An award for enabling dialogue between cultures has not made political commentator Tariq Ali less caustic, finds Gaurav Jain
Tariq Ali is a polemicist, novelist and filmmaker. Born and raised in Lahore, the 66-year-old Oxonian has been a trenchant critic of American and neo-liberal policies for more than four decades. His books include The Assassination: Who Killed Indira G? and The Leopard and The Fox, about the last days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He serves as editor and advisor for the New Left Review and the radical publisher Verso. Ali was awarded the Granadillo 2010 award for his series of novels, The Islam Quintet. The fifth and final volume in the series, The Night of the Golden Butterfly, is due later this year. Excerpts from an email interview:
You began composing the The Islam Quintet about two decades ago, when the world looked very different from today. How has the project evolved?
The Quintet is a set of historical novels covering Islam in Europe during the 12th and 15th centuries, the Crusades, the last days of the Ottoman Empire and finally the world today. The last novel is set in Fatherland, which is a barely disguised reference to Pakistan, but at the heart of the novel is an account of a Muslim uprising in China roughly at the same time as the 1857 uprising in India except that the Chinese events led to the Dali Sultanate which lasted for over a decade.
In your Granadillo acceptance speech, you mentioned the current “imperial wars” and western “recolonisation” of Iraq and Afghanistan. How is this linked to your view of the deterioration, over the last 500 years, of Europe’s composite culture of Christianity, Judaism and Islam?
The decision to expel Jews and Muslims from Europe created the modern European identity and the re-entry of Muslims from the former colonies — South Asians in Britain, Maghrebians in France and Spain, Somalians in Italy, Turks in Germany, etc — has created a situation where there are now between 15 and 20 million Muslims in Europe. This coupled with the ‘war on terror’ has helped create a virulent Islamophobia which tars all Muslims with the terrorist brush or as the Other, just like the Jews in the early decades of the last century.
Can a composite culture influence political decisions, be it Europe’s acquiescence to American influence or President Zardari’s recent aggressiveness on Kashmir?
Or one could add the decision of the Indian ruling elite to fall on its knees before Washington, typified by Manmohan Singh’s outburst in the White House: ‘President Bush, all Indians love you.’ Mainstream politics tends towards a sameness and blandness in most parts of the world, barring South America. Perhaps the crisis of the Wall Street system will bring about a change. Perhaps.
Do awards like the Granadillo help highlight your polemic within the mainstream media’s cacophony?
I don’t think so. The mainstream media mimics official politics. Its credibility is on the decline everywhere. The Indian press makes one weep (on this front the Pakistani media are much better). As for me, I write books and essays which circulate