Tariq Ali Essay - Critical Essays

Ali, Tariq


Tariq Ali 1943-

Pakistani nonfiction writer, novelist, editor, playwright, historian, and journalist.

The following entry presents an overview of Ali's career through 2002.

Ali has been recognized as an important political and social commentator, establishing a reputation as a left-wing activist and journalist during the 1960s and 1970s. His work as an activist, journalist, editor, historian, playwright, and novelist has made him a familiar figure in British political and literary circles. In recent years, his writings have focused on the turbulent relationship between the countries of India and Pakistan and on British policies in the Middle East.

Biographical Information

Ali was born on October 21, 1943, in Lahore, India, a region that is now part of Pakistan. In 1963 he received his B.A. from Punjab University, and then attended Oxford University in England. During his college years in England, Ali developed his talents as a writer and served as the president of the Oxford Union. He gained attention for his activities as a left-wing political activist, protesting British involvement in the Vietnam War as well as its policies toward the Soviet Union. After graduating from Oxford, Ali began working as a journalist, writing about a variety of political, social, and cultural issues while also serving as a member of the editorial board of the New Left Review. During the 1980s, he owned his own independent television production company, Bandung, which produced programs for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). He has been a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio and has also contributed articles and journalism to magazines and newspapers including The Guardian and the London Review of Books. Ali resides in England and continues to expound on current political conditions, such as the cultural conflicts in the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions.

Major Works

Ali has written a broad range of nonfiction, publishing first-hand accounts of life in the Soviet Union and in post-Soviet Russia, memoirs and studies of the student movement in the 1960s, explanatory texts on Stalinism and Trotskyism, and modern political histories of India and the Balkan crisis. 1968 and After: Inside the Revolution (1978) and Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties (1987) both delineate events of the 1960s and comment on the turbulent political and social climate of the era. In Revolution from Above: Where Is the Soviet Union Going? (1988), Ali displays his investigative talents in an exploration of the socio-political conditions in the Soviet Union before and during the fall of communism. Turning his focus toward his homeland, Ali presented his personal analysis of the political relations between India and Pakistan in Can Pakistan Survive? (1983). Ali continued his examination of Indian culture with An Indian Dynasty: The Story of the Nehru-Gandhi Family (1985) which traces the history and influence of the Nehru-Gandhi family in Indian politics. As a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Ali published The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity (2002). The work explores the history of spiritual fundamentalism, arguing that the September 11 attacks were caused by a conflict between religious dogma and modern imperialism.

During the 1990s, Ali began to write and publish fiction that explores his interest in Muslim history and culture. Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1993) is his first novel in a planned quartet detailing confrontations between Islamic and Christian civilizations. The book chronicles events surrounding the Banu Hudayl—an aristocratic Muslim family—in late fourteenth-century Spain. The novel opens with the burning of all Muslim books by Ximenes de Cisneros, Queen Isabella's confessor, and relates the misfortunes of the Hudayl family, including the struggles of patriarch Umar Hudayl, his son Yazid, and the fall of Islam in Spain. Ali's 1999 novel, The Book of Saladin, the second novel in the quartet, is a fictitious memoir of the ruler Salah-al-Din, who wrested Jerusalem from Christian control in the twelfth century. The work seeks to dismiss the stereotype of Saladin as a ruthless and godless conqueror, employing a modern sensibility in its depiction of European Crusaders in a distinctly negative light. The third installment in the series, The Stone Woman (2000), focuses on the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century as viewed through the eyes of one family, and in particular, through the eyes of its patriarch, Iskander Pasha. Iskander suffers a stroke, which leaves him partially paralyzed. As his lengthy rehabilitation progresses, many of his friends and family members come to visit. Over the course of the novel, Iskander seeks answers to the reasons behind the decline of his empire and attempts to reconcile his past behavior with his present emotions. Much of the narrative also focuses on his daughter, Nilofer, her relationship with Iskander, and the feelings and opinions of their other relatives. Ali's novel Fear of Mirrors (1998) is written in an epistolary style, taking the form of a letter from Professor Vladimir Meyer to his estranged son, Karl, in an attempt to explain the family history. The novel moves back and forth in place and time, covering several generations of Vladimir's family as well as the development of the early communist movement. Ali intersperses fictional characters with well-known historical figures, creating a narrative that recounts the rise and fall of communism and the reunification of Germany.

