Tariq Ali is one of the editors of New Left Review. He has been writing articles, essays, fiction, plays, films, and been politically active for over 40 years.
What do you claim about the policies of Obama in The Obama Syndrome?
The argument that I make in the Obama Syndrome is essentially that Obama in terms of both politics and policy is no different from Bush. That raises very real problems because large numbers of people in the U.S. wanted him to be the opposite of Bush—anti-Bush in terms of policy. Bush was the devil and they wanted a God, but both Bush and Obama are imperial presidents—presidents of the USA, which is the only imperial power in the world. For me it is not a huge surprise that Obama is no different from Bush, but people had all their hopes invested in Obama. In times past, the president could impose his own will on the nation, but now we are living in a very different world. Essentially, the way I describe it is like there is a secret politburo, which we don’t see, that decides and makes policy. This politburo includes military, industry, Wall Street, and insurance company representatives—these are the people who determine policy.
Would you claim that the U.S. is currently an oligarchy?
It is very similar to that. The fact that no politician has been able to come up with solutions to the horrific financial crisis which erupted in the fall of 2008 shows this. The structure of American democracy is more and more oligarchical and financial capital dominates the political system.
How can the U.S. get out of this system when any presidential nominee needs so much money to back their nomination? Where does the money come from?
That money comes from corporations. Obama’s camp claimed that his initial campaign had been funded by individual donors, but barrels of money came from Wall Street—and recently all the Wall Street ‘fat-cats’ put in money for Obama’s re-election campaign.
Do you think it’s possible for countries in North Africa and in the Arab world to make their own democracies independently? What are your expectations for the countries involved in the Arab Spring?
This is a big question, I think the important thing to understand about the Arab Spring is that we saw something that has not happened before. It was a huge mobilisation of people from below which compelled the rulers to change their goals. It is important because people are now back in the centre of politics. It gives people confidence in their own power—power of collective mass mobilisation—which will change political consciousness. Not all of them will result in victory, but nonetheless people have been given a strong sense of their collective power. This is really important as this generation haven’t had this power before—it gives them new possibilities to become involved in political movements and even the chance to create new political organisations.
Is it possible that there now exists a vacuum in places like Tunisia? Can that vacuum be filled by places like Turkey or Iran? Are there risks for the West if this happens?
Turkey is a strong member of NATO. This Turkish government is very popular with NATO because they are neo-liberal in terms of economic policy. Sometimes Turkey makes noises about Israel, but this doesn’t upset the U.S. as much as people think. Saudi Arabia is pro-America, but Iran is very different. At the same time, we have to understand that without Iranian support, the U.S. could never have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan—Iran is an important player in the region.
Can you make clear how Islamophobia is being manufactured by the U.S. ?
The arguments for Islamophobia were already in the frame before 9/11, but 9/11 made it a very simple exercise to promote Islam as the enemy. Anti-semitism that existed in 1920’s and 1930’s all over Europe encouraged perceptions that Jews were outsiders—they had different customs, religion, language, and clothing and all these things were used as evidence against Jews. A similar argument is used against Muslims today.
Islamophobia is an irrational construct that plays into the hands of the extreme-right in the Western world, but it is very widespread and needs to be challenged.
Tariq Ali was in Sweden promoting his latest book, The Obama Syndrome.
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