Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

"Tariq Ali? Is he still around?" 60s firebrand speaks in Toronto today

Expand Messages
  • Arif Raza
    Friends, Here is an Australian perspective on Tariq Ali, the British anti-war activist, author and filmmaker, who speaks on Palestine at the UofT at 6:30 PM
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2005

      Here is an Australian perspective on Tariq Ali, the British anti-war
      activist, author and filmmaker, who speaks on Palestine at the UofT at 6:30
      PM today (Saturday). Click here for more details.

      See you this evening at the UofT with Tariq Ali

      Arif Raza
      April 30, 2005

      The radical reader

      By Jane Cornwell
      The Australian, Sydney

      NEO-CONS like to dismiss him as "that Marxist firebrand from the '60s". Or
      as a red-under-the-bed Leninist. Or even as "Britain's pet Trot".

      For the hardline Left, he's a pin-up boy, speaking out in his mellifluous
      voice or writing with his polemicist's pen against American imperialism,
      British toadyism or anything that offends his sense of justice. Then there
      are those who haven't thought about him in years. "Tariq Ali? Is he still
      around?" asked one colleague, recalling the famous photograph of the
      moustachioed student radical at an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London,
      arms linked with a girlish Vanessa Redgrave.

      Ali, however, never went away. As the world put its fingers in its ears and
      partied for a decade or two, he continued to write books, plays and opinion
      pieces, and to direct a bit of television. Now he is back on the mainstream
      radar, louder, angrier and busier than ever.

      Because the Pakistan-born Ali, 61, has four publications to promote. There's
      A Sultan in Palermo (Verso), a sumptuous tale of Muslim life in 12th-century
      Sicily and the fourth novel in his acclaimed Islam Quintet series, a project
      begun in 1990 to illustrate the conflicts between Islam and Christendom.
      ("Most people assume Islam is a Third World religion," Ali, an avowed
      atheist, will say languidly. "These novels capture Islam as a major European
      player.") There's Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with
      Tariq Ali (Scribe), in which he variously sounds off against the occupation
      of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict and 21st-century
      imperialism. There's The Nehrus and the Gandhis (Pan Macmillan), his
      authoritative 1985 take on the Indian dynasty, newly updated.

      And there's his autobiography, Street-Fighting Years (Verso), reissued and
      expanded to mark the 25th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon (who once
      sang his newly penned Power to the People to Ali over the phone) and the
      40th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. ("He and Martin Luther King were
      the big incorruptibles in a world wherepoliticians had to be bought and

      Ali's kitchen, in the house he shares with his long-term partner and
      daughter in London's leafy Hampstead, bears little evidence of his
      coming-of-political-age in Paris and Prague, Hanoi and Bolivia. His sense of
      purpose, however, is palpable. Tomorrow he's off to New York, the start of a
      US speaking tour, ready to stick thorns into George Dubya at closer range,
      and he'll be in Australia in late May for the Sydney Writers Festival.

      Ali receives about 20 to 30 international invitations each week. "I'm under
      so much pressure now," he says, pulling up a chair to the kitchen table, his
      laid-back demeanour suggesting otherwise. For a while he was worried he
      wouldn't get around to finishing A Sultan in Palermo, the writing of which
      was interrupted by the events of 9/11, after which he produced two
      time-sensitive nonfiction works, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in
      Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq (both 2003) instead. In Australia to
      promote them, he insisted on spending a solitary week in Byron Bay and got
      the novel moving again.

      Today he'd rather talk about his fiction. About the factors that inspired
      the Islam Quintet: Bosnia, the Gulf War, the burning of Salman Rushdie's
      Satanic Verses. And the positive feedback: "After [the first novel] Shadows
      of the Pomegranate Tree came out, one of the people involved in the campaign
      against Rushdie wrote me a letter saying he felt ashamed, that reading the
      book had made him weep." But inevitably, our talk turns to politics. There's
      no getting around the subject: even his plays, such as 1998's Ugly Rumours
      and 2003's Illustrious Corpse, are the work of a man appalled by the
      government he voted to power.

      Tony Blair and his New Labour cohorts (some of them comrades turned
      turncoats from the 1960s and '70s) lied to drag a reluctant country to war
      in Iraq, he says. The millions who marched against the war might have been
      ignored, but dissent is brewing.

      "The war has split political parties in Europe. The Spanish Government was
      elected by promising to bring the troops home and it did. This rogue
      [Silvio] Berlusconi has just suffered a massive defeat in Italy. In Britain
      we will see what happens [at the general election next Thursday]. I have
      said that nobody who opposed the war should vote for a warmonger member of
      parliament, whether Tory or Labour. Which is why I'll be voting Lib Dem
      [Liberal Democrat]."

      Blair, he feels, should be impeached for lying and tried for war crimes. So
      should George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.
      Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Ariel Sharon may also be squeezed into
      the dock. It's likely Ali will keep on saying so, in pen and in person,
      until he expires. As a writer, he feels obliged to expose "cover-ups, lies,
      untruths, spin". As he feels all writers should be: "Obviously culture
      reflects politics in some shape or form. So playwrights and novelists who
      try [to] hide their politics and think it's much nicer writing about, you
      know, trying to feed milk to a baby over 200 pages, and thinking that makes
      a novel, then fine!" He sniffs, collects himself. "It's their right," he
      adds smoothly, "but for me it doesn't work like that."

      This, after all, is the man who as a youth encouraged menial workers in the
      Himalayan town of Nathagali (where his family went to escape the heat of
      Lahore) to strike when he discovered how little they were paid to clean
      toilets. Whose father tried to break from his Muslim ruling-class background
      in the '30s by becoming a communist and who edited the country's largest
      newspaper, The Pakistan Times. Whose household was visited by everyone from
      poets and railway workers to judges and police chiefs. Whose private tutor
      was a radical mullah who immersed young Tariq in English and Russian
      literature. Activism felt normal, necessary. But when Ali applied to join
      the Labour Party while studying at Oxford University in the '60s, he was
      considered so radical his application was turned down.

      Nonetheless, he insists that most of his inspiration comes from reading
      books: the classics, Latin American fiction and - a new discovery - American
      novelist Richard Powers. "For me, he is the finest novelist writing in the
      States today, better than Pynchon or DeLillo." He waxes rapturously over
      Powers's latest epic, The Time of Our Singing, "a reconstructed history of
      the [US], right from the early years, through the rights of capitalism,
      through immigration, everything".

      Ah, immigration. As far as Ali is concerned, the more of it, the better. "I
      first visited Australia in 1971," he says. "Now the country is transformed
      beyond recognition. Its cities are very relaxed, very multicultural." The
      days when Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen tried to have him deported
      seem bygone, arcane. "This Pauline Hanson thing was very unpleasant, but
      that was Old Australia refusing to go down without a fight. But go down it
      will. Australia, basically, is a white plantation inserted in Asia. Sooner
      or later it will become Asia.

      "The last time I was there," he warms to his theme, "I was telling a
      conservative audience at the Sydney Institute that the whole world is what
      it is thanks to immigration. Look at the States. Look at Europe. People
      forget that, especially in Australia. I said, 'I welcome the day when
      Australia has a prime minister of Chinese origin.' There were a few gasps at
      that." He laughs wickedly, drains his coffee.

      With bags to be packed and papers to be prepared, he sees me to the door.
      Tariq Ali then: still around, still active, still activist. It's good to
      know he's there and good to know he'll be in Australia soon, lighting those
      fires of conversation.

      Tariq Ali will appear at the Sydney Writers Festival, May 23-29.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.