Catalan Independence, Scotland and the Middle East

Laia Gordi: As you have been campaigning for Yes to independence in Scotland, what’s your view –and your guess- on the Catalan self-determination movement and referendum?

Tariq Ali: The Catalonian self-determination movement is largely led by the Catalan bourgeoisie. That’s the unfortunate  truth. They are fighting essentially on the basis of “we are richer than the rest of Spain and why shouldn’t we spend all this money on ourselves?” The Scottish campaign was largely a movement led by the non-rich. The working class strongholds of Glasgow and Dundee voted for independence.   Bankers and strong elements of the Scottish bourgeois supported No, including Edinburgh which has always been a petit bourgeois town. So that’s the basic sociological difference and it’s not unimportant, because the left would have more problems, I think, in Catalonia. The tactical question is always this: “should we fight the Catalan bourgeois now or should we wait after independence?” And, in my opinion, it’s better to begin the fight now. Let’s say “we are for independence, we want our own country, but we don’t want a country which is no different from Spain except that we have a new ruling class that is the equal of the Spanish or  European elites.”  We know that already. We have seen how Jordi Pujol [Catalan Former President] and his family have been making money for the last half century. We don’t want that in Catalonia or, at any rate, I think a majority of Catalans don’t want a minor version of Felipe Gozales , Juan Carlos and the current PP leaders. So since you are going to vote for independence you have to say very early on that you will fight for a different Catalonia, which is possible, and the Catalan Left should have a plan and program ready.

Laia Gordi: Well, there are large left-wing movements and a radical left party in the Catalan Parliament, even if they have a small representation.

Tariq Ali: Yes, I know them. But given what Pujol and his people have done… this should have an impact on people. Even those who support them would be a bit disgusted. So, this is an important time for the left in Catalonia to push. The other problem you have is that the Spanish state is not going to allow you to vote and that is a huge problem. The moral victory if the referendum wins will be important to put pressure on it, but the European elite only like dividing countries when it suits their purposes. My opinion is that a Catalonia that is radical, which is different from what exists today could play a part [in Europe]. And, it’s not a question that you’re breaking apart links with the rest of Spain that would never happen, it would be within a different framework, a con-federal framework if you like, rather than a federal framework, and that could be good for everyone. Maybe the Basques come in and, who knows? Maybe the Andalusian may prefer that as well, leaving this desiccated political elite and bureaucracy in Madrid to die in the sun.

Laia Gordi: So you don’t think Europe will back an independent Catalonia?

Tariq Ali:  Well, if it happens they will have no option. But they will fight to prevent it because the Spanish elite are part of their family.

Laia Gordi: What  did the No victory in Scotland mean for the UK?

Tariq Ali:  Well let’s see how the no vote happened. Scotland was denied independence by ten percent. These were mainly older people who were frighten to it: “what would happen to our pensions, what would happen to our currency.” Many who were thinking within this frame voted no. Also, one weakness in the SNP campaign was that, at the time, looked as if Alex Salmond was campaigning for maximum devolution and not for independence, because they should have had a clear cut economic plan: This is what we will do if we are independent. (…) But the important thing is that in a city like Glasgow, which is the old working class city in Scotland, every single parliamentary constituency voted for independence. So 30% of labour supporters switch and said we want an independent Scotland, because they felt instinctively that 5 million people were in a better position to play a part in changing their country when they had the centre in Edinburgh [rather than in London].
So what will happen after the no vote, we will know better in 2015. If in this next UK general election the independence side succeed in winning a majority to represent Scotland in Westminster, then I think Scotland will become independent, sooner or later. If you’d  seen the way in which the young people, 16 upwards, were on the streets fighting, in a good way, and engaging others in debate (and 97% who were eligible did vote), then  2015 could be another hobnail in the UK coffin.. The debates and discussions I attended and participated in churches, in people’s homes, on the streets in meeting halls, I have not seen anywhere else in Europe for a long time. Greece being the significant exception.

Laia Gordi: What if Cameron delivers in the next year what he has promised to the Scottish, may he then win Scotland forever?

