‘Close New Zealand’s foreign ministry’

Tariq Ali interviewed by Michael Field for Stuff, March 21 2011

Leftwing author, academic and radical Tariq Ali is filling Auckland lecture halls with his views of the world. Stuff’s Michael Field met him for coffee and his views on New Zealand.

Intellectual Tariq Ali – the striking fellow the Rolling Stones wrote Street Fighting Man in honour of – sees no reason to soften a message in deference to his hosts.

”New Zealand is not a country one thinks of greatly when one doesn’t live here,” he says, sitting on the terrace at Auckland’s Old Government House (”surprisingly modest for the British”), before giving a deep laugh.

New Zealand has no foreign policy but is simply a vassal of the United States, he says, and there is no point in having a standing army.

He wonders why Maori don’t play cricket and cannot figure why the Chinese are into kitsch.

Ali, 66, was born and raised in British India, now part of Pakistan, before moving to Oxford in 1965. In the anti-Vietnam War era, he became a writer, activist, academic and a leading intellectual.

His popularity is undiminished; a University of Auckland lecture series this week has ended up using three lecture theatres at a time.

New Zealand, he says, was a large farm for England and the Empire, now it is the same for China. Much else remains the same.

”Politically, psychologically and mentally the Australian and New Zealand elites are firmly attached to the United States…

”Essentially there is no such thing as a New Zealand foreign policy.”

New Zealand, like Australia and Britain, were vassal states of the US.

Close the foreign ministry, he says.

”You could save money and have little offices in American embassies all over the world.”

No one much cares what New Zealand – or the ”small north European power” of Britain – thinks on global issues anyway.

Surely, New Zealand has to pull its weight internationally?

”How can you pull something you don’t have; you don’t have any weight at all, you are a small country….”

No one believes anyone is planning on invading:

”I think smaller countries should reduce military expenditure to a bare minimum…. No one is going to mess with you, which is why you don’t need a standing army; you don’t need to send troops or Iraq and Afghanistan.”

In Europe public opinion was 65 to 80 percent opposed to the Afghanistan war and the same was probably true here.read more