The writer and filmmaker Tariq Ali is a devoted and outspoken Marxist who has written more than two dozen books on world history and politics, as well as a number of novels (translated into over a dozen languages) and scripts for the stage and screen. He resides in London and formerly served as an editor of the British political journal New Left Review.
Born on October 21, 1943 in Lahore, British India (later part of Pakistan), Ali was raised by parents who both were atheists and communists—traits that Ali would come to share as well. His father, Mazhar Ali Khan, was a renowned journalist, and his mother was an activist for women’s and workers’ rights.
Tariq Ali attended Government College, which was part of Punjab University, where he was elected president of the Young Students’ Union. He was subsequently banned from participating in student politics, however, after he led several public demonstrations against Pakistan’s military dictatorship.
As a young person, Ali read the writings of Lenin, Mao, Marx, and Trotsky. Following his graduation from Government College, his parents, fearful that their son’s growing radicalism might cause him to be arrested, sent Ali to Britain’s Exeter College to study politics, philosophy, and economics. At Exeter, Ali joined the University Labour Club and its Socialist Group, and he became president of the Oxford Union in 1965. Developing a reputation for his passionate anti-Americanism, Ali during the Vietnam War era debated such notables as U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart. Also at that time, hejoined the Trotskyist Party and became involved with New Left Review. Further, Ali edited the left-wing newspaper The Black Dwarf, where he became friends with high-profile figures like Stokely Carmichael, John Lennon, Malcolm X, and Yoko Ono.
In 1967 Ali was one of 64 prominent figures who signed a petition calling for the legalization of marijuana. That same year, he testified at the International War Crimes Tribunal regarding alleged U.S. atrocities in Vietnam.
Active in the New Left movement of the 1960s, Ali in 1968 participated in an anti-war march on the American Embassy in London. Forty years later, he would reflect happily on how the Communists’ “incredibly courageous” Tet Offensive of early 1968 had caused “a majority of U.S. citizens” to conclude that “the war was unwinnable.”
In the ’60s and ’70s, Ali—who revered the brutal Che Guevara and characterized Antonio Gramsci, Lenin, Marx, and Trotsky as “great thinkers”—was a leading figure of the Trotskyist movement. In the late Sixties he joined the International Marxist Group (IMG) and became an International Executive Committee member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, a leadership body that sought to unify all existing Communist parties worldwide.
In 1980 Ali co-authored a cartoon book titled Trotsky for Beginners. After the IMG dissolved in 1981, Ali turned away from revolutionary leftism and supported Tony Benn’s bid to become deputy leader of the Labour Party.
In 1990 Ali published his first novel, Redemption, a satire recounting the disillusionment of the Trotskyists after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 2002, Ali published a book titled The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, whose cover featured pictures depicting President George W. Bush as a mullah, and Osama bin Laden as the U.S. president. As Stanley Kurtz explained in National Review at that time: “Ali believes that Bush and bin Laden are two peas in a pod, violent fundamentalists each. His book is a call for a socialist revolution and an end to the U.S. presence in the Middle East.” Clash of Fundamentalisms was a collection of essays in which Ali blamed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “For the past sixty years and more,” Ali said that same year, “the United States has toppled democratic leaders, bombed countries in three continents and used nuclear weapons against Japanese civilians, but it never knew what it felt like to have its own cities under attack. Now [after 9/11] they [Americans] know.”
On April 20, 2002 in Washington, D.C., Ali spoke at an International A.N.S.W.E.R. rally that convened to call for the creation of a Palestinian state, criticize the Bush administration’s support for Israel, demand an end to racial profiling, and protest the treatment of Muslims at home and abroad.
In 2003 Ali was a signatory to a letter entitled “To the Conscience of the World,” which alleged not only that the “international order has been violated” by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but also that America was working to undermine Cuba’s “self-determination” as a pretext to launching an invasion there. Other signers of the letter included such notables as Harry Belafonte, William Blum, Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Danny Glover, Robert Jensen, Rigoberta Menchu, and Tanya Reinhart.
As an advisory board member of Iraq Occupation Watch, Ali advocated “support for Iraqi resistance to the Anglo-American occupation,” and he called for the killing of U.S. troops who were stationed in that country. Ali made his wishes explicit in the May-June 2003 issue of New Left Review, where he openly hoped that America’s “collaborators may meet the fate of Nuri Said before them”—a reference to the former British-installed Iraqi Prime Minister whose mangled corpse was dragged through the streets by his killers.
In a November 2003 article titled “Resistance Is the First Step Towards Iraqi Independence,” Ali wrote: “Few can deny that Iraq under U.S. occupation is in a much worse state than it was under Saddam Hussein…. Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily, they will be driven out. Their continuing presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq’s people regain control of their own destiny they will decide the internal structures and the external policies of their country. One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice, a formula that has set Latin America alight but is greatly resented by the Empire. Meanwhile, Iraqis have one thing of which they can be proud and of which British and U.S. citizens should be envious: an opposition.”
