102 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Iconoclastic account of world affairs
For those who want to understand how such seemingly disparate issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kashmir question, and the situation in Afghanistan fit together in the Post-Cold War world this latest book by Tariq Ali is almost mandatory reading.
This is surely a very personal account of world affairs, and in many instances the author is driven just as...
Published on June 16, 2002 by Carool Kersten
42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed
This is a peculiar hybrid of a book. Much of it was written before the attacks of September 11, others were written after it in response to the American-Afghanistan war. Tariq Ali has been for decades both a leading British Trotskyist and the author of justifiably well-regarded books on Pakistan and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India. He is also one of the...
Published on May 4, 2002 by email@example.com
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102 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Iconoclastic account of world affairs,
This is surely a very personal account of world affairs, and in many instances the author is driven just as much by his own convictions as by a desire to explain. For this is not an unbiased analysis. But to be fair to the author, the iconoclastic Tariq Ali makes no attempt to hide this and would be the first to admit that he has his own political agenda.
Readers who do not share Ali's political ideology, and this reviewer is one of them, should nevertheless not be put off by this. For the very value of THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTALISMS is that it captures a mood, a mood prevalent among scores of people in what we like to call the Third World. And as the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has explained in an entirely different context, moods are just as potent as driving forces for human behavior as the more focussed motivations.
Another quality that the author can not be denied is courage. The opening sentence of the first chapter is namely: I never really believed in God. Not many people of Muslim extraction would have dared to make such a confession, at least not since the Salman Rushdie Affair.
Tariq Ali is indeed not your average representative of the Third World citizen. Born in a family of feudal landowners in the Punjab province of British India, which was divided after the partition between Pakistan and India, his relatives played a role in politics before and after independence: a grandfather was chief minister, and others held senior positions in the armed forces or served in parliament. Ali's parents, however, became staunch Marxists, while he himself is a self-confessed Trotskyist. Since his student-days he has been at the forefront of many political activities at the extreme left of the political spectrum.
His family background and his own political activism have made Tariq Ali a uniquely well-connected man, and this book has benefited from that. Throughout the years the author has had access to the military and political establishment in Pakistan, worked for the Russell Tribunal, traveled in worn-torn Northern Vietnam and visited Palestinian refugee camps. He shows himself not only very well read in Islamic history, but is also conversant with the writings of political radicals of both left and right. He augments his account with examples from literature: critical writers such as Abd al-Rahman Munif and Nizar Kabbani are or were personal acquaintances.
All this makes his book an important read for everybody who wants to at least attempt to view the world through the eyes of `the Wretched of the Earth'.
In the first part Tariq Ali gives a genealogy of the heritage of Islamic civilization. Taking us from his personal introduction to Islamic learning, via the days of the Prophet Muhammad and early conquests to the crusades and the Ottoman Empire. This is followed by two more thematic chapters on the wide diversity of Islamic doctrines - meant to dispel the incorrect image of Islam as a monolithic bloc - and a very interesting discourse on gender issues in Islam.
In the second part of the book the author introduces us into the modern Middle East. Here Ali explains the way a puritanical strand of Islam ends up making common cause with the imperialistic designs of the West, and how the founding of Israel turned the Middle East into a political quagmire, both because of irreconcilable differences and outside manipulations. It is the author's accomplishment to give a readable account of how Zionism, the experiments with socialism in Arab countries such as Egypt and Syria, the trauma caused by the 1967 war, the rise and fall of Anwar Sadat and the Shah, have all been instrumental in creating a mood, which in 1987 exploded into the Intifadah. The result was that during the last decades of the twentieth century virtually the whole Middle East was submerged in an 'Ocean of Terror'.
In the next part, Ali shifts his attention back to his region of origin: South Asia. Because I am not as familiar with this part of the world as with the Middle East, I found this the most informative part of the book. The author explains how the tensions between India and Pakistan can be traced back to the undesired partition of former British India. During the run-up to independence the leaders of the Congress Party and Muslim League did not envisage the horror and atrocities to which they would expose the people they were suppose to represent. Later on it lead to a bloody war in Bangladesh, while Tariq Ali qualifies the Kashmir issue as the unfinished business of partition. Continued interference by the post-Word War II superpowers did nothing to improve the situation. Pakistani and Indian politics became already hopelessly corrupt, even before the situation got completely out of hand in Afghanistan.