Tariq Ali: No, all they are promising is the right to Scots to have their own tax within ten percent, they can put it up or lower ten percent. That’s not sufficient and I’m not sure that Labour would even give that. Cameron has now floated the idea of Scotland being granted the right to levy 100 percent of its taxes in return for which Scottish Members of the Westminster Parliament are not allowed to vote on taxes in the rest of the country. I’m in favour of that myself. The Scots will accept whatever they are given but that would not end the discussion on independence. It’s been like an uprising, a democratic uprising. The No vote was only ten percent ahead  and the decisive no voters were pensioners. So both politics and biology favour independence.

Middle East

Laia Gordi: Let’s talk about Middle East which is your specialization. If you had to make a simple map with the main actors of the current conflicts in the Middle East, who would you put in the picture?

Tariq Ali: I would put in the picture the United States of America. This is the world’s only imperial power which backed by some of its European vassals states have been weighing down the Middle East since the time of Clinton. We then have the most important country in the region which is Egypt. The largest, where democracy has just been completely wipe out, and we have a military dictatorship in power backed by the USA. In terms of oil, the most important country is Saudi Arabia, and again the USA. Saudi Arabia is a country ruled by a monarchy which believes in bahaism, an extreme border version of Islam, literalism Islam, which is a tiny minority in the Muslim world as at large. It is flanked by this tiny little golf states, which are little more than imperial petrol stations and whose rules spend a lot of money buying weaponry from the USA, France, Britain, etc. so they keep the West happy and can used it when necessary.

And of course, we mustn’t forget a very crucial player which is Israel. Which is backed by the US and the European Union and have impunity, no one questions (sometimes there are minor criticisms: “oh you killed to many people this time”) but by large it is completely allowed to get away with murder. Then, Iraq, which was not a religious state under Saddam Hussein, but the Americans invaded it, put Shia clerics in power, these behaved abominably towards the Sunnis and other minorities and so imperialism did what it knows best: divided and rule. They thought this was the best way to rule Iraq and now you have the development of an opposition which takes the bizarre form of the Islamic State. And they are now going to bomb it. So it’s a total and completed mess. What the West has created is a great disorder and who knows where it would end. We are in the middle of this process and in ten years we will see what the map looks like. And what the people look like because let’s not forget that the central actor use to be the people.

Laia Gordi: Can we say that ISIS is only the result of the failure of the US policy in the Middle East, in Iraq particularly?

Tariq Ali: Completely, there’s no other way of looking at it. What happened in Iraq, the sort of government they set up created a vacuum. I mean, how come the ISIS take over all this cities unless they have some support locally? That’s what happens, that the people who have been oppress by the Americans and their Shia allies say “ok, we don’t like these guys particularly, but at least they are doing something for us.” And I think ISIS would not last in this shape or form, but the latest USA attacks and the USA advisers already functioning on the ground, will enhance the popularity of this people. That is the big tragedy.

Laia Gordi: Many in USA criticized Obama for being “soft,” at least they were doing it until some weeks ago when he decided to start openly fighting the ISIS. On your opinion, what should the US government do to counterbalance ISIS? Should they do anything, anyway?

Tariq Ali: Nothing, the best way to get rid of ISIS will be done by its own people. All outside intervention, 99 percent of the time, fail and make the condition worse. This is especially true in the Middle East but not exclusive. Look at it, a groups is built up, the whole media says is awful, but this ISIS leaders play to that fear. They have reports, like company reports, with their photographs, “this is what we do,” like a CEO report, “this is how many people we killed, we are fighting against the Americans,” etc. They have got money from billionaires in Saudi Arabia, there’s no one who doubts that. They have got western weapons, which they took for the so-called moderated religious groups fighting Assad in Syria backed by the West. They have even got some of these hostages they got, according to some reports, by paying the moderated groups for them, they say “we will know how to use them better than you.” So they created fear and that, of course, plays in to the hands of the West, because they say “look, these are the most evil people in the world”. A few years ago, Saddam Hussein was the most evil guy in the world, they compared him to Hitler. Before that, the Yugoslav Milosevic was the worse and so it carries on. Then the Taliban in Afghanistan were the very worse people, and after a war which is lasted now nearly 15 years (this war have been going on longer than WWI and WWII) they are talking to the Taliban every single day behind the scenes. If you want my opinion, these people are no as organize as the Taliban, nor are they as intelligent, they will probably split, have faction disputes, break up, and something new would emerge in that region, but now with the big attack from the West their popularity will increase. And then who knows what’s going to happen.

