He is witty, stylish, aristocratic, convincing, resolute, and optimistic.
Witty when he cheers his audience by ridiculing Tony Blair: 'This chap has given idiocy a bad name'. Or for instance: 'Is Putin coming to Genocide Conference', he asks? 'No', comes the answer. 'Good. Some relief at least', he remarks.
Stylish when he takes the rostrum as if he still is President of the Oxford Student Union and going to participate in a declamation.
Aristocratic when he speaks English with his Pakistani accent tuned to Oxford style graduates.
Convincing when he argues about the possibility of another world
Resolute when it comes to opposing and exposing imperialism: 'Imperialism always acts in its own favor'.
And optimistic when it comes to the future: 'The 21st century will be different'.
These are the impressions Tariq Ali of Street Fighting Years left on the Stockhomites when he graced the Alternative Conference organized by Nätverket Möt Krig here on Jan 25. ‘I am back in Stockholm in 25 years’, he reminisces. ‘The city has changed a lot. Lot improved’, he comments with a friendly smile. The city of Stockholm gave him a warm welcome despite a chilly weather. It was a jam packed all at ABF Hus where he spoke at the Alternative conference. Over 50 turned up at Academiebokhandeln where he was supposed to speak on his famous book “Clash of Fundamentalisms”. Svenska Dagbladet published his article. A number of journalists interviewed him.
Among others, Internationalen held an exclusive interview with him where he elaborates and delves into a number of issues. He warns against the use of word ‘Genocide’. There have been three big genocides in the twentieth century. Judacide in Europe whereby six million Jews were killed. The genocide of Congolese when ten to twelve Congolese were killed under Belgian colonial rule and of late in Rwanda’
He rejects the notion that US intervention in Afghanistan or Iraq was progressive in any way even if it led to the fall of Taliban and Saddam: ‘Long lasting and better change is the one that comes organically from within the country’. He thinks chaos still reigns supreme both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women still have no rights in Afghanistan. Karazai is dealing with Taliban. Remember! 'Imperialism always acts in its own favor'.
Internationalen: Do you really think Islamic fundamentalism is nothing but a threat created by US imperialism just because it needed an enemy following the collapse of Soviet Union?
Tariq Ali: In all the Muslim countries by and large, with few exceptions, the Islamic fundamentalism was helped grow by the United States either directly or indirectly. In no way did the Islamic fundamentalism become a big force with out US support. In Egypt, when Anwar Sadaat wanted to destroy Nasirite legacy, he used the Islamic fundamentalists. They were brought to the university campuses. The fundamentalists unleashed a reign of terror against secular and radical forces. In Pakistan, General Zia did exactly the same. In Saudi Arabia we have a Wahabite monarchy supported by the United States. Not to mention of Afghanistan where the United States supported religious Jihad leave aside weather the Soviet intervention was right or wrong. I myself opposed the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. I predicted that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan would create a mess that will take decades to clean. Many of the people who supported the Soviet intervention including my dear friend Ahmed Rashid
Pakistan subsequently supported the US intervention. They have no faith in their own people. Well, to answer you question: I think it was the United States that helped in a big way to spread Islamic fundamentalism during the cold war. Look at, for instance, Israel. Hamas was encouraged by the Israeli regime to push PLO back, to push people like Arafat and Goerge Habash back, to push all the secular Palestinian leaders back. This is not our problem. This was problem created by them. We are suffering from its consequences.
Internationalen: Don’t you think the seeds of anti-imperialism were already there in the Islamic fundamentalism movement as against your claim that Muslim fundamentalists took anti imperialist stance after cold war. Look for instance the attack on US bases in Lebanon?
Tariq Ali: The Lebanese experience is very different. You are here talking about Hizbollah. Hizbollah was an outcome of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Hizbollah had always declared publicly to drive Israel out of Lebanon. It was a popular slogan. Look even the mullahs of Iran backed the invasion of Iraq. Similarly, the Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan supported the United States in 60, 70s, 80s.Now if it tries to be anti-imperialist.
I don’t believe they have been anti-imperialist. Now they are fighting the US imperialism. Their own fault! A real anti-imperialist fight against the Untied States can only be in favor and on behalf of emancipator agenda. What fundamentalists want to do is to go back to ninth century Islam that they do not understand correctly either.
With the collapse of communist and secular forces, it was only the religious parties left to act as anti-imprialists. By secular I don’t mean Egyptian government that claims to be secular but is in US pocket.
