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Stateside With Rosalea: Tariq Ali, 8 May 2003

Stateside with Rosalea

Tariq Ali, 8 May 2003

By Rosalea Barker

"We meet at a grim time." Such were the opening words of Tariq Ali's talk on 'War, Empire and Resistance' given in the heart of the military industrial complex at UC Berkeley last week. (As someone in the audience pointed out, the flag on stage was a gold-fringed military one, and we were in an auditorium in the Stephen E. Bechtel Engineering Centre.)

Tariq Ali's speaks on 'War, Empire and Resistance'

According to a website at, "Tariq Ali's life as a writer, broadcaster, and filmmaker has been that of a dissenter." Born in Pakistan in 1943, Ali left in the early 1960s to study at Oxford University in England and while there he became a central figure in the anti-Vietnam war movement. His latest book, 'Clash of Fundamentalisms', investigates the post-September 11 "war on terror." He is on the editorial committee of the New Left Review, and spoke at this year's million-strong anti-war march in London.

The invasion of Iraq is an event that will draw the dividing lines of the 21st century even if it disappears from the media, says Ali. On the subject of war, he referred to Tacitus' report that Agricola, Roman consul of Britain, gave as his reason for invading peaty, cold, bleak and seemingly unimportant Ireland: "An unoccupied land gives ideas to people in occupied lands."

Before 1914 wars were fought between empires, he said, and the US had been largely uninvolved in the wars in Europe because it was busy building a South American and Pacific empire. Ali urged people to read 'War is a Racket' by Major General Smedley Butler, of the US Marine Corps. Smedley Butler retired in in 1931, ran as a Republican candidate for Senate in 1932, and died in 1940.

(Large blocks of quoted material from that book, printed up large and plastered on walls and windows, made regular appearances during the lead-ups to the anti-war marches here in the Bay Area. They were the only anti-war signs that were systematically torn down.) The text is at

It was WWI that brought the US empire onto the world stage - as a counter-balance to the Russian Soviet empire - and, after WWII, Japan and Germany were rebuilt as capitalist nations to forestall battles with revolutionary nations. World events since 1917, said Ali, can be seen as a continuum of wars and revolutions, including the cold war. Two areas where deals could not be done and revolutions not suppressed were Asia and Central America, but by and large "the history of the twentieth century is the history of European empires."

The problem with the new US empire, he said, is that it has no rival and even the Europeans are now scared to resist it. No country in Europe backed the Vietnam War, for example, and De Gaulle even pulled France out of NATO over it. Under Reagan, "a counter-revolution started in Nicaragua and ended in Moscow", and the creation of this world-dominating US empire is being accomplished in accordance with the precept that hegemony has to be achieved by power.

But most of Tariq Ali's talk was given over to the third topic - resistance. Who in the world can resist the US? Of the major economic engines, Europe can't, Japan isn't allowed to have a foreign policy, and China and Korea are kept in a constant state of destabilisation.

According to Ali, Ruth Wedgewood, one of Rumsfeld's advisers, has said that the real problem on the Korean peninsular is that the South Korean generals can't wait to get their hands on North Korean nuclear weapons for their own use.

(If that is so, it seems to me, then what drives US policy in that region is not a fear of communism spreading, but of the emergence of a powerful capitalist state capable of creating an empire to counterbalance the US.)

Ali then turned to the emergence of resistance within Iraq itself, which he sees as an inevitable result of this new colonisation of the region. The people of the Tigris and Euphrates have always resisted colonisation by foreign empires - and by "always" we're talking millennia. It was absurd for anyone to postulate that the occupying forces would be met with flowers.

But the chant on the streets in Cairo, when Baghdad fell so easily, was "Where is our army?" and the inevitable consequence of what seems to have been a deal between the Iraqi regime and the US is that nationalist sentiment will rise in all the Arab nations in the region who feel that their rulers are US puppets.

Why was there no resistance in Baghdad? A spontaneous resistance by the people was probably out of the question since they didn't want to protect Saddam Hussein, but why didn't the regime resist? Just blowing up the bridges around the city would have held the US up for a couple of weeks - and would have been the end of Tony Blair in Britain, Ali surmised.

As an example of spontaneous resistance, he spoke of how an army rating at the Miraflores Palace in Venezuela was told by a general to blow the trumpet to announce the choosing of a new president, back when Chavez was ousted. "You put him in power," said the rating, "so *you* play the trumpet." Half a million people stormed the palace and within a few days Chavez was back as the nation's leader.

"When there's resistance from below, it really counts for something," said Ali. Later he referred to the media coverage of the statue toppling and the bombing of Al Jazeera's offices as an example of how "the enemies one faces in trying to form an opinion are much stronger now." Indymedia earned his praise for its alternative coverage of the statue event.

Above all, he said, the antiwar movement should not be too discouraged. The size of the demonstrations at the beginning of the year augur well for the future. In London, schoolchildren poured into the streets spontaneously on the day war started and in Scotland, where Blair was addressing a sympathetic audience, the glass-walled conference centre was quickly surrounded by 90,000 people shouting their opposition.

The antiwar movement has to prepare for the long haul as the empire will strengthen and consolidate for the next twenty years, but it can also use the opportunity of youth involvement, in particular. "Young people realise that it's socially acceptable to be politically engaged," he said, contrasting this decade to the 80s and 90s when it wasn't so acceptable.

The US has bases in 121 out of the 189 countries that are in the UN, and it's not inconceivable that a new Anti-Imperialist League might spring up, such as the one that Mark Twain and others founded in response to blatantly racist and undemocratic domestic policies that resulted from the US occupation of the Philippines and the events of the Boxer Rebellion.

He concluded his speech by saying that now is the time to stop war, stop empire and build resistance.

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