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Scoundrel times: Paris, Baghdad, Lahore…Interview with TARIQ ALI

Qalandar Bux Memon and Jacopo Moroni in conversation with Tariq Ali:

Jacopo Moroni – Mr. Ali, we would like to begin by concentrating on the recent events in the French banlieues. First of all, it seems undeniable that the events are of fundamental importance for the future political and socio-cultural European landscape, forcing us to grasp for a theoretical understanding of the dynamics working on the multi-cultural ground of the European cities. By this I don’t mean to say that the riots had not been foreseen – Mike Davis recently suggested that urban centres are destined to become the battlegrounds of the future as neo-liberal economics and global conflict intensifies – but, rather, it is clear that only a few – Yann Moulier Boutang among them – recognized that the revolts were by themselves a clearly defined political act by a subaltern class towards the mechanisms of the French republican state. Can you then tell us whether what you have seen can be considered as a foundation of a collective political, even revolutionary, project or rather an unarticulated apolitical gesture? 

Tariq Ali – Well, I believe that the French events of 2005, which saw large numbers of young, dark-skinned French citizens coming out in revolt against the system, are extremely important. They are important for a number of reasons. I would not personally describe them as revolutionary because of the lack of ideology, even the sort of inchoateideology that has anything to do with a process of social transformation. But I think they were in the great French tradition of semi-insurrections and revolts against authority, which we have now seen continuously since the time of the French Revolution. From that point of view, I think that the first thing one has to say about the French events of 2005 is that they were very French. In this sense, all the talk about these young immigrants, this generation of children of immigrants born in France – they were the ones who did it, – is misleading as it deals with their failure to fully integrate in French society. This is true, but I think that they are partially integrated in French society by the way they acted. And that they understood what to do immediately as they targeted what French radicals had traditionally targeted in the past: property and not individuals. They burned the symbols of oppression – the schools, – and they burned cars, and the reason they burned the schools is that these were the institutions that gave them the false ideology that once they entered into society they would be treated as fully-fledged French men and women – and they were not. There was a great deal of hostility to a system that proclaims the equality of all but cannot fulfil it. And, secondly, burning cars of course is something that we remember well from 1968. Just think of the famous story of the great European Marxist leader Ernest Mandel, who watched his car burning on the barricades on the night of May the 10th and said, “C’estbon. C’estlarevolution”.

So, the events are in the old tradition and I can say that to an extent they have retained the best features of the French tradition and have rejected some of the worst. What is deeply shocking to me, and I have to express this strongly, is the total and complete failure of white France to carry out public acts of solidarity with these young people. Regarding this, I do not even talk about the far right. I talk about liberal France, the France of the far left, the gauchistes. There was not a single meeting of the Mutualités. Not a single demonstration. That I find frightening. On this concern, I believe that the division goes so deep that it is a division of colour. Some of the liberal newspapers underlined the importance of these events, there were some interesting pieces, but by and large white leftist France has remained isolated. This is even more so surprising as the events had nothing to do with religious rights, they were not demonstrating in favour of religion. It was instead a demonstration of anger against their condition that reminded me very much of that movie that came out several years ago, La Haine, in which the living conditions in these French bidonvilles is shown to be pretty terrific. And you can see that sometimes when you go to Paris. You do not see these youths in Paris – it is a very odd thing. When you go to Berlin you can see mixed crowds and in London you sense that very strongly. You can see these kids on the Metro but in Paris itself – no.

Qalandar Memon:  Do you think that this has to do with the way the city is organized architecturally? Is this a conscious rationalization of the city or an accident?

TA: Well, I think that it is organized architecturally. The social architecture of France is very repressive. And I think that the fact that these young people are kept way out outside the towns is something that cannot carry on forever. The response of the far right and Sarkozy is to say that these youths are the real problem, not them and not the way in which society is organized. If you look at how Sarkozy has behaved, virtually every single plan Le Pen has demanded, Sarkozy has agreed to. What Le Pen said one day, Sarkozy would repeat it the next. The next day Le Pen would go further and Sarkozy would follow suit. The only thing Sarkozy has not done is mass deportations but even on that matter they have deported some people as a symbolic show of force. So, it is a very dangerous time for French politics and that is why the lack of response on the part of the French Socialists and the far left is to my mind very disturbing.

JM:I think that there are and there have been some points of conjunction in the past between white radical France and these disenfranchised youths, the recent no-vote in the referendum on the European Constitution being an example. Which is why the silence of the political left is hard to believe.

