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Radio Lora, 8. März 2006

Alternative Radio


Tariq Ali

Der Wahn vom Imperium
David Barsamian interviewt Tariq Ali
26. Februar 2005 , Sante Fe, New Mexico

Der Historiker und Schriftsteller Tariq Ali wurde 1943 in Lahore geboren. Neben seiner langjährigen Tätigkeit als Redakteur der Londoner „New Left Review“ schrieb er über ein Dutzend historischer Fachbücher, verfaßte Romane und Filmdrehbücher und wird weltweit als brillanter Gastredner geschätzt. Tariq Ali ist der Autor von „Fundamentalismus im Kampf um die Weltordnung“, von „Bush in Babylon“ und von „Street Fighting Years“. Gemeinsam mit David Barsamian, dem er heute Rede und Antwort steht, schrieb er  „Speaking of Empire and Resistance“.

DB
Der Schriftsteller Gore Vidal bezeichnete die USA als die Vereinigten Staaten der Amnäsie, des Gedächtnisverlustes.

TA
Das ist eine treffende Bezeichnung. Auch ich glaube, dass die Amerikaner an einem beinahe krankhaften Gedächtnisschwund leiden. Sie wollen einfach nicht wahr haben, dass all das, was heute in ihrem Namen geschieht und wogegen sie eigentlich unbedingt etwas unternehmen müssten, kriminell und böse ist. Vielleicht bedarf es - wie bei Vietnam - einer Art kollektiven Urschrei-Therapie

DB
Auch der Historiker Studs Terkel spricht von einer nationalen Alzheimer Krankheit. Tragen die Medien vielleicht zu diesem Gedächtnisverlust bei?

TA
Die Berichterstattung über den Krieg im Irak z.B. bei BBC World und CNN spiegelt das wieder, was George Orwell in „1984“ prophezeite. Was allerdings bei FOX läuft, übertrifft Orwells schlimmste Träume. Heute sind die Medien eine der tragenden Säulen des militärisch-industriellen Komplexes. Wie in der alten Sowjetunion gibt es zahllose Beispiele für Lügen und Vertuschungen, über die man sich damals im Westen so gerne lustig machte. Nun sind es die Menschen im Westen, die von ihren Regierungen und deren Medien für dumm verkauft werden.
Keine einzige Fernsehstation strahlt den ägyptisch-amerikanischen Dokumentarfilm „Control Room“ aus, weil er beweist, wie sehr die westlichen Journalisten in die Kriegsmaschinerie eingebettet waren und zeigt, wie frenetisch diese sogenannten Verteidiger der Demokratie die Nachricht über den Fall von Bagdad bejubelten.
Seitdem die Medien riesigen Konzernen gehören, kann man sich die Wahrheit nicht mehr leisten. Bei der BBC haben inzwischen Feiglinge ohne jedes Rückgrat das Sagen.Die Mutigeren wurden von Tony Blairs Labour Regierung nach und nach gefeuert.
 
DB
Hier war man immer der Ansicht, dass wenigsten die Printmedien in Großbritannien ein bißchen besser seien, immerhin gibt es ja  „The Daily Mirror“, „The Independent“ und den „Guardian“

TA
Tatsächlich waren die Zeitungsberichte über den Krieg im Irak mutiger und ehrlicher als die Fernsehnachrichten, auch weil das britische Establishment, also das Militär, die Geheimdienste, die Beamten des Außen- und Verteidigungsministeriums über die Frage des Krieges geteilter Meinung waren. Doch die Regierung schlug zurück und entließ die führenden Köpfe der BBC und feuerte den Chefredakteur des Daily Mirror, nach dem er guten Glaubens gefälschte Folterfotos veröffentlicht hatte. Nur „The Independent“ mit den tapferen Reportern Robert Fisk und Patrick Cockburn und auch der „Guardian“ berichten weiterhin kritisch über den Irak.

DB
Nach dem Überfall auf den Irak behauptete George Bush, dass  man nicht als Besatzer, sondern als Befreier gekommen sei.

TA
Es ist unglaublich, aber er, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice und Donald Rumsfeld, müssen das behaupten, weil sich die Menschen in der westlichen Welt und auch Teile der eigenen Bevölkerung wegen des Irakkrieges immer mehr Sorgen machen. Und auch andere westlichen Politiker beginnen, ihre Bürger mit ähnlich dümmlichen Sprüchen einzulullen. Statt in einer Demokratie leben wir immer mehr in einer Diktatur des Kapitals und der Gewalt. Um so mehr brauchen wir wache, kritische und wohl informierter Bürger.
 
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DB
Längst vergessen scheinen auch die Fotos des Saddam Husseins Hände schüttelnden Donald Rumsfeld von 1983

TA
Sogar noch 1990 entschuldigten sich amerikanische Senatoren für einen Saddam Hussein kritischen Bericht der „Stimme Amerikas“. Im britischen Parlament weigerten sich die Lichtgestalten der Opposition: Tony Blair, Robin Cook und Geoff Hoon, eine Protestnote gegen den Einsatz von Chemiewaffen in Halabscha zu unterschreiben. Trotz dieses Chemiewaffeneinsatzes strich die US-Regierung den Irak von ihrer Liste der Terrorstaaten und schickte Waffen und Militärberater. Und heute wollen uns diese Leute weiß machen, dass sie den Irak im Namen der Freiheit überfallen haben!

DB
Laut Chalmers Johnson, verfügen die USA in 139 Staaten über mehr als 700 Militärstützpunkte.

TA
Kein Wunder also, dass wegen der hohen Militärausgaben kein Geld mehr für Gesundheitswesen und staatliche Sozialversicherungen übrig ist. Man drohte sogar, die Pensionen der Kriegsveteranen zu kürzen. Und weil sich weder die Demokraten noch die Republikaner je für einen gesicherten Lebensstandard ihrer Mitbürger stark machen werden, brauchen wir eine neue Partei, eine mächtige Bürgerpartei.

DB
Halten Sie die hohen Militärausgaben für ein Zeichen der Stärke oder der Schwäche?

TA
Militärisch sind die USA die unangefochtene Nr. 1 in der Welt, aber die amerikanische Wirtschaft ist schwach. Diese Schwäche und das gleichzeitige Erstarken der Konkurrenten auf dem Weltmarkt bedeuten für das US-Imperium eine große Bedrohung, vielleicht sogar eine militärische Herausforderung. Deshalb nutzen die USA ihre militärische Stärke, um ihre wirtschaftliche Schwäche zu kaschieren.