All of Ali's dramatic works have been written in collaboration with Howard Brenton, focusing strongly on the genre of “Instant History” plays—plays which are composed quickly to address timely social and political issues. Written in just over five days, Ali's play Iranian Nights (1989) was intended to act as a metaphorical response to the Islamic furor surrounding the release of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. The plot utilizes several characters from Arabic folklore, including The Caliph and Scheherezade, in a tale about religious blasphemy and the nature of storytelling. Moscow Gold (1990) deals with the history of communism in the Soviet Union, following three women—Zoya, Katya, and Lena—as they experience and are affected by some of the major events in Soviet history, including the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the election of Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Ugly Rumours (1998) satirizes the British New Labour movement, taking its title from the band that British Prime Minister Tony Blair formed while attending Fettes College. The play centers around Blair as he struggles to deal with national politics while being haunted by the ghost of Margaret Thatcher who lives in the attic of No. 10 Downing Street. Ali and Brenton have also joined with Andy de la Tour to produce Collateral Damage (1999), which concerns the Serbian-Croatian conflict, and Snogging Ken (2000), a satire about a London mayoral election.

Critical Reception

Ali's fiction and drama have met with mixed reviews, with critics generally favoring his plays over his novels. The plays Iranian Nights and Moscow Gold have been particularly singled out for their provocative political themes and nontraditional structures. His novels, in contrast, have received harsher criticism with some reviewers deeming them unimaginative and stylistically inferior. Several critics have faulted Ali for inadequate characterizations in his novels, while others have criticized his fiction citing such faults as overabundant metaphors, overuse of political jargon, and heavy-handed exposition. However, many commentators have applauded the pacing of Ali's storytelling as well as his humor and concern for authenticity in his historical novels, arguing that his later work appears more confident and mature. Critical consensus regarding Ali's political and historical studies has generally been favorable, with scholars noting his knowledgeable and intelligent treatment of Soviet and Middle Eastern politics. Nevertheless, some critics have found Ali's nonfiction to be needlessly polemic and marred by exaggeration, superficiality, and a lack of original information. In addition, several commentators have made similar observations regarding Ali's fiction, claiming his prose is predictable and overly driven by his own political beliefs. Julian Ferraro, for example, has stated that despite Ali's gripping subject matter, his writing often displays a “leaden touch.” In general, reviewers have praised the epic historical detail in many of Ali's novels, but have conversely panned the author's abilities with narrative and prose. In his review of Fear of Mirrors, Ferraro continued, “The dialogue is either turgid with political analysis or wooden to the point of bathos. … and the trite conclusion provided by the final scenes seriously undermines the bleak complexities of the rest of the book.” Overall, many commentators have agreed that Ali's unique background provides him with a valuable and intriguing perspective regarding world affairs.

Principal Works

The New Revolutionaries: A Handbook of the International Radical Left [editor] (nonfiction) 1969

Pakistan: Military Rule or People's Power? (nonfiction) 1970

The Coming British Revolution (nonfiction) 1972

1968 and After: Inside the Revolution (history) 1978

Trotsky for Beginners (nonfiction) 1980

Can Pakistan Survive? (nonfiction) 1983

The Stalinist Legacy: Its Impact on Twentieth-Century World Politics [editor] (nonfiction) 1984

What Is Stalinism? [editor] (nonfiction) 1984

An Indian Dynasty: The Story of the Nehru-Gandhi Family (history) 1985

Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties (history) 1987

Revolution from Above: Where Is the Soviet Union Going? (nonfiction) 1988

Iranian Nights [with Howard Brenton] (play) 1989

Moscow Gold [with Howard Brenton] (play) 1990

Redemption (novel) 1990

*Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (novel) 1993

Fear of Mirrors (novel) 1998

1968: Marching in the Streets [with Susan Watkins] (nonfiction) 1998

Ugly Rumours [with Howard Brenton] (play) 1998

*The Book of Saladin (novel) 1999

Collateral Damage [with Howard Brenton and Andy de la Tour] (play) 1999

Masters of the Universe?: NATO's Balkan Crusade [editor] (nonfiction) 2000

Snogging Ken [with Howard Brenton and Andy de la Tour] (play) 2000

*The Stone Woman (novel) 2000

The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads, and Modernity (nonfiction) 2002

*Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, The Book of Saladin, and The Stone Woman are the first three novels in a planned four-part series focusing on the confrontation between Islamic and Christian civilizations.


