Tariq Ali on the Arab Revolutions

November 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over at Not George Sabra, Malik Little criticises Tariq Ali’s orientalist take on the Arab revolutions.

“What is a revolution?” asks Marxist Tariq Ali in a recent article. He answers, “a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change.”

Ali never gets around to defining what exactly constitutes “fundamental change,” but he knows for sure that whatever “fundamental change” is, there has been none of it in the Arab world since 2011.

Does the end of the Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia and the destruction of its secret police count as “fundamental change? For Ali, no. After decades of a life of comfort and privilege in West, it seems Ali has forgotten what it is like to live under the thumb of a police state and murderous military rule. He has forgotten what a “fundamental change it is to be ruled by elected institutions and politicians rather than tyrants and generalissimos.

Since Ben Ali was ousted, there have been two general strikes called by the main union federation.

For Ali, this is no big deal. How do we know? He never mentions Tunisia or its people even once in his half-assed self-serving overview of the Arab Spring’s non-revolutionaryness, a double oversight since Tunisia is why the Arab Spring happened in the first place.

Instead, Ali goes on to ‘analyze’ events in Egypt where the counter-revolution has triumphed. He uses this triumph to deny that a revolution ever happened. Woe to V.I. Lenin who continued to write about the Russian revolution of 1905 even after it was smashed by the Tsar and Karl Marx who continually referred to the lessons he learned in the abortive German revolution of 1848-1849 for failing to match the insightful wisdom of Tariq Ali, a man who knows a revolution is only a revolution when it succeeds!

The next stop on Ali’s “nothing to see here” tour is Libya:

“In Libya, the old state was destroyed by NATO after a six-month bombing spree and armed tribal gangs of one sort or another still roam the country, demanding their share of the loot. Hardly a revolution according to any criteria.”

No mention of course of the General National Congress election of 2012 that went off without a hitch to the immense jubilation of the long-suffering Libyan people. Mentioning inconvenient facts like this might make Westerners sympathetic to the their difficult struggle to build institutions out of the ashes of 42 years of one-man rule by a deranged tyrant. No discussion of what class rules Libya today is necessary. Better to talk up “armed tribal gangs” in true Orientalist fashion. Who better than a brown man to play on the fears peddled by the white man to convince Westerners that there’s no revolution in Libya for them to solidarize with? Ali knows that if there’s anything Westerners love to hate, it’s Muslims.

In tribes.

With guns.

Throwing up gang signs.

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Noam Chomsky & Tariq Ali on the Julian Assange Show

June 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Not a particularly enlightening conversation, but interesting nevertheless for the people involved. Syria, with over 10,000 people dead, does not feature at all in this conversation supposedly about activism in the Middle East. But it’s RT, so I suppose that’s to be expected.

A surprise Arab drive for freedom, the West’s structural crisis and new hope coming from Latin America. That’s the modern world in the eyes of Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, two prominent thinkers and this week’s guests on Julian Assange’s show on RT.

One on One – Tariq Ali

June 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Riz Khan interviews our good friend Tariq Ali.

Beyond bin Laden

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tariq Ali, Fazwaz Gerges and Vali Nasr discuss Usama bin Laden’s assassination on Al Jazeera’s Empire with Marwan Bishara.

Osama bin Laden is dead. The world’s most wanted man has finally been killed after a hunt that lasted more than a decade, triggered global wars, and cost the lives of tens of thousands of people. What does it mean for US wars in the Muslim world? And will the US actions unleash a new wave of attacks around the world?

Muammar Gaddafi’s planned resignation speech

February 27, 2011 § 4 Comments

‘Muammar Gaddafi’s planned resignation speech,’ as seen by Tariq Ali.

“It’s raining outside which is why I cannot address you. Sorry. It seems to be raining inside my tent as well. Can this be rain? No. It’s dogs polluting the uniforms of my bodyguards. No respect for women. Benghazi. I hate that city. Once I accidentally addressed my friend Berlusconi as Benghazi. Drunkards, pimps and religious extremists. I will bomb them again before I leave. I wish we had bought some drones so I could press button myself. My relations with the people are informal, based on friendship and fear. Why have they become so noisy and combative? I have many children. The British Foreign Office adopted one of them, my dear Saif, and wanted to put him on the throne, but that would have no effect on the intellectual landscape of the Jamahiriya.

I just received a tweet from Venezuela: ‘Have you read The Autumn of the Patriarch by G.G. Marquez?’ Why should I read this shit? Has G.G. Marquez read my science-fiction short stories ‘Escape from Hell’ that are even better than my little Green Book which is very nutty? They are set in an imaginary country with an imaginary ruler who kills his people and they rise and get rid of him. It’s very funny story. It is popular in Arab lands. I met them, these jokers and stray dogs of Europe. Blair, Berlusconi, they are my friends, but now they ask me to go. Why? Did they not go? It’s always raining in London. And that Roman pimp is always raining on his people. I will go when my time comes. When Allah summons me to discuss the political conjuncture. I like pizzas. Once there was a good pizza place in Tripoli. Much better pizzas than in Benghazi, but now all these shops are burning. Is it still raining? No? OK. Then I will go. Bury me in a colored shroud, not white. Bill Clinton. His penis should have been chopped off and fed to swine for letting Monica play with him when he was talking to heads of state. Men will be men, but that still upsets me. I never did that. Nor did Blair or Berlusconi.

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This is an Arab 1848

February 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

by Tariq Ali

revolutionary murals in Cairo

Revolutionary murals on the walls of newly established toilet facilities for protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

The refusal of the people to kiss or ignore the rod that has chastised them for so many decades has opened a new chapter in the history of the Arab nation. The absurd, if much vaunted, neocon notion that Arabs or Muslims were hostile to democracy has disappeared like parchment in fire.

Those who promoted such ideas appear to the most unhappy: Israel and its lobbyists in Euro-America; the arms industry, hurriedly trying to sell as much while it can (the British prime minister acting as a merchant of death at the Abu Dhabi arms fair); and the beleaguered rulers of Saudi Arabia, wondering whether the disease will spread to their tyrannical kingdom. Until now they have provided refuge to many a despot, but when the time comes where will the royal family seek refuge? They must be aware that their patrons will dump them without ceremony and claim they always favoured democracy.

If there is a comparison to be made with Europe it is 1848, when the revolutionary upheavals left only Britain and Spain untouched – even though Queen Victoria, thinking of the Chartists, feared otherwise. Writing to her besieged nephew on the Belgian throne, she expressing sympathy but wondered whether “we will all be slain in our beds”. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown or bejewelled headgear, and has billions stored in foreign banks.

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“Egypt is free” and “We won!”

February 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

by Tariq Ali

Egyptian anti government protesters shout slogans as they continue their presence in Tahrir square

A joyous night in Cairo. What bliss to be alive, to be an Egyptian and an Arab. In Tahrir Square they’re chanting, “Egypt is free” and “We won!”

The removal of Mubarak alone (and getting the bulk of his $40bn loot back for the national treasury), without any other reforms, would itself be experienced in the region and in Egypt as a huge political triumph. It will set new forces into motion. A nation that has witnessed miracles of mass mobilisations and a huge rise in popular political consciousness will not be easy to crush, as Tunisia demonstrates.

Arab history, despite appearances, is not static. Soon after the Israeli victory of 1967 that marked the defeat of secular Arab nationalism, one of the great Arab poets, Nizar Qabbani wrote:

Arab children,
Corn ears of the future,
You will break our chains.
Kill the opium in our heads,
Kill the illusions.
Arab children,
Don’t read about our suffocated generation,
We are a hopeless case,
As worthless as a water-melon rind.
Don’t read about us,
Don’t ape us,
Don’t accept us,
Don’t accept our ideas,
We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.
Arab children,
Spring rain,
Corn ears of the future,
You are the generation that will overcome defeat.

How happy he would have been to seen his prophecy being fulfilled.

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CrossTalk on Egypt: Power to People?

February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Our dear friend Tariq Ali on RT’s Cross Talk.

Freedom lies behind a door closed shut, to be knocked down with a bleeding Arab fist …

February 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

by Tariq Ali

“Freedom lies behind a door closed shut,” the great Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqi wrote in the last century. “It can only be knocked down with a bleeding fist.” More than that is bleeding in the Arab world at the moment.

The uprisings we are witnessing in Egypt have been a rude awakening for all those who imagined that the despots of the Arab world could be kept in place provided they continued to serve the needs of the West and their harsh methods weren’t aired on CNN and BBC World. But while Western establishments lull themselves to sleep with fairy tales, ordinary citizens, who are defeated and demoralized, mull their revenge.

The French government seriously considered sending its paratroopers to save former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pleading with officials in Washington to delay Hosni Mubarak’s departure from Egypt so that Israel has time to prepare for the likely outcome. Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair is even describing the Egyptian dictator as a “force for good.”

The almost 200 pro-democracy citizens who have been killed don’t bother him too much. That’s small beer compared with the tens of thousands dead in Iraq. And a desperate Palestine Liberation Organization is backing Mubarak and repressing solidarity demonstrations in Ramallah on the West Bank.

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An Arab 1848: Despots Totter and Fall

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Tariq Ali

He can’t stay any longer because the military has declared that they will not shoot their own people. This excludes a Tiananmen Square option. Were the Generals (who have so far sustained this regime) to go back on their word it would divide the army, opening up a vista of civil war. Nobody wants that at the moment, not even the Israelis who would like their American friends to keep their point man in Cairo for as long as possible. But this, too, is impossible.

So, will Mubarak go this weekend or the next? Washington wants an ‘orderly transition’, but the hands of Suleiman the Spook (or Sheikh Al-Torture as some of his victims refer to him), the Vice-President they have forced Mubarak to accept, are also stained with blood. To replace one corrupt torturer with another is no longer acceptable. The Egyptian masses want a total regime change, not a Pakistan-style operation where a civilian crook replaces a uniformed dictator and nothing changes.

The Tunis infection has spread much more rapidly than anyone imagined. After a long sleep induced by defeats—military, political moral—the Arab nation is reawakening. Tunis impacted immediately on neighboring Algeria and the mood then crossed over to Jordan and reached Cairo a week later. What we are witnessing are a wave of national-democratic uprisings, reminiscent more of the 1848 upheavals —  against Tsar and Emperor and those who collaborated with them — that swept Europe and were the harbingers of subsequent turbulence. This is the Arab 1848. The Tsar-Emperor today is the President in the White House. That is what differentiates these proto-revolutions from the 1989 business: That and the fact that with few exceptions, the masses did not mobilize themselves to the same degree. The Eastern Europeans lay down before the West, seeing in it a happy future and singing ‘Take Us, Take Us. We’re Yours Now.’

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