TA: Yes.

JM: And do you think that this failure points toward the need to create a political capacity that is extra-parliamentary, that articulates outside the domain of the state?

TA: Yes, but I think that the campaign against the European Constitution was a very different thing. This was a campaign that won because of the way the left organized it. The Attac[i] groups played a big part in this – they went into every village and city in France and organized seminars and public events to discuss the Constitution, educating people to see how it was a neo-liberal Constitution. So, the model of the left campaign against the European Constitution was a very good model. Why don’t they do that on this issue? Because they know that the French white public would not favour such an approach. But that is the big test for your politics – whether you can take up minority position and fight for it.

QM: On this regard I am reading Frantz Fanon at the present moment, concentrating on the colonial experience of the black man especially in his book “Black Skin, White Mask”. Are there continuities in the way Fanon described the experience of the immigrant and of the man of colour in the fifties in terms of alienation, and the present situation in France?

TA:  Well, I think that what Fanon was describing was very much related to the colonial experience of Algeria and the way it extended to France itself. There was of course the famous demonstration of Algerians in France where the police was so brutal we still do not know the exact number of Algerians who were killed and thrown into the river Seine. A big difference is that in the fifties and sixties there was a whole tradition of Marxist intellectuals who protested against this. You had Jean-Paul Sartre writing the preface to the book by Henri Alleg on torture[ii]. You had a whole network of intellectuals coming out against the Algerian War and playing a very heroic role in conditions in which the Algerians were a clear minority. The French defeat in Vietnam in 1954, where the French colonial Army was defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the Vietnamese Army, – the French could not believe it because they had been described General Vo Nguyen Giap in derogatory terms, – made them determined not to be defeated in Algeria. They could not suffer a double defeat – but they did.

And that is what gave birth to the present French right and conservative phenomenon that could never forgive De Gaulle for pulling out of Algeria. So, the links between the contemporary traditional French far right and Algeria are evident. Their attitude to these young people of North African origin is to this day still marked by that experience.

QM: What do you think of the French government’s response? Tactically, they have been re-enacting laws dating back to the Algerian crisis.

JM: Yes, that’s right. Could you perhaps tell us why in your opinion this kind of legislation is inevitably part of the dynamics of empire and colonization and whether this is part of an ideology of security, very evident in Europe at the present moment, whose focus is on the need to restore order and to re-establish security primarily via police power and restrictive legislation? I can see this quite clearly in your most recent work, “Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror”, where you concentrate on the curbing of civil liberties in present-day England after 7/7.

TA: Well, I think that we are witnessing a dual process. We are witnessing the rebirth of colonization, of which the war in Iraq and the failure of the West to force Israel to retreat from its colonial positions are good examples. And tied to that is the process of neo-liberalism and the neo-liberal economy, which makes democracy itself into a very hollow shell. If you have a situation whereby centre-right and centre-left agree on virtually everything, then what is the function of democracy any longer? The big project of centre-right and centre-left becomes on how to gain the consent of the ruled for what is being done to them, and so you see a process where democracy instead becomes what I like to describe as democratism. The ideology of democracy, and democracy itself in any meaningful sense of the word, are now totally subordinated to economics. We then see a growing uniformity and conformism that begins to envelop the culture like a big blanket, and underneath this blanket many people resist.

But their resistance takes different forms. It can take the form of total alienation from the system. We see that in Britain where for the second consecutive election the majority of young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six did not bother to vote. It takes the form of being completely switched off to the cultural and political establishment. This is something occurring globally in the western world because of what economics has done to the world of politics. So you have far less dissent expressed in the press and in the media than you used to have thirty years ago. And I think that this is a result of a very conscious decision by those in charge – they do not really need democracy, after all. They needed it when the Communist world existed because it was essential to combat it ideologically, but now that the battle is over, why need it? Many American millionaires look at China, the most dynamic Capitalist economy in the world, and see that they do not bother with all this ‘non-sense’. Privately they know that China has an advantage because it does not bother with Trade Union rights or anything like that. And, of course, Capitalism in the West flourished quite happily for three hundred years without any form of democracy. So, the notion, which is very strong in Western ideological constructs, that Capitalism, democracy and freedom go together is simply not true. It never was true. But it became accepted in the Communist epoch. Now that the epoch is gone, they do not need to push it anymore. We have to understand that what is going on means that the struggle for meaningful democracy and accountability will have to be taken up by the forces on the left. This is not something that the establishment is going to do.