Premen Addy (review date 22 July 1983)

SOURCE: Addy, Premen. “State of Faith.” New Statesman 106, no. 2731 (22 July 1983): 24.

[In the following review, Addy credits Ali for his overview of the geopolitics of India in Can Pakistan Survive?, but faults him for not going beyond the “commonly held perceptions of the Left” in the book.]

The creation of Pakistan was for its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a triumph of will and tactical acumen. For the Muslims of the subcontinent, whose cherished homeland this was to be, its consequences were fraught with tragedy. Jinnah had fondly hoped to build the new state in his own image: liberal, cosmopolitan, secular. But, as Tariq Ali observes [in Can...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

William Crawley (review date February 1984)

SOURCE: Crawley, William. Review of Can Pakistan Survive?, by Tariq Ali. Asian Affairs 15, no. 1 (February 1984): 87-8.

[In the following review, Crawley outlines Ali's major thematic concerns in Can Pakistan Survive?]

Theorists of the left have been few in number in Pakistan and very limited in their influence. [In Can Pakistan Survive?] Tariq Ali writes from the position of one who though well known internationally is an outsider in his country's politics. He is equivocal about the validity and viability of Pakistan as a state. He dissects the political solutions and experiments which have been tried over the past thirty-five years, from the...

(The entire section is 377 words.)

Nicholas Murray (review date 5 October 1984)

SOURCE: Murray, Nicholas. Review of Who's Afraid of Margaret Thatcher?, by Tariq Ali. New Statesman 108, no. 2794 (5 October 1984): 33.

[In the following review, Murray provides a favorable assessment of Ali's introduction to Who's Afraid of Margaret Thatcher?]

This short book [Who's Afraid of Margaret Thatcher?] consists of two long conversations which took place at County Hall in June 1983 and April 1984 between the two red horned and tailed demons whom Steve Bell delineates on the cover. It is an essential sequel to the unpolitical Citizen Ken and a must for all Livingstone-fanciers.

Tariq Ali's trenchant introduction aims its...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Akbar S. Ahmed (review date November 1984)

SOURCE: Ahmed, Akbar S. Review of Can Pakistan Survive?, by Tariq Ali. Journal of Asian Studies 44, no. 1 (November 1984): 239-41.

[In the following review, Ahmed criticizes Can Pakistan Survive?, calling the work simplistic, polemical, and “marred in general by non sequiturs and by exaggeration.”]

Tariq Ali, the professional polemical student leader long resident in England, has written a polemical book [Can Pakistan Survive?]. The title, subtitle, and photograph on the jacket (Pakistan in flames) may be termed “sensational.” The question in the title has been asked since 1947; the subtitle is premature.

Tariq's view of...

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Zareer Masani (review date 1 March 1985)

SOURCE: Masani, Zareer. “Tensions.” New Statesman 109, no. 2815 (1 March 1985): 29-30.

[In the following excerpt, Masani notes the lack of new research and serious analysis in An Indian Dynasty.]

The lives of India's modern Caesars have already been the subject of copious biography; and Tariq Ali relies almost wholly on the work of his predecessors. But was there any point in a tedious repetition of the story if there was nothing new to add? There was certainly room for a study of the making of the dynasty and of the political culture that legitimised it. But that would have required new research and some serious analysis, neither of which appear in this hastily...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

Pratapaditya Pal (review date 19 May 1985)

SOURCE: Pal, Pratapaditya. “An Indian Dynasty.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (19 May 1985): 7.

[In the following review, Pal contends that although An Indian Dynasty: The Story of the Nehru-Gandhi Family “was written and produced in less than six months, it is well documented, generally accurate and very readable.”]

Thirty years ago, the non-aligned movement was born in an obscure town called Bandung in Indonesia. The chief architects of that conference were four remarkable men of this century: Tito of Yugoslavia, Chou en Lai of China, Nasser of Egypt and Nehru of India. Tito and Chou were rulers of communist governments; Nasser had come to power...

(The entire section is 998 words.)

Shiva Naipaul (review date 27 May 1985)

SOURCE: Naipaul, Shiva. “Family Affair.” New Republic 192, no. 21 (27 May 1985): 26-30.

