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
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. Dont forget United States
always has couple of options, he points out. Says Tariq:
Look at Ahmad Chalabi who is a key player. I dont
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 dont 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 dont know what they are fighting
for. They know what they are fighting against. But dont
forget that without resistance, Iraq would not have been on front
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
TNS: Isnt it what you call imperialism is mother
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. Dont you think
next is Iran?
Tariq Ali: No. I dont 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: its Irans nuclear
programme that Israel want to destroy. Even if they consider an
attack, it would be targeted attacks on Irans nuclear facilities.
Thats 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. Dont 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.
Isnt 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?
Its economic and political interests of the Empire according
to Tariq Ali.
What upsets Tariq Ali is low level of Western peoples
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,
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 worlds 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 Alis 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.