 
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DB
Die Forderung nach einem Rückzug aus dem Irak wird immer lauter.
Sogar George Will vom konservativen „Monthly Review“ spricht inzwischen von „dem Schlamassel in Mesopotamien“.

TA
Dieser Krieg ist für alle ein großes Unglück, besonders jedoch für die Menschen im Irak, denn sie leiden am meisten. Die Amerikaner trauern um ihre Opfer, aber um wieviel größer muss die Trauer der Iraker sein, die noch sehr viel mehr Menschenleben verloren haben.
Für viele liberale Kriegsgegner ist es nur schwer nachvollziehbar, warum wir den sofortigen, bedingungslosen Abzug aller fremden Truppen aus dem Irak fordern. Aber die Soldaten müssen das Land verlassen, bevor alles noch viel schlimmer wird. Rumsfeld und Condi Rice und ihre Freunde wissen, dass es im Irak nichts mehr zu gewinnen gibt, aber noch hoffen sie, mit einem Angriff auf Iran von irakischem Boden aus so etwas wie einen Sieg davontragen zu können.
Was also sollen die USA tun? Sie können sich zurückziehen und die Arbeit von einem ihnen hörigen Regime zu Ende bringen lassen. Sollten jedoch die Gewinner der irakischen Wahlen diese Lösung anbieten, wird die Bevölkerung sehr bald gegen die unter der Aufsicht einer Besatzungsmacht Gewählten rebellieren. Deshalb kann man sich die sonst übliche Suche nach einem Militärdiktator oder einem gefügigen Politiker ersparen.
Auch wenn es anfangs für die Iraker sehr, sehr schwierig werden wird, je früher die fremden Truppen abziehen, desto besser. Den Besatzern gehen ja auch bereits die Reservisten aus. Bei einer Wiedereinführung der Wehrpflicht würden - wie bei Vietnam - die davon betroffenen Kinder der Mittel und Oberschicht der Friedensbewegung ganz schnell zu einem großen Zulauf verhelfen. Dadurch sähen sich sogar republikanische Kriegsbefürworter gezwungen, einen Rückzieher zu machen. Die USA können also nur verlieren - politisch wie militärisch.

DB
Arundhati Roy und Naomi Klein verlangen von den USA Reparationen für den Irak. Glauben Sie, dass es dazu kommen wird?

TA
Geld für einen Wiederaufbau würde nur für eine US-hörige Marionettenregierung fließen. Dabei berichten entsetzte Archäologen fassungslos von den Schäden, die die US-Truppen im antiken Babylon, dem Kulturerbe der gesamten Menschheit, angerichtet haben. Islamische Delegationen hatten versucht, die Zerstörung der Buddha Statuen in Bamiyan durch die Taliban zu verhindern. Was unternahm der Norden, um die Zerstörungen im Irak zu unterbinden?
Sogar unter dem Baath-Regime war der Irak einer der kultiviertesten und fortschrittlichsten arabischen Staaten mit den meisten Akademikerinnen. All dies wurde im Namen der Freiheit zuerst durch 12 Jahre UN-Embargo und Bombardierungen und dann durch den Krieg und die anschließende Besetzung zunichte gemacht. So eine Freiheit ist kein Segen, sondern ein Fluch.
 
DB
Der Wahlspruch des Weltsozialforums lautet: „Eine andere Welt ist möglich“.

TA
Im Gegensatz zu vielen Nichtregierungsorganisation glaube ich, dass eine andere Welt nur gemeinsam mit Politikern und Regierungen möglich ist, nicht gegen sie und nicht ohne sie.
In Venezuela kam dank demokratischer Wahlen mit Hugo Chavez ein Sozialreformer an die Macht, der sich erfolgreich gegen die bis dahin herrschenden Oligarchen, geifernde Rassisten, den Internationalen Währungsfond und US Putschversuche durchsetzen konnte.
Vielleicht liegen die Wurzeln für eine andere Welt in Lateinamerika, und das wäre nach all dem Unrecht, das man diesem Kontinent zugefügt hat, nur gerecht.

DB
Zum Schluss vielleicht noch paar Worte zu dem Buch, das wir gemeinsam geschrieben haben: Es heißt: „Speaking of Empire and Resistance“ (Gespräche über das Imperium und den Widerstand dagegen).

TA
Anfangs war ich über diesen Titel gar nicht glücklich, weil es bereits viele schlechte „Imperium“-Bücher gibt. Aber unseres wird das erste sein, das sich mit dem Widerstand gegen den Wahn vom Imperium befaßt.






Radio Lora, 8. März 2006


TARIQ ALI
Delusions of Empire
Interviewed by David Barsamian
Santa Fe, New Mexico 26 January 2005
Tariq Ali, an internationally renowned writer, was born in Lahore in 1943. It was then a part of British-ruled India, now in Pakistan. For many years he has been based in London where he is an editor of “New Left Review.” He’s written more than a dozen books on world history and politics. A charismatic speaker, he is in great demand all over the world. In his spare time he is a filmmaker, playwright and novelist. He is the author of “The Clash of Fundamentalisms” and “Bush in Babylon.” His latest books are “Street Fighting Years” and “Speaking of Empire & Resistance” with David Barsamian.