[In the following review, Naipaul discusses Ali's perception of and attitude toward twentieth-century Indian politics in An Indian Dynasty.]

No one interested in the 20th-century history of the Indian subcontinent can contemplate its dramas without the accompanying sensations of disquiet and distaste—even, on occasion, of outright revulsion. The plot, beginning with the struggles of the nationalist movement, is a complex and devious one, a spider's web of often incompatible ideals (Gandhi and Nehru may have been guru and disciple, but they also represented quite different...

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Nigel Fountain (review date 6 November 1987)

SOURCE: Fountain, Nigel. “Summer's Here and the Time Is Right.” New Statesman 114, no. 2954 (6 November 1987): 28-9.

[In the following review, Fountain describes Ali as an “informative, funny, and illuminating writer,” lauding his prose in Street Fighting Years.]

Is it the right title? Mick Jagger joined the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign marchers as they moved on Grosvenor Square in March 1968 and, hey presto, two months later, out popped ‘Street Fighting Man’ and thus, I suppose, the cue for the title of Tariq Ali's autobiography [Street Fighting Years]. Yet brooding on his entertaining reminiscences of those times my mind slipped to a 1964 waxing by...

(The entire section is 1008 words.)

Robert Irwin (review date 28 April 1989)

SOURCE: Irwin, Robert. “The Poet and the Infidel.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4491 (28 April 1989): 456.

[In the following review, Irwin compliments Iranian Nights, calling the play humorous and thought-provoking.]

“‘Why it's Ali Baba!’ Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. ‘It's dear old Ali Baba … And the Sultan's Groom turned upside-down by the Genii; there he is upon his head! Serve him right. I'm glad of it. What business had he to be married to the Princess!’” [In Iranian Nights] Tariq Ali and Howard Brenton, depressed and challenged by book-burnings, clenched-fisted mobs, death threats, fire-bombings and holy gangsterism, have...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Boris Kagarlitsky (review date 5 June 1989)

SOURCE: Kagarlitsky, Boris. “The Truth about Perestroika.Nation 248, no. 22 (5 June 1989): 765-67.

[In the following review, Kagarlitsky compares Ali's Revolution from Above to Anthony Barnett's Soviet Freedom.]

The Soviet Union is too important to be left to Sovietologists. This precept is central to Revolution from Above, by Tariq Ali, but it could just as easily be applied to Soviet Freedom, by Anthony Barnett, which was published in London six months earlier. The two books almost beg for comparison. Both authors are radicals; neither had studied Soviet society before. Tariq Ali had edited a very interesting collection of materials...

(The entire section is 2134 words.)

Daniel Singer (review date October 1989)

SOURCE: Singer, Daniel. “The Intelligentsia and Soviet Change.” Monthly Review 41, no. 5 (October 1989): 61-4.

[In the following excerpt, Singer applauds the thought-provoking nature of Ali's Revolution from Above.]

Tariq Ali is no Sovietologist. Born in Pakistan, educated at Oxford, he was one of the leaders of the protest movement in Britain in the 1960s and has been a prominent figure of the New Left ever since. Because he is essentially an activist and not a Kremlinologist, the author conveys the feeling that history is here in the making, that the Soviet Union is at the very beginning of a period of monumental change. A stranger, a visitor, he manages to pass...

(The entire section is 834 words.)

Carol Rumens (review date 5 October 1990)

SOURCE: Rumens, Carol. “The Perestroika Pageant.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4566 (5 October 1990): 1069.

[In the following review, Rumens calls Moscow Gold “gripping,” and lauds the play for its bold, contrasting scenes and innovative stage construction.]

Three hours' worth of perestroika for beginners ought to be boring. While alive to the broader issues at stake in Moscow, Tariq Ali and Howard Brenton add little to the arguments already sketched for us elsewhere in the media and, some neat one-liners notwithstanding, their language is often as clichéd. Yet Moscow Gold is gripping. Dramatically as well as visually it evokes...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

David Widgery (review date 12 October 1990)

SOURCE: Widgery, David. “Berty Khan's Revenge.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 122 (12 October 1990): 42-3.

[In the following review, Widgery offers a mixed assessment of Redemption, contending that too much of the novel “smacks of an adolescent desire to violate the orthodoxies the author once staunchly propounded.”]

