Since 9/11/01 I’ve travelled to every continent. I now know which airports have showers, which airlines have more leg room in cattle class and on which airlines the food served is not compatible with life in the medium-term (one or two), which US airports do random checks, where you can find the best coffee and which hotels are to be avoided. In fact I could write an airport and airline guide which would not be popular with most airports or airlines.
In Boston earlier this year I lost all my belongings (including my old friend, a Tag Heur swimming watch I had for many years and which had been dipped in every ocean, many lakes and swimming pools) because the Radisson checked me out so that on my return from Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington (try and find that on your map of the USA), I was without a room and my belongings. When I tried to enter my room the man inside screamed and became abusive. Perhaps he thought I was a rapist-terrorist-Muslim all in one. The hotel was apologetic, gave me another room but had no explanation for my lost Tag Heur or my shaving brush. I was on a book tour for ‘Clash of Fundamentalisms‘ and had to move on, but those sons-of-bitches never compensated me. The New York offices of Verso (my publishers) wrote many letters, but no response. And I’ve never been able to find a watch like the old one. So now in swimming pools I have to rely on the clock on the wall and in the sea on the clock in my head. Its not satisfactory and I dream of evil things happening to the Radisson in Boston, Massachusetts. The curse of Ali is on them. And if I can persuade my old friend Alexander Cockburn and his colleague Jeffrey St.Clair who produce the excellent magazine ‘Counterpunch,’ to add their curses to mine, then Radisson will suffer, at least in Boston. I want my watch back.
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Now to food. A quarter of a century ago the food in the Anglo-Saxon world was not very good. In fact let me be more precise. It was like eating shit. But all that has changed. When I visited Australia for the Sydney Literature Festival this year after an absence of 20 years the city had really changed. Cosmopolitan in appearance and cuisine. An excellent Arab restaurant overlooked Sydney Harbour. I had to eat there twice because two different factions of Arab friend insisted on meeting there. The waiter smiled when I returned for dinner after having had lunch, but must have seen the pleading look in my eyes and didn’t betray me to the hosts of that evening. And Britain, too, has changed. When I first arrived in October 1963 to study at Oxford, the intellectual atmosphere was stimulating, but the food was disgusting. There was only one Indian restaurant, imaginatively called ‘The Taj Mahal’. I ordered a meal. Inedible. Being young and arrogant I sent for the Manager and asked him in Urdu: ‘Why do you serve this shit?’ He was livid. Took me to his office and said: ‘Look The English love it. I’m making money and I don’t want you to come here again.’ Then he relented. ‘Have you just arrived here?’ I nodded. He gave me the name of a Punjabi woman in North Oxford who cooked for South Asian students every Sunday and we could select the menu. I rang her. And she was good, but it was an unsatisfactory arrangement I had to teach myself to cook. Now the culinary landscape of Britain has been transformed completely. China and South Asia compete for restaurant space, but English chefs have learnt to cook as they once did in the 16th century.
Last weekend I was at the Evangelische Akademie in Bad Segersburg, an hour’s drive from Hamburg. The occasion was a conference on ‘The War against Terror’ and Israel-Palestine. In itself it was unremarkable except that the opposition I encountered came from the official Greens, who have become fervent interventionists. I have a feeling that the Green Foreign Minister Joscha Fischer, who is trying to smooth the ruffled feathers of Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld (what an ugly image) will probably agree to the war on Iraq. In other words the Greens will put right-wing pressure on Schroeder to retreat from the strong antiwar position that won him the election. 70percent of Germans remain opposed to the war and most of them will not be convinced but the green warmongers will try. Of that I’m sure. In my opening remarks I had referred to the ideology Zionist -Protestant fundamentalist alliance that dominated the ruling clique in Washington. I referred to the early settlers as Protestant fundamentalists fleeing repression in Europe, but inflicting it on the ‘heathens’ in North America. Late an ‘evangelischer freund’ came up to me: ‘Martin Luther, too, was opposed to Protestant fundamentalism.’ Given the old boy’s notorious anti-semitism, I gently challenged this assessment. ‘Oh no, you misunderstand. It was Luther who fought against the Anabaptists who fled to the New World.’ Now all is clear.
Often at meetings or in radio and TV interviews when I point out that the only power in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons is Israel, a Zionist apologist shouts; ‘But they’re a democracy.’ Leaving aside the ethnic character of Israeli democracy, I reply that the only country to have used nuclear weapons is also a democracy. This usually ends the argument. Now we have Colonel Putin in Moscow using chemical weapons to end a hostage siege. He, too, is a great democrat. Meanwhile plans to invade Iraq proceed apace.
TARIQ ALI is an editor of New Left Review and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. This article is extracted from his new book The Clash Of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads And Modernity, published by Verso.