Arundhati Roy: “We must consider ourselves at war”


Richard Moore

Delivered-To: •••@••.•••
From: "Janet M Eaton" <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004 22:25:16 -0400
Subject:  WSF 2004 :Text of Arundhati Roy's Speech -  Opening Plenary [The Hindu
Jan 18] 


Online edition of India's National Newspaper Sunday, Jan 18, 2004

Front Page

Do turkeys enjoy thanksgiving?

By Arundhati Roy

It's not good enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test
our resolve, it's important to win something. In order to win
something, we need to agree on something." After a tour d'horizon,
the author of The God of Small Things calls for a " minimum agenda"
as well as a plan of action that prioritises global resistance to the
U.S. occupation of Iraq. Here is the text of her speech at the
opening Plenary of the World Social Forum in Mumbai on January 16,

PHOTO Arundhati Roy

LAST JANUARY thousands of us from across the world gathered in Porto
Allegre in Brazil and declared — reiterated — that "Another World is
Possible". A few thousand miles north, in Washington, George Bush and
his aides were thinking the same thing.

Our project was the World Social Forum. Theirs — to further what many
call The Project for the New American Century.

In the great cities of Europe and America, where a few years ago
these things would only have been whispered, now people are openly
talking about the good side of Imperialism and the need for a strong
Empire to police an unruly world. The new missionaries want order at
the cost of justice. Discipline at the cost of dignity. And
ascendancy at any price. Occasionally some of us are invited to
`debate' the issue on `neutral' platforms provided by the corporate
media. Debating Imperialism is a bit like debating the pros and cons
of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it?

In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It's a remodelled,
streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in
history, a single Empire with an arsenal of weapons that could
obliterate the world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic
and military hegemony. It uses different weapons to break open
different markets. There isn't a country on God's earth that is not
caught in the cross hairs of the American cruise missile and the IMF
chequebook. Argentina's the model if you want to be the poster-boy of
neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if you're the black sheep.

Poor countries that are geo-politically of strategic value to Empire,
or have a `market' of any size, or infrastructure that can be
privatized, or, god forbid, natural resources of value — oil, gold,
diamonds, cobalt, coal — must do as they're told, or become military
targets. Those with the greatest reserves of natural wealth are most
at risk. Unless they surrender their resources willingly to the
corporate machine, civil unrest will be fomented, or war will be
waged. In this new age of Empire, when nothing is as it appears to
be, executives of concerned companies are allowed to influence
foreign policy decisions. The Centre for Public Integrity in
Washington found that nine out of the 30 members of the Defence
Policy Board of the U.S. Government were connected to companies that
were awarded defence contracts for $ 76 billion between 2001 and
2002. George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, was Chairman of
the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He is also on the Board of
Directors of the Bechtel Group. When asked about a conflict of
interest, in the case of a war in Iraq he said, " I don't know that
Bechtel would particularly benefit from it. But if there's work to be
done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it. But nobody
looks at it as something you benefit from." After the war, Bechtel
signed a $680 million contract for reconstruction in Iraq.

This brutal blueprint has been used over and over again, across Latin
America, Africa, Central and South-East Asia. It has cost millions of
lives. It goes without saying that every war Empire wages becomes a
Just War. This, in large part, is due to the role of the corporate
media. It's important to understand that the corporate media doesn't
just support the neo-liberal project. It is the neo-liberal project.
This is not a moral position it has chosen to take, it's structural.
It's intrinsic to the economics of how the mass media works.

Most nations have adequately hideous family secrets. So it isn't
often necessary for the media to lie. It's what's emphasised and
what's ignored. Say for example India was chosen as the target for a
righteous war. The fact that about 80,000 people have been killed in
Kashmir since 1989, most of them Muslim, most of them by Indian
Security Forces (making the average death toll about 6000 a year);
the fact that less than a year ago, in March of 2003, more than two
thousand Muslims were murdered on the streets of Gujarat, that women
were gang-raped and children were burned alive and a 150,000 people
driven from their homes while the police and administration watched,
and sometimes actively participated; the fact that no one has been
punished for these crimes and the Government that oversaw them was re-
elected ... all of this would make perfect headlines in international
newspapers in the run-up to war.