While in the previous parts the author has tried to give an explanation for the rage that is holding large parts of the Islamic world in its grip, his final section starts with a chapter entitled `A Short-Course History of US Imperialism'. In many instances Ali hits the nail on the head - the doctrine of Neo-Liberalism is just as fundamentalist in character as Islamic radicalism. His comparison between the theses presented by two high priests of post-Cold War doctrine, Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington, I found particularly insightful. But at the same time the author's personal political predilections come to the fore as he can not resist filling us in on the involvement of these two `state intellectuals' in some of America's unsavory political actions. Kissinger, Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright are taken to task for this as well. A few quotations from Leon Trotsky, by contrast, serve to present him as a visionary, and there is unfortunately also little or no real analysis of what made Marxism-Leninism fail in the end.
But in short, THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTALISMS is a very valuable book for those who want to look beyond the scare mongering of myopic politicians and sensationalist media. In addition to that, is Tariq Ali an entertaining writer as well.
93 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real history of fundamentalism,
I can hardly wait to read the next hundred denunciations of this book, for all that it is chock-full of blood-boiling heresies from beginning to end. A must-read.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging reading, substantial insights, thought-provoking!,
This review is from: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (Paperback)One can't tell a book from it's cover, but in this case, at least one can get an idea that the author has a sense of humor! Perhaps it may be well that such a serious topic as terrorism and religious fundamentalism be approached with a some humor. At the same time, it is a serious book, one of the few books on terrorism that actually delve into the roots of it all to discern a solution. The book is quite voluminous, nearly 330 pages, packed with information and deep analysis, with many notes. The author's brilliant writing style makes it an incredibly difficult book to put down. I ended up finishing the whole book over the Christmas / New Year holiday, with many sleepless nights, that is.
The book is divided into 4 major parts: one on the early history of Islam; one on the last 100 years of relations with the West, marked by colonialism and upheavals; a special part focusing on South Asia (India and Pakistan) the region about which the author is most familiar; and the last part on the United States and it's relations with the Islamic world. The book is fascinating not only because it draws upon the author's deep knowledge of the history of Islam, but also because he punctuates it with poetry and quotations from diverse literary works over the ages. The book exhibits a deep understanding of the subject, and posits a thesis directly confronting the much-touted "clash of civilizations" model. A major strength of this book, however, is that the author is daring enough not to stand with the crowd. While many intellectuals from the Muslim world do little to explain current events beyond laying the blame on the West, Tariq Ali is not afraid to look squarely at his own culture with the same critical eye he uses to examine Western imperialism.
In this day and age, I would say this is a must-read!
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical context for September 11,
36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing riposte to conventional thinking on 9-11,
Ali notes how Francis Fukuyama's thesis on the "End of History," while claiming the moral and economic superiority of liberal capitalism and its triumph over bureaucratic "socialism," didn't provide much in the way of direction for U.S. hegemony following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations filled that gap. Huntington's book, partly a response to Fukuyama, argued not for a golden age ahead, but continuing conflict derived from apparently irreducible cultural differences. Thus Western, and particularly U.S., intervention would still be very much needed to defend American values such as "individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets" (quoted in Ali, p. 273). Huntington's book therefore provided a rationalization for a continued and predominant role of the U.S. in world affairs. September 11 was "proof" for that thesis.
Ali's book subjects this thesis to a withering critique, and this is the main reason for his choice of title, something that others seem not to have grasped. Ali carries out his critique by making two points while presenting a broad political and religious history of the Middle East and Central and South Asia. First, he shows us that Islam and the cultures with which is Islam is associated are anything but monolithic or homogeneous. Islam has had its Luthers as well as its Savonarolas. It has not always been hostile to Western (Aristotle) or even rational and scientific thinking. Its politics have been more varied than most Anglo-American countries, comprising the most radical communists as well as producing leftist and far-rightist nationalisms.
