Tariq Ali

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Tariq Ali
Tariq Ali.jpg
Ali at Imperial College, London in November 2003
Born (1943-10-21) 21 October 1943 (age 75)
Lahore, Punjab, British India
(now Pakistan)
Occupation Military historian
Alma mater University of the Punjab
Exeter College, Oxford
Genre Geopolitics
Literary movement New Left
Spouse Susan Watkins

Tariq Ali (/ˈtɑːrɪk ˈɑːli/; Punjabi, Urdu: طارق علی‎; born 21 October 1943) is a British Pakistani writer, journalist, and filmmaker.[1][2] He is a member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review and Sin Permiso, and contributes to The Guardian, CounterPunch, and the London Review of Books. He read PPE in University of Oxford.

He is the author of several books, including Pakistan: Military Rule or People's Power (1970), Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State (1991), Pirates Of The Caribbean: Axis Of Hope (2006), Conversations with Edward Said (2005), Bush in Babylon (2003), and Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002), A Banker for All Seasons (2007), The Duel (2008), The Obama Syndrome (2010)[3] and The Extreme Centre: A Warning (2015).[4]

Early life

Ali was born and raised in Lahore.[5][6] The city was part of British India at the time of his birth in 1943 but became part of the newly independent nation of Pakistan four years later. He is the son of journalist Mazhar Ali Khan[7] and activist mother Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, who was the daughter of Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, who led the Unionist Muslim League and was later Prime Minister of the Punjab from 1937 to 1942.[7]

Ali's parents "both came from a very old, crusty, feudal family".[8] His father had broken with the family's conventions in politics when he was a student, adopting communism and atheism[citation needed]. Ali's mother also belonged to the same family and became a communist and an atheist upon meeting his father[citation needed]. However, Ali was taught the fundamentals of Islam to be able to argue against it.[8] He stated in Islam, Empire, and the Left: Conversation with Tariq Ali: "I grew up an atheist. I make no secret of it. It was acceptable. In fact, when I think back, none of my friends were believers. None of them were religious; maybe a few were believers. But very few were religious in temperament."[9]

Emerging activism

Ali first became politically active in his teens, taking part in opposition to the military dictatorship of Pakistan. An uncle who worked in the Pakistani military intelligence[7] warned his parents that Ali could not be protected.[5] His parents therefore decided to get him out of Pakistan and sent him to England to study at Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.[5][10] He was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1965. In 1967 Ali was one of 64 prominent figures, including the Beatles, who signed a petition calling for the legalisation of marijuana.[11] Ali's tenure at the Union included a meeting with Malcolm X in December 1964 during which Malcolm X expressed deep consternation about his own risk of assassination.[12]


Tariq Ali presenting the Spanish version of Conversations with Edward Said in Córdoba, Spain, in 2010.

His public profile began to grow during the Vietnam War, when he engaged in debates against the war with such figures as Henry Kissinger and Michael Stewart. He testified at the Russell Tribunal over US involvement in Vietnam. As time passed, Ali became increasingly critical of American and Israeli foreign policies. He was also a vigorous opponent of American relations with Pakistan that tended to back military dictatorships over democracy. He was one of the marchers on the American embassy in London in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.[13]

Active in the New Left of the 1960s, he has long been associated with the New Left Review. Ali inserted himself into politics through his involvement with The Black Dwarf newspaper, he joined the International Marxist Group (IMG) in 1968. He was recruited to the leadership of the IMG and became a member of the International Executive Committee of the (reunified) Fourth International. He also befriended influential figures such as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.[14]

In 1967 Ali was in Camiri, Bolivia, not far from where Che Guevara was captured, to observe the trial of Régis Debray. He was accused of being a Cuban revolutionary by authorities. Ali then said: "If you torture me the whole night and I can speak Spanish in the morning I'll be grateful to you for the rest of my life."[15]

During this period he was an IMG candidate in Sheffield Attercliffe at the February 1974 UK general election and was co-author of Trotsky for Beginners, a cartoon book. In 1981, the IMG dissolved when its members entered the Labour Party: the IMG was promptly proscribed. Ali then abandoned activism in the revolutionary left and supported Tony Benn in his bid to become deputy leader of the Labour Party that year.

In 1990, he published the satire Redemption, on the inability of the Trotskyists to handle the downfall of the Eastern bloc. The book contains parodies of many well-known figures in the Trotskyist movement. In 1999 Ali strongly criticised US and UK interventions in the Balkans in the piece Springtime for NATO.[16]

His book Bush in Babylon criticises the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American president George W. Bush. This book has a unique style, using poetry and critical essays in portraying the war in Iraq as a failure. Ali believes that the new Iraqi government will fail.

