Tariq Ali

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We live, after all, in a world where illusions are sacred and truth profane

Tariq Ali (born 21 October 1943) is a British-Pakistani Marxist, author, and filmmaker.

Quotes[edit]

  • The government of the US has no moral authority to elect itself as the judge over human rights in Cuba, where there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959, and where despite the economic blockade, there are levels of health, education and culture that are internationally recognised.
  • We live, after all, in a world where illusions are sacred and truth profane.
    • Commentary essay, "For one day only, I'm a Lib Dem: We must take the politics of the anti-war front into the electoral arena," The Guardian, March 26, 2005.
  • For all their incoherence and senseless rage, their message is attractive to those layers of the population who yearn for some order in their lives. If the fanatics promise to feed them and educate their children they are prepared to forgo the delights of CNN and BBC World.
  • Let's discuss the world. To answer the question, "is globalisation possible without God", the simple answer is "yes". Globalisation is after all itself a code word, a mask, for not using the C-word, capitalism. Globalisation is basically the latest phase of expanding capitalism. This not something which is neutral, this is a capitalism that has its rules: it has its economic rules, it has its political rules, it has its cultural rules and it has its military rules. It is a system. At the heart of this system is the United States of America, the world's only existing empire today. The first time in the history of humanity that you have just had a single empire, so dominant, whose military budget is higher than the military budgets of the next 15 countries put together, and whose military-industrial complex itself is the eleventh largest economic entity in the world. This is the reality we live in, and this is the reality which confronts us in different ways.
    • 10th Globalisation lecture, VRPO. [2]
  • Julian exposed another set of wars. Basically, he exposed the so-called war on terror, which began after 9/11, has lasted 20 years, has led to six wars, millions killed, trillions wasted... So, what do you say to people like Chelsea Manning and Julian, who’s the principal target of the legal and judicial brutalities taking place, when they reveal stuff, which everyone knows it’s true, since some of it is on video — Americans bombing Iraqi families, totally innocent — totally innocent — laughing about it and are recorded killing them?... Julian, far from being indicted, should actually be a hero... And if they think that punishing him in this vindictive and punitive way is going to change people’s attitudes to coming out and telling the truth, they’re wrong.
    ...Julian...should never have been kept in prison for bail. He should not be in prison now awaiting a trial for extradition. He should be released.

The Clash of Fundamentalism[edit]

