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Resistance Keeps Iraq on Front Pages: Tariq Ali

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By Farooq Sulehria

To many, Tariq Ali is a writer and filmmaker. To others, he is an activist and debater. But an important aspect of his multifaceted personality is his an anti-war campaigning. As a youth in his twenties, he led mass anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam days. Now in his sixties, grey haired Tariq Ali is a strong voice against US-UK occupation of Iraq. Commitment to anti-war cause is so strong that to ‘punish’ the ‘war mongers’ he recently declared, ‘For one day only, I am a lib,dem’. That is to say: Tariq is ready to vote Liberal Democrats in the upcoming elections. How come? ‘My position is specific to the constituency I live in. To me the main thing is to defeat the warmongers’, he explains to TNS.

In an exclusive interview recently held in Stockholm, when he was in town on an invitation by Royal Drama Theatre, he clarifies his position: ‘Its not a question of building a party. One should vote tactically. Where there is chance for SSP or George Galloway of RESPECT, one should vote for them. It is not an over all thing. What I m saying is vote tactically. There is no easy solution. In my constituency, it happens that the woman standing for Lib Deems is very strongly anti-war and the only way of defeating New Labour is to vote for her. If you think it is not important to defeat them and what is important is to vote for your group that’s fine’.

On elections in Iraq itself, he contradicts the notion that election in Iraq were imposed on US occupation authorities and questions the legitimacy of electoral process there. ‘Its wrong to say elections were imposed. Elections were a result of negotiations between USA and Shia leadership. Don’t forget United States always has couple of options’, he points out. Says Tariq: ‘Look at Ahmad Chalabi who is a key player. I don’t think he joined the Shia alliance without his masters’ will. This election may work out against the USA because the whole population wants to end the US occupation. And if Shia leadership does not get rid of the US occupation, they will loose their own support. The key thing for me is that these elections were held under US occupation with occupation troops guarding the election centres. Think for instance Germany had held elections in France during the Second World War. Probably the Vichy regime would have won and perhaps people would have voted for it. But anyone fighting Hitler would not have accepted these elections’.

TNS: Is it therefore you give full support to the resistance. If yes, should one conclude you lend support even to Wahabist resistance symbolised by Al-Zarqawi?

Tariq Ali: I don’t support Zarqawi. Of course not. This group was not present in Iraq till the United States invaded Iraq. But I think one has to encourage the secular forces in Iraq. The left in Iraq is largely collaborationist. The Iraqi Communist Party has been part of the occupation government. Also, this is not 50s and 60s. Apart form Cuba and Venezuela; there are no alternative models. There is no model in the Arab world. The resistance forces therefore in some cases don’t know what they are fighting for. They know what they are fighting against. But don’t forget that without resistance, Iraq would not have been on front pages.

And what about Shia-Sunni division?

‘Its very sad. But imperialist interventions and imperial occupations always create divisions. British did it in Africa. They did it in India. The only way they can shore up their rule is to play on ethnic divisions. In case of Iraq, we have to say that the totalitarian culture that developed in Iraq meant that the only place left for ordinary people to turn to was mosque. For last fifteen years, the West has been pouring money into Shia parties.

TNS: Isn’t it what you call ‘imperialism is mother of fundamentalism’

Tariq Ali: Yes. Basically one has to understand and Condi Rice says it very open: we only function in American interest. It does not matter to them. Yesterday they were with Osama ben Laden. Today, they are against Osama ben Laden. Thirty years ago they backed Saddam to eliminate Iraqi Communist Party. Today they are working with Iraqi Communist Party.

When it comes to Iraqi Communist Party, Tariq turns bitter. ‘More honestly they better change their name to Iraqi Capitalist Party. They are staunch supporters of neo-liberal policies’.Besides communists, he is also apprehensive of Iranian role in Iraq. Iran, he thinks, has been collaborating with the USA: ‘The Iranian Vice President openly said at a meeting of Gulf leaders that without Iran, the USA would not have been able to pacify southern Iraq’.

TNS: What about Seymour Hersh report and Scot Ritter who even has given a date for a US attack on Iran. Don’t you think next is Iran?

Tariq Ali: No. I don’t think the USA will attack Iran. Reasons are very clear. If they attack Iran, they will lose support among Shias in Iraq. Second thing is: it’s Iran’s nuclear programme that Israel want to destroy. Even if they consider an attack, it would be targeted attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. That’s what they will do and would say: Oh sorry it was a mistake. They did it with Saddam while Saddam was also being backed at the same time.