Second, Ali shows that, tragically, and in far too many cases, U.S. foreign intervention in these regions has abetted and financed the rise of the most reactionary elements "against communism or progressive/secular nationalism. Often these were hardline religious fundamentalists: the Muslim Brotherhood against Nasser in Egypt; the Sarekat-i-Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia, the Jamat-e-Islam against Bhutto in Pakistan and, later, Osama bin Laden and friends against the secular communist Najibullah [in Afghanistan]" (p. 275). With the exception of Indonesia, Ali's book is, among other things, a historical presentation of these interventions. Thus, U.S. imperialism, far form necessarily defending itself from an alien and hostile Islamic culture, is at the very least partly responsible for the ascendancy of fundamentalist Islam. Moreover, not only has the U.S. failed to promote democracy, liberty, equality, etc. in these regions, it has actually stifled it.
There are many, including at least one reviewer below, who will disagree with Ali's conclusions, particularly his charges of U.S. imperialism. What these persons want to believe is that U.S. foreign policy really is about those lofty principles that Huntington lists. Ali provides his own response to these critics: "The historic compromise with integrity that this form of Americophilia entails transmutes the friendly critic into a slave of power, always wanting to please. S/he becomes an apologist, expecting the Empire to actually deliver on its rhetoric. Alas, the Empire, whose fundamental motivation today is economic self-interest, may sometimes disappoint the most recent converts to its cause. They feel betrayed, refusing to accept that what has been betrayed is their illusions. What they dislike most is to be reminded of the sour smell of history" (p. 257). Hence, the furious and often ad hominem attacks volleyed against Ali.
What is the meaning of September 11? It is, in the prescient words of Chalmers Johnson, "blowback." "'Blowback' is shorthand for saying that a nation reaps what it sows, even if it does not fully know or understand what it has sown. Given its wealth and power, the United States will be a prime recipient in the foreseeable future of all of the more expectable forms of blowback, particularly terrorit attacks against Americans in and out of the armed forces anywhere on earth, including within the United States" (quoted in Ali, p. 292). Read this book for a case study of this phenomenon.
42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed,
The result overall is mixed. The best pages are Ali's chapter on the complicated question of Kashmir, how the stubborness and venality of the Congress Party has helped Hindu and Moslem bigots make things so much worse. The autobiographical chapters are fascinating, and one learns how many Pakistani view Islamic clerics as little more than child molesters. He helpfully includes Isaac Deutscher's prescient comments on the the six day war, and there is a good comment against Ian Buruma. Ali is willing to criticize his own side, and the pages on the Iranian Communist Party's attempted appeasement of the Khomenei regime, followed by its own liquidation and inglorious public "confession" make grim reading. Although something of a retread of his previous books, the chapters on Pakistan are good reading and they do help explain his intense dislike of the United States. It is important to point out that throughout its post-1945 relations with the Muslim world, the United States has willingly worked with the worst sorts of fundmaentalists, militarists, petty despots and worse to achieve its ends. It has been the key supporter of Israel's recalcitrance against Palestine. In Lebanon it supported the minority Christians and their rigged confessional constitution. It supports Turkey's war against the Kurds and has allowed them to partition Cyprus. Its alliance with Saudi Arabia has made the country safe for a monarchy with a unique combination of public fanaticism and private indulgence. It glorified the Shah of Iran as a model ruler and it supported the worst sort of religious bigotry to drive out the Communists from Afghanistan. It supported Suharto's massacres in Indonesia in 1965 and in East Timor from 1975 onwards. In Somalia in 1993 it cared more about being tough rather than offering useful protection against malaria. And in Pakistan, a Pakistan which is now the one Muslim country with atomic weapons, it has always preferred to be flattered by militarist sycophants than criticized by Indian democrats. In 1954, 1958, 1977 it supported militarists against the wishes of the Pakistani people, and in 1971 it "tilted" to the murderous leaders who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in their attempt to prevent the freely elected government from taking power. The reign of Zia-al-Haq, generously subsidized by the Americans, was vital in encouraging a Fundamentalist mindset that has actually been decisively rejected by Pakistanis on those rare occasions when the generals and the Americans have deigned to allow them to vote. It is important to note that much American concern over Iraq is less over Hussein's tyranny than embarassment that he is still in power.