Tariq Ali - The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002)
  • Tragedies are always discussed as if they took place in a void, but actually each tragedy is conditioned by its setting, local and global. The events of 11 September 2001 are not exception.
  • Even if you reject everything, it is always better to know what it is you are rejecting.
  • I loved Lahore. By the time I was at secondary school we had moved from Race Course Road to our own apartments in a large block which my paternal grandfather had built for his five children. These were on Nicholson Road, but very close to the tiny streets and shops of Qila Gujyar Singh, an old Sikh-dominated locality, constructed around a small Sikh fortress. The street names were unchanged. Not that I ever asked myself what had happened to all the Sikhs. My early childhood was dominated by kite-flying and playing cricket with street urchins. It wasn't till much later that I even discovered that Basant, the festival of kites, when the Lahore sky is filled with different colours and shapes as old rivals seek to tangle with and cut down each other's kites, was the millennium-old product of Hindu mythology.
  • And then the burnt houses. How were they burned? I would ask the locals. Back would come a casual reply. 'They belonged to Hindus and Sikhs. Our fathers and uncles burnt them.' But why? 'So they could never come back, of course.' But why? 'Because we were now Pakistan. Their home was India.' But why, I persisted, when they had lived here for centuries, just like your families, spoken the same language, despite the different gods? The only reply was a sheepish grin and a shrugging of shoulders. It was strange to think that Hindus and Sikhs had been here, had been killed in the villages below. In these idyllic surroundings, the killings and burnings seemed strangely abstract to our young minds. We knew, but could not fully understand, and therefore did not dwell on these awful events till much later
  • Nonetheless Russell had intuitively grasped that the first two decades of Islam had a distinctly Jacobin feel. I think this is true. Sections of the Koran remind one of the vigour of the founding manifesto of a new political organisation.
  • The reality of women in Islam is a prefabricated destiny.
  • Soldiers were incited to mass-rape the women in order to mutate the Hindu Bengali gene. This is what was said by Punjabi officers to Punjabi soldiers. This is what they did. In March 1971, West Pakistan invaded East Pakistan. Rapes and massacres took place. In one night alone, occupying soldiers, accompanied by Jamaat-e-Islami collaborators, invaded the student hostels at the university. Hundreds of students disappeared. Left-wing intellectuals were traced and shot. Sheikh Mujib was arrested and brought to a West Pakistani prison. His party went underground and prepared to resist. Pakistan's greatest poet, Faiz Ahined Faiz, wrote of 'eyes washed with blood'
  • I wrote and spoke and appealed for support, but the West remained silent. Nixon had ordered Kissinger (or perhaps it was the other way round) to 'tilt towards Pakistan'. Beijing tilted in the same direction. As the war raged, millions of refugees were provided with temporary accommodation in the Indian province of West Bengal. Finally, the Indian army crossed the border and defeated its Pakistani counterparts.
  • This single event had alienated me totally from the 'new' Pakistan. In the past one had fought against the elite, but this time a large section of the population was infected with an ugly chauvinism. It was not the Baluch or the Pashtuns as much as the Punjab and, to a certain extent. Sind. The failure of the Punjabis to protest against the crimes being committed in their name made them complicit. Some were no doubt frightened, but how could they be when they had only recently moved mountains, defied fear, toppled a dictatorship? It was something else. It was Bhutto. Having followed him during the movement, voted for him, they could not betray him. They assumed he must be right and so remained silent. It was then that I made my ow-n personal decision to stay away from them. The blood of Bengal separated us. Pakistan has yet to acknowledge these crimes and apologise to the people of Bangladesh. For its own sake, not only for theirs. Official histories in Pakistan continue to lie. They write of how India had decided to break up Pakistan. Not true. It was the Pakistan army backed by the bureaucracy and the majority People's Party led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who took the risk and lost. They did not succeed in implanting 'pure Muslim genes' via the 'pure Muslim sperm' of the Punjabi soldiery.
  • Zia's military dictatorship, once again fully backed by the United States, was the worst period in the country's history. Zia's men were dense, deaf and heartless. The new regime had decided to use Islam as its battering ram, and its bearded supporters, often incredibly stupid, were opportunist to the marrow of their bones. They combined religion with profanities of the vilest kind. Under Zia, despotism and lies mutilated a whole generation. Islamic punishments were introduced, public floggings and hangings instituted. The political culture of Pakistan was brutalised. It has still to recover. Washington and London watched from the sidelines as the country's elected leader was executed. Work on the nuclear programme continued, but Washington now chose to ignore the process because by now the pro Moscow Afghan left had seized power in Kabul.

Street fighting years[edit]

