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A prolific author

Date Released: Mon, 11 April 2011 14:33 +0200

Tariq Ali brought his charismatic presence and gift for oratory to the Rhodes University Faculty of Science's Graduation ceremony last week. In his speech, before he was presented with an Honorary Doctorate by the University, Ali showed that none of his fire has died out, although it is over forty years since he gained his reputation as one of the twentieth century's most outspoken activists.

Born in 1943 in Lahore, now in Pakistan, into a family of some privilege, he grew up as both an atheist and a communist. As a student at Punjab University, Ali was elected President of the Young Students Union, and led several public demonstrations against Pakistan's military dictatorship. This resulted in his being banned from further participation in student politics and his parents sent him to study further at Oxford University's Exeter College.

After graduating, Ali almost single-handedly founded the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) becoming its leader and outspoken envoy.

Throughout the last years of the 1960s the VSC became a rallying point for those in opposition to the Americans' involvement in Vietnam. Ali's articulate and well argued anti-war stance gained him a great deal of prominence in the media, and a reputation for passionate anti-Americanism, which he retains to this day; indeed in his speech he regretted the lack of tangible change introduced by Barack Obama's election as President of the United States.

A prolific author, Ali's non-fiction works include 1968: Marching in the Streets; Street Fighting Man; Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity; and The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom. His first novel, Redemption, was published in 1990 and recounts, in satirical form, the disillusionment experienced by Trotskyists when the Soviet Union collapsed. A series of historical novels about Islam include Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (1992), The Book of Saladin (1998), The Stone Woman (2000) and A Sultan in Palermo (2005).

Ali is still active as a journalist, writing articles and opinion pieces for magazines and newspapers, and he is editorial director of London publishers Verso. He is also on the board of the London Review of Books, for which he acts as an editor.

In the 1980s he set up Bandung Productions to make programmes for Channel 4, then Britain's most innovative TV channel, and he has written scripts for feature-length films, including Partition and Spinoza. In 2009 he worked with renowned director and film-maker Oliver Stone on a documentary called South of the Border, documenting the changes occurring in South America.

Ali held his audience of academics, graduates and their families enthralled, receiving a rousing reception. His passionate sense of justice is recognised by Rhodes University with the award of an Honorary Doctorate.

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By Jean McKeowin

Photo by Sophie Smith