Activist Critiques U.S. For Debilitating Iraq, Offers Views On Israel

Sarah Sumadi

By Sarah Sumadi The Daily Northwestern

Americans feel reluctant to pull out of Iraq because they don’t want to leave the country in shambles, said historian and activist Tariq Ali.

What’s comical, Ali said, is that pulling out couldn’t possibly make the situation worse within the country, since America created Iraq’s chaotic mess in the first place.

The Department of French and Italian sponsored Ali’s address to a full McCormick Tribune Center on Tuesday afternoon, and the event coincided with the release of his latest book, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope.”

Ali, born in former British India, was a Marxist activist through much of the 1960s and 1970s and is an outspoken critic of American imperialism and foreign policy.

Much of Ali’s lecture criticized American involvement in the Middle East. Even countries in squalor prefer their own regimes to foreign ones, he said.

“Surprisingly, there are large parts of the world who don’t like being occupied,” Ali said in a slow, British monotone, drawing laughter from the audience. “Countries tend to react badly to occupation.”

A complete withdrawal can only improve the country, Ali said, because it will force Iraqi factions to talk and create a plan for their future.

“However, the irony for America is that since the occupation has so weakened Iraq, they’ll be forced to join forces with Iran, and Iran will become the strongest power in the region,” he said.

In his speech, Ali also advocated a one-state solution to the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. The political climate will never allow for a Palestinian state, he said.

“Everyone in the region should become citizens of one state, Israel, whether they like it or not,” Ali said. “I think Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together in peace. But ethnicity on either side of a wall will not work.”

He spoke briefly about his new book, in which he calls Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela an “axis of hope” because they are attempting to find an alternative to American imperialism. The book also praises Venezuela for using oil revenues to enact social reforms similar to the New Deal.

“America is vilifying leaders like Hugo Chavez because they found an alternative to neoliberal capitalism,” Ali said, referring to Venezuela’s socialist-leaning president. “But Chavez is getting 70 percent in the opinion polls right now because he has fulfilled his promises.”

The Middle East could learn a great deal from Latin America, Ali said.

“Countries like Iraq are resisting American occupation, but they don’t have the social vision for when the occupation is over.”

Reactions to Ali’s speech were largely positive.

“I liked his emphasis on the need for remembering the past,” journalism graduate student Regan Doherty said. “We’re unfamiliar with these countries’ colonial memories, so we assume we’ll get a good greeting when we invade them.”

Nasrin Qader, an assistant professor of francophone literature, teaches Ali’s book in her classes and invited the academic to speak when she learned he was visiting Chicago to promote his book.

“He has an uncanny ability to connect history with politics, and also to connect regions of the world which aren’t normally spoken about together, like the Middle East and Latin America,” Qader said.

At the end of the talk, graduate student Tatiana Filimonova she was considering buying Ali’s book.

“I’m impressed that Northwestern got him to speak here,” Filimonova said. “I wish more people shared his ideas.”

Reach Sarah Sumadi at [email protected]