Rough Music

by

Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror, by Tariq Ali, Verso 2005

Jenny Haines

In Rough Music, Tariq Ali provides a comprehensive analysis of the actions and motives of the Blair Government in Britain in the lead up to the Iraq War,  its unwholesome dealings with US power, its denial of the gravity and moral depravity of the Iraq War, and its increasing political bankruptcy in the face of the consequences of the war — bombs, terror and attacks on civil liberties.

Rough Music gets its title from from the historian E.P. Thompson’s Customs in Common:

Rough music is the term which has generally been used in England since the end of the seventeenth century to denote a rude cacaphony, with or without more elaborate ritual, which usually directed mockery or hostility against individuals who offended against certain community norms.

Rough Music is the latest in a series of books by Tariq Ali explaining, polemicising about and laying bare the historical and political background of the politics of imperialism, oil and exploitation since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

In The Clash of Fundamentalisms (Verso, 2002) he reminds that what the West is experiencing since September 11 is the return of history in a horrific form. The war on terror is a clash of fundamentalisms, not a clash of civilisations. It is a war of imperialism versus religion.

He writes eloquently of his own youth in Pakistan and reviews the horrible history that is now returning to haunt us and hurt us. His Letter to a Young Muslim at the end of this book is directed at all young Muslims, and all who seek to understand fundamentalist Islam. He says “What do the Islamists offer? A route to the past which mercifully, for the people of the seventh century, never existed.”

Bush in Babylon, The Recolonisation of Iraq (Verso 2003), is the brutal history of the lead up to the war in Iraq, and the history of Iraq in recent times, the repression of the communists, and the ugly, vicious and bloodthirsty rise of Baathism. It is also a lament, in beautiful, lilting writing, for the plight of the Arab and Islamic world.

He uses the poetry of Saadi Youssef, titled The Jackals’ Wedding, to denounce the Iraqi quislings who met with the imperial powers in London in 2003 to make a deal about postwar Iraq. It is also a statement of proud Iraqi independence and the right to self determination. Bush in Babylon provides a taste of the despair that is prevalent in the Arab and Islamic world at the return of occupying powers — despair that is now, among the frustrated young, turning into martyrdom.

In Tariq Ali, Speaking of Empire and Resistance (Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2005), Ali is interviewed by David Barsamian about his recent writings and his views of a range of topics: the fate of modern Pakistan, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the state of the Islamic world and the continuing role of imperialism in the 21st century.  He explains the motives for his recent writings, and he summarises what he sees as the way forward.

In the cover note to Rough Music, Ali says the book “lays bare the vengeful platitudes of Blair’s war on civil liberities, mounts a scorching attack on the cosy falsehoods of the government’s consensus on what the threat amounts to, and how to respond, and denounces the corruption of the political-media bubble which allows it to go unchallenged”.

In the final chapter, he sets out what should be done — the withdrawal of all imperial troops from Afghanistan and Iraq; a moratorium on the state censorship of religion; Britain to develop a rational, independent foreign policy; reform and democratisation of the British Parliament, and the development of a united movement to the left of New Labor, building on the best of the radical and socialist traditions in England. In the meantime, he says, Blair must go, as he, like those put on trial at Nuremberg after World War II, is responsible for war crimes.

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