Ali, Tariq - Street fighting years, an autobiography of the sixties (2018)
  • The centre of the town was swathed in red flags. It was my first demonstration and one that I remember to this day. The city was Lahore, which for many centuries had been a much envied metropolis in Northern India. Then the last conquerors had departed, leaving behind a divided subcontinent. The old town had become part of a new country – Pakistan. The founder of this state, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, an agnostic, had cynically used religion to create a ‘Muslim nation’. Jinnah had expressed the hope that Pakistan would, despite everything, remain a secular state, but the logic of history had proved fatal. All the Hindu and Sikh families in Lahore had fled across confessional frontiers. Little ‘Lahores’ had sprung up in Delhi.
  • For my parents, most of whose friends suddenly vanished, Lahore in the fifties was like a ghost town. The pain of Partition has been sensitively depicted in a number of short stories by the Urdu writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, and by poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. I had been three and a half years old in 1947. Pre-Partition Lahore, for me, existed only in numerous overheard conversations. The recent past became a subject for discussions, sometimes heated, but more often sad, and these could be heard in every quarter of the city. They frequently centred on the vibrancy of the town. During the twenties, thirties and forties, it had been an important cultural centre, a home for poets and painters, a city that was proud of its cosmopolitanism. Nineteen forty-seven had changed all that for ever. The old coffee houses and teashops were still in place, but the Hindu and Sikh faces had disappeared, never to return. This fact was soon accepted; political gossip and poetry reasserted their old primacy under new conditions.
  • Growing up in a newly independent country should have provided at least a tiny bit of inspiration, excitement or stimulation. Pakistan, alas, was a state without a history. Its ideologues, on the few occasions when they were coherent, could only think in terms of comparing and counterposing everything, big or small, to neighbouring India. Pakistan’s rulers suffered from a gigantic inferiority complex. This created problems on many levels, but for those of us at school in the fifties it created a terrible vacuum. Nationalism in Pakistan did not mean keeping a self-respecting distance from the former colonial power, but crude anti-Indian chauvinism. It was not totally illogical. The Congress in India had waged a two-pronged struggle against British imperialism. The Muslim League had been created by the British to organize the Muslim gentry. Even in the years prior to 1947, the Muslim League had essentially fought, not the British, but the Congress. In secret, I admired Nehru, but to have said so publicly would have led to too many fist-fights at school.
  • Pakistan, deprived of a viable left after the migration of Hindu and Sikh communists following Partition, gained a set of radical mass-circulation daily papers and journals which had no equal in neighbouring India or elsewhere in the continent.
  • The Progressive Papers had always been an anomaly in Pakistan, where the bulk of the post-Partition intelligentsia was not merely conformist, but engaged in a project to rewrite the history of the struggle for Indian independence in order to provide the new state with a raison d’être.
  • Bhutto walked in smartly attired, but slightly nervous. He clearly thought that he would warm us up with a carefully chosen diatribe against India. He demanded that the Indians permit the people of Kashmir to determine their own future and decide whether or not they wanted to stay in India or join Pakistan. ‘There has to be a plebiscite in Kashmir’, he thundered, expecting a round of applause. There was none. Unable to contain myself I shouted from the back: ‘What about a plebiscite in Pakistan first?’ He was so shocked at my effrontery that, uncharacteristically, he was silent for a few seconds as he frowned at me. This was taken as a signal and heckling began on a massive scale. ‘Why are you in a military government?’ ‘Are you scared to contest free elections?’ ‘Death to Ayub Khan!’ Bhutto refused to answer these questions, but kept insisting that he was there to talk on a different subject. We said we weren’t interested in that topic, but wanted to discuss Pakistan.
  • Powell did strike me, however, as an extremely capable and intelligent Conservative politician. There was no fanatical gleam in his eyes, though I do remember feeling that his attitude to India was slightly strange. I could not place it at the time; it was neither jingoism nor simply nostalgia, but nor was it the scholarly interest of a historian or the detached reflections of a logician. Many years later when I was reading Paul Scott’s opus on the British in India, I suddenly remembered Powell. One of the major characters in Scott’s novels reminded me of him. It was Ronald Merrick, whose ambiguous class background in Britain ultimately exploded in colonial India. This was a reflection of something that ran very deep in many middle- and lower-middle-class Englishmen and women who had served as colonial administrators or officers in India.
  • A few days before we were due to leave for Hanoi, our Cambodian hosts took pity on us. A small plane was laid on to fly us to Angkor Wat, where we could marvel at the magic of the 850-year-old Khymer palaces. The occasion was slightly surreal. Next door a bitter and cruel war was taking place; we could hear the noise of the bombings from Cambodia. And yet these old ruins generated an unbelievable tranquillity. I walked silently through and around them. I observed their richness from every possible angle and gazed in awe at the rich repertoire of images. The beautiful reliefs on the plinths supporting the terraces were matched by the friezes of erotic groups and minor deities of traditional Hindu sculpture. Here in the middle of the Cambodian jungles one caught a glimpse of the myths and legends of medieval India. Here, too, a caste of military aristocrats must have established its control over tribespeoples and ‘barbarians’. As I wandered, in a semidaze, I thought of the polymathic qualities, skills and perseverance that must have been a hallmark of the architects, stonemasons, master-artists and their apprentices, the latter notorious for the outspoken eroticism of their sexual sculptures. And the slaves who carried the stones that made all this possible? What was their lifespan? I saw the sun set on Angkor Wat that evening and almost forgot the war. It is one of the wonders of the world, but impossible to record except in the mind’s eye. No postcard or film could convey the richness of the Cambodian sky or the play of golden red shadows and reflections on the stones and statues of the ancient Khymer works.
  • The same night, in a neighbouring palatial ruin, we saw a moon rise and in its light witnessed an exquisite display of Cambodian folk dancing, once again a variation of the old dances of Southern India. In the background lay the darkness of the forest. The night was enveloped by silence. The technologies of the 20th century could neither be seen nor heard. We might easily have been part of a scene from a different epoch. The image of Angkor Wat remains vivid. When I shut my eyes I can still recall many pictures of the sun setting on the delicate and graceful reliefs. I thought of them a lot in the years that followed, first when Kissinger and Nixon embarked on their campaign and bombed the country into the Stone Age, resulting in a savagery which gave birth to the deranged squads of Pol Pot. Neither variant, I am happy to say, destroyed Angkor Wat. It is still there and I have not given up the idea of seeing it again one day.
  • I spoke that afternoon of the struggle in Pakistan, but I went further and warned them that their demands for regional autonomy would never be conceded by the army. ‘Rather than grant you that, they will crush you. The only serious option is independence. A Red Bengal could become the Yenan of our subcontinent.’ These ideas had never been stated in this form in public and I felt the excitement of the audience. Even the Awami League students were stunned. Was I not after all a Punjabi? How could I talk in this fashion? But they recovered soon and cheered me till they were hoarse. Afterwards I was mobbed and the one question everyone wanted to discuss was how they could achieve their goal. If, at that stage, the political leaders had realized the holocaust that was to follow they could have politically armed their supporters and prepared them for the inevitable civil war. When I left Dhaka hundreds of students came to say farewell with clenched fists and cries of ‘Lal salaam!’ (‘Red salute’) and invitations to come back, but live in Dhaka.
  • I did, however, wonder aloud as to why it was that those who treated the Quran as a divine monopoly in Pakistan, the Jamaat-i-Islami, were also on the payroll of the American embassy. This led to a loud roar of approval and chants of ‘Death to the hired mercenaries’, etc.

