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The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity [Hardcover]

Tariq Ali
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 17 2002
The inviolability of the American mainland, breached on 9/11/2001 for the first time since 1812, led to extravagant proclamations by the pundits. It was a sudden menace confronting the twenty-first century, an event of unprecedented dimensions, a new world-historical turning point.

Tariq Ali challenges these assumptions, arguing instead that what we have experienced is the return of History in a horrific form, with religious symbols playing a part on both sides: ‘Allah’s revenge’, ‘God is on Our side’, ‘God Bless America’. The ‘war against terror’ is a clash of fundamentalisms, religious versus imperial. Each is honored by time-honored features – a shameless use of disproportional military power by one and a carefully targeted fanaticism by its Other. The two forces are hardly equal. One is a product of despair, the other is an empire, whose ability to go to war is a chilling reminder of its place in the world. Contemporary politics is conducted and presented in the elitist style of intelligence agencies: disinformation, false information, exaggeration of enemy strength and capability, explanation of a TV image with a brazen lie and censorship. The aim is to delude and disarm the citizenry. Everything is either over-simplified or reduced to a wearisome incomprehensibility.

This wide-ranging book blends history, literature, politics and autobiography to challenge the conformist culture of our times. Ali argues that many of the values proclaimed by the Enlightenment retain their relevance, while portrayals of the American Empire as a new emancipatory project are fatally misguided.

