Tariq Ali

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Tariq Ali
Ali in 2011
Ali in 2011
Born (1943-10-21) October 21, 1943 (age 78)
Lahore, Punjab, British Raj
Alma materExeter College, Oxford
Literary movementNew Left
SpouseSusan Watkins

Tariq Ali (/ˈtærɪk ˈæli/; born 21 October 1943)[1] is a British political activist, writer, journalist, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual.[2][3] 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 Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Exeter College, Oxford.

He is the author of many books, including Pakistan: Military Rule or People's Power (1970), Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State (1983), Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002), Bush in Babylon (2003), Conversations with Edward Said (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis Of Hope (2006), A Banker for All Seasons (2007), The Duel (2008), The Obama Syndrome (2010),[4] and The Extreme Centre: A Warning (2015).[5]

Early life[edit]

Ali was born and raised in Lahore, Punjab in British India (later part of Pakistan).[6][7] He is the son of journalist Mazhar Ali Khan[8] and activist mother Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan. Ali's mother 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.[8] Ali's father, Mazhar, had been "mobilising peasants in his family’s fiefdom" when he was invited to join the Pakistan Times by Mian Iftikharuddin,[9] later becoming sympathetic to the Communist cause, although he never joined the party.[10]

Ali's father and mother, who were cousins, eloped. His mother later said: "Mazhar left for the Middle East on military service. I was very pregnant by then. We didn't see each other for two years. Our son Tariq was born while Mazhar was away. By the time he returned, I had joined the Communist Party. I had given away my entire trousseau, including the family jewels, to the Party."[10]

Emerging activism[edit]

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[8] warned his parents that Ali could not be protected.[6] 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.[6][11] 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.[12] 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.[13]


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.[14]

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.[15]

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."[16]

During this period he was an IMG candidate in Sheffield Attercliffe at the February 1974 general election and was co-author of Trotsky for Beginners, a cartoon book. In 1981, Ali quit the IMG and joined the Labour Party to support Tony Benn in his bid to become deputy leader of the Labour Party.[17]

Ali presenting Spanish version of Conversations with Edward Said, Córdoba, 2010

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,[18] and book "Masters of the Universe? NATO’s Balkan Crusade" in which he negated extent and nature of crimes committed by Serbian forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.[19] He also defended denialist claims espoused by figures such as Diana Johnstone and Edward S. Herman.[20][21][22]

His book, Clash of Fundamentalisms, aimed to put the events of the September 11 attacks in historical perspective. He followed that with Bush in Babylon, which criticised the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American president George W. Bush. The book uses poetry and critical essays in portraying the war in Iraq as a failure. Ali believes that the new Iraqi government will fail.

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.[23]

He has been described as "the alleged inspiration" for the Rolling Stones' song "Street Fighting Man", recorded in 1968.[24] John Lennon's "Power to the People" was inspired by an interview Lennon gave to Ali.[25]

Ali participated in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll, where he listed his ten favourite films as follows: The Battle of Algiers, Charulata, Crimson Gold, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Entranced Earth, If..., Osaka Elegy, The Puppetmaster, Rashomon, and Tout Va Bien.[26]

Ali has also written in favour of Scottish independence.[27]

During the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, Ali was sympathetic to a Leave vote on left-wing grounds, whilst simultaneously criticizing right-wing support for Brexit based on opposition to immigration.[28]

In 2020, Ali was a member of the Belmarsh Tribunal organized by Progressive International, investigating and evaluating the war crimes committed by the United States government in the 21st century.