Uprising in Pakistan[edit]

Ali, Tariq - Uprising in Pakistan_ How to Bring Down a Dictatorship-Verso Books (2018)
  • The Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province had been through a brutal process of ethnic cleansing.

The Duel[edit]

Tariq Ali-The Duel_ Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008)
  • BOOKS HAVE A DESTINY. THIS IS MY THIRD STUDY OF PAKISTAN. The first, Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power?, was written in 1969 and predicted the breakup of the state. It was banned in Pakistan. Critics of every persuasion, even those who liked the book, thought it was going too far in suggesting that the state could disintegrate, but a few years later that is exactly what happened. Just over a decade later I wrote Can Pakistan Survive? The question mark was not unimportant but nonetheless struck a raw nerve in General Zia’s Pakistan, where to even pose the question was unacceptable. The general himself was extremely angry about its publication, as were sections of the bureaucracy, willing instruments of every despotism. Zia attacked both me and the book at a press conference in India, which was helpful and much appreciated by the publisher’s sales department. That book too was banned, but to my delight was shamelessly pirated in many editions in Pakistan. They don’t ban books anymore, or at least not recently, which is a relief and a small step forward.
  • MEANWHILE THE ISLAMISTS, while far removed from state power, are busy picking up supporters. The persistent and ruthless missionaries of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) are especially effective. ... The Tablighis stress their nonviolence and insist they are merely broadcasting the true faith to help people find the correct path in life. This may be so, but it is clear that some younger male recruits, bored with all the dogma, ceremonies, and ritual, are more interested in getting their hands on a Kalashnikov. Many commentators believe that the Tablighi missionary camps are fertile recruiting grounds for armed groups active on the western frontier and in Kashmir.
  • The Muslim League was always an extremely weak organization by comparison. Originally created by Islamic princes and nobles in 1906 “to foster a sense of loyalty to the British government among the Muslims of India” (to cite from its statement of aims), it was captured by the educated Muslim middle class led by Jinnah in the 1930s and for a brief period was in alliance with the Congress Party. However, its main thrust was always anti-Hindu rather than anti-British.
  • Jinnah’s Pakistan died on March 26, 1971, with East Bengal drowned in blood. Two senior West Pakistanis had, to their credit, resigned in protest against what was about to happen. Admiral Ahsan and General Yaqub left the province after their appeals to Islamabad had been rejected. Both men had strongly opposed a military solution. Bhutto, on the other hand, backed the invasion. “Thank God, Pakistan has been saved,” he declared, aligning himself with the disaster that lay ahead. Rahman was arrested and several hundred nationalist and left-wing intellectuals, activists, and students were killed in a carefully organized massacre. The lists of victims had been prepared with the help of local Islamist vigilantes, whose party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, had lost badly in the elections. Soldiers were told that Bengalis were relatively recent converts to Islam and hence not “proper Muslims”—their genes needed improving. This was the justification for the campaign of mass rape.
  • In Dhaka, Mujibur Rahman waited at home to be arrested. Many of his colleagues went underground. The military shelled Dhaka University. Artillery units flattened working-class districts; trade-union and newspaper offices were burned to the ground. Soldiers invaded the women’s hostel on the university campus, raping and killing many residents. With the help of the intelligence agencies and local collaborators, mainly Islamist activists, lists of nationalist and Communist intellectuals had been prepared (as in Indonesia in 1965), and they were now picked up and killed. Some had been close friends of mine. I was both sad and angry. I had predicted this tragedy, while hoping it might be avoided. Immediately after the December 1970 general election I wrote, “Will the Pakistan Army and the capitalist barons of West Pakistan allow these demands to go through? The answer is quite clearly no. What will probably happen is that in the short-term Mujibur Rehman will be allowed to increase East Pakistan’s percentage of import and export licenses and will be allocated a larger share of foreign capital investment. These are the ‘concessions’ which the Army will be prepared to make in the coming few months. If Rehman accepts them, he will be allowed to stay in power. If not, it will be back to business as usual in the shape of the Army. Of course there is no doubt that in the event of another military coup there will be no holding back the immense grievances of Bengal and the desire for an independent Bengal will increase a hundredfold.”*
  • Operation Searchlight was brutal, but ineffective. Killing students and intellectuals did not lead to the quick and clear victory sought by the Pakistani generals. Once the initial attack had failed, the military with the help of local Islamist volunteers (members of the Jamaat-e-Islami) began to kill Hindus—there were 10 million of them in East Pakistan— and burn their homes. Tens of thousands were exterminated. These were war crimes according to any international law.
  • PAKISTAN HAS the unique distinction of being the only South Asian country where it’s legal to discriminate against women. This was institutionalized via a set of constitutional amendments during the period of General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship, which brutalized the country’s political culture: there were public hangings and floggings of criminals and dissidents. In 1979 the “Hudood Ordinance” repealed previous laws relating to rape. General Zia was determined to “Islamize” the country, and together with the creation of jihadi groups to fight Charlie Wilson’s war in Afghanistan measures were taken on the domestic front that have proved difficult to reverse. A raped woman could no longer testify against her violator because she was now considered only half a witness. Four adult males were required to corroborate her evidence. By alleging rape, which she was not in a position to prove, the woman admitted to intercourse rendering her liable to prosecution. Add to this the fact that sexual assaults on women are an everyday crime: the Human Rights Commission estimates a rape every three hours. Today, more than 50 percent of women in prison are those accused of adultery (i.e., unproven rape) and are awaiting verdicts. Many of them languish in jail for several months and sometimes years before their case is heard. Acquittals are rare and the most lenient sentence is a year in prison.
  • Often poor women, who go to a police station and charge a man with rape, are subjected to further sexual abuse by the police, incidents of which multiplied dramatically after the “Islamic laws” were promulgated. Neither Benazir Bhutto nor General Musharraf managed to repeal the anti-women ordinances when they were in power. This gives a carte blanche to honor killers and anyone else. As social and economic conditions deteriorate for a vast majority of the population, women become even more vulnerable.
  • The treatment of women as subhuman can also be seen in the statistics related to acid and kerosene burn victims. Young girls and women between the ages of fourteen to twenty-five are the usual target of this particular crime. The aim is to disfigure the face and burn the genital region. The reasons vary from case to case: jealousy, imagined infidelity, economic need to get a new bride and dowry, wives refusing sexual favors, and so on.