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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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I'm very sympathetic to Mr. Ali's position--he is an ardent critic of both Western imperialism and Islamic fanaticism. However, Mr. Ali rushed this book into print, without the advent of good editing. His lack of organization, and his reckless assertions deeply flaw what would otherwise be a valuable book.
Left in its current state, _The Clash of Fundamentalisms_ is rambling and fractured, bouncing from one topic to the next with little structure. More disturbing are Ali's wild and unsubstantiated statements--such as his claims that the US deliberately shot down an Iranian airliner. He often sounds like a conspiracy theorist because he makes this kind of assertion without presenting any evidence.
The book works better when Ali is documenting reckless Western behavior abroad. For example, Ali recounts the US destruction of Egyptian labor movement and democracy, and the promotion of Islamic fascists there.
All in all, Ali offers the reader some valuable background about the imperialism in the MiddleEast and many details in the rise of a peculiar kind of Islamic fundamentalism. Ali shows how each of these fundamentalisms colluded with and fomented the rise of the other.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical context for September 11 Feb. 22 2003
Format:Hardcover
Those who think looking for an explanation for September 11 in the unfortunate collision of American foreign policy and fundamentalist Islam is to somehow "excuse" the terrorists will find nothing to please them here - nor anything to flatter their prejudices. Tariq Ali is an atheist, and he's just as brutal in his dismissal of Islam and other religions as he is of Western imperialism. Religion is to be rejected for two reasons, he says: it is a set of ideological delusions; and it is a system of institutional oppression, with immense powers of persecution and intolerance. So don't buy or reject this book thinking Ali's an apologist for Islam and a hater of the West. "The Clash of Fundamentalisms" is about the long history of South Asia and the Middle East, the engagement of Islam and the West, and the consequences of their conflicting interests. It requires some understanding of Middle Eastern history and politics, but not a lot. It will appeal mainly to those wanting to understand the background to the current Middle East situation and the motivations for the terrorist attacks; who want to know how America's fanatical efforts to repel Communism from every corner of the globe drew it into some dangerous, secret and unlikely alliances and how we're only reaping the "rewards" of that now. You will have to be fearless enough to accept that the terrorists were not illiterate, bearded fanatics from the mountains of Afghanistan but, as Ali puts it, "highly-skilled, middle-class professionals" acting on a sincere religious conviction. That we find that conviction deplorable, and their murderous actions utterly indefensible, should not discourage us from trying to understand them. Surely understanding the enemy is an essential element of an effective strategy for defeating them? Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars bin Bush bin Laden, Is there a difference? Feb. 25 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
When this book first came in the aftermath of world trade center atrocity, I didn't even want to look at it. But things became clear that the Anglo-American Wolf is really the master behind this horror as Thierry Meyssan's 9/11: The Big Lie, Pentagate and Gerhard Wisnewski's Operation 9/11 -in German,- in logical and resoning ways presented this matter.
I started to recall back when I was the a physics graduate student in the eighties and discuss with my colleagues how bin Laden and all those labeling themselves Mujahideen were being used and led by the Anglo-American Wolf just to serve one purpose, the Anglo-American Wolf interest. The Wolf has a deep-rooted nature of robing and looting the working people everywhere so that its corrupted corporate Elite grows fatter and fatter. Now I realized that the Wolf has used that group again intentionally and unintentionally. For no one in his right mind can believe that such a group could stay inside USA under the watchful eyes of the CIA and FBI for a year learning from zero how to fly an airplane and passed unnoticed. Egypt's, Israel's, Italy's.. Inelegance knew about a massive terrorist act in the year 2001 and passed to the Wolf's officials. But the Wolf didn't wink a bit because the Wolf was orchestrating every thing. When the NJ poet laureate said that, he was labeled as anti-Semite and prosecuted. That made me think if the Wolf can be so regardless to the immediate people it controls from near what about people everywhere on the globe it controls by remote controls from Hell. When the Wolf developed its atomic bomb in the 1945.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A stylish collection of diatribes Jan. 7 2004
Format:Paperback
Author, playwright, modern renaissance man of the Left, Tariq Ali has worn all of these hats and more in his career. "Clash of Fundamentalisms" is a collection of his essays on US foreign policy, particularly as it applies to the Middle East and the traditionalist Islamic countries.
The first thing to note about this collection is that it is indeed a collection and not intended to read as a cohesive work. It all hangs together thematically and most of the essays expand on their predecessors, but there are some moments where Ali begins to flog the same horse he has just beaten senseless in the previous chapter. That said, if you expect a collection of essays (as opposed to my erroneous belief on reading this for the first time), you will not be disappointed.
Ali is a highly intelligent man, of that we can all be certain. His explanations of early Islamic history, despite clearly not being the raison d'etre of this collection, are well worth a read. However, the reason to buy this book is to witness one of the leading polemicists of our generation tear into the edifices of the modern world.
The use of the plural in the above paragraph is deliberate. Ali does not fall into the traps so common in leftist discourse of the current moment of simply criticising the current system and failing to provide a valid alternative. Neither does he commit the worse sin of a bias in favour of the culture against whom the forces of the right are arrayed. Despite being Pakistan-born, his criticisms of Islam, Islamic fundamentalism and the regimes of the subcontinent are just as scathing as those of the White House (under, it should be pointed out, Chief Executives of both political persuasions).
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a little perspective...
OK, let's face it: the main reason why Bush and friends get away (unquestioned) with their world policies is that the domestic media does nothing to question whether or not what... Read more
Published on July 18 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not live up to its cover...
I would normally start a review by explaining what the book is about but for Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms I will have to start backwards: the book is not about... Read more
Published on May 27 2004 by Themis Matsoukas
5.0 out of 5 stars The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity
Powerful empires in previous centuries have never understood the wrath of their subjects, says Ali, and the American Empire is no exception. Read more
Published on April 22 2004 by B. Viberg
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining critique that spares neither East nor West
The gist of the story that Tariq Ali tells in this book will be familiar to most people who have taken the time to learn the history behind today's global events. Read more
Published on Dec 15 2003 by Phil
1.0 out of 5 stars Incoherent, lacks focus, what is the topic after all!
I had heard quite a bit about Tariq Ali since he was a kind of icon from the 60s and 70s socialist and human rights movement. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars George should read this one!
An excellent critique of American imperialism and hypocrisy. It's definitely a book for George W's Christmas stocking.
Published on Nov. 9 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent depth and breadth
Probably one of my best books since I read "Guns Germs and Steal" by Jard Diamond.
This book clearly lays-out the very complex dynamics of the current conflict. Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2003 by F. Khan
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging reading, substantial insights, thought-provoking!
One can't tell a book from it's cover, but in this case, at least one can get an idea that the author has a sense of humor! Read more
Published on July 28 2003 by Giant Panda
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it for a non-American view of the world
I confess I began this wonderful book about this time last year. Why, you have every right to ask, did I take over a year to complete a relatively small book and the answer lies... Read more
Published on July 28 2003 by Tim Johnson
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