Comic novels about the left, like Ethyl Mannin's Comrade, O Comrade, about the 1945 split in the Anarchist Federation of Britain, have a habit of not being very funny. The wittiest accounts are, like Claude Cockburn's true. Tariq Ali's qualifications as the Evelyn Waugh of Trotskyism are debatable, though his publisher, whose...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Paul Kincaid (review date 9 November 1990)

SOURCE: Kincaid, Paul. “Iron Curtain Call.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4571 (9 November 1990): 1214.

[In the following review, Kincaid derides Ali's prose in Redemption, noting several weaknesses in the plot and stating that the book “is a comedy, but humour is less in evidence than silly portentousness.”]

Far from the promised redemption, this crude first novel [Redemption] smacks of revenge. The various factions of Trotskyism, for which Tariq Ali was such a vocal and visible spokesman during the 1960s, are here mercilessly ridiculed as invariably brutish, ignorant and sexually perverse. Most of the factions appear to consist of no more than...

(The entire section is 350 words.)

Alfred Evans, Jr. (review date January-April 1991)

SOURCE: Evans, Jr., Alfred. “Gorbachev's Unfinished Revolution.” Problems of Communication 40, nos. 1-2 (January-April 1991): 133-43.

[In the following excerpt, Evans praises certain portions of Revolution from Above, but faults others, asserting that the book ignores many complexities of the Soviet political arena.]

[Revolution from Above,] by Tariq Ali is similar to the on-the-scene reporting of well-informed political journalists in Western and Asian democracies. A series of topical essays on Soviet politics in 1987 and 1988, the book is based largely on extensive interviews with well-placed Soviet sources. Ali expresses the enthusiasm of one who...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Alamgir Hashmi (review date winter 1992)

SOURCE: Hashmi, Alamgir. Review of Redemption, by Tariq Ali. World Literature Today 66, no. 1 (winter 1992): 210-11.

[In the following review, Hashmi outlines the major themes of Redemption.]

Tariq Ali comes to fiction from a respectable writing career in politics, history, biography, and, most recently, stage drama with a sharp focus on the contemporary world. On Christmas Eve 1989, in Paris, [in Redemption,] as the seventy-year-old Trotskyist patriarch Ezra Einstein watches on TV a Ceauşescu executioner make the sign of the cross, he seems even to forget the bliss of his late married life, he whose “fingers had rested more often on the keys and body...

(The entire section is 701 words.)

Robert Irwin (review date 1 May 1992)

SOURCE: Irwin, Robert. Review of Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, by Tariq Ali. Times Literary Supplement, no. 4648 (1 May 1992): 20.

[In the following review, Irwin discusses Ali's utilization of exposition and metaphors, faulting what he deems to be Ali's lack of imagination in Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.]

“We are living in the most difficult period of our history. We have not had such serious problems since Tarik and Musa first occupied these lands. And you know how long ago that was, do you not?”

Yazid nodded. “In our first century and their eighth.”


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Akbar Ahmed (review date 22 May 1992)

SOURCE: Ahmed, Akbar. “The Moors Murdered.” New Statesman and Society 5, no. 203 (22 May 1992): 39-40.

[In the following review, Ahmed provides an overview of Ali's life and career, tracing his development as an author through Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.]

A review of Tariq Ali's new novel [Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree] requires a review of the author. In the 1960s, when he emerged as a student star in Oxford, I admired him, in common with most Pakistani undergraduates in England then, for his rebellious energy and boldness. He appeared to capture the mood of his generation.

When he became President of the Oxford Union, the press was...

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Amit Chaudhuri (review date 9 July 1992)

SOURCE: Chaudhuri, Amit. “Here Is a Little Family.” London Review of Books 14, no. 13 (9 July 1992): 18-19.

[In the following excerpt, Chaudhuri maintains that Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree is “a strangely refreshing work in that it gives us a warm and indulgent picture of a certain section of Islamic life.”]

Tariq Ali's novel [Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree] is about a noble family of great renown in Moorish Spain. The lives and culture of this family and its retainers are on the edge of extinction: either they must convert from Islam to Christianity, or die at the hands of the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella. The emotions, conflicts and...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Douglas Allen (review date fall 1992)

SOURCE: Allen, Douglas. Review of Revolution from Above, by Tariq Ali. Southern Humanities Review 29 (fall 1992): 361-63.

[In the following review, Allen examines the central issues discussed in Revolution from Above.]

