Interview: Tariq Ali on Gaza, BDS, ISIS and Iraq
- Monday, 15 September 2014 14:08
Tariq Ali interviewed by Al McKay, an editor-at-large of E-International Relations.
August 18, 2014 — E-International Relations — Tariq Ali is a longstanding editor of the New Left Review. He has written seven novels and a number of screenplays, in addition to many works on history and world politics. His latest books are On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Coversation and The Obama Syndrome.
In this interview, Tariq Ali discusses the recent Israel-Palestine conflict, the BDS movment, the rise of ISIS, and Obama’s commitment to long-term US involvement in Iraq.
How has the way you understand the world changed over time, and what (or who) prompted the most significant shifts in your thinking?
I was born 26 years after the Russian Revolution and six years before the Chinese Revolution. I was 11 years old when the Vietnamese defeated France at the epic battle of Dien Bien Phu. These events played a big part in my political biography.
One had to read Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. Initially uncritically, later with a more critical eye. This I did in Pakistan. The Cuban Revolution had very little impact on the left in Asia—except during the missile crisis—and so it was not until I arrived to study at Oxford in October 1963 that I really understood what had happened in Cuba and read a great deal of Fidel and Che.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, one understood that it was the end of an epoch. One couldn’t just say, “Ah, the slate has been wiped clean and we can start afresh”. What happened marked the triumph of capitalism and the ideologies associated with it. Broadly speaking, a global counter-revolution. So what was to be done?
For some on the left, mainly uncritical admirers of the various Communist regimes, the choice was simple. Always worshippers of accomplished facts, they shifted their loyalties to the new order, becoming as dogmatic in its defence as they had once been in relation to Russia, China, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Albania, etc. For them, the new emancipatory project became “globalisation”, the United States and NATO or, in the case of some, Israel.
This process is not exactly novel. It happened after the Restoration in 17th century Britain. Christopher Hill has written an illuminating study on precisely this: “The Experience of Defeat.” The process was repeated again after the final defeat of the revolution in France. Stendhal wrote about this phenomenon very well. And so it goes. One must recognise the defeat, but one must not capitulate to “presentism”. Because what is now is not permanently static. Things change.
By the end of this century, the trajectory might be clearer. To give up, to say farewell to what was important about many of the ideas that motivated people in the last century, is foolish.
There has been much discussion in the media of the so-called moral high ground in the current crisis involving Israel-Palestine. Taking into consideration how events have played out, do you see either side having a serious claim to this?
“Moral high ground” is not a phrase I ever use. One person’s moral high ground can be another person’s dungeon. In the overall conflict the Palestinians are in the right. Much wrong has been done to them by Israel and its principal backer, the United States. The Israelis treat them as untermensch, have tried to destroy their past, their historical memory, and are now attempting to destroy them as a political entity.
What do you feel are the Israeli government’s current political aims in Gaza?
The destruction of Hamas, the intimidation of those who vote for it and the institution of a puppet regime that is a twin of the Palestinian equivalent of the Judenrat that exists on the West Bank. This aim is supported by Washington, Riyadh and Cairo, as well.
You’ve recently pointed out, in an interview with the BBC and in a talk for the Stop the War Coalition, that you feel there has been a change in the perception of the conflict, particularly the Israeli use of force, from those who were previously described as neutral and from those who were previously in the strongly pro-Israel camp. Do you feel that this shift in opinion offers hope to the Palestinians?
Opinion polls in Europe indicate that a vast majority of European citizens are opposed to Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza, but this was also the case on Iraq. On its own, public opinion has no real force. So the shift will certainly give succour to the Palestinians, make them feel they’re not alone, but that is not sufficient to alter the overall situation.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been criticised recently by those who are also considered stern critics of the Israel government, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Do you think the BDS movement is still an effective approach?
I don’t agree with the two Ns on this question. I think they’re wrong. What else can one do? It’s the only alternative to non-violence. Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative movement, has estimated that Israel has incurred losses of around 8 billion dollars due to the boycott campaign against illegal settlements, equivalent to 20 per cent of its GDP. If the figure is accurate, the movement has been a success.
What are your thoughts on US President Barack Obama’s commitment of the US to long-term involvement in Iraq, which he claims is a response to the rise of Islamic militants?
Nonsense. The real reason is to make sure that the US-Israeli protectorate [Kurdish region] remains safe. The aftermath of the occupation was designed to divide Iraq across religious lines. What we are witnessing (as I pointed out a decade ago) is the balkanisation of Iraq.
Do you agree with Hillary Clinton’s recent statement that the rise of ISIS can be attributed to the failure of the US to help rebels in Syria?
Another absurdity. The US did help and arm the Syrian rebels via Turkey. They did not bomb Assad out of existence, as they were unsure of the consequences. After all, Clinton, who supported the war on Iraq, should see what happens if you destroy a regime unilaterally. The rise of ISIS in Iraq is because they destroyed all the structures of the old regime. Had they done the same in Syria, we would have had an even worse situation than now, with at least three different wars taking place. Qatar/Turkey/US backing the so-called moderate Islamists, and the Saudis angry that the Muslim Brotherhood is being revived in Syria.