Gore Vidal, the well-known writer and critic, calls the U.S.A. the United States of Amnesia.
It's a wonderful description. Gore has this amazing capacity to sum things up in a single sentence occasionally with a neat formula. And what he says is something I have felt for a long time, ever since I've been coming to the States regularly. I think Americans suffer from an intellectual and historical amnesia and a sense of denial which borders on the delusional. They forget the past. They don't want to believe that what is happening today in their name is something evil and criminal, and so they put the best possible construction on it because for them, if they were to recognize reality for what it is, the consequences would be too much. They would find it very difficult to live with the political establishment in this country. They would have to do something. So this sense of amnesia is also very convenient.
But it has to be got out of them. I sometimes feel that a majority of U.S. citizens need a collective therapy. They need to have a primal scream at what is going on and what is being done in their name. And this occasionally happens in American history. It happened at the height of the Vietnam War. And if casualties in Iraq carry on, small screams may begin to be heard again.
Another American writer, in fact, our greatest oral historian, Studs Terkel, says that the country has a national Alzheimer's disease. To what extent do the corporate media contribute to that loss of memory?
The media has become the nightmare that George Orwell prophesied in 1984. It's not my favorite novel of Orwell's, but I think from the point of view of understanding the contemporary media, Orwell's vision of 1984 is almost there in the daily coverage you see of the war in Iraq on BBC World and on CNN and the other U.S. networks. And I don't even mention Fox television, which is something even Orwell could not have foreseen.
It's important to remember that Orwell, when he wrote 1984, was working in a small room in the BBC. He was imagining what could happen if things went out of control. And they have gone out of control now. The media has become a central pillar of the military-industrial complex in the U.S., of war mongering, and of the empire. And there are 101 examples which can be given of outright lies, omissions. What they don't report is often much more important than what they do report.
News management now in the Western world has become an art form. And it's often, when you see what is going on today, that you are reminded of the worst days of the Soviet Union, before perestroika, that this is what used to go on there. And people in the West used to laugh, “Oh, God, how can the Russians tolerate it?” And the question we can now ask is, How can Western citizens tolerate being lied to endlessly and being treated like complete idiots by their media and by their governments?
Control Room is a remarkable documentary film made by an Egyptian-American filmmaker, Jehane Noujaim. In the opening sequence, Samir Khader, a senior Al-Jazeera producer says, “You cannot wage a war without propaganda.” And the Americans, and he's talking about Iraq, obviously, have their media.
He's absolutely right. I found that documentary very interesting.
And the fact that it can't be shown on television today is in itself quite revealing. Twenty-five years ago, Control Room would have been shown in Britain on either the BBC or Channel 4, and in this country on PBS. Today it can't be shown, which is why documentary cinema is becoming a new, important medium for us, leaving aside even Michael Moore. He is famous and he can do what he wants. But young documentary filmmakers, like the makers of Control Room, have done a real service. These are the defenders of the democracy, people who give citizens an alternative view and an alternative way of looking at things.
That is what engenders real diversity, not the nonsense and the waffle and the lies which you see in the mainstream broadcast media, usually reprinted without criticism in the print media.
For me, the most striking thing in Control Room was not so much how Al Jazeera covered the war. That some of us knew, and those of us who can occasionally watch Al Jazeera know what their coverage can be like. What was very interesting was the way Western journalists were totally embedded in the apparatus of war. The film shows the big press conference when the U.S. military spokesman comes and informs the assembled ranks of the so-called defenders of democracy, the Western media journalists, that Baghdad has fallen, the standing ovation, the whoops, the hurrahs are amongst the more disgusting things I have witnessed in recent years from the Western media. It's much, much worse than it used to be.
And this is not an accident. It is quite deliberate. The media today cannot afford to cover the truth. And when I say cannot afford, I mean that since the bulk of the media is owned by giant corporations, they fear that to tell the truth, the money lines would be completely cut. It can’t be done. In the case of the BBC, you have now executives there who are essentially spineless cowards. The people who had a few guts left have been sacked by the new Labor government of Tony Blair, and the people who have taken charge are back-room boys, hacks  without any creative understanding at all. These are people who would have felt completely home in Erich Honecker's East Germany.
On this side of the Atlantic there is a sense, at least, that the print media in Britain is slightly better. For example, you have this remarkable anomaly of a tabloid journal, The Daily Mirror, which I think has a circulation of some 4 million, featuring articles by John Pilger and Peter Arnett. And then there are The Independent and The Guardian.
The print media in Britain has been much, much better on this war than the television. There is no question about it. It reflects a number of things. For one, the British establishment was divided on the war. And when I say the establishment, I mean the armed forces, the intelligence services, as much as the civil servants who run that country behind the scenes in the foreign office, the defense ministry, etc. This division gave the print media a chance to actually tell the truth. Because they knew the divisions were there, they would not be faced by a totally united ruling elite, as often happens when Britain goes to war. And they knew that many generals were very unhappy with Blair's decision to go to war. This meant that the truth could be told.
And that gave courage to tabloid papers like The Daily Mirror, although the government's fight back began by sacking the heads of the BBC and by setting up the editor of The Daily Mirror. He was given a set of photographs which showed British soldiers committing torture in Iraq. In good faith he published these pictures. Immediately, it was released by the government that these were fakes. And he was sacked by Trinity, the American company which owns The Daily Mirror.
So the editor who took the risks, who put Pilger on the front page, who made The Daily Mirror antiwar throughout the period leading up to the war and in the early stages after the occupation, is no longer editor of that newspaper.
In the case of The Guardian and The Independent, it is undeniably the case that their comments pages, have maintained a consistent criticism of the imperial adventure in Iraq. The Guardian's coverage of the war itself has been not as strong as that of The Independent, which has in Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn two brave journalists who have reported from the field in Iraq and who have refused to be embedded in any shape or form.
And if I can put it like that, we now have two forms of journalism: one is embedded journalism, by which you mean that people who decide to go that route are career journalists, building their careers, not interested particularly in the truth; and then you have journalists of the old school, who still believe in this old-fashioned concept that the task of a journalist is to search for the truth, find it, and report it. The people doing this now are few and far between.
We once did an interview called “Imperialism: Then and Now.” Maybe we can do one on rhetoric: then and now. Let me read you something that the British general Stanley Maude said after conquering Baghdad in 1917. He proclaimed, “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators.”
The rhetoric never changes. How can imperialism be anything else but liberation? That's the way they think. They constantly try to pull the mask tight on their faces, because they have bad consciences. They know they're occupying other countries. The British were past masters in this rhetoric. Just as a small footnote, General Stanley Maude's grandson, who is a close acquaintance of mine, marched on the demonstration against the Iraq war in Britain. So even families change.