Since he came to Oxford University from Pakistan and became one of the radical leaders of the 1960s, Tariq Ali has been a prominent figure on the British Left. His books include Can Pakistan Survive?, An Indian Dynasty: The Story of the Nehru-Gandhi Family, and Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties. His orientation can best be described as that of an independent, democratic, anti-Stalinist Marxist/socialist:...

(The entire section is 1299 words.)

Carl Caulfield (essay date December 1993)

SOURCE: Caulfield, Carl. “Moscow Gold and Reassessing History.” Modern Drama 36, no. 4 (December 1993): 490-98.

[In the following essay, Caulfied analyzes the role of history in Moscow Gold.]

The Revolution has shifted the theatre of our critical operations. We must review our tactics.1

Moscow Gold is Howard Brenton and Tariq Ali's second theatrical collaboration, after their satirical, metaphorical response in 1989 to the Rushdie affair in Iranian Nights. Moscow Gold dramatizes what its authors see as a need for a reassessment of Soviet history and Communist ideologies, but the play...

(The entire section is 3691 words.)

Christopher Hitchens (review date 4 June 1998)

SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher. “Acts of Violence in Grosvenor Square.” London Review of Books 20, no. 11 (4 June 1998): 14-15.

[In the following excerpt, Hitchens contends that Ali provides a vivid portrayal of the 1960s world climate in 1968: Marching in the Streets.]

I was just beginning to write about 1968 when I learned of the death in New Orleans of Ron Ridenhour, the GI who exposed the massacre at My Lai. He was only 52, which means that he was in his early twenties when, as a helicopter gunner in the area, he learned of the murder of nearly 660 Vietnamese civilians. This was not some panicky ‘collateral damage’ firefight: the men of Charlie Company took...

(The entire section is 2639 words.)

Julian Ferraro (review date 3 July 1998)

SOURCE: Ferraro, Julian. Review of Fear of Mirrors, by Tariq Ali. Times Literary Supplement, no. 4970 (3 July 1998): 20.

[In the following review, Ferraro praises Fear of Mirrors for its examination of characters who serve political ideals, but faults the novel for its trite conclusion and “wooden” dialogue.]

Fear of Mirrors, Tariq Ali's third work of fiction, is a political novel. The book's narrative spans the twentieth century, from the last years of the Austrian Empire to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany. Its central character, Professor Vladimir Meyer, is an East German Communist, a former...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Kate Kellaway (review date 13 November 1998)

SOURCE: Kellaway, Kate. “Playing at Politics.” New Statesman 27, no. 4411 (13 November 1998): 36.

[In the following review, Kellaway discusses the tone and pacing of Ugly Rumours.]

There is a madwoman in the cellar of No 10 Downing Street. Her name is Margaret Thatcher. Her triple-stringed pearls are intact but her twin-set suit, though tightly buttoned, is adrift with cobwebs. She needs dusting but does not know it. She is, in Sylvia Syms' entertaining portrayal of her, a merry but slightly sinister ghost. She still sees herself as the most influential person in the country. She carries about her person a “Thatcher extractor”, a sort of portable Hoover...

(The entire section is 747 words.)

Ranti Williams (review date 4 December 1998)

SOURCE: Williams, Ranti. “The Heart of a Warrior.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4992 (4 December 1998): 23.

[In the following review, Williams asserts that The Book of Saladin vividly depicts the sweep of history, but fails to develop its characters adequately.]

Saladin is one of the few figures to have emerged from the bloody, brutal history of the Crusades with any measure of dignity. Legend and history concur in presenting the Kurdish warrior who led the Muslim reconquest of Jerusalem in 1198 as a man whose integrity and compassion more than matched his sense of religious destiny and military skills. [In The Book of Saladin,] Tariq Ali's...

(The entire section is 627 words.)

Bruce King (review date winter 1999)

SOURCE: King, Bruce. Review of Fear of Mirrors, by Tariq Ali. World Literature Today 73, no. 1 (winter 1999): 219.

[In the following review, King offers a negative assessment of Fear of Mirrors, calling the work confusing, poorly written, and clichéd.]

Fear of Mirrors belongs to a literary subgenre that has not been fashionable during recent decades. Like many political novels, it attempts a grand story and has an epic feel resulting from the characters' involvement in major historical events. Tariq Ali tells of the rise and fall of communism as experienced by some Central European Jews who, rebelling against their enclosed society and against...

