmaker Oliver Stone engaged with author and filmmaker Tariq Ali in a probing, hard-hitting conversation on the politics of history. Their dialogue brings to light a number of forgotten—or deliberately buried—episodes of American history, from the U.S. intervention against the Russian Revolution, to the dynamic radicalism of the Wobblies, how Henry Wallace’s nomination for the vice-presidency was deliberately thwarted by Democratic Party machine insiders, to the ongoing close connections between various U.S. presidents and the Saudi royal family. For Stone and Ali—two of our most insightful observers on history and popular culture—no topic is sacred, no orthodoxy goes unchallenged.

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The Obama Syndrome

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Forthcoming from Verso, October 2010

A merciless dissection of Obama’s overseas escalation and domestic retreat …

What has really changed since Bush left the White House? Very little, argues Ali in The Obama Syndrome, apart from the mood music. The hopes aroused during Obama’s election campaign have rapidly receded. Following the financial crisis, the “reform” president bailed out Wall Street without getting anything in return. With Democratic Party leaders and representatives bought by the lobbying system, the healthcare reform bill was quickly eviscerated, public education delivered to the market and the big banks rewarded with light-touch regulation. Abroad, the “war on terror” continues: torture on a daily basis in Bagram, Iraq indefinitely occupied, Israel permanently appeased, and more troops and drone attacks in Af-Pak than under Bush. Obama’s failures are paving the way for a Republican surge, while his own  …

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Night of the Golden Butterfly

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Published by Verso, 2010

The final volume in Tariq Ali’s acclaimed cycle of historical novels, The Islam Quintet

Night of the Golden Butterfly concludes the Islam Quintet—Tariq Ali’s much lauded series of historical novels, translated into more than a dozen languages, that has been twenty years in the writing. Completing an epic panorama that began in fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, the latest novel moves between the cities of the twenty-first century, from Lahore to London, from Paris to Beijing. The narrator is rung one morning and reminded that he owes a debt of honour. The creditor is Mohammed Aflatun—known as Plato—an irascible but gifted painter living in a Pakistan where “human dignity has become a wreckage.” Plato, who once specialized in stepping back into the limelight, now wants his life story written.

As the tale unravels we meet Plato’s  …

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Islam Quintet

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Reviews: The Walrus, Socialist Review, The National

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The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom

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Published by Verso, 2009

Provocative and witty essays on the giants of world literature

Written over the last four decades, these provocative essays and diary entries explore the links between literature, history and politics. Training a critical, imaginative and occasionally a satirical eye on the works of varied writers—including Cervantes, Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Musil, Roth, Powell, Platonov, Solzhenitsyn, Grossman, Munif, Goytisolo and Rushdie—Ali discusses common themes as well as polarities, first impressions and re-readings, always seeking to contextualize the text in the political and historical milieu of its creation. Inviting the reader to share in the frustrations and pleasures of world literature and showcasing Ali’s range and polemical verve, this collection will be sure to attract critical attention and a wide readership.

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Reviews: The Independent,

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The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

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Published by Scribner, 2008

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. It is the only Islamic state to have nuclear weapons. Its border with Afghanistan extends over one thousand miles and is the likely hideout of Osama bin Laden. It has been under military dictatorship for thirty-three of its fiftyyear existence. Yet it is the linchpin in the United States’ war on terror, receiving over $10 billion of American aid since 2001 and purchasing more than $5 billion of U.S. weaponry in 2006 alone.

These days, relations between the two countries are never less than tense. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf reported that U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it did not commit fully to the alliance in the wake of 9/11. Presidential hopeful Barack  …

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The Assassination

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Published by Seagull, 2008

Also published by Seagull: The Leopard and the FoxA Banker for All Seasons,Conversations with Edward Said

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A Banker for All Seasons: Crooks and Cheats Inc.