But coming back to the rhetoric they use, we saw a prime example of this in President Bush's inauguration address, fighting for freedom, fighting against tyranny. This was the rhetoric of the Cold War. This was the rhetoric of the British Empire. This was the rhetoric of the French Empire. This was the rhetoric occasionally that even Hitler and Mussolini used. If you compare the rhetoric used by the Italian fascist dictator of the 1920s and 1930s, Benito Mussolini, before he occupied a country, he would say, we are going in the interests of European civilization. We are overthrowing a feudal despotism in Albania, which was ruled by King Zog at the time and was precisely that, and we are coming as liberators. And then the Italian newsreels would show Italian soldiers being welcomed by a handful of Albanians. And you compare that to the rhetoric of the U.S. and its apologists in Iraq, and there is very little to choose between them.
George Bush declared after the attack on Iraq, ”We're not an imperial power, we're a liberating power.” It is kind of proof by assertion. It merely needs to be enunciated for it to be cited as evidence, without any interrogation.
It's just incredible that he can even say that, because even he must know that this is not the case. Certainly the people around him, like Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld, know exactly what they are up to, but they have to say this because they know that large sections of the populations in the West are nervous, including in the U.S., about the war. So constantly they have to treat them like children, as if some things cannot be said in front of the children. You don't tell the truth in front of the children; you talk behind their backs. In front of the children you say, “It's a lovely world, all is well, God's in his heaven, Father Christmas will be here on Christmas Day as usual. Sleep well, your stockings will be full of presents,” etc. Increasingly, the citizens of the U.S. and of Western Europe, are treated in the same way by their political elites. All that this does is to increase cynicism and disillusionment with the functioning of the democratic system.
And whether or not the leaders of this system are aware of what they're doing, the effect of what is going on today is going to weaken democracy and accountability completely.
We have, if I can put it slightly provocatively, a dictatorship of capital and a dictatorship of the empire, which crushes and steamrolls everything in its way. If people do not know the truth, how can they be vigilant citizens? It is impossible for them to even operate as citizens if they are not given the truth. And so what is happening today is extremely worrying. Which is why President Bush can get away with remarks like the stuff you have just quoted to me.
In 1984 there is the Ministry of Truth. And in the Ministry there is a memory hole in which inconvenient facts simply disappear. Let me bring to your attention a photograph that was taken in 1983 with Ronald Reagan's envoy in the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld, shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Tariq Aziz is standing right next to Saddam Hussein. This is information that has gone down the memory hole.
And it's not the only one. Numerous similar pieces of information have been blocked out from public view: the fact that British and American diplomats were regularly seeing Saddam Hussein. The fact that in 1990 you had a delegation of American senators led by Bob Dole which went to visit Saddam Hussein and apologized to him for a slightly critical report on his misdoings which appeared on the Voice of America. They said the journalist was an idiot who didn't know what he was doing and tried to explain to Saddam Hussein, You must understand that in a democracy you can't control everything - though, quite honestly, they've managed pretty well since then.
So you had these apologists for Saddam within the highest reaches of the Western political and military establishments.
And I always point this out, and I cite it in Bush in Babylon as well, that Saddam Hussein’s worst repression against his own people was carried out when he was a strong ally of the West.
That's when he was at his worst. And the British parliament, even though they were in opposition then, Tony Blair, Robin Cook, Geoff Hoon, all these luminaries refused to sign a resolution put forward by radical Labor members of parliament denouncing the use of chemical weapons in Halabja. That's how closely the establishments were allied to him.
So it's a nerve now for them to turn around and inform their people in the antiwar movement that we're doing this in the interests of freedom. They're doing it as all empires have done.
They always act in their own interests. It's an iron law of empire, from the olden days to the present time: empires act in their own interests. Their own interests required that roads be built from London to Scotland so that the Roman legions could go from one place to the other in the shortest possible time. The British Empire needed to construct railways in India so that grain and troops could be transported in quick time if there was trouble brewing. Today these are pointed out as big achievements of empire. And the point I always make is that these were measures carried out because it suited these people and because it was in their interest to do so. They were not done to improve the social infrastructure of Roman Britain or that of 19th century India.
At the time of Rumsfeld's visit to Baghdad - and he followed up with a second visit - the State Department took Iraq off its list of terrorist states. And already by this time it was well known that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iran.
The West was fully aware of that. And for them it was not a big problem because Iran was at that time the big enemy. And Saddam's war against Iran was conducted with the full approval of the West. Britain and the U.S. supplied him with weaponry, with equipment, with help, with political advice, because they wanted the Iranian mullahs defeated because they feared at the time that the Islamic revolution in Iran would spread to the Arab Gulf, would destroy the Saudi monarchy. They needed the mullahs wiped out, and so they turned to Saddam. And he was very helpful to him.
It's because he was very helpful to them that he assumed they would be his allies for life. Not being a very intelligent person, Saddam also thought that he had become indispensable for the West, not realizing that the interests of the West change as time passes. Yesterday's enemies become friends, yesterday's friends become enemies, depending on what the interests are. And when Saddam had become dispensable, especially when the Israelis were arguing that the Iraqi army had become too powerful and had to be destroyed, because this was what threatened them the most in the Middle East, the U.S.
started work on this.
I'm totally allergic to any conspiracy theories, but it's difficult not to reach the conclusion that Saddam was set up as far as the invasion of Kuwait was concerned. They encouraged him, he went for it, and then they turned on him and destroyed his army.
Talk more about that, because this is, again, a piece of historical amnesia. April Glaspie, then the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, someone who had command of Arabic, meets with Saddam Hussein on July 25, 1990.
The meeting takes place in Saddam's office. Present are Tariq Aziz, and other Iraqi officials, April Glaspie, the U.S.
ambassador, and her aides. The discussion takes place in Arabic.
As you said, April Glaspie was one of the few State Department people who was fluent in Arabic, understood and spoke it very well. So there is no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation by an interpreter.
Saddam Hussein pointed out to her that the Kuwaitis were being provocative, which, incidentally, was true, and said that if they carried on like this, digging for oil inside Iraq and trying to steal Iraqi oil, they would have to be taught a lesson. And April Glaspie replied - I don't remember the exact words now - something to the effect that the U.S. is aware of your position and is sympathetic to it. Whatever the exact words she used, it's clear from what happened afterwards that Saddam Hussein took this as a green light to invade Kuwait. No Iraqi regime since the country was formed accepted the detachment of Kuwait by the British Empire from Iraq. Kuwait used to be part of the province of Basra, so when the British took Kuwait and divided it from Iraq, just in case - the British were very clever like that; they thought they might lose Iraq, but they would have some way there, so they found a local tribal family and made it the rulers of Kuwait - the whole of Iraq and many Kuwaitis were unhappy with that. So it has been a traditional position of Iraqi governments that Kuwait is actually part of Iraq.