JM: Since we are using this geographically broader framework of analysis, do you think that the struggles of these young Muslims in France can be seen as part of a larger struggle of Muslims across the world to integrate into a globalized economic and social order from which they had previously been excluded for years, decades, and even centuries?

TA: I do not see it like that. I do not see the events of France having to do so much with religion. This is why I said that the French revolt was very French. What we see in Britain is slightly different. The acts of terror that occurred on 7/7 were the acts of kids who believed very strongly in their Muslim identity. They carried out these attacks not to defend religion but to attack the war in Iraq. That is now very clear. But even that was a political act. They were wrong, of course – it was an act of senseless carnage because it punished innocents most of whom were probably opposed to the war as the bulk of Britain is, – but that was their motivation. In failing to understand that motivation, doing so deliberately, the state is refusing to take its own responsibility. That’s what I argue in “Rough Music” very strongly.  It is not the case that you have a global rebellion on the same terms. Migrant populations, Muslim or non-Muslim, argue, fight and resist in different ways. Religion, in my opinion, is not the defining feature. The structure of the society in which they are placed – that is the defining feature.

JM: On this concern, it is interesting how recent scholarship[iii] places a lot of emphasis on how religion in North Africa and the Middle East has escaped the constraints of fundamentalism and can now be seen as a progressive form of social change. Do you then see, from the point of view of a secular critic, religion as an effective source of struggle from below against prohibitive conditions?

TA: No, I do not see that and I never have. I think that the new rise of religion that we have seen since the late nineties – I mean we saw it first in the seventies with the clerical victory in Iran but a more global pattern emerged in the late nineties – is a pattern that does not simply affect the world of Islam. It affects India, where we have a big rise in Hindu politics. It affects the world of Christianity, where you see the influence of the Christian right at the heart of the Republican Party. You can see it in Britain, where in Tony Blair you have the most religious prime minister since Gladstone. And you see that in education – the woman who is the education secretary in Britain, Ruth Kelly, is a member of Opus Dei, the most reactionary catholic sect within the Catholic Church. So, you have this rise of religion globally, and what has brought it about, I think, is the absolute absence of any real material alternative to globalization. Because of the absence of a real material and social alternative to neo-liberal economics and Capitalism you see the revival of spiritualism, the revival of irrationality and the revival of religion. This affects many people in the world who do not like this structure in which the values of consumption are so dominant that everything is determined by money, in which the market dominates culture. They feel that they will move on to religion. What they do not know is that the market will also dominate religion. The way in which religion is being projected today, using all the modern advertising techniques of contemporary Capitalism, indicates that religion is not immune to the market although people imagine it is. This is something we have to be aware of. In my opinion, this will not be permanent. Whether it takes ten, twenty or thirty years it is a passing phase and people will get over it when they see that it does not deliver anything for them. It is another way of making politics but it is not a political form offering alternatives and this is the big problem with these Islamists, whether of the moderate or the extremist variety. They offer no real alternative to contemporary society.

QM: Would you then argue that Western governments are ‘using’ certain moderate Islamic leaders for their own ideological purposes?

TA: Yes, they are. And that is the supreme irony. In the case of France they want  schools to train the Imams – and that’s the French secular republic saying we should have a French state system of training Imams! (laughs)It is totally bizarre. In this country, of course, there is a long history of this extending back to the sixties and seventies when you had especially the South-Asian migrant population quite heavily involved in trade unions, organizing strikes in which often they were not backed by the white officials in the unions and still they fought and fought, and the governments of the day deliberately encouraged the entry into the country of religious preachers so that they could build the places of worship and give them an alternative way. And now you pay the price for that. Also, in Britain, there is an old tradition of collaboration with a variety of moderates. And I always find it grotesque that whenever there is a new outrage, these moderates are paraded on television to show that the whole of Islam ‘is not like that’. We know that already – the people who carried out 7/7 attacks were a tiny minority.

The government is basically producing a stereotype of Islam by seeking the support of these people and then parading them on television. Because what do they say? They say that the Holy Korandoes not acknowledge this. Now, the logic of that is that if the Holy Koran did permit these acts, it would be fine. And, of course, you will find within the more extreme Islamic groups, who will find passages in the holy Quran to justify just about everything, as you can do with almost any scripture. If you look at the Old Testament, it this justifies rape, torture, killings brutality. So this whole notion of sticking to a holy text is crazy in the twenty-first century.  But that is what these moderate leaders say and that is what Tony Blair and George Bush mimic.  It is crazy, even foolish and it is staggering that they do not understand that.   

