[This interview with Tariq Ali was conducted by F?bio Fernandes of M?o ?nica, the Brazilian Magazine.]
Question: After the September 11th attack and its consequences in US and in the Middle East, do you believe the world is facing a state of war right now? Why (or why not)?
Tariq Ali: I think a war is going on in Afghanistan. Every week there are reports of casualties. Almost 2000 Afghan civilians have alreeady been killed, usually by ‘accident’. Who mourns for them? Who builds memorials in their honour? Who cares about their families?
Simultaneously there is Sharon’s war against the Palestinian nation, backed by the Bush administration. The American media is more biased than the Israeli press. It treats Israel as the victim. It ignores the fact that Israel provoked the suicie attacks by a systematic policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders. ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ is designed to crush the Palestinian resistance and destroy all hopes of a sovereign and independent Palestinian republic.. Leaving aside the moral abomination that this is and the double standards of the West, let’s ask ourselves whether such actions will lead to a decrease or increase in acts of terrorism? Anyone capable of thinking independently knows the answer to this one.
Question: Along with Noam Chomsky, you are one of the English-language writers that criticizes most fiercely the U.S. government policies, particularly on the subject of security. In your opinion, how does the opposition (by which we mean the Left, not especially in the US but in the First World) view the Bush Administration?
Tariq Ali: I think that the Left, using the word in its broadest sense, is divided. Many intellectuals were panicked into supporting the ‘war on terrorism’. Though a strong minority exists in the United States that opposes the new imperialism. In Europe there is a majority in Germany, Britain and Italy that is opposed to any new war on Iraq and many are now beginning to see that the US utilised 9/11 to re-map the world. So there is an opposition in the First World. In Britain at the moment 170 Members of Parliament (mainly Labour) have signed a public declaration against a war on Iraq.
Of course many of those who shifted allegiances to back Bush’s war in Afghanistan — the belligeratii — are also in favour of a war against Iraq. Their favourite guru is the former Trotskyist Kanaan Makiya — the Anglo-Iraqi writer touted by sycophants as the ‘Alexander Solzhenitsyn of Iraq’ — wants his chums in the US State Department to take over Iraq and rule it.
Question: A few months ago, you went to the Bienal do Livro de Sao Paulo, to talk about the Brazilian edition of your latest book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms. Are you acquainted with how people in Latin American countries is reacting to this not-so-new World Order – especially Brazil, which current government is considered one of the most faithful followers of the neoliberalism?
Tariq Ali: My impression is that most of Latin America is deeply hostile to the New Order. South America has always been treated by the US as a ‘co-prosperity sphere’, ie, shamelessly exploited and under a permanent semi-occupation. So opposition to Washington in this region hardly comes as a surprise. Look at Argentina. A tragic outcome of neo-liberal economics. This country was the laboratary of market fundamentalism. The IMF mullahs followed its every turn. The US Treasury authorised its policies. The result? A total disaster.
This is what the PT in Brazil should be explaining to the people. Cardoso’s policies could lead to a similar disaster in Brazil. I know perfectly well that Lula’s options are restricted, but if he does nothing, the result will be a tragedy. The combination of an economic collapse and mass depoliticisation is the worst possible scenario. So the PT has to implement some radical reforms, especially in relation to health, education and the landless peasants.
Question: In some of the interviews you gave right after September 11th, you said that you didn’t fear the U.S. government, but you feared the fundamentalists. Everyone knows, however, that this current “enemy of the free world” have already worked for the CIA and the Pentagon, and had its religious traits enhanced to attack and destroy. May the fundamentalism be used in both sides of this war, and until which point?
Tariq Ali: I think you must have misread some interview. I have always argued and this is the thesis of my book that the US Empire and its economic-military policies are the mother of all fundamentalisms. They have spawned the groups which they now fight.
Question: What can we expect of the conflicts between Jews and Palestinians in the near future? Are you pessimistic on this subject? That’s why you put in your book that excellent interview with Isaac Deutscher, by the way?
Tariq Ali: I am not optimistic. How can one be when the war-criminal Sharon talks to US Senators about a hundred year war against the Arabs and an urgent need to transplant a million more Jews in Israel. This sonofabitch won’t be around for much longer (even Zionists cannot overcome the laws of biology) but he wants to bequeath a legacy to the coming generations: war, war and more war. But the Palestinians will not give up their struggle for nationhood. Since 1948, all attempts to crush them, to obliterate their memory have failed.
The Oslo Accords created bantustans. The Palestinians rejected them. They will not accept a Palestinian which is an Israeli protectorate. So till the United States forces Israel to accept a two-state solution nothing much will change.
Question: In their book Empire, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt didn’t consider exactly the US as THE Empire itself, but merely a representation of it. Were they right?
Tariq Ali: EMPIRE is a very stimulating account of globalisation, but it is hopelessly wrong on two central issues. The state has not withered away. Strong states still exist—USA, China, Germany, etc—– but the difference with the past is that there is now only one Empire and this is not the nebulos entity imagined by Cultural Studies, but a real, living organism and it has a name; the United States of America..
Question: Assuming they weren’t right on this point: can we live without the American Empire? Will we live without it someday?
Tariq Ali: Whether we will live without it is unlikely, but I hope our children and their children will. All Empires suffer from an invincibility complex, but when the end comes we see that it was unpredictable and it surprises everyone. In the case of the US it will probably be a combbination of internal and external factors, economic and military.