Tariq Ali visits the U: British-Pakistani intellectual marks second-to-last speaker of Minerva lecture series on oil


By Melissa Moskowitz

The college was truly fortunate to have writer, activist, historian and political scientist Tariq Ali speak this Monday as the final lecturer of the Minerva lecture series on oil.

Ali has written prolifically on the Middle East and war crimes and is a frequent and notable contributor to the U.K.’s Guardian.

His comments have sparked immense controversy on the international scene. Critiquing U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya, Ali calls the  “selective vigilantism” of America indicative of a “neo-imperial empire.”

In his most recent book, The Obama Syndrome, Ali makes the bold argument that there is no distinction between the policies of Presidents Obama and Bush.

His 7 p.m. lecture at the Nott was entitled “The Oil Wars and World Politics,” but the arguments painted a more general picture of capitalism, dependence on oil, corporate involvement in democracy and violations of international law.

Ali began the lecture with a simple expression: “The world is uneven.”

The only reason the West is concerned with the Middle East, Ali  explained, is because of oil. He made many salient criticisms of Western practices, including the implantation of dictators, kings and autocrats to keep people from their resources.

He highlighted a contradiction between supporting platforms on the basis of human rights and then selectively deciding which states have access to these rights.

Ali turned from historical foundations to citing occurrences of U.S. involvement in preserving dictators. He notably gives the example of the CIA-led coup to overthrow nationalist Iranian president Mossadegh.

He blamed the U.S. for installing the Shah and creating an environment ready for revolution.


“What we are creating is hollowed-out democracy.”

Tariq AliWriter, activist and historian


“The only doors open were the doors of the mosques,” he said.

The lecture transitioned to a more ambiguous critique of the capitalist system that has fostered  the exploitive oil processes.

“More than simply a question of oil, today it’s what are the practices of our own economy,” he said.

He called for control and regulation over the marketplace in order to stop exploitive practices and safety net comprised of social welfare programs

Explaining the marriage between states and corporate oil practices, he detailed U.S. protection of oil assets via, for example, the  war in Iraq.

The U.S. has fostered governmental “vassal states” in the Gulf to protect the circulation of oil. Billions of dollars in arms deals with states like Saudi Arabia, which many criticize for its human rights practices, have also been arranged.

Lambasting the neoliberal practices of globalization, he shared stories of going to Bolivia and trying to purchase crafts only to find that they have been made in China. He shared his fears that this corporate environment has “killed off crafts.”

“What we are creating is hollowed out democracy,” he said.

His hope for our system is in the ability for the state to assert dominance and reign in capitalism’s outlandish practices.

The state will have to get involved because, as he puts it, “eventually the logic of the common will have to prevail because it is in the best interest of everyone. It won’t work unless you do it collectively…we need governments.”

His prescriptions for U.S. oil addiction are largely collective. We must imagine a world where oil is no longer a useful resource. As new states like China emerge, it is the job of world citizens to consider a planet where everyone walks five to ten minutes for a bus.

Similarly, he urged the creation of a third political party, an answer to partisan construct of Democrats and the GOP,  or “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”

A third party could advocate real progressive change.

“Corporations won’t be for it initially,” he said, so the impetus “has to come from the top.”

Ali beckoned the crowd to follow the example of the Arab Spring youth, proving that when you “mobilize your anger and strength you do bring about change.”


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