Saturday, 7 December 2019

Book review: The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Tariq Ali (2002)

I read up to page 256 many years ago and I thought, a few days ago, that this book might be worth revisiting but I was mistaken: this is a tendentious screed only justified by the stupidity of the US administration in preparing to invade Iraq. I even hadn’t remembered anything from the time of my first reading, which would have happened at least a decade ago.

The cover of the book has a Warhol-style montage with George W Bush’s face photoshopped with a beard and cap (taqiyah) to make the (then) US president look like a mullah. The message is clear and reflects feelings that were shared by many in many communities at the time about the US’ approach to radical Islam following 9/11.

But the problems with the book go much deeper than any general unease about the “coalition of the willing” – which included the UK as well as Australia in addition to the US – invading Iraq. The book is evidence of a fairly conventional but misguided understanding of economic realities. Ali blames Capital for all the evils of the world, including the attacks on the Twin Towers. This despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from the developing world annually migrate to developed countries seeking out opportunities to prosper in pluralistic democracies. Ali’s view is, unfortunately, shared by many but it is deeply flawed as the problems that beset the frail and corruption-filled polities of so many countries reflect mostly indigenous failures to adequately manage the polis. 

But you find so many, especially in the developing world, who share Ali’s ideas. Their countrymen and -women however reveal a different truth when they move to live in Australia or the US or to Canada or France. This is the real mark of value, but no country can ever learn the lessons it needs to understand in order to thrive. Each country must make the same mistakes as every other country, just as a parent cannot save his or her children from making the same mistakes he or she made in his or her own youth.

I didn’t read as much of the book the second time around. The section on the author’s childhood is, like the other parts of the book I read this time, boring and over-long.

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