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Tariq Ali (born 1943) is a Pakistan-born Marxist active in the UK since the 1960s, who through not dying has become something of an elder statesman of the British Left. Described as "once the nation's left-wing bogeyman", he is still a tabloid bete noire. Ali has campaigned on a wide range of stereotypically leftist topics from the Vietnam War and British imperialism in Northern Ireland, and more recently been sharply critical of British and American policy in the Middle East. He is also a long-time, though occasionally mischievous, associate of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
He was allegedly the inspiration for the Rolling Stones' song "Street Fighting Man", although it's unclear how much street-fighting he has done, if any.
Ali was born into a patrician Pakistani family in Lahore. His father was a Marxist, atheist journalist, while his maternal grandfather was Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, Prime Minister of the Punjab from 1937 to 1942 for the upper-class, secular, pro-landowners' Unionist Party. Ali's parents rebelled against their wealthy background by becoming communists and campaigned against military rule in post-independence Pakistan, and Tariq followed in their footsteps. A lifelong atheist and radical, at the age of 6 he encouraged his family's servants to go on strike for more money.
Ali was sent to the UK in the mid 1960s, aged 21 and already a political activist, to avoid the unrest and repression in Pakistan; he attended Exeter College, Oxford, whose other alumni include the first Earl of Shaftesbury, JRR Tolkien, Richard Burton, Alan Bennett, Martin Amis, and Pakistani founding father and president Liaquat Ali Khan. He became president of the Oxford Union, where he organised debates including one on the motion "This house would not fight for Queen and country" which he claims inspired "a lot of hate mail ... from all over the country".
After mentioning Vietnam in answer to every question in his university final exams (he got a third), he became involved in the protests against the Vietnam War. At the same time, he got work with Michael Heseltine, later a Conservative politician but at the time working for the family publishing firm.
British out of Ireland
Ali came to public prominence in the early 1970s as a supporter of the radical-left movement which sought to end the Troubles in Northern Ireland by getting the troops out and giving the Republic of Ireland control over the province (other less committed supporters included half of the Beatles, viz. John Lennon and Paul McCartney). The Marxists saw Northern Ireland as a straightforwardly colonialist struggle for independence from the British, despite the fact that (a) the majority of the population of the North was pro-Union and wanted to remain in the UK and (b) the pro-Irish Marxists in London were allying themselves with a Provisional IRA movement that was deeply reactionary and conservative Roman Catholic and very misogynistic, tarring and feathering teenage girls suspected of socialising or dancing with British soldiers.
International Marxist Group
In the 1970s he was aligned with the International Marxist Group, a Trotskyite movement affiliated to the Fourth International. He stood as a candidate in the February 1974 UK general election in the constituency of Sheffield Attercliffe, getting 424 votes in February and not bothering to stand in the October election.
He is a regular contributor to the Guardian newspaper and the London Review of Books (a left-wing literary journal). He is also involved with left-wing publishers Verso and the New Left Review.
His books include:
- Redemption (1990) a satire about marxists unable to deal with the fall of the Iron Curtain and end of the Cold War and apparent failure of communism.
- The Islam Quintet, a series of historical novels: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1992), The Book of Saladin (1998), The Stone Woman (2000), A Sultan in Palermo (2005), and Night of the Golden Butterfly (2010)
- Bush in Babylon (2003) is about George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
- Introducing Trotsky and Marxism (with Phil Evans; 2000) is a comic book in the left-wing equivalent of the ...For Dummies series
He ran a TV production company, Bandung, whose productions ranged from Channel 4's 1980s ethnic current affairs series Bandung File to Derek Jarman's 1993 Wittgenstein biopic with a script by fellow marxist Terry Eagleton.
Tariq Ali called for Britain to leave the European Union around the 2016 Brexit vote, "for good socialist reasons", as well as claiming that Jeremy Corbyn supported Brexit. He also supported Scottish Independence in the 2014 referendum.
The Daily Mail has criticised his support for Julian Assange in the face of rape and sexual assault allegations. In a rant about how come the British haven't assassinated Assange already, Richard Littlejohn called Ali a "superannuated Trot" and claimed: "Last time I saw Tariq, he was sitting in a curry house in Crouch End boasting to some soppy birds with split ends in Laura Ashley smocks and CND badges about how he’d single-handedly brought down President Nixon and stopped the war in Vietnam."
On the other hand the Mail seems to quite like his novels.
- The Hunter Davies Interview: For you, Tariq Ali, the revolution is over, The Independent, 1994
- Tariq Ali on Chilcot Iraq Report: Tony Blair is a War Criminal for Pushing Us into Illegal War, Democracy Now, 2016
- Jeremy Corbyn 'would be campaigning for Brexit if he was not Labour leader', says long-time ally Tariq Ali, Oliver Wright, The Independent, 16 May 2016
- See the Wikipedia article on Tariq Ali.
- Mullahs and Heretics, London Review of Books, Vol. 24 No. 3, 7 February 2002, pages 7-14
- Give Ireland Back to the Irish: Paul McCartney's forgotten protest song, Peter Crutchley, BBC, 7 Aug 2013
- Dominic Sandbrook, State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-74
- See the Wikipedia article on Sheffield Attercliffe (UK Parliament constituency).
- Tariq Ali, The Guardian
- Tariq Ali, London Review of Books
- Tariq Ali, British Council
- Writers, British Council
- Corbyn's Progress, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books, 3 March 2016
- Veteran left-winger Tariq Ali announces his support for Scottish independence, Daily Record, 9 March 2014
- Scourge of capitalism to flog house for £5million: Tariq Ali puts six-bedroom Highgate home on the market 20 years after snapping it up, Daily Mail, 1 Oct 2015
- Free speech for ever, yah! But only if you're not beastly to Jemima, Jan Moir, Daily Mail, 17 Dec 2010
- Why can't our own Cybermen zap the WikiLeaks man?, Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail, 9 Sep 2011
- Tariq Ali: Night of the Golden Butterfly (Review), Daily Mail, 1 June 2010