After the events of September 11, 2001, the veteran writer, filmmaker and political activist Tariq Ali has been in great demand to provide his own radical perspective on the significance of the attacks, and the result is The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity
. Ali's book explores the history that preceded these events, and deals directly with the political history of Islam, its founding myths, its origins, its culture, its riches, its divisions. However, this is no dry history book, but a powerful and wide-ranging polemic that interrogates the hypocrisy of Islamist politics and religion, while also denouncing the double standards of US and UK foreign policy towards Islamic states over the last century.
The result is a remarkably broad if sometimes awkward and episodic book, that moves from Ali's idyllic childhood in Lahore, playing tennis and avoiding mullahs, via discussions of the origins of Islam, the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the status of women in Islam, to detailed critiques of the recent history of western involvement in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Ali is at his best in the later sections, attacking the Pakistani madrasas as indoctrination nurseries designed to produce fanatics, and condemning the Pakistani army as one of the Pentagon's spoilt brats in Asia. The Clash of Fundamentalisms argues that the rise of political and religious intolerance lies in the fact that all the other exit routes have been sealed off by the mother of all fundamentalisms: American imperialism. His call for "an Islamic Reformation that sweeps away the crazed conservatism and backwardness of the fundamentalists" and which "opens up the world of Islam to new ideas which are seen to be more advanced than what is currently on offer from the West" is a bold and provocative call; while some may disagree with Ali's politics or interpretation of history, there is little doubt that The Clash of Fundamentalisms is an angry but valuable response to the events that took place in the US on September 11, 2001. --Jerry Brotton
From Library Journal
This is a work of truly monumental vacuity. On September 11, declares Ali (editor, New Left Review), the "subjects of the Empire had struck back." He depicts the United States as a nation bent on a "fundamentalist" foreign policy, impelled purely by economic self-interest, since its inception. The conflict now raging, then, has little to do with terrorism or with individual terrorist leaders. Rather, it is yet another in a series of struggles between the dispossessed and their imperial masters hence a clash of Islamic and American fundamentalisms. See? Well, no. The book has no bibliography and only a handful of footnotes, largely from secondary sources. Some undocumented howlers: FDR maneuvered Japan into war; the "massacre of civilian populations was always an integral part of US warmaking strategy" in Vietnam; and Harvard economists persuaded Boris Yeltsin, "an amoral and debauched clown," to adopt free-market policies that gave Russians "the most harrowing ordeal" of the postwar era presumably including the Stalin years. In short, this isn't a serious work. Libraries owning works by Edward Said (Orientalism) and Bernard Lewis (What Went Wrong?) can skip. Not recommended. James R. Holmes, Fletcher Sch. of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts Univ., Medford, MA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.