Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tariq Ali Debates Christopher Hitchens

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tariq Ali Debates Christopher Hitchens

Article excerpt

Renowned author and activist Tariq Ali appeared at Georgetown University April 17 to debate the equally renowned and active Christopher Hitchens as part of a book tour sponsored by Verso, publishers of Ali's new volume, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity (available from the AET Book Club). The audience was clearly eager to hear the longtime colleagues go head-to-head on the topic "The Left and The War." In some ways the debate did not disappoint, being articulate and spirited, with a passionate and vocal audience adding to the energy. Ultimately, however, the debate was somewhat sad, as Ali's opening statement indicated. This was the first public debate between Ali and Hitchens on opposite sides of a question, he told the audience. The question being debated was whether or not the U.S. should pursue its "war on terrorism." Ali maintained that it should not, Hitchens, that it should.

Ali's position was multi-faceted. The U.S. essentially was fighting symptoms of an illness without addressing the cause, he argued--and, moreover, fighting the symptoms ineffectually. Putting aside the question of proof (or lack thereof) of Osama bin Laden's guilt, Ali maintained that the massive bombing of the desperately poor war-racked country of Afghanistan certainly was not the way to deal with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

Instead, he maintained, a police action to bring suspects to justice before an international tribunal would have been a far better choice than a seemingly unending war against terrorism. Ali deemed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly with regard to unqualified U.S. backing of Israel's occupation of Palestine, as a primary cause of the terror perpetrated on 9/11, and further argued that the problems with U.S. foreign policy were not limited to its Middle East policy but instead endemic of the new "American Empire."

However, Ali also faulted the Arab and Muslim worlds for many corrupt regimes which, he said, frequently supported by the U.S. for its own ends, either fostered or led to the rise of so-called Islamic fundamentalism, as exemplified by the Taliban. Educated middle-class Muslims were attracted to radical Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, he contended, because of U.S. imperialism as manifested in support for Israel, support for corrupt and/or ultra-conservative regimes, and the kind of political games played by the U.S., backing first one side and then another (e. …

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