The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, War, Empire, Love, Revolution (2017)[edit]

  • History handed Lenin a gift in the shapre of the First World War. He grasped it with both hands and used it to craft an insurrection. It is revolutions that make history happen. Liberals of every sort, with rare exceptions, are found on the other side.
    • Introduction, p. 3
  • Revolutionary periods invariably encompass a huge fluctuation of political consciousness that can never be registered accurately by any referendum.
    • Introduction, p. 7
  • Fractures in the state, divisions in the ruling class and indecision on the part of the intermediate classes pave the way for dual power, which, in Russia, led to the creation of new institutions and later, in China, Vietnam, and Cuba, rested on revolutionary armies with varying class compositions that were locked in battle against their respective state machines.
    • Introduction, p.8
  • Why is insurrection an art? Because an armed uprising against he capitalist state or occupying imperialist armies has to be choreographed with precision, especially during its final stages.
    • Introduction, p. 9
  • Time, then, to bury Lenin's body and revive some of his ideas. Future generations in Russia might realise that Lenin still has a bit more to offer than Prince Stolypin.
    • Introduction
  • The assassination of the Austrian crown prince by a Serbian nationalist was the trigger for the conflict, not the underlying cause, comparable in modern times to the explosions of 9/11 that provided the pretext for the war on Iraq, the destruction of Libya, Syria and the Yemen and the total destabilisation of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The post 9/11 wars have lasted longer than the First and Second Wars put together.
    • pp. 133
  • Had the United States remained neutral, as a majority of the country wanted, a ceasefire and truce between the British and German empires would have been the only realistic solution.
    • pp. 142
  • In State and Revolution. the unfinished theoretical text interrupted by the revolution, Lenin abandoned all references to the divide between Russia and Western Europe that had littered previous writings.
    • pp.175
  • Not even the largest party can 'make' or 'steal' a revolution, but the success of such an endeavor depends on the ability, lucidity, energy and single-mindedness of a revolutionary party when confronted with a prerevolutionary crisis.
    • pp. 179

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