TNS: Next to Middle East, an important development is ongoing peace process in Indian sub-continent. Don’t you think its all hypocritical when both countries keep test firing missiles and increasing defence budgets while talking peace?

Tariq Ali: I think it is real. First time there are chances that something might happen. The USA is pushing both countries to some sort of deal. For the USA, problem in that part of world is China. They want South Asia to be the bulwark against the rise of China.

TNS: While peace process pushes ahead, Balochistan province takes up arms. Why?

Tariq Ali: What is happening in Pakistan is now largely a failure of the military bureaucracy to take into account the needs of Baloch tribal chiefs and ordinary people. This time it is a fight by Baloch tribal chiefs for a share in Gawadar port and mega projects there. It is not like previous uprisings. I am told that Baloch leaders met US ambassador and complained about Musharraf. That says a lot.

Tariq Ali does not believe in the argument put after 9/11 dividing the world according to clash of civilisation theory. ‘I never accepted this theory before September 11. I do not accept it now after /11’, he says. ‘Islam would have been an exotic third world religion had Muslims not been sitting on Middle East oil. Buddhism would have been a violent religion had Buddhists sitting on Middle East oil’, he argues.

Isn’t Al-Qaida a real threat?

‘Al-Qaida has 5-6000 members according to the intelligence reports. It can create trouble but it cannot be a serious problem for the most powerful country of the world. Serious people in USA realise that’.

Al-Qaida, he thinks, is just a new hoax created to demonise Muslims for reasons that have nothing to do with civilisations. And reasons? It’s economic and political interests of the Empire according to Tariq Ali.

What upsets Tariq Ali is ‘low level of Western people’s information about rest of the world compared to thirty years ago’. This helps, he thinks, to create clash of civilisation euphoria and demonise Muslims. ‘ The CIA at the time Twin Towers were hit, had no Arabic-speaking employee. They have been depending on Israel for all intelligence from Arab world. Many TV channels and newspapers in West had no correspondents in the region’, he says.

Result: ‘ After September 11, at many meetings and seminars when I would suggest the audience to observe a minute of silence for September 11 victims, all would do it. Than I would ask to do the same for the victims of Afghan war in the wake of September 11. Many would be surprised’.

In a world where the West has stereotyped Muslim world, Tariq Ali challenges to study history. He cites the achievements of Muslim civilisation. He narrates how Spain under Muslim rule helped enlighten Europe. The debate in Spain where all the three divine religions had their followings helped shape new ideas and theories. He cites Ibn-e-Rushd who stood for woman rights in 12th century. ‘ Not long ago when women in West were fighting for right to vote, the constitution drafted by King Abdur Rehman in Afghanistan had granted the Afghan women the right to vote. Had this constitution implemented, Afghan women would have been the first in the world to get the right to vote. He was removed through a tribal unrest fomented by the British imperialism’. He narrates how all the ‘heretics, protestants and Jews escaping persecution were finding refuge in Ottoman Empire’. He thinks the rich intellectual and cultural

tradition is reflected in Muslim world’s poetry and literature: ‘ Look at the Iranian films. Unlike the films done in West, which offer escape from reality, the Iranian films make you think. A tradition that used to exist in West but has gone. Today cinema as an art is at its height in mullas Iran. It's a paradox. Today the big filmmakers like Qiar Rustami, Sadik Kydiat and Makhmalbafs all come from Iran. This rich tradition has not fallen from heavens. Senegal used to make excellent films. In Indonesia, the recently did a film on gay and a gay kiss was shown in the film in a society where such topics are not easy to discuss’.

Crusades and Reconquest, thinks Tariq Ali, proved a big blow to reformation in Islam. Islam as a European religion had chances to undergo a reformation, he says.

TNS: What about the US role in bringing democracy to Middle East. Will it not bring moderanisation?

Tariq Ali: ‘Empires always act in their own interests. This is true about Roman Empire in the past. This is true about British, French empires and now about US empire. Venezuela where Hugo Chavez democratically elected not once but in a way five times is not allowed to have democracy’.

He is strongly opposed to the process of planting democracy through imperialist interventions: ‘Iran in 1952 had elected Mosadeq as Prime Minister. He nationalised oil and USA hired mullas to topple Mosadeq. US imperialism did not tolerate democracy there.’ In Tariq Ali’s view, in Arab world where ‘an ordinary person is suspicious of US designs, does not trust this process’. He supported ‘organic democratic movements’ instead of planted ones. ‘Look at Indonesia. They had to wait for thirty years. Blair and Clinton supported Soharto. London and Washington backed him for thirty years. But he was

toppled by Indonesian masses. They did not seek any foreign help. This was an organic change.’

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