Tariq Ali has had a long and varied career as a political activist, editor of New Left magazine, documentary filmmaker, fiction writer, journalist and Mick Jagger’s muse for the Rolling Stones’ song “Street Fighting Man” back in 1968. And while he might not “shout and scream,” “kill the king” or “rail at all the servants,” he did sit down with the Tribune to discuss the finer points of his work.
As a vocal critic of U.S. policy in general, do you think that the United States too often compromises with authoritarian regimes at the expense of supporting democratic movements?
The United States basically doesn’t think like that. It thinks in terms of who serves its interests the best. If it’s a democratic regime, they’ll work with that; if it’s a military regime, they’ll work with that; if it’s a monarchy isolated from its people, they’ll work with that. There are all sorts of regimes they’ll work with. They have one determinant: Is this helpful to us or not? I believe in increasing and enhancing democracy and democratic accountability on every level, but that is not the way of the world at the moment.
In your book The Clash of Fundamentalisms, you framed post-9/11 global terrorism as a clash between two different fundamentalist ideologies: the Islamist jihadists and a radical imperialistic American foreign policy. Can you elaborate on these ideas?
U.S. foreign policy has essentially helped to produce the people that it is now fighting. The crucible that formed most jihadist leaders was the U.S.-backed jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s difficult to understand the anger of the jihadists with the United States unless you know that part of the anger is a result of being dumped by the United States. They used to be armed and funded by the United States, and when that stopped happening after the collapse of communism, a lot of the jihadist moved to other directions and decided they were going to take on the United States.
Can you expand on what you call “fundamentalism” in U.S. foreign policy?
What I’m talking about is the concept of imperial fundamentalism. Empires act in their own interests and like to project these interests as the interests of Western civilization. That gives their actions a fundamentalism-that because they’re doing it, it’s got to be right. That certainty, which is the hallmark of most imperial fundamentalism, which you see mostly clearly in [American Vice-President Dick] Cheney and [former American Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld is something that is very similar to the divine inspiration that religious fundamentalists claim.
You had a quote from The Clash of Fundamentalisms that was rather controversial which stated, “The subjects of the Empire had struck back,” in reference to 9/11. Are you suggesting that U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War period was responsible for the events of 9/11 and late 90s terrorism?
It’s hardly a controversial view. A very prominent U.S. historian, formerly a consultant to the U.S. intelligence agency, wrote a book called Blowback, which was published in 2001, in the middle of the year, in which he said sooner or later there was going to be a terrorist attack on the United States because of what they were up to. The book was completely ignored until 9/11, so what I’m saying is not that controversial.
Some have claimed that U.S. foreign policy is driven by liberal ideology, while others emphasized resources. Which paradigm do you think is a better explanation for U.S. policy?
The U.S. wanted to occupy Iraq and change the regime in order to assert its global hegemony. It’s not that they needed [oil], but they wanted to establish some control on it, vis-Ã -vis the Chinese and some of the eastern players. I don’t believe in any of this liberal nonsense about invading a country and making it into a democratic model. Why hadn’t they done that with Saudi Arabia and Egypt-countries that have been their allies for a long, long time?
One of your books is subtitled “The recolonization of Iraq.” Can you explain this recolonization dynamic that you see in the current war in Iraq?
If you decide to occupy a country, change its government and put your own regime in power, that is essentially a process of colonization. Why I said “recolonization” is because Iraq was created as a British colony under a U.N. mandate, and I was explaining in the book that the Iraqis have a historical memory. They’d resisted the British and fought them off, and they would do the same to the United States, which is exactly what happened at a time when your so-called ‘liberal interventionists’ were insisting [the Americans] would be welcomed with sweets and flowers. That is why I used the recolonization formula-if you try to recolonize a country, you create a resistance, and that’s exactly what’s happening in Iraq.