So when Saddam got what he assumed to be the green light from the U.S. ambassador, he thought he would both settle this question for once and for all and would become a hero to all Iraqis as the first leader to have settled this issue, and he went for it. And he was totally shaken when the U.S. decided to remove him by force. At first he thought it was a total bluff: they were doing it just for the American public or for their friends in the Middle East. And how could they do this when they had given him the green light? And April Glaspie was transferred from there. I think she was sort of sent to the American equivalent of Siberia to service in Africa, where she was lost.
Edward Said once told me that he had run into her at some event in New York or Washington and questioned her about this fatal and fateful meeting with Saddam Hussein and said, “Why don't you write about it?” And he said she just didn't want to talk about it at all. But she is a woman who could write the truth, if she so decided. After all, her career must be approaching its end, so what is there to conceal any longer from the American public? We would all benefit.
Chalmers Johnson in his book, Sorrows of Empire, writes that the U.S. more than 700 military installations in over 100 countries. This constitutes a level of power and dominance that is unprecedented in history. It is a de facto Pax Americana. Monthly Review has referred to it as Pox Americana. What can people do about this situation?
The people in whose countries military bases have been constructed without their approval can certainly begin campaigns to demand the withdrawal of U.S. military bases.
And I have been arguing now for some years that the World Social Forum and its constituent parts should make the withdrawal of U.S. military bases from different parts of the world as a major campaign.
The other way, of course, is to put massive pressure on the governments in power of these bases and to elect governments which can do so, which is more difficult, given how everything is manipulated these days. So that's the first thing.
The second, and in some ways more important thing, is for citizens in the U.S. itself to understand that one reason they have bad health care, that there are big attacks on the Social Security system, on state medical insurance is that the welfare state cannot be sustained if there is a continuing demand by the military for money. Even within the U.S. Army now there is a big anger that veterans might have their pensions reduced because the cost of giving them decent pensions and a decent standard of living is not affordable because of all the wars that are being fought and because of the needs of the American military and imperial system at the present time.
And I think this is something which, of course, the two political parties that run the empire, the Democrats and the Republicans, will never campaign on. But it is something that a third party should begin to campaign on - I talk about a nonexistent third party- of actually going to the grass roots, talking to people, and saying, “You are not powerless. You could begin to change this if you get off your back sides and are active and do something about it and not be totally dependent on Democrats and Republicans to do it for you, but elect people you can really trust who are not on the payroll of the big corporations or beholden to powerful interests.” So it's a combination of struggle outside and inside the U.S. And I know this seems far-fetched, but I think ultimately that's what will happen.
The U.S. currently spends more on the military than the next 15 countries combined. It's been suggested that the American resort to military force is not really a sign of strength but rather of weakness. What do you think of that?
I think this is partially true, but we have to be careful, because people, especially people who are opposed to all this, are constantly searching for a silver lining. And no doubt there will be a time when the silver lining will emerge, but we have to understand today that American power has never been stronger.
It's a country which is unchallenged in the world by any other state.
Economically it's a different story. The U.S. economy is weak, it's a debt-ridden economy. And if the IMF treated the U.S. government like they do many governments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and came down hard on them, they would impose very tough guidelines. But, of course, all the rules that apply to the rest of the world, whether it's human rights, whether it's war crimes, whether it's IMF rules, do not operate in the U.S. The weakness of this economy and the emergence of other economic rivals poses a big question to the empire, which is, are you prepared to use force in order to preserve your economic strength.
I think the answer to that is yes. The conquest of Iraq is partially due to this assertion of raw imperial power, and to say to the rest of the world and the Far Eastern bloc, China, Japan, South Korea, very dependent on oil, We control the oil. You can have it, of course, because we've got enough of our own, but we control it. And anytime you step out of line, we can cut it off.
That was the aim. It's not happened as yet, and it may never happen. But that is the way they're thinking. In other words, they're trying to use America's military strength to override its economic weaknesses. So economically weak, militarily strong.
What about politics and ideology? Here the U.S., since the collapse of communism, has been totally dominant. It's what they call soft imperialism. The export of Hollywood, the game shows, the soap operas from U.S. television have conquered the world. European television is full of them. So is Asia. Chinese citizens often are watching Friends. So it's a strange world that we live in at the moment.
And I'm just saying to you that people who talk about overreach, it's true that there can be military overreach, which can lead to defeats, and that, then, can begin to change things around. We're some way off from that. And the ideological and the military dominance of the U.S. at the moment is not something which can be defeated easily. And one has to be hard-headed about it, otherwise it misleads people. And I just believe in saying it like it is. Do not have too many illusions on that front. Of course, what's happening in Iraq is very important.
But let's see what happens.
An interesting character in American history is Major General Smedley Butler. In your talks and books you refer to Butler. He's not a well-known figure. Tell us about him.
This is a very interesting case, which often happens sometimes in countries like the U.S., that people who are at the heart of the system in different ways become dissenters; because they see what's going on and they see the lies being told and they decide to tell the truth. On a smaller level, but still important for us, was Daniel Ellsberg deciding to leak the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War because he could no longer stomach the consequences of that war both for his own country and for the Vietnamese.
Smedley Butler is a completely different case. This is an American general who was born in 1881. He joined the Marine Corps and served in it for 33 years. He became one of the most celebrated and decorated generals in the history of the U.S. He twice was awarded the Medal of Honor. General Douglas MacArthur, viceroy of Japan and of South Korea after the Second World War, worshipped Smedley Butler. And to this day the U.S. base in Okinawa is named after Butler, because MacArthur really admired his strategic brilliance as a soldier.
MacArthur, of course, never mentioned this, nor did other American military people, but Smedley Butler, by the late 1920s, early 1930s, had begun to question what he was doing, and he turned. After he left the military, he suddenly began to reflect on what he had done as an American general. I quote him in my book Clash of Fundamentalisms. And let me just read to you from a speech he delivered in 1933.
‘War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people.
Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense of the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6% over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100%. Then the flag follows the dollar and the solders follow the flag. I wouldn't go to war again, as I have done, to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for: one is the defense of our homes, and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.” And then Smedley Butler goes on to describe what he did for the corporations: “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China, I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” When you listen to an American general who has written these words and look at what is happening today in Iraq, it's exactly the same. Just change the names of the companies, Bechtel, Halliburton, and you have exactly the same racket taking place for the benefit of the very few and at the expense not simply of the masses in Iraq but also at the expense of the masses in the U.S. A hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have died to make Iraq safe for U.S. capital. Several thousands of American boys and girls have been wounded fighting in Iraq.
Over 1,400 have been killed in Iraq to make Iraq safe for U.S. capital. And I think, because it’s an American general who is teaching us this lesson, Smedley Butler's book and his speeches should be required reading for all politicians. Of course, one knows what they will say. “Oh, Smedley went loony. He lost it.” But, in fact, he recovered it. And he himself says, When I lost it was when I was participating in all these crimes being carried out, and I regained it when I began to tell the truth.
Smedley Butler's book is entitled War is a Racket. After he retired from the Marine Corps, he became a spokesperson for the League against War and Fascism. The league’s motto was, “Take the Dollar Sign out of the Battle Flags.”
Let's come again to the present and what the conservative commentator George Will calls “the mess in Mesopotamia.” What is the exit strategy for the U.S. in Iraq, if any? In a recent editorial in Monthly Review, the editors write, “The United States is facing the prospect of a major defeat in Iraq that is likely to constitute a serious setback in the ongoing campaign to expand the American empire.” It's not too surprising to read that kind of analysis in Monthly Review, but already in establishment political circles, people like Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska, there’s talk about getting out.
The war has been a disaster for everyone. It's been a total disaster for the people of Iraq, who have suffered the worst. And one shouldn't forget this. People in the U.S. complain, moan, and are upset about American casualties, which I understand.
But Iraqis far and away have suffered the largest number of casualties. We should not forget this.
And what constantly amazes me, I guess it shouldn't now, is that well meaning and decent liberals, many of whom were opposed to the war, cannot understand why it's necessary to demand the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops in Iraq.
I think many people in the U.S. establishment understand this, conservative commentators. But recently Foreign Affairs, an establishment magazine here linked to the State Department, published two pieces, one by Edward Luttwak, and the other by James Dobbins, calling for an immediate withdrawal before things get worse. Unfortunately, it is not at all the case that Rumsfeld and Condi Rice, the new secretary of state, understand this. The neocon agenda is still in place. They're threatening Iran. They’re talking about having surgical strikes against Iran to try and pull off something that could appear like a success.
That's the main reason for it, apart from the pressure of the Israelis. But the fact that the war in Iraq has gone badly wrong is now unchallengeable.
So what can the U.S. do? Let's look at it from their own point of view for a minute. If you are leading the American Empire and you see something going very badly wrong, basically what you will try to do, given the traditions of the American Empire itself, is pull your own troops out and have a regime in place which does your bidding without the presence of U.S. troops. In many countries, of course, this is possible.
Egypt is a case in point. There are no U.S. troops in Egypt, but Egypt does its bidding because its moth-eaten military dictatorship receives a great deal of money each year from the U.S. It's perfectly possible that the gang elected on January 30th will say to the U.S., “You can rely on us. We will do your bidding. You should withdraw your troops, but possibly, just in case, you should leave one military base here in case we need your help.” And the U.S. will be tempted by that option. And they could do it. However, what militates against that is that the people elected under a foreign occupation, dependent on a foreign occupation army, cannot lose their dependence overnight, so you could have a large chunk of the country's population trying to get rid of this government very quickly.
And if the foreign occupying armies are still there, it will not be easy for them to get out of this mess. So traditional U.S. imperial policy of finding military dictators or tame politicians to do their bidding will not be easy in Iraq.
It's genuinely difficult for them to know what to do. Of course, from our point of view, the sooner all foreign troops quit Iraq, the better for the people of Iraq. It will not be pleasant immediately after they leave, but so what? Every single colonial and imperial power in history has said, “Oh, we can't leave because of the mess that would result.” But we say, “Look at the mess you've created. Anything that results will be more organic and will improve the situation.” The Reserves are drying up. So what are they going to do?
The only serious answer is conscription, which is, get the middle and upper class kids in the army and let them go and fight. But we know what happened when that was tried before in Vietnam. It laid the basis for a massive antiwar movement. In the case of Iraq, if the last opinion polls I read were accurate, a majority of Americans now believe that the war was a mistake.
If this is the case, and it probably is, then to impose conscription would lead to a big explosion inside the U.S. itself. And you would soon find senators and congressmen who backed the war, lost their tongues, defended the administration suddenly turning against the war as they feel the pressure from below. So for that reason I don't think the Republicans are going to do it.
So they're in a mess. Whatever they do, it's a mess for them. From that point of view, it's legitimate to say that Iraq is already a defeat for them. They can't be defeated militarily.
Politically they have suffered a big defeat already.
Arundhati Roy of India, Naomi Klein of Canada, and others have called for U.S. reparations to Iraq. What's the possibility of an idea like that getting traction and actually happening?
It will only happen if the U.S. is convinced that the government there is a total puppet government which will do its bidding. Then they will probably supply some money to rebuild. But look at what has just been reported in the British press by visiting teams of archeologists. Lord Redesdale, a leading British archeologist and head of an all-party parliamentary archeological group, said, “Outrage is hardly the word.” This is after seeing that the foundations of the ancient city of Babylon had been destroyed. He said, “This is just dreadful. These are world sites. Not only is what the American forces doing damaging the archeology of Iraq, it's actually damaging the cultural heritage of the whole world.” You will remember that when the Taliban destroyed those amazingly beautiful monuments, the giant-size statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan, the whole world went mad. This was supposed to be one of the signs of the barbarism of the Taliban.
Muslim delegations that had gone from Egypt and Iran saying “Don't do it” were ignored and the statues were blown up.
Where is the world when these archeological outrages and horrors are taking place in Iraq? These are the double standards that make people in the South very angry with what the North is doing. And the citizens of the North are just blind to all this. It's happening before their eyes, they read it in their newspapers. They don't do anything.
That report on the wrecking of archeological sites in Babylon was from The Guardian. Of course, you have a book Bush in Babylon. Perhaps if you were to write a sequel, it would be called Bush Is Still in Babylon.
The new edition of that book has got a long chapter with much additional material. I hope I don't have to write a new book on Iraq, but maybe one will have to once the U.S. comes out. What saddens me considerably is that Iraq was one of the most cultured, advanced places in the Arab world, even under the Ba’ath. Let me say this. The level of education was very high.