In 2004 Ali published Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq, a book that used both poetry and prose to condemn the the War in Iraq.
At the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil, Ali was a signatory to the Porto Alegre Manifesto which enumerated a set of worldwide economic reforms favoring the redistribution of wealth, multilateral rather than unilateral military action, and radical environmentalism. Moreover, he supported the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
On July 8, 2005, Ali penned an article blaming the West’s (and Israel’s) alleged mistreatment of Muslims worldwide for the previous day’s terrorist bombings of some London subway trains. He wrote: “The principal cause of this violence is the violence that is being inflicted on the people of the Muslim world…. And unless this is recognized, the horrors will continue.… The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.” Ali also characterized “the war against terror” as an “immoral and counterproductive” enterprise that “sanctions the use of state terror … against Islamo-anarchists whose numbers are small.”
In August 2006, Ali signed a letter condemning Israel’s latest military effort against the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah as a protracted “war crime” and “massacre.” Denouncing also the “state terror” that Israel was inflicting on Palestinians “in the Gaza ghetto,” Ali and his fellow signatories pledged their “solidarity and support to the victims of this brutality and to those who mount a resistance against it.” Other signers included Joel Beinin, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Richard Falk, Ilan Pappe, John Pilger, Harold Pinter, Tanya Reinhart, Arundhati Roy, Gore Vidal, Howard Zinn, and Stephen Zunes.
That same year, he penned the introduction to Fidel Castro’s The Declarations of Havana.
In a December 2008 article titled “From the Ashes of Gaza,” Ali condemned Operation Cast Lead — an Israeli military effort to stop Hamas terrorists in Gaza from continuing their relentless rocket attacks against the Jewish state — as an “assault on Gaza.” By contrast, he praised Hamas for its overall good will and restraint. Some additional key excerpts from Ali’s piece:
In January 2009, the Socialist Worker published an article by Ali titled “Why the West Wants to Destroy Hamas.” In this piece, Ali wrote that “the only serious” measure that would have any chance of bringing peace to the Middle East was “what many of us socialists have long called for – a single state solution.” “That means one Israel-Palestine in which Jews, Christians, Muslims and anyone else live together as equal citizens,” he continued. “The argument against this from the Zionist establishment is that it would no longer be a Jewish state. The answer to that is that it would be state of all its citizens including the Jews. In the long term this would benefit everyone in that region, regardless of who is in a numerical majority.”
Ali appeared in the History Channel’s 2009 documentary, The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross, where he is repeatedly quoted as an authority on the Crusades. In the film, Ali nonchalantly informs viewers that the Catholic popes during the era of the Crusades were little more than “scheming, manipulating, intriguing” men who were always out to exploit. “They wanted the money [of the Islamic world],” he elaborates. “It was as simple as that.”
In 2013 Ali condemned the United States as an “imperialist” nation; denounced America’s “use of 9/11 both to invade other countries and also to curtail the rights of [its] own citizens by creating an atmosphere of fear”; and stated that linking terrorism to Islam “enables you to effectively tarnish a whole religion,” even though “no one ever denounced” the “Christian terrorists or Catholic terrorists in Ireland” for their faith. Such unjust portrayals of Muslims and their faith, Ali explained, “has created a wave of Islamophobia and given regimes excuses to just carry out massive repression in the name of fighting terror,” thereby making it “open season on the Muslims.”
After Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, Ali penned a long tribute to the late Marxist dictator whose policies had brought economic and social ruin to Venezuela. Lauding Chavez as a “political giant” whose charismatic “bluntness and courage” had “lit up the political landscape,” Ali wrote:
In a 2014 interview, Ali addressed the ongoing hostilities between Arabs and Israelis: “In the overall conflict the Palestinians are in the right. Much wrong has been done to them by Israel and its principal backer, the United States. The Israelis treat them as untermensch, have tried to destroy their past, their historical memory, and are now attempting to destroy them as a political entity.”
Ali supports the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement and its effort to destroy Israel economically.
On May 13, 2016, Ali was a panelist at an event sponsored by the University of London Student Union where, according to a UK Media Watch report, he and several other guest speakers excoriated Israel and even went so far as to call for its destruction. Algemeiner.com reported:
“Speaker Tariq Ali … said the annihilation of Israel would greatly benefit both Palestinians and Israelis. Antisemitism, according to Ali, is a result of the creation of a Jewish state, and once Israel is wiped off the map, antisemitism will disappear…. Ali also accused Israel of branding those who criticize the country as anti-Semites, stating, ‘This is not a decision that was taken here [in Britain] or in Washington, D.C. This was a decision that was taken by the Israeli government in Israel.’ He referred to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as the ‘first mass non-violent movement to get Palestinian rights and defend Palestinian rights.’ Ali said the Holocaust ‘taught as a unique crime is not helpful’ and minimizes other global atrocities. ‘If what is being done with Muslim communities today were being done to the Jews again, how many would tolerate it? Very few. And these are the double standards,’ he said.”
In 2017, Ali was given a lifetime achievement award by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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