on the record
TARIQ ALI speaking at OISE Friday evening, September 28
Excerpted from a speech by Tariq Ali, the London, England-based activist and novelist, who addressed a meeting of 800, hosted by the Council of Pakistani Canadians, the Canadian Arab Federation and the Campaign to Defend Palestine. Ali's latest book is a collection of essays titled Mullahs And Heretics, published by Verso.
in pakistan, foreign dignitarieshave left Islamabad. Everyone from the West has been told to evacuate. When this begins to happen, one wonders what the hell is going to go on in that part of the world.The U.S. says the enemy is the Taliban. Who created the Taliban? Who funded the madrassas, the hardline schools in Pakistan? The United States did it, using Saudi Arabia. When I hear Pakistan described as fundamentalist, I get very angry. At every successive general election, less than 3 per cent vote for the extremist parties. More people vote for religious zealotry in Israel than in Pakistan, and that's a fact.
This particular virulent strain (of extremism) we are suffering from is a result of state patronage aided by a military dictator (Zia ul-Haq) who was put in power by the U.S. in 1977. When they were waging a war against Russia in Afghanistan, (then U.S. president) Carter's national security adviser stood on the border wearing a stupid turban on his head and shouted, "Wage a jihad!' Well, Mr. Brzezinski, they're waging it.
The Taliban is heavily dependent on Pakistan's army for supplies. To topple this government is not going to be easy unless you have the Pakistani army on side. Hardline religious groups found they couldn't win the population, so they have been infiltrating the army.
There has been a rise of religion all over the world, not just in the world of Islam. Fundamentalist forces exist in the Republican party in the U.S. They are extremely strong in what used to be secular India. The point I am trying to make is that a wave of religious fundamentalism, as an alternative to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the international left, is a worldwide phenomenon, like the rise of right-wing political parties in Europe.
The problem for the U.S. is that since the end of the Cold War they have abandoned all the groups they supported, built and financed. And there is resentment against them.
They've made bin Laden into the bogeyman of the 21st century. Who is he? During the war against the Russians, Pakistani military intelligence came up with a novel idea. They said in order to have some figurehead leading the jihad, it would be great if we could have a Saudi prince. They asked the Saudi royal family, but no volunteers were forthcoming. So they decided to send someone very close to the royal family, Osama bin Laden. He was trained by the CIA.
The U.S. is sending in troops and creating war frenzy instead of acting like responsible political leaders and saying that what happened in Washington and New York was a crime.
We know now that the bulk of these young guys who carried out the attacks were not bearded peasants from Afghanistan. They were skilled, middle-class people from Saudi Arabia. And that is something the U.S. doesn't want to confront. When it looks on Saudi Arabia, it gazes only on the barrels of oil.
With the changes in the world, and especially after the Gulf War, large numbers of bright young people -- denied the secular opening of society, denied the freedom to discuss what should happen, denied the right to change their government -- were attracted to bin Laden's group and other organizations. And what attracted them? Not the thought of blowing themselves or other people up.
You can kill bin Laden -- that's fine. If you want to do that, do that. You can even get the people around him. But so what? Unless and until the real political problems in this part of the world are dealt with, nothing will work.
Historically, we have to say -- awful these events were, and one condemns them -- historically, let us note that this is the first time the subjects of any empire have been struck in the heart. It didn't happen in the Roman empire, the Chinese empire, the Ottoman empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire or the British empire. And it should be a cause for sober reflection on the part of those who run that empire. Instead of creating conditions that will create more terrorism, they should do exactly the opposite.