More women were educated in Iraq than in any other Arab country. There were more women doctors, more women social workers in Iraq than anywhere else in the Arab world. Iraq’s social infrastructure was first damaged by the horrific sanctions imposed by the West and the United Nations, the bombing of 12 years, and now the invasion and occupation. So here we have a country before us which has virtually been destroyed by the West in the name of so-called freedom. A curse on such freedoms.
The U.S. is full of paradoxes. We can see that in the media. There are programs such as this, there is Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! and many other examples of the kinds of spaces that exist for dissent in this country. What is your response when you hear people call the U.S. a fascist state?
It's totally ridiculous. I have always attacked this notion. The use of the word “fascist” loosely doesn't help anyone, whether it's used by the left to describe the U.S. or whether it's used by the right or the new right, by Christopher Hitchens and Francis Fukuyama and others to describe Muslims fighting the empire as Islamo-fascists. So you have two sorts of Muslims: the good Muslims are good Muslims and the bad Muslims are Islamofascists.
Childish. It's a form of childish abuse. It’s a completely unscientific description. Fascism was something very specific, in a particular period. So to attack the U.S. as fascist in that form is foolish.
What I do notice in the U.S., of course there is a great deal of dissent, some of it underground, some of it public, but also what I find has changed a great deal over the last 25 years is what we discussed earlier - a totally tame media. So far from describing the U.S. as fascist, I would say it's very reminiscent of Brezhnevite Russia, the Soviet Union led by a decaying gerontocracy, irritating people, spying on people, a totally controlled media. Even that is not a complete analogy, because it isn't totally like that, but there are elements of that in the official culture of the U.S. It's become very bland, very monolithic, whichever way you look. The thought that Hollywood is now doing a movie on the fall of Falluja to celebrate what the Marines did in that city is mind-boggling. Nothing changes.
You mentioned the World Social Forum earlier. Its theme is “Another World is Possible.” What signs do you see of that, and what kind of common ground exists to build upon?
Another world is possible. It's always possible. When that slogan was first invented, it was useful, because people were feeling demoralized. But we've moved on a bit since then. Now you have to be concrete. How is this world possible, what are the social forces that are going to create it, and what are the transitional steps to that new world? And here most of the NGOs, the non-governmental organizations, fall silent. I think one of the most vacuous slogans that has been emerged from the global justice movement is John Holloway, one of the theoreticians of anti-politics, who has coined the slogan “We can change the world without taking power” It sounds good, but, of course, it's nonsense. You can't do that. Even in difficult times you need a sympathetic government which can begin to make changes.
A classic example of this is Venezuela, the Bolivarian Republic. Its elected president, Hugo Chavez has shown how it's possible to defeat the oligarchy democratically with the support of the overwhelming majority of the poor. And he has been able to do it by pushing through, using the money which Venezuelan oil provides, health programs, education programs, land reforms, housing for the poor. This is something which has had a big effect. Prior to Chavez and the Bolivarian Republic what you had in Venezuela was different factions of the oligarchy who ruled the country, not unlike the United States of America.
So you had formal democracy, but neither of the parties was prepared to institute any real change. Chavez has done that, and for that reason he's hated and despised by the oligarchy, who tried to topple him, with the help of the U.S., on two, three occasions. They failed because he has popular support. And the reason he has popular support is because of the social reforms that have been instituted which challenged the IMF, World Bank frontally. And if Argentina and Brazil had done that as well, and Lula had mimicked Chavez instead of falling on his knees before the IMF, then you would have had real possibilities of changing Latin America, which has some of the most radical social movements in the world today. So there are definitely certain possibilities, but people completely obsessed with the style of NGOs and how they function cannot see that.
Arundhati Roy in a critique of NGOs describes them - I'm paraphrasing - as kind of enablers of the predominant structures of power.
She's absolutely right. I haven't read that article as yet, but I've read comments on it. From what the critiques of it are, I think she's struck home. And I think what she has said, if the reports are accurate, applies to 98% of the NGOs. There are some NGOs which are actually doing good work. There is no doubt about it. And they get very upset. But the overwhelming bulk of these NGOs are complete enablers.
I was, in fall of 2004, in Minnesota at Macalester College debating Professor Niall Ferguson, the British defender of empire, who has been given the chair in history at Harvard. He said quite openly, During the days of the British Empire we had missionaries who went in and tried to convert people to Christianity. This is no longer possible now because it's not serious. But instead we have the NGOs. And he said, They do exactly the same job for us and are very important for pushing the imperial strategy forward. And I said, “It's the only thing you've said today with which I'm in agreement.” And I think the sad thing is that some of the NGOs don't realize it; some of the people who work with them don't realize it. But that is the role they should play.
Talk more about Venezuela. There was a fine documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised made by two young filmmakers from Ireland who found themselves inside the Miraflores palace in Caracas as the coup was unfolding in April of 2002. You've met with Chavez. What are your impressions of him? He's often described in the hostile U.S. press as a classic kind of caudillo, the Latin military tyrant.
My sense of Hugo Chavez was of a very sympathetic human being, open-minded, keen to learn, a voracious reader of books, unlike most U.S. politicians. He is well informed, cultivated, at the same time eager to discuss, to learn more, and open to criticism. In Venezuela, virtually the entire private media is owned by Gustavo Cisneros. He is a Cuban exile from Miami who has built a big media empire, owns the television networks, and both the leading papers. The media have been attacking Chavez endlessly, sometimes in the most disgusting fashion possible. There is no regulation of the private media. There is regulation of the private media in the U.S. and Britain, none in Venezuela. I think now they are going to do something about it because some of what the media has published is just outrageous. If it happened in the U.S., there would be a scandal, especially the racist attacks on Chavez, portraying him on private television as a monkey.
He comes from a family with mixed blood, native Indian and black. His mother was a schoolteacher. He joined the army because many kids from families like that and even poorer families had no other possibilities, so they joined the army. The army is a way of getting employment. And he's gifted. He rose within the ranks quite quickly. And he became completely obsessed with Simon Bolivar, the great liberator of Latin America, read up all the stuff, saw the radical thrust of many of Bolivar's statements, and decided, Why can't we do this here.
If he had come to power via a military coup, I would understand some of the criticisms made, not just by the right but by liberals and people who are very embarrassed that radical things can still happen. But he was not. He was voted to power by an election. He has been reelected and won five different forms of elections and referenda. So his democratic credentials are impeccable. I find him personally very sympathetic. I think the weaknesses in Venezuela are that the Bolivarian system has to be created from the beginning. There is nothing there. And they are now trying to build a social, political, economic system which is a rival to the old oligarchic system and which can last and outlast Chavez. So it's the one country in the world where you go and you feel quite optimistic. I'm not saying there are still not enormous problems, but at least there is a government which is trying to resolve them.