(The entire section is 572 words.)

Jane Jakeman (review date 8 January 1999)

SOURCE: Jakeman, Jane. “Novel of the Week.” New Statesman 128, no. 4418 (8 January 1999): 55.

[In the following review, Jakeman maintains that The Book of Saladin is a fulfilling read, utilizing “sparse prose” filled with exotic settings in order to create a realistic portrait of the sultan.]

[The Book of Saladin] is a work of fiction based on a historical character who has attained quasi-mythical status in both east and west. To the Muslim world, he is a rallying cry, an almost superhuman conqueror, an utterly virtuous religious figure as the commander of a holy war, leading the charge onward at sword point as the famous equestrian statue at...

(The entire section is 822 words.)

Nina Raine (review date 24 April 2000)

SOURCE: Raine, Nina. “Three Men and a Manifesto.” New Statesman 129, no. 4483 (24 April 2000): 43-4.

[In the following review, Raine discusses the collaboration between Ali, Howard Brenton, and Andy de la Tour and the resulting play Snogging Ken.]

Somewhere in Highgate, north London, three men are sitting round a kitchen table writing a play about the London mayoral election. One of them frets. One of them soothes. And one of them complains about ugly sentences. They are Andy de la Tour, Tariq Ali and Howard Brenton respectively.

I sit on the sofa, next to a pink book entitled Socialism and Democracy, an Arsenal scarf and a cap which claims...

(The entire section is 1206 words.)

Royce Mahawatte (review date 1 September 2000)

SOURCE: Mahawatte, Royce. “At the Summer Palace.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5083 (1 September 2000): 11.

[In the following review, Mahawatte contends that although The Stone Woman is “rich, erudite and admirable,” it tries to achieve too much and fails on a number of levels.]

The Stone Woman, the third instalment in Tariq Ali's Islamic Quartet, owes a great deal to the nineteenth-century tradition of humanistic drama within historical debate. Although the novel is rich, erudite and admirable, it is overambitious in its aims and uneven in its achievements. Set near Istanbul at the end of the nineteenth century, the novel centres on the...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

James Hopkin (review date 11 September 2000)

SOURCE: Hopkin, James. “Turkish Delight.” New Statesman 13, no. 662 (11 September 2000): 56.

[In the following review, Hopkin argues that The Stone Woman is a captivating and complex novel.]

The third novel in a planned quarter charting the tensions between Islam and Christianity, Tariq Ali's The Stone Woman sets up the Pasha family from Istanbul as a microcosm of the Ottoman empire at the end of the 19th century. Drawing on a rich tradition of mythmaking and storytelling, Ali creates an enchanting, sometimes harrowing, fable of a family whose stability and harmony, like the empire to which they belong, is largely predicated on undisclosed information...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Justin Huggler (review date 30 November 2000)

SOURCE: Huggler, Justin. “I Prefer to Be an Ottoman.” London Review of Books 22, no. 23 (30 November 2000): 35.

[In the following review, Huggler explores the major thematic concerns of The Stone Woman.]

No country in the Islamic world has embraced the West as eagerly as Turkey has, which makes it an intriguing setting for the third novel in Tariq Ali's Islamic Quartet: a series of snapshots of the great historic collisions between the two cultures, taken from the Eastern point of view, The Stone Woman is set as the 19th century draws to a close. With the Ottoman Empire in terminal decline, Ali sends the members of a wealthy and aristocratic Turkish family...

(The entire section is 1789 words.)

Bruce King (review date winter 2000)

SOURCE: King, Bruce. Review of The Book of Saladin, by Tariq Ali. World Literature Today 74, no. 1 (winter 2000): 245.

[In the following review, King surveys the strengths and weaknesses of The Book of Saladin.]

Tariq Ali is not only a journalist and filmmaker; he is also an old-fashioned novelist who likes to write large books on important issues and big themes. The Book of Saladin is the second novel in an intended quartet treating the confrontation between Islam and Christianity. The first novel, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, concerned the fall of Islam in Spain. The Book of Saladin is the story of the rise of Sultan Yusuf Salah...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Bruce King (review date winter 2001)

SOURCE: King, Bruce. Review of The Stone Woman, by Tariq Ali. World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 111.

