By Farooq Sulehria
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'.
More Excerpts: 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: Dont 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 dont 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
With the collapse of communist and secular forces, it was only
the religious parties left to act as anti-imprialists. By secular
I dont mean Egyptian government that claims to be secular
but is in US pocket.
Internationalen: But dont 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 worlds
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.
Tariq Ali: I dont 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
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. Dont 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 dont 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
Tariq Ali: Hindu fundamentalism is not universal while the Christian
fundamentalists are liked by the people in power here in the West.