Laia Gordi: Spanish media seems to be worried about possible terrorists’ attacks in Europe. A week ago the Iraqi president said he have information of ISIS plans to attack subway systems in Paris and US. What’s your view on it? Do you believe these claims?

Tariq Ali: These people attack you because you do something. They don’t just wake up in the morning and say we will try to bomb the subways in London or the trains in Madrid. They do it because there were Spanish troops in Iraq, they do it because Britain is like Americas attack dog in Europe, they do it because this idiot of Frances Hollande, completely down in the ratios in France, he’s on 11 percent, thought he may improve his image by sending airplanes to bomb targets in the Middle East. So you behave like a terrorist and you expect them to behave like European gentlemen? No, it’s not like that.
One of the guys who was indirectly involved in the bombing attacks in London was captured in Italy and gave an interview to an Italian newspaper. He said “what do you thing that we are crazy? Do you think we were just learning the Koran and reciting it? No, we were watching images of what the Americans have done in Fallujah, in Iraq where they shot prisoners, where they brutalized ordinary people, and so this was all we could do.” Now, of course, I don’t agree with any of this, but unless you understand the causes, you could never solve the problem and this would carry on and on and on.

Laia Gordi: UK voted last week to air strike against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, backing USA, what’s your view on this decision?

Tariq Ali: It’s utterly disgusting. You cannot defeat a guerrilla force from the air, and if they send ground force it would be another disaster. I mean, look what’s happening on Libya. They had ground troops in Afghanistan and they could do nothing. They kill people, kill innocents, they use drones which usually didn’t work, and they are beginning to do this again. And the fact that Europe accepts this so winningly indicates to me that people have no memories anymore. That the way the mainstream media is organized is designed to encourage loss of memory.

Laia Gordi: What should be –if there should be one- the European role in the “fight” against ISIS?

Tariq Ali: The Europeans are incapable of playing an independent role. Why? because the European Union is politically, socially incoherent. Economically it’s in a mess if you look to what the troika have done to the Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal… What can we say? It’s the bankers in collaboration with the German government that determine policy. And internationally then can’t play a role at all. They did it themselves, they are weak and have not desired to play an independent role. All the hopes that Europe may be an independent block have gone. The Americans saw that it didn’t happen by enlarging Europe in a crazy fashion which made it incoherent. And it’s undemocratic and people hate it in many parts of the world and they themselves, the European leaders, are sort of filled with self-hatred. They know who they are and they can’t do anything else. So Europe as structured in the present can do nothing. What we need is mobilizations from below, from parties like Serytza, Podemos, from the left party in Germany though that is weakening, to organize Europe-wide protest and say this have not being carried out in our names, this is not in our interest nor in the interest of the people from the Middle East. How long are we going to carry doing all this?

Laia Gordi: The US interventionism approach clearly didn’t worked in the past, nor did the Responsibility to Protect policy of the United Nations, and neither seem sanctions or diplomacy to have any positive effect for Syria, Palestine… so what should be the international policies on the current Middle East conflicts?

Tariq Ali: The United Nations Security council is the body that dominates the UN. The Americans ignore it when they think they can’t get a vote. And there’s no doubt that the Russians and probably the Chinese would had vetoed this vote [against ISIS]. But instead of understanding why, Obama is attacking the Russians saying they are responsible because “they are refusing to back us,” which is true, but why are they refusing? When the Russians do as you do, you don’t like it. When they want regime change in the Ukraine or when they capture a bit of land and annex Crimea (where there’s a large Russian population so they have support, so in a way it’s more rational though it’s an annexation) the Americans don’t like it. Putin is presented as the new dictator, the usual media campaign is on. And now they antagonized Russia, the EU is imposing sanctions on Russia and then they expect that there’s a community of interests? No, that doesn’t exist. I don’t think the Europeans can do much nor the Americans.

Laia Gordi: Not that Russia or China are doing better…

Tariq Ali: No, no of course not. I have no illusion in Russia or China. They have their national interest and given that they both have very close links with Iran, and Russia have very close links with Syria, they are defending their people. And privately they are laughing at what the Americans are making, making the mess worse and worse and worse.

Laia Gordi: The Kurdish are more united than ever to fight the ISIS. But USA arming the Kurdish can have a very strong impact in the near future on the area, for the Kurdish factions, for Turkey… What’s your view on the Kurdish fight in the area? 

Tariq Ali: This is absolutely true. Since the 90s when effectively the Kurdish areas in Iraq, while Saddam Hussein was in power, were given protection by the US. The Iraqi Kurdistan has increasingly became, in my opinion, an Israeli American protectorate, and the Kurdish national leaders don’t care. In Turkey and Syria the Kurds were under the influence of the PKK and are different, they are not tribal, they have some vision, but the Turks are completely opposed to any independence or even to any meaningful autonomy for the Kurdish population of the Turkey. So there’s contradictions within contradictions. Turkey would have to defend this [US-led] bombing, even they strengthen the Kurds because Turkey is an important member of the NATO and the Americans can threaten them in many different ways.

Laia Gordi: So probably the Kurdish will be armed and it would make it worse?

Tariq Ali: I think so.

Laia Gordi: What about Hezbollah, can they get oddly armed by Americans? They are also fighting ISIS.

Tariq Ali: Hezbollah is the only force in the Middle East which has succeeded in inflicting political defeats in the Israelis and prevented their army to do in Lebanon what they had come to do.  So Americans will never do that. Israelis play a very big part in determining American foreign policy. When you have the Senate and the House of Representatives in the American Congress voting unanimously to support Israel whatever it does, then you understand that money talks. So the Israelis will completely go bizarre if Hezbollah is even indirectly given western weaponry to defeat ISIS. That would never happen.

Laia Gordi: So Hezbollah will fight their own war?

Tariq Ali: They will fight in their own way, they are very confident, they are saying “if we were allowed, we will defeat this people” and Assad will probably use them. The other question is that now the US is bombing Syria which is a total bridge of legality, but let’s say that in Syria they are bombing ISIS and then they will try to replace it with a puppet organization to armed it to defeat Assad, now, this becomes very difficult, because at the moment behind the scenes they are trying to negotiated with Assad as well. So it’s a mess. Look at Libya, six month of NATO bombing. However horrible Gadhafi was, at least, it was calm during his time. Look at Libya now, a completely and utter disaster. No one talks about it.

Laia Gordi: Going a bit more east, this August in Pakistan there’s being large opposition demonstrations in front of the Parliament… can Pakistan destabilize?

Tariq Ali: When we talk about Pakistan the question you have to make is what the army’s view is. This is the most important political force in Pakistan. They are fed up with the present government and it’s obvious they’ve give the green light to this opposition groups to see if they could destabilize the government, which is been resisting the military in some questions, very small questions, but for the military important ones. They thought that there may be total chaos if the government had decided to really confront the demonstrations but the government didn’t do that. A part from when they tried to storm the prime minister’s house and capture the national television center that they stop them, but for the rest, they let them alone until now and the number of people in the demonstrations is being getting smaller and smaller. It may come up again because the government is so awful but that applies to every single government we had. There are all the same. They make money, they are corrupt, they have developed corruption into such a fine art that is sometimes impossible to find them. That includes top politicians, such as presidents and prime ministers. They are very careful about the paper work, which means they have gangs who they trust completely, like in the mafia. That’s what they are a political mafia that rules the country, when one faction of the mafia is defeated the other takes its place. And this is, of course, not only confined to Pakistan. It’s common all over Europe, in France, in Spain…

Laia Gordi: So there’s no Arab spring in Pakistan?

Tariq Ali: But look at what happened to the Arab Spring where it started. So maybe it’s just good as well if there’s no Arab Spring in Pakistan.

Laia Gordi: Fair enough.

Laia Gordi is a journalist from Barcelona.

Tariq Ali is the author of  The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

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Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).