[In the following review, King pans The Stone Woman, contending that Ali is not a “natural novelist” and that he lacks the ability to realistically tell a story.]

The Stone Woman is the third installment in Tariq Ali's “Islamic Quartet.” Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1999) concerned the collapse of Muslim Spain with the fall of Granada; The Book of Saladin (1998; see WLT 74:1, p. 245) told of the events leading to the reconquest of Jerusalem from the Crusaders; this new novel is a family saga set at a...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Tariq Ali and David Barsamian (interview date November 2001)

SOURCE: Ali, Tariq, and David Barsamian. “Tariq Ali.” Progressive 66, no. 1 (January 2002): 31-4.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in November 2001, Ali discusses the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as well as the worldwide war on terrorism.]

Tariq Ali was born in 1943 in Lahore, in what was then British-controlled India. He was educated in Pakistan and then at Oxford. His opposition to the military dictatorship in Pakistan during the 1960s led to permanent exile in Britain. He was active in the anti-war movement in Europe during the late 1960s.

Ali is a longstanding editor of New Left Review and has...

(The entire section is 2741 words.)

Mick Hume (review date 13 May 2002)

SOURCE: Hume, Mick. “Expect Blowback.” New Statesman 131, no. 4587 (13 May 2002): 50-1.

[In the following review, Hume compares and contrasts The Clash of Fundamentalisms with Gilles Kepel's Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.]

Like some dreadful progressive rock album of the 1970s, Tariq Ali's new book [The Clash of Fundamentalisms] seems likely to become better known for its cover than its contents. The cover is intended to illustrate what the author calls “the clash of fundamentalisms” by depicting George W Bush as a mullah and Osama Bin Laden as a US president. It succeeds only in illustrating, unintentionally, this messy book's own identity...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)

Richard Sennett (review date 7 June 2002)

SOURCE: Sennett, Richard. “They Mean Well.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5175 (7 June 2002): 6-8.

[In the following review, Sennett compares and contrasts the central arguments of The Clash of Fundamentalisms with Fred Halliday's Two Hours That Shook the World.]

What did the United States learn from September 11? The massacre has hardened the unilateralist arteries of the Government; many old scores from another era, such as isolating Cuba and North Korea or punishing Iran, are being settled today in the name of fighting terrorism. The American people remain angry, but many are increasingly bewildered by the world beyond America's borders. The plaint of...

(The entire section is 2535 words.)

Anthony Arnove (review date 8 July 2002)

SOURCE: Arnove, Anthony. “Islam's Divided Crescent.” Nation 275, no. 2 (8 July 2002): 25-6.

[In the following review, Arnove offers a generally positive assessment of The Clash of Fundamentalisms, but argues that the work would have been stronger if Ali had proposed alternatives to modern Islamism.]

On September 23, 2001, midpoint between the horrific events of September 11 and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the New York Times ran an intriguing headline. “Forget the Past: It's a War Unlike Any Other,” it advised, above an article by John Kifner noting that “Air Force bombers are heading toward distant airfields to fight a shadowy foe...

(The entire section is 1792 words.)

Sara Powell (review date November 2002)

SOURCE: Powell, Sara. Review of The Clash of Fundamentalisms, by Tariq Ali. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 21, no. 8 (November 2002): 102.

[In the following review, Powell praises The Clash of Fundamentalisms, calling the work “a must read.”]

There's an old saying that you can't judge a book by its cover. With Tariq Ali's latest offering, however, many people do. You can't miss it: a picture of George Bush in Osama bin Laden's beard and turban, against a blood red background. As we have taken it to conferences throughout the summer, the cover has sold a lot of books, and generated even more double takes. (The back cover shows Bin Laden in a...

(The entire section is 888 words.)

Further Reading


Erol, Sibel. Review of The Stone Woman, by Tariq Ali. Middle East Journal 55, no. 2 (spring 2001): 340-42.

Erol views The Stone Woman as a historical soap opera and describes the novel as superficial, contradictory, and unfulfilling.

Rhodes, Fred. Review of The Clash of Fundamentalisms, by Tariq Ali. Middle East (September 2002): 65.

Rhodes praises The Clash of Fundamentalisms, noting that the work “blends history, literature, politics and autobiography to challenge the conformist culture of our times.”

Smith, Jeremy. Review of The Clash of...

(The entire section is 133 words.)