QM: I would like to talk about South-Asia and the recent earthquake in Pakistan. I have recently heard you speak at the London Review Bookshop[iv]. You mentioned that you were there at the time and that you were appalled at the response of the Pakistani government. From the point of view of a campaigner for democratic government in Pakistan, as you have been for a long time, would you say that this would have happened if a democratically-elected government – the Pakistan Peoples Party or the Muslim League – had been in place at the time of the earthquake?

TA: No, I do not think that they would have acted differently. I did not even particularly attack this government although they could have done a lot more. But the point I made in Pakistan, in public and in the articles I wrote on the event was the following: that if you have a country that for the last fifty years has failed to build and provide a social infrastructure to defend and protect the lives of the ordinary working people, the poor, the peasants, the unemployed – if they had failed to do this during normal times, – then how would they be able to do it when there is a big crisis?  The real problem that the country confronts is that they have not had any government – military or civilian – that has done very much for the lives of ordinary people, which has built a social safety net for them. They have not done it.  And when the whole country was still traumatized by the earthquake, I argued that that was the moment to actually start building hospitals and schools all over the country for the poor. But it will not happen because the current global system of private capital does not encourage this. It does not want the state to take any initiative.

JM: So, in essence would you say that Pakistan at the present moment could be seen as a microcosm or as an aberration of the contemporary dynamics of globalization?

TA: Well, it has become that although it has been like that for some time. This is a country that has always been ruled by an unfeeling elite, totally cocooned from the everyday needs of its people. They never cared and still do not care. But today when they do not care, they are joined by the rest of the world because of this global system of indifference. Although in the fifties and sixties the elite did not care, you could still look at India and look at Egypt, both of which had created their social safety net. Now, the social safety net is disappearing everywhere.  

JM: And how can we characterize the inability of the United States to provide aid to the earthquake stricken area and what does that say about the state of the forces against United States influence in the region?

TA: Well, basically it was sort of telling seeing General Musharraf on television the day after the earthquake saying, ‘we have no helicopters’. I mean, it was staggering as in neighbouring Afghanistan, one hour away from the earthquake zones, you had hundreds and hundreds of NATO helicopters. Now, why did they not make them immediately available? Because these helicopters are being used in a war. And quite clearly this war is more serious than it has been presented in the media.  They carry out a series of missions everyday. This would have been a gesture of humanitarian aid and it was very revealing that they did not do it. After about ten days the Americans finally gave about fifty helicopters – not good enough. Help was needed urgently and many people probably died as a result of this.

JM: A question about “Clash of Fundamentalisms”. The idea behind it, the construction of a framework where the fundamentalisms of neo-liberal globalization and extremist Islamist activism set the dynamics of contemporary geopolitics, seems even more relevant at the present day.  How has your analysis changed over the past few years with the events in Iraq and 7/7 and are you optimist for the future?

TA: The central argument in my book was that what happened on 9/11 – and I explained the history leading to this – was a clash between a tiny group of religious fundamentalists and the world’s largest empire. I argued that there is such a thing as imperial fundamentalism that defines all empires, past and present, something which is not specifically American. All empires believe that everything they do is in the interest of the people they are doing it to, although they might not realize it or they might have ‘irresponsible’ leaders who tell them the opposite. Further, I argued that this was an unbalanced clash – on the one side, you had a few thousand people belonging to Al Qaeda and, on the other, you had the imperial fundamentalism of the United States with the capacity of destroying the world ten times over. And that has somewhat been vindicated by what the United States has done in Iraq, by what it refuses to do in Pakistan and by the way it uses its military power to threaten any country it does not like. Am I pessimistic or am I optimistic? I am neither. I think that in these times one has to be hardheaded and realistic. Is there an alternative to the current global socio-economic system? There is but it is in a very embryonic form. I think that the attempts to create an alternative are basically been hammered out in Latin America. That is the most advanced continent. The religious groups have no alternative in my opinion. If you look at the ideology behind some of these groups, what they talk about is a return to the Caliphate to the eight-century. They clearly have no idea what the real history of the Caliphate was, with murders and wars of succession going on endlessly. So it is foolish, it is a fantasyland. It was no golden age. The golden age of Islam was from the ninth to the twelfth century when you had a massive flourishing of dissent, debate, philosophical arguments and massive advances in mathematics and astronomy. Religious extremists argue that this is not really Islamic as the Holy Koran does not deal with that, which is a very narrow way of looking at one’s culture. It is as if we tried to define Jewish culture solely through the Torah and ignoring Spinoza, for example. This would be crazy.      

QM: You have written and discussed about that period in Islam – the ninth to the twelfth century – in a recent review, “Waiting for an Islamic Enlightenment”[v]. How long do you think we will be waiting for?    

TA: Well, I think that there were elements of an Islamic Enlightenment in that world. And the tragedy is that they were never fulfilled. But I think that this is not something that can be imposed from above – that has been tried and has failed. It has to be something that develops organically within these societies.

QM: Where in contemporary society do you see these elements of Islamic Enlightenment? Can we see any of its seeds in the intellectual class or in the educated elite in, for example, Pakistan or Britain?

TA: Well, no. I think that the big problem, in my opinion, is that this Enlightenment will only happen if it has a two-prone strategy. One – a massive reform and the creation of new values of Enlightenment have to be coupled with opposition to the American empire. If you say to the people in the Muslim world that what we are trying to do over here is to create what is in the United States, that is not particularly enlightening. I mean – Starbucks, McDonalds and Hollywood do not add up to a new enlightenment. So, it has to be an original project and there are elements of this in what is going on in the culture and intellectual life in Iran, even under the Mullahs. If you look at the cinema that is being produced in Iran it is without doubt the most advanced cinema anywhere in the world and certainly in the Islamic world. And it is much more advanced than anything that is being produced in Western Europe and North America as well. The Iranian, Taiwanese and South Korean cinema – what is called the ‘cinema of the margins’. Well, they might be on the margins in a global sense but they are the vanguard in a cultural sense. The fact that the Iranian intelligentsia is producing this is an indication that it is a vibrant society underneath the surface.  This is very exciting. We shall see, but I think that there will be surprises in store, which is why in The Guardian I criticized that book by RezaAslan. Part of what I was saying earlier, there is this desperate desire to find religious moderates who say things that the West wants to hear.      

QM: Right. Moving to culture and its role in the dynamics of resistance. You are a fiction writer.  You have written six novels.  How do they relate to your politics?  Are they born of it or have they an aesthetic criterion of their own?

JM: I recall that during you recent talk at the London Review Bookshop you made it clear that while you were writing “A Sultan in Palermo” you found it very difficult to detach yourself from the events going on at the same in Iraq.

TA: That is true. But it depends on each individual. The act of writing, unfortunately, is not a collective act. It is a very individual act. So whether you are writing history, non-fiction or fiction you are alone in your study. When I write non-fiction, I can afford to give a speech to six hundred people in the evening and go back home and carry on writing. When, on the other hand, I am writing fiction, at least in my case, I have to be totally alone, where I am not disturbed. But the fact that I am cut off physically does not mean I am cut off intellectually. I always have my mind to what is going on in the world while I am writing and this does affect my fiction. In this sense, Western culture celebrates the fiction of people like Ian McEwan who is for the war in Iraq and whose very bad novel, “Saturday”, got great reviews all over the British press. And this is because this novel essentially comes out of the dominant culture of the establishment. As far as there is opposition and dissidence in this world, all our writings reflect the very opposite. My fiction, I think, is very combative. I have two different projects. The Fall of Communism Trilogy, in which two novels have appeared, “Redemption” and “Fear of Mirrors”. And there is the Islam Quintet, in which four novels have appeared. And many people who have read these novels see them as something that challenges the dominant culture. You cannot cut yourself completely off unless you are someone that can write a whole novel about something very trivial, which might be brilliant – in the eighties and nineties people wrote books about feeding the children a bottle of milk, – but I am not interested in that. And this trend, stronger in British culture than in the United States, of erecting a Chinese wall between culture and politics, is something I am opposed to. And it is interesting that at the same time critics were celebrating writers in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union who did the exact opposite. When Solzhenitsyn wrote “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “The First Circle,” these books were celebrated because he was challenging the dominant system. But if you did that here somehow it was considered not proper.

QM: In that respect, in “Clash of Fundamentalisms” you extensively use poetry from Nizra Qabbani and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Faiz was a founding member of the Progressive Writers Association. Having studied that period, I was wondering…has that influenced your work and do you think that the artist must again reconstitute beauty and change aesthetic criteria to oppose contemporary models of imperial rule?

