Milan, April – Editor of the New Left Review, well-known essayist, author of a series of suggestive historic novels about Islam, Tariq Ali visited recently Italy to participate at the presentation of the Italian translation of his “Shadows of the Pomegranate” . On the sidelines of that event, organized by the publisher Baldini Castoldi Dalai, Arabmonitor met him for an interview.
Can the anti-Muslim hate campaign spreading through the entire Western world and seemingly connected to the project for a so-called New Middle East be confronted more aggressively, not only defensively, as it is now ? Do you see the role of the hate campaign in the West in the context of a US-Western foreign policy project ?
“I don’t think there can be any doubt that there is a big campaign against Islam and the Muslim population in Europe and the form this takes is being described as islamophobia. It is directed against a population that has been living in Europe for many, many years. In the case of Great Britain, for almost 50 years, in the case of France almost as long as that. No one ever used this islamophobic language before and I believe, it is very important to stress that the use of this language and the fact that this is now a well orchestrated campaign form the top to the bottom, is, I think, a decisive move to portray the Islamic world and Islamic countries as the new enemy, something that is evil, as something that has to be combated. So you see a whole number of things that are done. You have stupid, ignorant articles published in the press, books getting published, that are written by people who tell lies. Take, for instance, this woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali from Amsterdam, now in the United States. She has written a book filled with claims that are not factually correct. So now the whole world thinks Islam is in favour of clitorectomy, because this woman has written it, not saying that it’s a tribal custom, which Christian and other non-Muslim people within the same tribe practice in the same way. So we have to ask: why is such a bad book being published? What leads a publisher to publish a book that is bad from the start? You have other cases like that, publications that under normal criteria no serious publisher would have accepted. So this campaign has to be confronted, and I think it has to be countered aggressively in terms of argument and language. One should not be defensive about it at all. I mean, I denounce these people all the time. It’s not the case that there are no problems in the Islamic world. We know that some of them are real problems, but they’re not what these people say they are. And the most significant feature of the Arab World is the continuing occupation of that world by the West. You have Iraq occupied, you have Iran under pressure, Saudi Arabia and Egypt whose governments are completely biased and plied to the United States. You have the largest military presence of the United States in the Gulf area. You have a continued occupation of Palestine by the Israelis. So this world, this situation in which we find the Arab World, this is for me the most important problem”.
Nowadays we are witnessing an accelerated efforts of the USA and its Western allies to build up a pro-Western front in all the countries you named, from the Gulf to Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, around Syria. The situation that has been created in Iraq prompts the question whether some kind of orderly regime, even a colonial one, can ever come out of this policy ?
“Not at all. I think the occupation of Iraq has been a total disaster, first of all, for the people of Iraq, second, for Iraq as a unified state. I think that Iraq is now dead. It has been killed by the United States, Great Britain and all those who backed them, and it’s being killed now by those who back this occupation. So Iraq has been destroyed against the wishes of the people, who don’t want it to be destroyed. All the opinion polls show that the people in Iraq want it to remain as one country. The United States however, whether they did it knowingly, or more probably as a result of total ignorance, have destroyed Iraq. And the country will be divided into three segments: the largest segment will be with Iran, the middle segment with Saudi Arabia and the Kurdish segment will become an Israeli-American protectorate. That is what I think, is going to happen. And the USA will keep military bases in the northern area. That is their plan. But there are many imponderables. The Turkish government does not like what is happening in Iraq. For its own reasons, they are threatening to intervene. So this is creating an instability of the whole region, which is shocking. There are reports done by medical people and medical institutions confirming that something close to one million Iraqis have been killed. One million Iraqis have died. And the Western citizens see this, read about it and are saying nothing to their governments”.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, travelled to the Middle East on the heels of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and all three of them said exactly the same things, voicing out the standard requests regarding the tribunal for Rafiq Hariris murderers and the recognition of Israel by Hamas. We actually heard one language, one voice, from three different people. Can this sort of recital legitimise suspects that foreign policy in the West has, in effect, been hijacked by the NATO ?
“Well, look, this does not really surprise me. Basically, the United Nations is an institution totally dominated by the United States. Its Secretaries General cannot be voted if not approved by the United States. They’re like waiters to the White House, they’re carrying out orders from the White House, so there’s nothing more to it. The shocking thing is that Russia and China, for opportunistic considerations of their own, did not veto this. They either abstained or voted with the Americans on most of these things. So there’s no opposition at all at the Security Council, which is what dominates the United Nations. So, that doesn’t surprise me. There’s no big difference between Democrats and Republicans on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On Iraq, there is a small difference and we will see, what they will do concretely. As far as Angela Merkel is concerned, she is absolutely pro-American. Gerhard Schroeder (the former German Chancellor) was still a bit independent from Washington, but Angela Merkel is completely dominated by Washington. As for the European Union, it doesn’t have any foreign policy. Regarding the invasion of Iraq, European public opinion was completely hostile to it, the Italians, the Spanish people, everybody was against it. But the European states, desperate to show the USA their loyalty, completely ignored public opinion. All these pathetic new Eastern European states desperately show the USA their loyalty and recognize the new master. They sent him troops. Just think that at the height of the cold war, not a single Western European country sent troops to fight in Vietnam. Not a single country! And this at the height of the cold war ! But to Iraq, they sent their troops. So, I’m not surprised that Europe is such a weak and pathetic institution politically. It is sanctioning an economic common market, that’s all it is, designed to strengthen neo-liberal capitalism all over the globe. Now, you have the Finance Minister of the centre-left Italian government saying ‘we have to push through reforms’, something we’ve heard from Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair for the last 25 years or so. This is the project known as the Washington Consensus and the European Union is bound to the Washington Consensus. They cannot break away from it”.
