Tariq Ali is an internationally renowned radical activist, author, and atheist. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Ali lived in exile since the 1960s in opposition to Pakistan’s then-military dictatorship. A novelist, Ali has published four books of his “Islamic Quintet" which portray Islamic civilisation counter to Western orthodoxy, and the first two volumes in his "Fall of Communism" trilogy. He’s also written for the stage and the screen.
A longtime editor at the New Left Review, Tariq Ali has written and edited numerous books on history and politics including the classic The New Revolutionaries, The Clash of Fundamentalisms which investigates US power and its role in the creation of global terrorism, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, and his recent book, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, available from Verso.
In our conversation, he discusses, among many topics:
Many thanks to the International Centre at the University of Alberta for arranging the interview. Ali spoke with me in the lobby of the Hotel MacDonald on January 29, 2012. Note that Ali spoke with me a full year before the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
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Amy Goodman has hosted Democracy Now! since 1995. It’s heard and now watched across the world on the web, and broadcast from over 1200 stations. Harvard graduate Goodman first received widespread attention for her work while she was covering the Indonesian army’s mass-killing of Timorese demonstrators.
Increasingly since 1995 she and Democracy Now! have been at the forefront of American progressive reporting on war, peace, and social justice issues that corporate news cannot or will not cover. Amy Goodman is the author of four books including Breaking the Sound Barrier, an anthology of her columns. She’s won numerous awards, including the Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternative Nobel Prize.
This episode’s conversation is from the archives of the Grand Lodge of Imhotep in Edmonton. Amy Goodman spoke with me by telephone on February 17, 2011, a mere 15 days after the Canadian magazine Adbusters called on pro-democracy activists to occupy Wall Street, more than a year before the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, and two years before the seemingly unstoppable rise of DAESH or ISIL.
Democracy Now’s pioneering use of then-new file-sharing hacks back in 2003 to smuggle footage out of US-occupied Iraq, and their workarounds to get news out of Egypt during the kill-switch blackout of the anti-Mubarak uprising
The relationship between the Egypt Revolt and the occupation of Palestine
The scam of so-called “foreign aid” that instead of helping poor people overseas is actually corporate welfare feeding the super-rich at home
How and why Democracy Now! is available to more people than is MSNBC
Her commentary during the Egyptian Revolt as to its nature, aims, and likely results, and why she chose to call the ouster a revolution, and
Whether major change to the United States will come from progressives, or from fascists
Even today, Hollywood’s Pink-Washing produces Whitesupremacist revisionism of African civilisations through work such as The Gods of Egypt, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and the HBO series Rome whose second season visits Greek-occupied Egypt.
Fortunately, numerous scholars and activists have dedicated their lives to erasing such lies and restoring the truth about the Africanity of world-shaping ancient civilisations such as Ancient Egypt.
One such scholar-activist is Runoko Rashidi, an historian and world traveler who for decades has investigated the ancient migrations of Africans out of the mother continent and across the world. His work highlights the civilisations they founded and the titans they produced, especially in early Asia and Europe. He’s lectured in over 50 countries, and his articles have appeared in more than 75 publications.
Rashidi is the author of the books Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations, The Global African Community: The African Presence in Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, and A Thousand Year History of the African Presence in Asia. With Ivan Van Sertima he co-edited The African Presence in Early Asia. For years he hosted educational tours of archeological sites.
In today’s episode, Rashidi discusses:
This episode’s conversation is one of the last interviews I recorded for my CJSR show Africentric Radio. Until now, it’s been entombed in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Imhotep—so I’m delighted to bring it forth by day for you. Runoko Rashidi spoke with me by telephone from his home in Los Angeles on February 26, 2012.
I began as I often do by asking him to talk about his favourite teacher. His response is powerfully introspective, revealing, and refreshingly honest.
Across the world, modern peoples look towards the great civilisations of antiquity of their continent for answers about who they are now, and from what greatness they have arisen. East Asians gaze toward China; indigenous Americans recall the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, and Inca; Europeans remember Greece and Rome... and Africans remember Nubia and Egypt.
Yet despite the obvious Africanity of Egypt, for more than two hundred years, Europe has taught an imperial racist mythology that erased who the Egyptians truly were, and thanks to Hollywood, has pinkwashed them into Europeans, a depiction never created by any ancient Egyptian painter or sculptor.
To re-establish Egypt, or Kemet, literally, the Black Land, as an African society and civilisation populated and led by racial Africans is a complex task, due to the crushing weight of more than two centuries of racial brainwashing. Doing so requires a multidisciplinary approach engaging Archeo-Linguistics, Philosophy, Comparative Religion, Physical and Cultural Anthropology, and blood-type analysis, to name only a few.
Few scholars were better suited to such labour than the late Dr. Martin Bernal, author of the monumental series Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation.