TA: Well…I do not know whether it has influenced my work but it has certainly influenced me as a person. When I was growing up in Lahore in the fifties, the Progressive Writers Association used to meet in our garage. So, these were people that came in our household all the times. Poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and many short-story writers and great literary critics like Sajjad Zahir. These were very close friends of my parents. Part of my family life was totally dominated by bohemians, progressive writers and intellectuals. Clearly that had a very big impact on me and as a kid I was very attracted to it as it was much more interesting than the other part of our family life, which was more feudal in tone and it involved meeting people of the establishment – it was boring and dull.

QM: It was also very formalized, I suppose.

TA: Yes, that’s right. Thus in much of my non-fiction you will find references to poetry and literature and short stories. And the reason is self-explanatory because poetry plays a very big part in the political life of a country like Pakistan and likewise in the Arab world, especially in periods of military dictatorship. So, it is something we cannot forget, and people in the West find this strange. But even here it has played a part in the sixties and seventies. You used to have big poetry sessions – Ginsberg in the United States played a very big part in the movement against the Vietnam War. Today, the New York poet Eliot Weinberger wrote that long essay in the London Review of Books, “What I Heard About Iraq”[vi], which is now being translated all over the world. So, there are elements of this building up over here but it is much stronger in our part of the world.

QM: Perhaps you could help me fill this gap…what happened to the Progressive Writers Association after Partition?

TA: Well, the Progressive Writers Association basically died after the government banned the Pakistani Communist Party in 1951 or 1952. Once the Communist Party was banned and many of its intellectuals arrested, with some going underground, the Association collapsed because it was impossible for them to keep going as many of them were members of the party. So they dispersed and now it is just historical memory. But some of them are still around. Hamid Aktar, the great figure in the movement still writes in the Pakistani press and is very highly respected. I met him in Pakistan lately as he had just completed a full-page review of the Urdu edition of “Clash of Fundamentalisms”.


QM: Moving on to your book that has been re-issued many times, “The Nehrus and the Gandhis”, the Communist Party in India did quite well in the last elections and is now in a coalition with the Congress Party. How do you see these dynamic working as India moves towards a neo-liberal economy?

TA: Well, this is a good question. I hope that the Communist Party in India will resist this dynamic. It is an open question whether they will or not. After all, many of the former Communists in Eastern Europe are today’s Capitalists. The Iraqi Communist Part collaborates with the Unites States. So it is almost as if the Communist movement globally felt the need to attach itself to another great power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is the way they were trained and thus they attached themselves to the United States. The Indian Party has not done that – they criticized the Iraq war and they resist what the Indian government is doing in caving in to American pressure on the issue of Iran and other questions. In this sense, they did not join the government. They stated that they would support the Congress Party in Parliament but they refused to form part in the government, which I think that, on balance, it was probably a sensible decision.

QM: And how do you see the evolution of the Congress Party from Nehru onwards?

TA: Well, you can say that the evolution of the Congress Party from Nehru to Manmohan Singhis not too different from the evolution of the Labour Party from Clement Attlee to Tony Blair. It is the same global change that affects all these parties. The Congress Party was essentially a Social Democratic Party. Nehru was very influenced by Stafford Cripps, Harold Laskey, NyeBevan and by all the intellectuals of the left who were dominant in the Labour Party in the forties and fifties. He modelled the Congress Party somewhat on them and the policies were not that different either, except that Nehru refused to be part of the pro-United States bloc or the other one and went for neutralism, which the Labour Party here did not have the guts to do. So Nehru took social democracy further, in that sense. But what has happened to the Congress Party is what has happened to all these parties globally, all of which have essentially become carriers of the neo-liberal virus. 

QM: You have mentioned resistance before and you have mentioned Latin America. What is it that you see in Latin America as an alternative?

TA: Well, I think that the Bolivarian experiment in Venezuela is the most exciting development in world politics. The Bolivarian process shows that it is possible to resist neo-liberalism and the fact that Venezuela is the richest oil producer in South America gives it the capacity to do so provided it has the government and the political leaders who want to go down that route. So, it is not just the oil that does it – you have to have leaders of vision.  Hugo Chávez is one of these and he has constructed a movement of the poor in Venezuela. You have massive state expenditure on health, on education and land reform – things that you were told were no longer possible. He is showing that they are possible and so the process has been deepened. And because it has been done in a very open and democratic fashion he has been elected three or four times. And all the attempts by the United States to overthrow and to defeat him have failed. Every time they try, he becomes more popular and today Venezuela has become a model for many people in every other Latin American country who want to move in the same direction.  We will see what happens in the Bolivian elections in December. If Eva Morales wins, you could see Bolivia actually becoming part of a Bolivarian federation. The aim of Chávez is to create a Bolivarian federation in Latin America that would better challenge the American empire.

