Tariq Ali also appeared today on Air America’s Majority Report.
Do you agree with Ali’s analysis of the age we’re living in?
[I]n the ’60s, there was a big feeling that we could actually change the world, transform it for the better, whether you were struggling against bureaucratic regimes in Eastern Europe or capitalist regimes in Western Europe or the third world or Bolivia. That was the belief: that if you got off your chair and went and became an activist, you could actually transform and change the world.
I think that is more difficult to evoke at the present time, where the victory of capital seems so total, except in Latin America [in] Venezuela [Bolivia and] Ecuador. I always say to activists [outside] Latin America, that is the laboratory. That’s where the key struggles are taking place today. . . . More below, including his views on Iraq
Who is Tariq Ali?
, novelist, historian and political activist. He has written more than a dozen books on world history and politics, including, “Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq” as well as five novels, and scripts for both stage and screen. He is one of the editors of New Left Review. An updated edition of his memoir, “Street-Fighting Years: An Authobiography of the Sixties” [and a] new collection of interviews with David Barsamian titled “Speaking of Empire and Resistance” [have been] published …
What does Tariq Ali say about Iraq?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the latest on Iraq, your reaction, and I want to talk about your history of activism.
TARIQ ALI: Well, the savagery and the chaos in that country shows no sign of abating since the elections. The new president, who has been appointed, Talabani, he may be a Kurd, and … a Kurdish tribal leader, was on the payroll of the CIA, the Israelis, took money from Saddam Hussein, the Iranians. So, he will be a very willing president for Zalmay Khalilzad to run from the Embassy in Baghdad.
[W]hat that demonstration stressed a few days ago is that most Iraqis, whatever their ethnic origins, with the possible exception of the Kurds, want the occupying forces out of their country. It’s elementary.
And once these forces are withdrawn, then the Iraqi groups will have to sit down and talk to each other, the nonviolent resistance groups and the armed resistance groups, and see how to take the country forward. But as long as the occupation is there, it becomes very difficult for people to even talk to each other seriously about the future of that country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if they remain the same, you have been an activist for 40 years from Pakistan to Britain, Vietnam to Iraq, do you give up? Do you give up hope?
TARIQ ALI: One doesn’t give up hope … no one imagined that anyone would have the nerve to resist the occupation of Iraq. If you look back at what was being said, if you look at that incredible documentary made about Al Jazeera, The Control Room, when the fall of Baghdad is announced, 99 percent of the Western journalists covering the war rise to their feet and cheer. They didn’t know what was going to happen.
And the Iraqis took everyone by surprise, including some of us, who never thought that resistance would develop so quickly. And it exists now on several levels, and it’s pretty ugly at times … it’s a response to an ugly occupation. And until foreign troops remain there, it is not going to end.
… I think there is hope that the people of that country don’t like being occupied, and whatever their ethnic, they’re Shia, Sunni or whatever, they will want a free country without any foreign troops present.
What about Ali’s early years with Che Guevera, his participation in an unofficial war tribunal during the Vietnam years — inspired by Bertrand Russel and Jean-Paul Sartre, and the infamous Phoenix program:
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to talk a little bit about the memoir, Street-Fighting Years
. Many people are familiar, obviously, in recent years with much of the work that you have been doing in terms of criticizing empire, but the long history that you have had as a political activist is perhaps not known by some of our younger listeners, and if you could talk a little bit about the book and why you decided to write it at this time?
TARIQ ALI: Well, this is a new edition … a lot more material has been added. … lots of young activists today want to know what the past was in relation to me. And so, there’s a lot of material in the book about Bolivia, about being mistaken for Che Guevara’s bodyguard and being arrested …
AMY GOODMAN: Where?
TARIQ ALI: In Camiri, where — not far from where Che was captured. We were there in 1967 to observe the trial of Regis Debray, who had been arrested, and I got picked up because I had long moustaches and long hair. They accused me of being a Cuban guerrilla. So I said, “If you torture me the whole night and I can speak Spanish in the morning, I’ll be grateful to you for the rest of my life.”
And then there’s a lot about Vietnam, which is the event which really shaped me and moved me.
I went to North Vietnam, you know, suffered heavy U.S. bombing, saw what was going on in the country, and then when we came back, Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, and Jean-Paul Sartre, his French colleague, decided to launch an unofficial war crimes tribunal, where we brought evidence from Vietnam at a time when no one was admitting in officialdom that atrocities were taking place.
This was prior to the My Lai Massacre and Sey Hersh’s reports … it was impossible to find space for the tribunal … the Swedish prime minister said come and have it in Sweden. …
AMY GOODMAN: [W]e want to actually go back in time to a video clip from decades ago. This is you, Tariq Ali. We go back now to you as a political activist in 1967. Maybe you can set the scene for us.
This is from that tribunal that you talk about. It took place in Stockholm, Sweden, where the legendary British pacifist Bertrand Russell had organized representatives from 18 countries to participate in war crimes on Vietnam.
Among the dozen judges on the Russell Tribunal, as it would later be called, were the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, leading feminist intellectual Simone de Beauvoir, and distinguished radical historian Isaac Deutscher. …
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go now to that videotape.
TARIQ ALI: The town was on fire; incendiary bombs had been used. When we walked in, we had to walk, in most cases, over embers which had been lit, and we had to walk fast because our feet, while walking in these embers, were feeling hot. It had been impossible to visualize the agony of those under attack from a cozy office or from a cozy home in Western Europe. One was face-to-face with a situation which the Vietnamese told us has existed ever since the United States first started the bombing. They said, “Tell us, comrade, do you think what the United States is doing to us today, do you think the use of napalm, of phosphorus, of fragmentation bombs, of all of the other insidious devices they have invented, do you think that the United States would use them in Europe today?” And it was extremely difficult to reply in the affirmative.
AMY GOODMAN: A young Tariq Ali, testifying in front of the Russell War Crimes Tribunal in 1967, talking about a village you visited where a U.S. raid destroyed 200 homes.
TARIQ ALI: It doesn’t stop. And what we also talked about at the tribunal were the incredible number of instances of torture used by U.S. troops against the Vietnamese, which no one even bothers to deny any longer. So, what happened in Abu Ghraib was not new. It’s just that people have very short memories and forget what happens when a colonial war is being fought.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The tortures and the assassinations in the Phoenix Program, right?
TARIQ ALI: Exactly. Very carefully targeted, orchestrated. …
Full interview: Tariq Ali on Political Activism from Pakistan to Vietnam to Iraq