A maverick academic and historical investigator, Dr. Bernal employed thousands of modern and ancient documents, and addressed innumerable cultural, philosophical, scholarly, and scientific issues in order to re-establish what the Greeks and other ancient Europeans said: that the Egyptians were dark-skinned Africans whose vast genius formed the basis of Greek religion, philosophy, art, architecture, mathematics, science, and civilisation.
Bernal was a professor of Government at Cornell University. His career began in Chinese studies, but grew into the tradition of groundbreaking African scholars such as George G.M. James, St. Clair Drake, and Cheikh Anta Diop. While Bernal is primarily interested in understanding Greece so as to understand Europe, his work in clarifying the Egyptian influence on Greece has required him to establish Egypt’s Africanity.
I had the privilege of interviewing Martin Bernal in person way back in November 2000 in Edmonton, when he spoke at Edmonton Public Library Stanley Milner Branch. He was the guest of the Living History Project of which I was a member, a committee of the Council of Canadians of African & Caribbean Heritage.
For more information on Martin Bernal and his work, visit mfgalaxy.org for the links. Martin Bernal died on June 9, 2013. He was a delightful man, and a brilliant scholar. I’ll always be grateful for his time.
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COMING IN DECEMBER, don’t miss the serialized AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS of my cult-classic novels THE COYOTE KINGS and my award-winning SHRINKING THE HEROES, available exclusively on PATREON!
The next time you feel like starting a blood feud, go to a Classics lecture on any American campus or to any American publishing house and say the following: “Egypt was a racially African civilisation. And it conquered and civilised Greece.”
As amply demonstrated by the growth industry in anti-Afrocentric publishing, North America’s racially-poisoned debates about nearly everything have made the discussion of the racial identity of a people from six thousand years ago almost as vicious as the fight in Syria right now.
Why the controversy? Because of what Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, described as the contest between the Ancient Model and the Aryan model of ancient Greece and Egypt. The ancient Greeks made it clear that Egypt was their instructor and inspiration for nearly all the aspects of their civilisation; Europe believed this ancient testimony up until the age of imperialism. At that point it became morally and intellectually unfeasible to consider that those who were becoming the victims of the European Holocaust against Africa and the growing White world supremacy could be the grandfathers of European civilisation itself. The racism necessary to justify that conquest was never defeated, not even after the Nazis were, who were inspired by the same racist historical revisionism.
Enter Richard Poe, author of the controversial Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilise Ancient Europe?, a book whose trials of publication are almost as stunning as its revelations about the ancient world.
So, Poe must be an angry African writer with an Afrocentric spear to sharpen, right? The kind who wants nothing more than to smear and destroy the European canon? Hardly. Poe is an award-winning, pro-gun, pro-capitalism, right-wing American journalist, part Russian-Jewish, part Mexican, and best-selling author. So any notion that Poe is pandering to Black radicalism couldn’t be further from the truth. So is the idea that Poe cynically wrote the book to cash in on the Afrocentric movement.
In fact, Poe had a hell of a fight to get his book in print. White editors and publishers he approached either didn’t want a White writer to write the book, or didn’t want the book written at all. Some were upset of baffled by the notion of a African Egypt; one made bizarre reference to her fear that her mother might be mugged by Black criminals--as if this were relevant to an ancient civilisation thousands of kilometres away.
Some academics didn’t want to touch the issue--as Poe makes clear, established academics are sometimes professionally and personally vicious enough to young mavericks to destroy their careers; perhaps only a journalist, argues Poe, has the freedom to write such a book.
Some freedom--Poe ended up forking over $30,000 US of his own money to get the book researched, including the creation of artwork to display the forensic reconstruction of the face of an ancient Egyptian skull. And perhaps if famed Afrocentrist* professor, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, head of Temple University’s African Studies Department, hadn’t written the introduction to this book, few Africans in the US might have taken the book seriously.
Neither White liberal nor Black radical, Poe is also unlike many Afrocentric Egyptologists in that he doesn’t regard the Greeks as mere historical plagiarists of greater, more ancient Egyptian genius. He is concerned neither with racial solidarity nor a political-academic agenda--his sole concern seems to be the truth, hence his sacrifices.
Highly accessible and jargon-free, Richard Poe’s Black Spark, White Fire is a dazzling voyage through the genealogy of human civilisation with forays into race, mysticism, science, philosophy, culture, and technology that one needn’t be a specialist or a classicist in order to follow.
I went far below the pharaoh’s chamber in the Grand Lodge of Imhotep archives for today’s conversation. Richard Poe spoke with me by telephone way back in April, 2000. He discussed:
We began by discussing the eternal relevance of history.
*Molefi Kete Asante is the author of the classic book Afrocentricity. Many who identify with his work and ideology are called Afrocentrists. Critics of their inquiry mislabel the movement as Afrocentrism. Any use in this blog entry of the prefix “Afro-” refers to Asante’s work or his movement. I use the term “Africentric” simply to mean “centered on Africa and from an African perspective.
To hear the hour-long, patrons-only extended edition of my conversation with Richard Poe, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Richard Poe discussing: