Tariq Ali on the Arab Revolutions

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.

By substituting BBC-style rhetoric for anything resembling serious Marxist analysis, Ali has clearly ‘gone native.’


Tariq Ali in 1968 — when he was a Marxist.

The final stop of Ali’s “nothing to see here” tour of the Arab Spring is Syria. To jam Syria’s square revolutionary pegs into round non-revolutionary holes, he tells us the following:

“The notion that the SNC is the carrier of a Syrian revolution is as risible as the idea that the Brotherhood was doing the same in Egypt. … The idea that Saudi, Qatar, Turkey backed by  NATO are going to create a revolutionary democratic or even a democrat[ic] set-up is challenged by  what is happening elsewhere in the Arab world.”

Regardless of whether the SNC Ali speaks of is the Syrian National Coalition or the Syrian National Council, his error is the same: his evaluation of the struggle in Syria focuses exclusively on forces outside the country. No wonder he concludes that there is no revolution in Syria — he’s looking at Saudi Arabia! Or Geneva!

Syrians living in al-Raqqa who are now forced to confront the tyrannical domination of Al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS can rest assured: there has been no “fundamental change,” no “transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another” with the departure of Bashar al-Assad’s forces according to Tariq Ali. Things in al-Raqqa in 2013 are just the same as they were in 2010.

For Ali, the civilian activists, brigade members, and community leaders who are struggling against airstrikes (and each other) to create their own makeshift institutions of governance in Aleppo simply do not exist. If they did exist, that would up-end his patently false “fundamental change,” no “transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another” narrative of events in Syria.

Clearly, power has changed hands in the liberated (or ‘liberated’ if you prefer) areas of Syria.

Whether or not this is a good thing, a revolution or perhaps even a counter-revolution, should be carefully examined and thoroughly debated, but to claim that there has been no ““fundamental change,” no “transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another” is positively risible, to use Ali’s word of choice.

Ali ends his “nothing to see here” tour by lapsing into a Mother Agnes-like nonsense about the regime’s sarin gas attack on Ghouta on August 21, 2013, saying “we do not know” if “the regime used gas or other chemical weapons.” He reiterated his know-nothing stance again on September 4.

Saying “we do not know” if “the regime used gas or other chemical weapons” makes Tariq Ali not merely a renegade but a clown, an ass, a world-class buffoon, and an enemy ofthe courageous citizens of Syria who started the uprising he lauds and pretends to support. Not one of those citizens had any doubt over whose sarin was unleashed on the hapless women and children of Ghouta that morning.

If Ali wants to continue peddling fictions about Arabs, he should stick to writing his novels. Leave politics to the revolutionaries.

More on Tariq Ali’s nonsense here.

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