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Published by Seagull, 2007

During the late seventies and eighties a new logo began to jostle for space with the more traditional landmarks on high streets throughout Britain. It was the badge of a remarkable Third World Bank…the BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International). BCCI soon became a global corporate empire with former US Presidents, ex-British Prime Ministers and a range of dictators on its payroll, all helping with promoting the company. Tariq Ali was the first public voice to warn that the Bank was not all it seemed to be. Indeed, many of its own employees called BCCI the “Bank of Crooks and Cheats Incorporated”. Some political analysts also predicted the company’s collapse. The Bank finally imploded amidst a welter of scandal. This revealing screenplay presents an account of the rise and fall of the Bank  …

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The Leopard and the Fox

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Published by Seagull, 2007

The BBC commissioned Tariq Ali to write a three-part TV series on the circumstances leading to the overthrow, trial and execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. As rehearsals were about to begin, the BBC hierarchy—under pressure from the Foreign Office—decided to cancel the project. Why? General Zia ul Haq, the dictator at the time, was leading the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He was backed by the USA. According to expert legal opinion, there was a possibility of a whole range of defamation suits from the head of state to judges involved in the case. In consequence, it was decided not to broadcast this hard-hitting and provocative play. The Leopard and the Fox presents both the script and the story of censorship.

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Pirates of the Caribbean

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Published by Verso, 2006 (new and updated edition 2008)

A fiery polemic on Latin America’s challenge to US-led neoliberalism

The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela has brought Hugo Chávez to world attention as the foremost challenger of the neoliberal consensus and American foreign policy. Drawing on first-hand experience of Venezuela and meetings with Chávez, Tariq Ali shows how Chávez’s views have polarized Latin America and examines the hostility directed against his administration. Contrasting the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutionary processes, Ali discusses the enormous influence of Fidel Castro on Chávez, President of Bolivia Evo Morales and, in this fully updated edition, the newly elected President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, the latest addition to the “Axis of Hope.” Infused with references to the culture and poetry of South America, Pirates of the Caribbean guides us through a world divided between privilege and poverty,  …

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From the archive

  • The Filthy Rich Election

    June 13, 2013

    Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books, 20th June 2013

    Not long before last month’s elections, dozens of workers (the youngest was 12) were burned to death in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore. Pakistan’s rulers were unmoved: there were token expressions of regret but no talk of tough new laws being passed after the election. There is barely any safety regulation in Pakistan, and if any legislation does impede business a modest bribe usually solves the problem. Factory inspections were discontinued during the Musharraf regime in order, it was claimed, to protect industry from harassment by state inspectors. Ali Enterprises, the factory that burned down in Karachi, somehow passed an inspection by a New York-based body called Social Accountability International.

    As for outright crimes, it’s best to use the cloak of religion to justify them. This effectively paralyses  …

  • Financial Times: ‘What impact will Pakistan’s elections have?’

    February 13, 2008

    ‘What impact will Pakistan’s elections have?’, a Q&A with Tariq Ali and Stephen Cohen for the Financial Times, February 13, 2008

    Will the elections reflect the true will of the people? Also, how important is Musharraf – the person himself and not Pakistan – to the US. Is the US currently looking at him as a threat or a friend? (Raghavendra Jagtap, Minneapolis)

    Tariq Ali: Very few people in Pakistan believe that the elections will be fair. The interim government is packed with Musharraf cronies, the Election Commission likewise. The only question is whether the results will be cleverly or crudely rigged.

    If the latter there could be trouble on the streets. I think Washington has mixed feelings about Musharraf, but with the killing of Benazir Bhutto, the choices are limited. Certainly he is not regarded as a  …

  • ‘The Assault on Ilhem’

    February 25, 2010

    ‘The Assault on Ilhem’ by Tariq Ali for Le Monde, republished in English for Counterpunch, February 25, 2010

    Forgive an outsider and staunch atheist like myself who, on reading the recent French press comments relating to Ilhem Moussaid the hijab-wearing NPA candidate in Avignon, gets the impression that something is rotten in  French political culture. Let’s take the debate at face-value. A young  Muslim woman joins the NPA [New Anti-Capitalist Party]. She obviously agrees with its program that defends abortion, contraception, etc, i.e. a woman’s right to choose. She is then told that despite this she does not have the right to choose what she wears on her head. It’s astonishing. There is no Koranic injunction involved.  The book says: “Draw their (women’s) veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty”, which can be interpreted  …