QM: And as my final question I would like to concentrate on Iraq. What do you see as the future of Iraq under the present circumstances? It looks quite dire to me.

TA: Yeah. I think that the occupation of Iraq and the war imposed on Iraq by the West has created a situation whereby the country has been basically divided in three parts. The pro-Iranian factions are dominant in the south, at the moment. The resistance simply comes from middle-Iraq and the Kurds in the north have been collaborating quite happily with the United States for the last twelve years. My fear is that these divisions might be institutionalized if the occupation continues and that the Kurdish area will become a de facto Israeli-American Protectorate, while the Sunni badlands will carry on being centres of resistance and the south will be very much dominated by Iran. It is ironic. I think that, if pushed, the United States might well decide to keep on backing the Kurdish areas and let Iran try to take the rest, but that, from the point of view of the United States, would be a total disaster. It would make the Iranian regime the strongest player in the country and if you were to have a joint-security pact between Iran and the bulk of Iraq and a joint-strategy on oil it would make them very strong, indeed. This is the outcome of what the United States has done – but it is not fixed as yet. If they were to withdraw their troops rapidly from the region it would be a defeat for them, so they will try to resist it. But if they were to do that, it is possible that there would be a big split within Shiite Iraq because I do not think that Muqtada al-Sadr will go with the Iranian factions as these are not popular, even within the Shiite population. But the very fact that we are forced to talk about Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds indicates that what has happened is the classic pattern of empires wherever they go – divide, divide, divide, divide…   

JM: This leads to my final question, which is about the situation in Israel and Palestine, and in particular deals with strategies of cooperation, as opposed to division, between Israelis and Palestinians. I have recently seen Eran Torbiner’s documentary Matzpen, a tribute to the great revolutionary, anti-war phenomena that inflamed Israel from 1962. In it you say that you are very much indebted to Moshe Machover and Aqiva Orr, two important figures in the movement, as they had clearly set out the Arab-Israeli situation as no one had done for you before. Now, as Israel has pulled out of Gaza after thirty-eight years of occupation, do you consider the model set out by Matzpen – revolutionary cooperation – to be still applicable? 

TA: Well, I do not think that a revolutionary collaboration is possible because the revolutionary nuclei do not exist anymore. But now I am a firm believer in the single-state solution. I think that this is extremely important. In this sense, the arguments expressed by Virginia Tilleyin her very important book, “The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock”, are unanswerable. I believe that the only decent future for Palestine is as Palestine-stroke-Israel, where you have a de-Zionized state and equal rights for all the population – Jews, Muslims, Christians. I believe in the need to break and cut loose from the Zionist monstrosity that is growing up over there. I think that this would be the only solution. It might not happen in my life-time but it will have to eventually. Probably, in the best of scenarios, by the end of the century we will have moved close to it. And the Palestinian Authority, which is totally dependent on the Israelis for its existence, should come out in public and say, ‘we do not want this little Bantustan that you are giving us and we would rather be part of one large entity with the same rights as everyone else’. They should then dissolve the Palestinian Authority and argue that they are all part of Israel. And if Hamasmilitants were intelligent, they would do the same and that would completely throw the ball on the Zionist camp giving them responsibility for those areas.

JM: I have a sense that you suggest that there is little revolutionary hope at the present moment?

TA: Yes. But there is hope of moving forward again as we see in Latin America.  This is a laboratory that should be carefully observed. Elsewhere, one has to be very hard-headed.  I do not go in for Negri’s pro-globalization nonsense, which leads him to support the European constitution.  People like him have become part of the problem… 

From: Naked Punch 06, Jan 2006

Illustration: Eunkyung Kang

[i] See the Declaration of the Administrative Council of Attac France –

[ii] Henry Alleg, “La Question”, 1958.

[iii] Mark LeVine, “Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axys of Evil”, 2005.

[iv] London presentation of “Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror”, London Review Bookshop, 09/11/05.

[v] See The Guardian webpage for this particular review –,6121,1597905,00.html

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