Tariq Ali’s Revolutionary 60s…

11 Sep

Tariq Ali’s Memoirs Reveals 60s Revolutionary Streak and Anti- War Sentiments; A Review of Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties

Book Cover of Street Fighting Years

Who is Tariq Ali? Veteran journalist, film-maker, novelist, historian, and activist perhaps come to mind. His books such as “A Sultan in Palermo” (historical novel); “Clash of Fundamentalisms” (historical non-fiction) and “Speaking of Empires and Resistance” (collected speeches on US imperialism) may give you a rough idea of what the man has written over the years. His latest book, “Pirates of the Carribean” charts the rise of Latin America and these countries growing resistance against US imperialism through the experimental social democratic movement advocated by Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez.

StreetFighting Years, originally written in 1987, has been republished again in 2005, with an introduction containing an update from 87 to now. Much of the rest of the book is intact containing, mostly, his accounts, during his younger days as a political activist in the heady 60s where his passion was mostly directed actively towards campaigning against the Vietnam War.

During this period, he encountered various high profile personalities of that time. In his meeting with Malcolm X of the Black Muslims, he thought that the freedom fighter “struck him as a sinister outfit” who disclosed to Ali that he might be assassinated soon. It happened soon enough. When he was first contacted by Marlon Brando‘s secretary for a meeting with the Hollywood star, he thought that it was merely a prank call. He has also asked John Lennon to sing in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) demonstrations to which the singer replied, that he “didn’t like the violence.” Lennon eventually agreed to an interview with him for The Red Mole magazine.

As an anti-war activist, it is perhaps the teach-ins, which Tariq Ali was furtively involved in, that helped spread and galvanised support against the Vietnam War amongst the students. A visit to Indochina in Vietnam at the war zone made him more determined in denouncing the American invasion. As he recollects in his diary, “

28 January 1967

We spend another day in this province. I saw the wounds inflicted on children aged between two and eight. It is a painful sight. One four-year-old has lost his arm, but is still full of fun. His mother tells us how the local school was bombed one day and describes the agony of the children… … (Pg 165)

30 January 1967

… …Her name was Ngyuen Thi Hien. She was twenty-three years old. This is what she said:

‘My 4-year-old son and 24-year-old husband were killed in the last attack. I lost my toes as you can see. I was three months pregnant at the time. I hate Americans. I really hate them. How can you expect me to forgive them.’ She started weeping and screaming: ‘There will be bitterness and hatred. What else can we do. I will wait for my two-year-old to grow up and then will send him to revenge his father.’ She then broke down completely and was consoled by other women, who stroked her hair and hugged her. These are war crimes. (Pg 171)

Besides the anti-war movement, the book also recollects the democratic struggle in Pakistan against the dictator- General, Ayub Khan, in which he personally flew back to Pakistan and delivered a series of talks on US imperialism. On the French Revolution of 1968, he talks about the growing student movement and the definitive May 6 student sit-in in University of Sorbonne amongst other protests, which in his own words, became, “a revolt against French capitalism and its values.”

Tariq Ali’s accounts are by no means comprehensive or “objective” but it speaks much of that period, not so much with nostalgia. Instead, they should be appreciated as an alternative to the officially sanctioned history.

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