It is arguable that some of the loudest voices currently calling for military intervention in Iraq, who were previously calling for military intervention in Syria, are coming from what could be described as the Euston Manifesto left. What effect do you feel the Euston Manifesto has had on the political left since it was created, and do you think it actually represents what it claims to represent, i.e. modern leftist internationalism?
Are these people on the left? I think I described them in my response to your first question. They’re liberal imperialists, a position that has a long pedigree in Britain. The Fabians and mainstream Labour upheld the British Empire and defended its values long after the independence of India in 1947. Labour governments played an appalling role in Malaya and Aden in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. They had no need of a “humanitarian” ideology, since they were still infected by civilisational zeal.
Many E-International Relations readers are students. What key advice would you give those wanting to start a career in political activism?
Read, read and read again while becoming active. In Britain and North America, I couldn’t advise them to join a political party of the left because none exist. In Greece, I do recommend that working within Syriza is the best opposition, Podemos in Spain and the Left Party [Die Linke] in Germany, and that’s about it… otherwise, the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland, Stop the War in Britain and other similar organisations elsewhere are the best transition to radical politics.
“Barbed and Brilliant”—Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome
- Friday, 03 June 2011 11:59
Two book reviews in Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion contrast the style and substance of Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad to veteran US journalist Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars. While Woodward “mumbles, in cotton mouthed grammar” about imperial ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ali
pronounces the US-and-European-installed puppet government in Afghanistan a “bogus construct [that] never had the slightest legitimacy in the country, lacking even a modicum of the narrow but dedicated base the Taliban had enjoyed.”
Woodward focuses on the struggles between those walking the corridors of power, while Ali places Obama within the historical trajectory of the imperial presidency, suggesting that “Obama has acted as just another steward of the American empire.”
Visit Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion to read more.
“Only the mood music has changed”: Tariq Ali on Obama’s presidency
- Thursday, 07 October 2010 12:16
Tariq Ali interviewed by Christian Avard for Huffington Post, October 7, 2010
Is president Barack Obama the change America has been waiting for or is he another corporate Democrat representing elite interests? According to Tariq Ali, very little has chanced between Obama and former president George W. Bush. In his latest book The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, Ali argues that Obama is carrying on the reckless policies of the Bush regime. If Obama continues down this path, the Democratic Party not only face the prospect of the House & Senate in 2010 but also the presidency in 2012. This should be a cause for concern.
I caught up with Ali during his American book tour and here’s what he had to say about the Obama presidency.
What do you think are the biggest myths that are being perpetrated about Barack Obama as a president and his policy making?
The myths being perpetrated about him by his enemies are that everything he has done has been incredibly radical. The myths being perpetrated about him by his friends are that this marks a definitive break with Bush-Cheney. Both are wrong. My book stresses the continuities in foreign policy between the Bush and Obama administrations. I argue that all that has changed is the mood music.
This change of mood music is not unimportant because it gets the whole of Europe back on (the U.S.’s) side and some of them were alienated by Bush’s disconcerting way of putting it on the line. If he was doing something, he would say “This is how we are going to do it. We are going to take these guys out.” Europe found that a bit insensitive whereas Obama coats with it with sugar and honey and does the same thing.
He speaks fine and lofty words but when it comes down to it, the policies are no different. In the cases of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the policies are much more reactionary and worse in the sense that the wars are being escalated. read more
For an extended version of Christian Avard’s interview, please visit pulsemedia.org
The Obama Syndrome: A Live Interview with Tariq Ali and Joel Whitney
- Tuesday, 05 October 2010 13:08
As part of his tour to launch The Obama Syndrome, Tariq Ali appeared at New York’s Asia Society September 17th, 2010 where he was interviewed on stage by Joel Whitney, Founding Editor in Chief of Guernica magazine.
Interview: ‘Pakistan and the Global War on Terror’
- Monday, 30 November 2009 16:38
‘Pakistan and the Global War on Terror’, an interview with Tariq Ali by Mara Ahmed and Judith Bello for Counterpunch, November 30, 2009
Mara Ahmed and I were given the opportunity to interview Tariq Ali when he spoke at Hamilton College in Upstate New York on November 11, 2009, during his recent speaking tour of the United States. Tariq, a native of Pakistan who lives in England, is a well known writer, intellectual and activist. He has traveled all over Southwest Asia and the Middle East while researching his books. Mara, who is working on a film highlighting the opinions of the Pakistani people regarding the current situation in Pakistan and the Western initiated ‘Global War on Terror’, had a lot of questions for Tariq about the internal state of Pakistan. I wanted to ask Tariq for his opinion about the effects of American foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and what alternatives he thought might be available. —JB
Mara: What is the role of Islamophobia in the Global War on Terror. Many American war veterans have described the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as imperialistic, racist and genocidal. Your comments?
Tariq: Well, I think Islamophobia plays an important part in things, because it creates an atmosphere in which people feel, “Oh, we’re just killing Muslims, so that’s alright.” And this situation is becoming quite serious in the United States and in large parts of Europe, where people feel that the fact that a million Iraqis have died is fine because they’re not like us, they’re Muslims. So, Islamophobia is becoming a very poisonous and dangerous ideological construct which has to be fought against. read more