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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1,387 words.)