Tariq Ali

On this date in 1943, historian, novelist, filmmaker, political campaigner and commentator Tariq Ali was born in Lahore, a city then part of British India, and now in Pakistan. A self-described lifelong atheist, Ali was raised in an intellectually activist family, where independent thought was encouraged. His parents were Mazhar Ali Khan, a journalist, and Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, activist and daughter of Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, who, in 1937, became Chief Minister of the Punjab, a region bordering India and Pakistan. Ali's uncle was chief of Military Intelligence in Pakistan. Growing up in a family dynamically involved in the politics of the country, Ali became politically involved at a young age, organizing demonstrations against Pakistan's military dictatorship, while studying at the Punjab University. "We grew up in Lahore, which had been one of the most cosmopolitan towns in India. Then you had the partition of India, and you had massive killlings. This is not much talked about these days, but nearly two million people died, as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs slaughtered each other to create this state . . . when you realized what had happened, how much killing had gone on, you did ask yourself, 'Was it worth it?' " (Islam, Empire, and the Left: Conversation with Tariq Ali, The Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, May 8, 2003). Finishing his university education at Exeter College in Oxford, England, Ali studied philosophy, politics and economics. Elected president of the Oxford Union debating club during the Vietnam War, Ali debated, among others, Henry Kissinger. More and more critical of American/Israeli foreign policies, Ali eventually became the voice of criticism against American foreign policy around the world, not the least of which has been his criticism of American policy in Pakistan.

An active voice for the New Left Review for the past 40 years, Ali is a vocal and prolific personage, writing political satires as well as political historical works, historical fiction, nonfiction and political essays. He owned his own independent television production company and has been a regular broadcaster for BBC radio. His lengthy bibliography, spanning from 1970 to the present, includes his most recent works, Conversations with Edward Said (2005), which he edited, Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror (2005), Speaking of Empire and Resistance (2005), and a previously censored screenplay about the last days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, titled "The Leopard and The Fox," originally written in 1985, which, in October 2007, was adapted and staged as a play. Ali lives in London with his partner, Susan Watkins, editor of The New Left Review. He has three children. 

“How often in our house had I heard talk of superstitious idiots, often relatives, who hated a Satan they never knew and worshipped a God they didn't have the brains to doubt?”

--Tariq Ali, Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002)

“I grew up an atheist. I make no secret of it. It was acceptable. In fact, when I think back, none of my friends were believers. None of them were religious; maybe a few were believers. But very few were religious in temperament.”

—Islam, Empire, and the Left: Conversation with Tariq Ali, The Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley (May 8, 2003)

Compiled by Jane Esbensen; Photo by Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com

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