Can we have hope that what we’re seeing, a US-NATO project to cut up the Middle East and possibly North Africa, will encounter resistance ? There is a chanche that from within the Islamic world, a power fuelled by the strength of Islam will expand to a spiritual empire all over the world, whose spiritual resistance will be capable of bringing this project to a halt ?
“I don’t think so. I don’t think that Islam is capable of producing this. One of the things that have been characteristic of Islam right from the beginning of this religion until now, is its incapacity to unite and show solidarity with each other. From the beginning, factional wars have wrecked Islam, If it had been as united, as Christianity was at the time of the Crusades, many developments in history would have gone different. Look at the Islamic world today. Most of it, I mean their leaders, is with the USA, I don’t believe that Islam is capable of providing a spiritual or inspirational leadership capable of inspiring the whole Islamic world. You will have noticed that when the war began and Iraq was invaded, there were hardly any demonstrations of Muslims, hardly any. That’s very revealing. It’s a sign that the populations in all these countries are either frightened, or despairing, or cynical. There were some demonstrations, but they were much, much smaller, than anything that happened in Europe. So now we see that some of the Islamic groups in Iraq are good at fighting and responding, but they’re not capable of thinking strategically, not even to unite Iraq. The only hope that is coming forth today, is not coming from the Islamic world, but from Latin America. That’s where resistance to the USA is strongest, because it offers an alternative which can be understood by the people”.
If Latin America offers us today a practical, feasible resistance, it is because in Latin America people are taking recourse to the institutions of their existing national states. Couldn’t we see the same development enfolding in the Middle East ?
“Who can defend national sovereignty in the Middle East ? That’s the question. And the answer is that at the moment there are no social forces which one could recognize to be capable of defending national sovereignty”.
In the Middle East we had at least one promising movement, the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, that seemed to be capable of bringing together a popular opposition.
“They might do that, all right, but the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamic equivalent of Christian fundamentalism. That is what they are, they’re the Muslim version of Christian Democrats. They could very well overthrow the dictatorship and they’re trying to open up negotiations with the United States through various channels, to say to them ‘why are you so worried about us? We’ll be as loyal to the United States as the Turkish government is, which is also an Islamic Christian-Democratic state”.
What about the Lebanese Hezbollah ?
“They’re very different. Hezbollah, in fact, the only force capable of defending national sovereignty in Lebanon. The Muslim Brotherhood, in my opinion, is a collaborationist organization. It has collaborated with imperialism in the past and it will be ready to do so again, if only imperialism gives it a chance”.
Do you think Israel is capable of transforming in such a way that it will become the Sate of all its citizens, with equal rights of all its citizens, independently of their religious or ethnic affiliations ?
“This is a difficult question. I think it would take possibly another 50 years. But it could happen by the end of the century. I don’t’ think that Israel, as it exists at the moment, is viable. I think the only viable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a single state in which all Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Druids and whatsoever have the same rights. It’s what we fought for in South Africa, And it’s what will have to be fought for in Israel. And people will jump up and scream: ‘no, we will never live with each other’. But living with each other is what has to be argued for. I think, it’s the only serious alternative. A Palestinian State is not possible. It would be a tiny little Bantustan run by a corrupt leadership, funded by the West and treated like an NGO. That is the PLO. That is the Palestinian Authority. It is not an authority, it is a joke. And the sooner it recognizes that it’s a joke and dissolves itself, the better. That’s what Hamas should do: they should not play this game, they should say ‘we dissolve the Palestinian Authority, it is not an authority, it is an outfit of the Israeli army. We dissolve all these bodies, we are now citizens of whatever entity there is in the region and deal with it. And then just live in their villages and towns, not trying to develop this fake apparatus of government, when that’s a joke, when they have no power at all and are treated like a joke. So all this is done to create a tiny, corrupt Palestinian elite. That’s why Hamas won the elections, because it is opposed to this. If it now capitulates to this, they will be finished”.
Shouldn’t Palestinians give up the fight for a State and concentrate on the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland ?
“Yes, that’s my opinion. I am for a single State-solution. I think the Israelis have made any other alternative impossible. So in my opinion, that is what the Palestinians in Palestine and their movements outside (of Palestine) should do: they should fight for a single State and they should transform the PLO and Hamas into a giant civil rights and liberation movement, on the model of many movements in history. They should say ‘these are the rights we will fight for and we appeal to you not to be violent with us, as we are prepared not to be violent; we are prepared to fight politically for our goals and we’ll see where our struggle takes us’. Anything else will fail. As long as the United States supports the Israelis, these solutions will be difficult. If the US wanted to, they could within five years push a solution through, but they don’t want to, they will not do it. I think, we will have to take the initiative and say: end all this farce of negotiations and this farce of Mahmoud Abbas going to the Israelis to talk like a servant, trying to force Hamas to do the same. It doesn’t serve anybody’s interest. It completely debases the Palestinian cause”.
Do you endorse the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and displaced to their homes and properties ?
“Of course, these rights are there. But these rights will be guaranteed only if there’s a new entity. The Israelis will not accept them”.