What are the flaws? Well, the chapter on American imperialism is unoriginal, a potted summary of General Smedley Butler (whose birthdate Ali gets wrong), Eisenhower's warnings on the military-industrial complex, and the Vietnam war. The chapters on the origins of Islam could have been better supported. Moreover, it is hard to support his outrage over America's intervention in Kosovo or Afghanistan. It may be true that Serbian atrocities in Kosovo were exaggerated, but after Sbrenicia Milosevic has lost all right to the benefit of the doubt. And do we really wish to tolerate ethnic cleansing caused by spreading panic and force, as opposed to physical extermination? As for Afghanistan, while it will take many years to see if in fact a moderately just and decent regime has established itself, and while there is every reason that America's foreign policy leaders will be less interested in providing help than in providing themselves with an alibi when things go wrong, one cannot deny that Bin Laden's actions provide a classic causus belli for American reaction. Many people have grudges against the United States, Bin Laden and the Taliban clearly have the least justifiable, and their reaction is clearly the most atrocious. And I think that Christian fundamentalism in the United States, despite its creationist and apocalyptic acts against reason, is clearly subordinate to the capitalist conservative ideology of the Republican party. This should be pointed out in comparison to the Islamic Fundamentalism. All in all, therefore, not fully convincing.
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and courageous book,
By A Customer
This book will be regarded as a classic in years to come. It is in the same superb class as Walter Rodney's "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" and Eduardo Galeano's "Open Veins of Latin America". Ali has the courage to be critical of both the Islamic fundamentalist world, Stalinism and the imperial West--a brave man indeed. Everyone should read this book. Westerners seeking to understand why they are so hated in other parts of the world, and why they are under terrorist attack. Muslims wishing to understand the historical and political origins of the Islamic fundamentalist nightmare that currently engulfs them. And people in the the former Eastern bloc wishing to understand why Stalinism collapsed and why the struggle for genuine democratic socialism--the world described by John Lennon in his beautiful song "Imagine"--still goes on today.
In reply to Holmes' review above, when Ali writes that Yeltsin's market policies gave Russians "the most harrowing ordeal" of the post-war era he is not glossing over the very real totalitarianism that existed under Stalinism. Ali has been, and still is, a long-standing, and well known, campaigner against Stalinism. But how much democracy is there in the Russia of today? It was, after all, Yelstin, not Stalin, who shelled the Russian Parliament building not so long ago. Russia is now ruled by an assortment of crooks and robber barons. How are we to explain the current widespread nostalgia for the Stalin years? Why is the Communist Party still the largest party in Russia? Answer: while there was no real democracy in Russia under Stalin or Yeltsin at least in the Stalin years everyone had a job, free health care and free schooling. Today there is widespread poverty and the infant mortality rate has soared.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating,
This review is from: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (Paperback)Tariq Ali's writing is powerfully persuasive. This book contains fascinating insights and interpretations of the Western-Middle East relations of the last century. No political opinion is ever unbiased, and the reader should take Ali's decidedly leftist views into account when perusing this book, but the author's judgments are very fair and his criticism equally distributed. Ali attributes warfare and imperialism to economic self-interest, and I find his arguments very convincing. A great read and a fascinating perspective, but be sure to pick up other views as well.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Search for Truth,
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Biased against Islam, but has some interesting Info,
This review is from: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (Paperback)Alright, first of all, in response to the reviewer who stated that the author must have made up the fact that the US shot down an Iranian Passenfer jet, a quick google search yielded the following:
Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) was a commercial flight operated by Iran Air that flew from Tehran to Bandar Abbas to Dubai. On July 3, 1988, the airplane flying IR655 was shot down by the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes between Bandar Abbas and Dubai, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 38 non-Iranians and 66 children.
This is an interesting book that should be read with an eye toward verifying the info for one's self, don't be lazy. I disagree with the Author's view of early Islam and reccommend that anyone who reads this book, supplement it with pro-Islamic and pro Secular sources. There's a reason that mysticism in Islam was always strong, and a reason why many of the current Mullahs hate Sufi's and Mysticism. The Author's take on current Middle Eastern affairs are interesting and valuable. Just take the time to verify them because this book seems written by memory more than research, so it's good to check the validity of some of the historical statements.
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The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity by Tariq Ali (Paperback - Apr. 2003)