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Overrunning a Nation

K.P. Fabian

By Tariq Ali
Leftword, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 262, Rs. 195.00


For the global citizen, Tariq Ali needs hardly any introduction. Born in Lahore into a Communist family in 1943, Tariq was sent to England for studies, mainly for his personal safety. His uncle who headed the military intelligence was convinced that his nephew stood a good chance of being incarcerated in Pakistan, even running the risk of getting killed by the state. Tariq flourished in Oxford and became president of the Oxford Union in 1965. At the time of the global outrage against America’s war on Vietnam, Tariq became famous with his much publicized debate with Henry Kissinger.     There is a historical depth in Ali’s book that is so refreshing and rare. The book was first published in 2003 in London. The author has written an introduction to the Indian edition. “The account of Iraqi history offered in this book is a painful one. No happy endings are in sight.” In 1258, Baghdad fell to the Mongols. A conversation between the Mongol chief Hulegu and the fallen Caliph, as recorded by philosopher al –Tusi (d.1274) is interesting:  The King(Hulegu) went to examine the Caliph’s residence and walked about it in every direction. The Caliph was fetched and ordered presents to be offered. Whatever he brought out the King at once distributed amongst his suite and emirs, as well as among military leaders and all those present. He then set a golden tray before the Caliph and said: ‘Eat!’ ‘It is not edible’, said the Caliph. ‘Then why didst thou keep it’, asked the King, ‘and not give it to thy soldiers? And why didst thou not make these iron doors into arrow-heads and come to the banks of the river so that I might not have been able to cross it?’ ‘Such,’ replied the Caliph, ‘was God’s will.’ ‘What will befall thee,’ said the King, ‘is also God’s will.’     Can we imagine a similar conversation between George Bush and Saddam Hussein?     The first chapter following the introduction is titled ‘The Jackals’ Wedding’ after a poem of the same title by Saadi Youssef, a patriotic Iraqi poet living in exile in Damascus as the American occupiers have prohibited his entry. In southern Iraq, on a summer’s night, in order to recover from the day’s heat, people in the villages often sleep in the open air, underneath a star-lit sky. “Their peace is sometimes disturbed by a conclave ...

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