Internationalen: But don’t you think this new scenario is in fact confirming what Huntington calls “Clash of civilizations” and one can see that from Bosnia to Chechnya and Afghanistan to Iraq, the Muslim world ha constantly been under attack?
Tariq Ali: Look the United States supported the Bosnians. The no one intervened. Lots of Osama men were flown to Bosnia who had fought alongside the US soldiers. Look at Kosovo. The West was with the Muslim. Is it a clash of civilizations? The fact is: there is an old confrontation of North and South. Look at the Latin America. There is a struggle against imperialist policies of neoliberal agenda.9/11 was publicly celebrated in Latin America. The clash of civilization notion is absurd. Interestingly, this theory serves Muslim fundamentalists very well in the Muslim world.
Internationalen: You call it North South divide and mention Latin American example but why the Muslim world has manifested its resistance through Islamic fundamentalism instead of class struggles and insurrection like in Latin America?
Tariq Ali: I think they will come up. It will take ten twenty years may be. These struggles have existed, in Indonesia, in Pakistan, everywhere. When socialist ideas were popular in rest of the world, these ideas were popular in Muslim world. These struggles were brutally crushed. In Indonesia, there existed the world’s largest communist party as well. It was crushed under Soharto with imperialist support. In Pakistan, the workers and peasants movement was crushed. The prime minister of the day was executed. Similarly, in Iraq , Saddam Hussein killed a lot of communists. Sadaat did the same in Egypt. Well, destruction of these forces is partly responsible for this situation.
Internationalen: Why do you think Islam has always been used against imperialism as tool? Even secular leaders like Nasir, Bhutto or Qaddafi for that matter have been resorting to Islam. Why?
Tariq Ali: I don’t think Nasir has been using Islam. Look at all his major speeches. If you read them, you will not find the use of Islam. He used Arab nationalism. Arabs are a nation. This is what he said. Bhutto used Islam for demagogy.
Internationalen: Do you think a wave of democratic process in Muslim world will be a welcome change?
Tariq Ali: Yeah…..
Internationalen: What if people like Osama in Saudi Arabia and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt come to power as a result of democratic process?
Tariq Ali: This is what American ideologues try to call paradox of democracy. If you elect a government that you don'’ like is a problem. This is not a problem for imperialism in West where centre, centre left or centre right have the same neo liberal economic agenda and all the parties support the US imperialism by and large. They have a common manifesto: conservation of capital.
But in different parts of the world, this is not the case. If there are elections for instance in Iraq, why Shiite party will win? It is because Shias have been provided money and arms over last twenty years in order to build an opposition to Saddam Hussain. Well, if in case of elections Shia party wins, let it take over. Let people decide.
In Iran, after thirty years of Islamic process, all the young people hate the mullas. They are trying to discover pre-Islamic period, not because they are reading my books but because of there own experience. If Iraqis have to vote for Shias let them. If Saudis want to elect Wahabites, let them. If Muslim Brotherhood did form government in Egypt as a result of elections, let it. People will learn.
Internationalen: But will you support elections in England if as a result fascists are coming to power?
Tariq Ali: We are not talking about fascism. Don’t make that mistake which is made by many people after September 11saying it was Islamic fascism. They are not fascists. It is not a correct analogy. These parties have a different specification. These parties exist because nothing else exists. When people are fighting against neo-liberal policies and there is no alternative but fundamentalists, where should people go to? To the NGOs packed with left intellectuals getting fat salaries? The left across the Muslim world is immersed in NGOs, totally cut off from the reality.
Al I mean is what alternative you have. I think you better have elections and it does not matter who comes to power. Once people realize they have the right to change government, they will learn to elect better parties. Look, there are two ways to change governments: revolutions and elections. If masses can change governments through elections, they will learn from mistakes.
Internationalen: How would you differentiate fundamentalism from fascism? Also, when there are so many common features.
These are different organizations. The Islamists are different in different countries. Wahabites are different from Shias in Iraq. Taliban are different from mullahs in Iran. What unites them is the belief that within Quran there are germs for an alternative way of organizing the society. That is wrong. Look at Iran. Is that the way for the future?
As far as common feature between fundamentalists and fascists are concerned. There are many common features between fascist and Stalinists. You don’t call a Stalinist party a fascist party because it has some common features with fascism.
Internationalen: Why is it that the West shows concern about the Islamic Fundamentalism but not Hindu fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism?
Tariq Ali: Hindu fundamentalism is not universal while the Christian fundamentalists are liked by the people in power here in the West.