Book Review: "Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali" Print E-mail

The Hindu -- Sunday February 5 2006

Literary Review
CULTURAL POLITICS America unplugged
David Barsamian deserves credit for exposing the kind of culture that is emerging in the West as a result of the "war against terror". Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali: Tariq Ali and David Barsamian, The New Press, 2005, p.234, £8.99.

IN today's globalised climate, the former colonies have ended up as the neo-colonial empire of the United States, complicit in global give and take, economic hegemony, and the rise of a new kind of diasporic, neo-national identity, all of which makes it necessary to interrogate the growing power of the U.S. The "doctrine of preventive war" that allows the U.S. to arbitrate between good and evil and tame "uncivilised" nations goes against all international agreements of the past. Assisted by a propagandistic mass media, it allows the U.S. alone to have unchallenged power in the new world.

Contemporary relevance
In such a political environment, the conversations between Tariq Ali and David Barsamian gain relevance. The subject matter of this book ranges from imperialism to globalisation along with acidic comments on the players and villains, namely the U.S., and Britain thrown in for good measure. The six interviews and one radio broadcast focus on debates concerning the practices and policies of Western super powers and their neo-colonial tendencies in the "Third World". A Pakistani exile in London for the last four decades, Tariq Ali ­ iconoclast, rebel, revolutionary and anti-war intellectual ­ has eloquently and persuasively spoken against religious bigotry, military dictatorship and American hegemony.

The themes relating to increasing U.S. intervention in West Asia and the "Third World" that were treated in Ali's earlier books, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in Babylon, also find a place here although the genre is different. Speaking of Empire is a provocative study of "Third World" cultural politics that calls for understanding different histories located at a period of vast global restructuring when the market forces released by uninhibited trade have made nations/nationality obsolete and residual. Within this complicated space-place dialectic, Ali speaks of the possibility of the variegated terrain of anti-capitalist struggles and political upsurges in the Afro-Asian and Latin American world, emphasising post-colonial protest and resistance.

Global reach
Ali's politics is radical enough to induce a desire for the denazification of American "fascism" which has global economics at its base. The U.S. arsenal includes the holy trinity of the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, which is accountable for ecological degradation, the spread of HIV and food insecurities, the lack of funding for schooling and the contamination of water, among other disasters. African countries, for instance, are pressured into fencing off their own institutions against their own people on the advice of the World Bank. Streams of water become unavailable when Pepsi or Coke decides to set up factory. In Argentina, the very idea of democracy is threatened when the IMF rejects requests for loan on the pretext that it should decrease social spending and introduce further privatisation. By far, the greatest abuse of the powers of globalisation is biopiracy, the ownership of intellectual rights by superpowers of the products grown indigenously by those over whom monopoly is exercised by the powerful. Seed giants and agro chemical industries regularly indulge in seed tampering and patenting and affect natural farming all across the developing world.

Ali, as ever, is full of insights for which the evidence is marshalled from diverse fields such as discourse analysis, cultural studies, and literary and political theory. His ideas and arguments are by now pretty familiar from our readings of other prophets of similar anti-American commitments such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Amy Goodman, Michael Albert, Chalmers Johnson, William Blum and Anthony Arnove. Despite these commonly held anti-imperialist views, Ali gives us facts and figures which are chilling, such as the collaborative intent of the American State and its handful Iraqi allies over the number of anticipated deaths during the Iraq crisis that could be deemed acceptable. While America finds 3, 000 American dead to be an intolerable figure spurring Bush to bomb indiscriminately, the expected death toll of 2,50,000 in Iraq would be conveniently attributed to "collateral damage".

Incisive wit
Although most times Ali's scourge of the U.S. sounds like a diatribe, or even an obsession, his incisive wit and hard-hitting animus against Western ideology keeps alive a steady interest. Mark what he says about Tony Blair: "He's nothing more than a second rate actor with a third rate mind"; or Hamid Karzai, the puppet leader put into power, who "does little more than wear his lovely shawls about ­ I'm sure he would much rather be modelling them in Paris or New York than running Afghanistan."

Tariq Ali is among the few blithe-spirited people who will always have ideas and themes that have, to quote Naomi Klein, "a tendency... to flow through fences, and flee out open windows", making it impossible to forget history. David Barsamian deserves credit for putting together narratives that expose the kind of culture that is emerging in the West as a result of the "war against terror".