SFU History Brings World-Renowned Author, Fimmaker and Playwright Tariq Ali to their Annual Lecture Series

Story by SFU History graduate student Milad Doroudian

January 27, 2016

The room went warily silent as Tariq Ali recalled his long conversation with Malcom X, shortly before his assassination, only to show that the unfolding of history is not in fact at a “terminus” but is continuous and ever-present.

“History is written, and history is made always in conjunction with the times with which it coexists” said Ali.

This was only a small part of his discussion of the significance of historical development in 1965 and on, at the SFU hosted event “Critical Uprisings, Crucial Events: The Significance of 1965” last September.

Ali discussed the ways by which people actually did history in those “radical times.” He stressed, however, the necessity to place these historical events in the present and in fact mentioned that “history is constantly in motion.”

“During the last 60 years of the last century history was a controversial subject, because many existing  norms to study it were challenged.” he said.

It is of no wonder therefore that he talked about the prevalent new ways that history was thought of at that critical moment in time, namely the rise of social historians such as E.P Thompson in their pursuit to define the history of the lower classes.

He surprised the audience with his impassioned lecture by making it clear that regardless of the reality of ever-increasing turbulence even in our own times, the purpose is to always challenge current methods of thought, and power by placing ourselves right in the middle of the course of history, as we study it.

Ali argued that beyond the many forms of extremism from region to region, globalization in relation to “uncharted capitalism” will be something that will set the basis the next two decades.

He made it clear that it will not only affect the structures of power, but also the very study of history as we find ourselves in this new “epoch.”

Interestingly he also stressed that although 1965 was an important year, it was not particularly unique - not only in regards to the historical events, but also in the evolution of history as a discipline. Rather it was a time when people began to seriously challenge power structures - something which historians continue to do today.

Although Ali did not specify the significance of the foundation of SFU directly, he did build on the need of History Departments to continue to challenge the discipline and the world in which they exist.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember from the lecture is the fact that "Although we live in bad times, we must not give up on hope, which is an active emotion."

Tariq Ali, a popular historian and journalist, is the author of several books. This has been the first time that he has given a talk at SFU since the 1970’s.

Milad Doroudian is a graduate student in Simon Fraser University's Department of History.

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