The race divide was quite noticeable in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, in terms of supporters of Chavez. And you would see these mass demonstrations of brown and black people, and then the opposition demonstrations were largely fair-skinned, white people. This replicates itself throughout the continent, but talk about it in Venezuela specifically.
I noticed this the first time I visited Venezuela; I have been there a number of times now - that the class divide was replicated by the divide of race and skin color. The better off, the rich are light-skinned whites and see themselves as such.
The bulk of the country's population is dark-skinned. And this is now a big divide in Venezuela. The oligarchs, the white-skinned people are out of power, so they're screaming, and the darkskinned people are in power, for the first time in Venezuelan history. So it's not something which is small in terms of the consciousness of the people. They've never enjoyed power before. And I have been at gatherings where native American people in Venezuela have come and said how they were treated before, how they were ignored. And, of course, Chavez's victories are having a big impact in the army, which consists largely of dark-skinned people. I think the U.S. attempted to use generals to topple Chavez, and that failed because the soldiers supported him.
Elsewhere in Latin America there is considerable ferment, In Bolivia, Evo Morales narrowly lost the presidential election. There’s a popular movement in Cochabamba around water rights. I believe their slogan is “El Agua es Nuestra,” the water is ours. There are movements in Argentina, Via Campesina. In Brazil, there is Movimiento Sin Tierra, the landless workers movement. Could the possibilities for change start in Latin America?
They have started. They've started in Venezuela, even in Argentina, Kirchner, the president, is not accepting IMF demands easily. He's resisting, he's fighting back on some level.
The biggest disappointment has been Lula in Brazil. This was a working-class leader elected largely by the poor who thought he would turn things around. Instead, he has become the Tony Blair of Latin America. That's the big problem.
I have been noticing this for some time, that the continent where the economic policies of the empire are under threat and under permanent challenge is Latin America. And I think everyone is watching this continent with eyes filled with hope, hoping something will emerge there. And it would be poetic and historical justice. After all, this was the backyard of President Monroe's empire. This is where they said, We can do what we like, it's ours. And they said to the other imperial powers, the British and the French. Don't try and get in there. It's ours. And as General Smedley Butler points out, it's been raped many a time by the U.S. Marines and the corporations. So it would only be right if this is where the resistance against these economic measures was first felt.
In your autobiography of the 1960s, Street Fighting Years, just reissued by Verso, you talk about your friendship with John Lennon. You include an interview with him and Yoko. I was interested to hear from you that you advised him not to move to the U.S.
When he told me, “I'm thinking of leaving Britain and going to New York,” we were having a phone conversation. I said, “Don't do it, John.” And he said, “Why? You know, we're very fed up. Yoko is being attacked by racists and the British media.
She finds this very constricting,” which I totally sympathized with. I said, “No, I understand all that.” He said, “Oh, well, why do you think I shouldn't move to the U.S.?” And I said, “Oh, I don't know. I'm just worried. There are too many kooks there.
I'm worried.” It was just an instinctive response. He said, “Well, we're not really moving to kooky America; we're moving to Manhattan. That isn't really America.” And we chatted when he was in the States a number of times, and he seemed very happy there. He really loved New York.
It is 25 years ago this year that he was killed. And it was a deep sense of shock. That's one reason why I decided to allow Street Fighting Years to be reprinted. And I've done a long, long introduction to it and added the correspondence with Lennon just to remind people of those times.
You knew Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones hit Street Fighting Man is somehow connected to you.
They were strange times. Mick Jagger used to come on all the anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations. And he wrote a song called “Street Fighting Man,” which he sent to me. He handwrote it and sent it to me and said, “I've written this for you. And the BBC has banned it, so maybe you should print it in The Black Dwarf,” which was a radical magazine I edited at that time. So, of course, we photographed it and put it in The Black Dwarf.
And then I scrumpled up the original and threw it in the waste bin. If I hadn't done that, we would have been able to fund a new radical paper today.
You've undertaken the Islam quintet, a series of novels: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, The Book of Saladin, The Stone Woman, and the most recent, A Sultan of Palermo. In a lecture that you gave at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque you said that you were provoked to write fiction by something you heard on BBC TV.
That was at the time of the first Gulf War, 1991. And someone who should have known better, a pundit, was on BBC TV justifying the war. And in the course of this justification, a sentence slipped out of his mouth. He said, “The Arabs are a people without a political culture.” That just angered me so much. And I then got very interested in Islamic history, and I asked myself the question, Why had there not been a reformation within Islam? And I went to Spain to look at the origins of the best period, for me, in Islamic history, El Andalus, Andalusia. I saw the monuments, I traveled around for months.
And a novel came into my head, and that became Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.
Edward Said read it. And when we met, he said, in his typical Saidian way, “It's great, but you've got to finish the job now.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Tell the whole bloody story. It's not just Spain. It's the Crusades, it's the Ottoman Empire.” I said, “Edward, that's a big project.” He said, “Do it, do it.” So I then thought about what he had said, and it was actually a very good idea. So I blame Edward Said for this.
But I'm really happy that this last summer I went to a retreat in Pakistan, my mother's house, where I was cut off from the rest of the world and e-mails and computers and being pestered. She is a very strict guardian. And I managed to finish A Sultan in Palermo. So it was started in Palermo and Ragusa in Sicily, little bits were done in Byron Bay in Australia, and the novel was finally finished in Lahore. I couldn't believe I had finally finished it, because there are so many pressures on my time now. So there is one more novel left in this quintet, and then, as they say, Ameen.
I understand you have a book with this radio broadcaster in the U.S., Speaking of Empire and Resistance. What's that about? Who is this character?
This is a strange guy I met some years ago called David Barsamian. He is an Armenian of some sort, but he speaks my language, Urdu. He's traveled and spent a lot of time in the Indian subcontinent. And when I first met him, I thought he was an Indian. He hangs out in Boulder, Colorado, goes around interviewing radicals all over the world, and has been interviewing me now for several years.
He suggested that we do a book of interviews together. I wasn't totally convinced, but he pushed it through. The book is looking very good. I'm going through the proofs of it at the moment. I was sort of also nervous to have “empire” in the title, because there are so many wretched books with “empire” in the title. So calling it Speaking of Empire and Resistance does make it into a unique book, because lots of people talk about empire, but resistance these days is not a fashionable or popular word.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)


Copies of the book “Speaking of Empire & Resistance” are available from AR - ($17. + S&H)
Other Alternative Radio Tariq Ali programs –
Imperialism: Then & Now
Bush in Babylon
Cracks in the Empire
Enablers of Empire

For information about obtaining CDs, cassettes or transcripts of this or other programs, please contact:
David Barsamian
Alternative Radio
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