In November 2020, a British public inquiry into the work of undercover police officers was provided with evidence that Ali had been spied upon by at least 14 undercover police officers over a period of decades. The surveillance began in 1965 when he became president of the Oxford Union, and continued until at least 2003, when Ali was on the national committee of the Stop the War Coalition trying to prevent the invasion of Iraq. Ali said "It is incredible to think that after 35 years, in 2003, under the Tony Blair Labour government, that Special Branch were still engaging in the same anti-democratic activity as they had been at the outset".[29]


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.[30]

In 2009, Ali, alongside Mark Weisbrot wrote the screenplay to the Oliver Stone documentary South of the Border.[31] 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[edit]

Ali currently lives in Camden, north 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. He grew up in a secular family that was more culturally Muslim than religious, and describes himself as an atheist.[32][33]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stade, George (2009). Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present Volume 2. p. 12.
  2. ^ Tariq Ali Biography Archived 1 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Contemporary Writers, accessed 31 October 2006
  3. ^ "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 Archived 14 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine", Democracy Now!, 10 October 2007. Retrieved 11 October 2007.
  4. ^ "Tariq Ali". British Council of Literature. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
  5. ^ "Archives". tariqali.org. Tariq Ali.
  6. ^ a b c Campbell, James (8 May 2010). "A life in writing: Tariq Ali". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c Kumar, Sashi (9 August 2013). "In conversation with Tariq Ali: The New World Disorder". Frontline. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  9. ^ Rehman, I.A. (15 June 2017). "An outstanding journalist". Dawn. Karachi. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  10. ^ a b Mohsin, Jugnu (27 March 2015). "Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, 1925–2015". The Friday Times. Lahore. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Tariq Ali profile". BBC Four Documentary article. Archived from the original on 17 September 2007. Retrieved 26 April 2007.
  12. ^ "The Beatles call for the legalisation of marijuana". 24 July 1967. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  13. ^ Ali, Tariq (May–June 2011). "Leaving Shabazz". New Left Review. II (69).
  14. ^ Ali, Tariq (22 March 2008). "Where has all the rage gone?". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  15. ^ "1968, Forty Years Later: Tariq Ali Looks Back on a Pivotal Year in the Global Struggle for Social Justice". Democracynow.org. 29 May 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  16. ^ "From Vietnam To Iraq To Bolivia-Tariq Ali". YouTube. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Tariq Ali: Why I'm Joining the Labour Party (December 1981)". www.marxists.org.
  18. ^ Ali, Tariq (March–April 1999). "Springtime for NATO". New Left Review. I (234).
  19. ^ Ian Williams (September 2000). "More Agitprop than reasoned argument". Bosnian Institute UK. Archived from the original on 2 March 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  20. ^ "Decline and fall of the puppetmasters | Nick Cohen". The Guardian. 16 July 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  21. ^ Taylor, Tony (2008). "Denial". Denial: History Betrayed. Melbourne Univ. Publishing. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-522-85907-2. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  22. ^ Dal Cassian (4 June 2011). "Why Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and their co-thinkers should apologise over Mladic and Srebrenica: | Workers' Liberty". workersliberty.org. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ Hazou, Christopher Hazou, "Journalism and jingoism: Ownership and gullibility are two recurring problems for the Western press, says author and activist Tariq Ali", Montreal Mirror. Archives: 27 September – 3 October 2007, Vol. 23, No. 15.
  25. ^ Thomson, Elizabeth and David Gutman (eds) (2004). The Lennon Companion. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-306-81270-3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  26. ^ "Tariq Ali | BFI".
  27. ^ Ali, Tariq (13 March 2014). "Scots, undo this union of rogues. Independence is the only way to fulfil your potential". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  28. ^ "Lateline – 31/05/2016: Interview: Tariq Ali, British writer and commentator". Abc.net.au. 31 May 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  29. ^ Evans, Rob (11 November 2020). "Tariq Ali spied on by at least 14 undercover officers, inquiry hears". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 August 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "Cast & Credits " South of the Border – a film by Oliver Stone". Southoftheborderdoc.com. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  32. ^ "The Independent interview with Hunter Davies". Independent.co.uk. 22 February 1994. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  33. ^ Tariq Ali (13 February 2006). "This is the real outrage". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 21 October 2020. I am an atheist and do not know the meaning of the "religious pain" that is felt by believers of every case when what they believe in is insulted.

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