Since the 1960s when he was exiled from Pakistan for his activism against the country’s military dictatorship, Tariq Ali has been one of the most outspoken critics of imperialism and religious fundamentalism for the past thirty years. In Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali, Ali is given a chance to expand on the aforementioned topics and provide important insight into the United States imperialism.
In his interviews, Ali makes the case that the United States is an imperial power and that the “war on terror” is an imperialist war. Ali notes that while some may argue that the United States was once an imperial power (destroying the Native American population, taking parts of Mexico, controlling Central America) and that it no longer is, such arguments are worthless now that the United States has entered into the “war on terror” and boldly declared its imperialist intentions. Citing President George W. Bush’s 2002 national security doctrine, Ali describes how the United States has declared that it will go to war to protect free trade and access to resources, a hallmark of the classical empires. Moreover, while the United States frequently attempts to hide its imperial role behind client dictators and indirect control, it has abandoned this effort with the invasion of Iraq and continued posturing towards Iran and Syria. Of course, the United States government did not undertake this imperial policy on its own—Ali argues that there are a network of “enablers” that help the United States including Great Britain, the corporate media, Pakistan, and academia. Ali sees hope in the movements against United States imperialism and draws connections between the Iraqi resistance, the antiwar movement in the United States and England, and those resisting the occupation of Palestine, all of which are part of a global struggle against US imperialism.
Unfortunately, readers already familiar with Ali and the larger antiwar movement will find few “new” ideas in this book. For readers that already have a good understanding of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the war on Iraq, the “war on terror,” the most intriguing parts of the book likely will be the interview on Pakistan. The unpublished interview from November 2003 provides valuable insights into Pakistan’s internal politics, its religious fundamentalism, and its role as one of the United States’ allies in the “war on terror.” Beyond his comments on Pakistan, his interpretation of the economic collapse of Argentina in 2001 is also interesting; with Ali arguing that the popular movements in Argentina failed because they could move the country towards “socialism.” Ali argues that while once a country held up as the model of the success that can be gained when adopting International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other neoliberal programs and policies, the left in Argentina was unable to effectively gain from the country’s collapse because it did not have an alternative model of non-capitalist economy. In Argentina, Ali sees not just the failure of capitalism but also the failure of alternatives to gain mass appeal. While Ali praises the popular assemblies that organically grew out of Argentina’s collapse, he argues that they were largely symbolic since there was no larger political alternative and no plan to gain state power. The seizure of state power, while defined in the sense of “socialism” rather than the “Socialism” of the Soviet Union, is essential if people want to change the world, and according to Ali, it is naïve to talk of changing the world without taking state power.
Overall, Ali’s book offers some unique insights, but for the most part, it will reaffirm what its readers like already know. The fact that it is grounded in anti-imperialism makes it a great introductory text to understanding the “war on terror” and the need to develop a movement against it, as an understanding of the “war on terror” (and the war on Iraq) is inadequate if it does not incorporate an anti-imperialist analysis. Moreover, as Ali argues throughout his book, an anti-imperialist analysis in the antiwar movement will help focus activists on the need to stop the war rather than electing candidates from the Democratic Party who will just give imperialism a more benign façade but will continue to pursue the same imperial policies.
Tariq Ali and David Barsamin, Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali, (New Press, 2005)