His previous book, Clash of Fundamentalisms, puts the events of the September 11 attacks in historical perspective, covering the history of Islam from its foundations.

Ali has remained a critic of modern neoliberal economics and was present at the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where he was one of 19 to sign the Porto Alegre Manifesto. He supports the model of Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.[17]

He has been described as "the alleged inspiration" for the Rolling Stones' song "Street Fighting Man", recorded in 1968.[18] John Lennon's "Power to the People" was inspired by an interview Lennon gave to Ali.[19]

In an article published in CounterPunch, he responded to the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy and said: "The Bavarian is a razor-sharp reactionary cleric. I think he knew what he was saying and why. In a neo-liberal world suffering from environmental degradation, poverty, hunger, repression, a 'planet of slums' (in the graphic phrase of Mike Davis), the Pope chooses to insult the founder of a rival faith. The reaction in the Muslim world was predictable, but depressingly insufficient."[20]

Ali has also written in favour of Scottish independence.[21]


Tariq Ali's The Leopard and The Fox, first written as a BBC screenplay in 1985, is about the last days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Never previously produced because of a censorship controversy, it was finally premiered in New York in October 2007, the day before former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to her home country after eight years in exile.[22]

In 2009, Ali, alongside Mark Weisbrot wrote the screenplay to the Oliver Stone documentary South of the Border.[23] This gave a favourable account of Hugo Chávez and other left-wing Latin American leaders. Interviewed in the documentary, Ali explained the role that Bolivian water privatisation and the 2000 Cochabamba protests played in eventually bringing Evo Morales to power.

Personal life

He currently lives in Highgate, London with his partner Susan Watkins, editor of the New Left Review. He has three children: Natasha from a previous relationship and Chengiz and Aisha with Watkins.[24]

Works (partial list)


  1. Tariq Ali Biography, Contemporary Writers, accessed 31 October 2006
  2. "As 250 Killed in Clashes Near Afghan Border, British-Pakistani Author Tariq Ali on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Ongoing U.S. Role in Regional Turmoil". Democracy Now!. 10 October 2007. Retrieved on 11 October 2007.
  3. "Tariq Ali". Brisih Council of Literature. Retrieved 24 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Archives". tariqali.org. Tariq Ali.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Campbell, James (8 May 2010). "A life in writing: Tariq Ali". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Davies, Hunter (22 February 1994). "The Hunter Davies Interview: For you, Tariq Ali, the revolution is over: The Sixties Marxist bogeyman has matured into a minor media mogul... and he has managed to acquire a sense of humour". The Independent.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Kumar, Sashi (9 August 2013). "In conversation with Tariq Ali: The New World Disorder". Frontline. Retrieved 2 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Conversation with Tariq Ali, 8 May 2003
  9. The Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, 8 May 2003.
  10. "Tariq Ali profile". BBC Four Documentary article. Retrieved 26 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "The Beatles call for the legalisation of marijuana". Retrieved 10 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Ali, Tariq (May–June 2011). "Leaving Shabazz". New Left Review. New Left Review. II (69).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Where has all the rage gone?". The Guardian. 22 March 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "1968, Forty Years Later: Tariq Ali Looks Back on a Pivotal Year in the Global Struggle for Social Justice". Democracynow.org. Retrieved 3 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "From Vietnam To Iraq To Bolivia-Tariq Ali". YouTube. Retrieved 3 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Ali, Tariq (March–April 1999). "Springtime for NATO". New Left Review. New Left Review. I (234).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Oliver Stone, Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot respond to NY Times attack on South of the Border " Verso UK's Blog". Versouk.wordpress.com. 30 June 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Christopher Hazou Journalism and jingoism: Ownership and gullibility are two recurring problems for the Western press, says author and activist Tariq Ali Montreal Mirror
  19. Thomson, Elizabeth and David Gutman (eds.) (2004). The Lennon Companion. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-306-81270-3. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Papal insults – A Bavarian Provocation" by Tariq Ali for CounterPunch. 17 September 2006.
  21. Ali, Tariq (13 March 2014). "Scots, undo this union of rogues. Independence is the only way to fulfil your potential". Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. The Leopard and the Fox: Our new season begins
  23. "Cast & Credits " South of the Border – a film by Oliver Stone". Southoftheborderdoc.com. Retrieved 3 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "The Independent interview with Hunter Davies".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links