Next we know, our cities will be levelled by cruise missiles, our
villages fenced in with razor wire, U.S. soldiers will patrol our
streets and, Narendra Modi, Pravin Togadia or any of our popular
bigots could, like Saddam Hussein, be in U.S. custody, having their
hair checked for lice and the fillings in their teeth examined on
prime-time TV.

But as long as our `markets' are open, as long as corporations like
Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton, Arthur Andersen are given a free hand,
our `democratically elected' leaders can fearlessly blur the lines
between democracy, majoritarianism and fascism.

Our government's craven willingness to abandon India's proud
tradition of being Non-Aligned, its rush to fight its way to the head
of the queue of the Completely Aligned (the fashionable phrase is
`natural ally' — India, Israel and the U.S. are `natural allies'),
has given it the leg room to turn into a repressive regime without
compromising its legitimacy.

A government's victims are not only those that it kills and
imprisons. Those who are displaced and dispossessed and sentenced to
a lifetime of starvation and deprivation must count among them too.
Millions of people have been dispossessed by `development' projects.
In the past 55 years, Big Dams alone have displaced between 33
million and 55 million people in India. They have no recourse to

In the last two years there has been a series of incidents when
police have opened fire on peaceful protestors, most of them Adivasi
and Dalit. When it comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit and
Adivasi communities, they get killed for encroaching on forest land,
and killed when they're trying to protect forest land from
encroachments — by dams, mines, steel plants and other `development'
projects. In almost every instance in which the police opened fire,
the government's strategy has been to say the firing was provoked by
an act of violence. Those who have been fired upon are immediately
called militants.

Across the country, thousands of innocent people including minors
have been arrested under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and are
being held in jail indefinitely and without trial. In the era of the
War against Terror, poverty is being slyly conflated with terrorism.
In the era of corporate globalisation, poverty is a crime. Protesting
against further impoverishment is terrorism. And now, our Supreme
Court says that going on strike is a crime. Criticising the court of
course is a crime, too. They're sealing the exits.

Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism too relies for its success on a
network of agents — corrupt, local elites who service Empire. We all
know the sordid story of Enron in India. The then Maharashtra
Government signed a power purchase agreement which gave Enron profits
that amounted to sixty per cent of India's entire rural development
budget. A single American company was guaranteed a profit equivalent
to funds for infrastructural development for about 500 million

Unlike in the old days the New Imperialist doesn't need to trudge
around the tropics risking malaria or diahorrea or early death. New
Imperialism can be conducted on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on racism
of Old Imperialism is outdated. The cornerstone of New Imperialism is
New Racism.

The tradition of `turkey pardoning' in the U.S. is a wonderful
allegory for New Racism. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey
Federation presents the U.S. President with a turkey for
Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the
President spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After
receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying
Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the 50
million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on
Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the
Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be
sociable, to interact with dignitaries, school children and the
press. (Soon they'll even speak English!)

That's how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully
bred turkeys — the local elites of various countries, a community of
wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell,
or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself) — are
given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining
millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their
water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically
they're for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying Pan Park are
doing fine. Some of them even work for the IMF and the WTO — so who
can accuse those organisations of being anti-turkey? Some serve as
board members on the Turkey Choosing Committee — so who can say that
turkeys are against Thanksgiving? They participate in it! Who can say
the poor are anti-corporate globalisation? There's a stampede to get
into Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?

Part of the project of New Racism is New Genocide. In this new era of
economic interdependence, New Genocide can be facilitated by economic
sanctions. It means creating conditions that lead to mass death
without actually going out and killing people. Dennis Halliday, the
U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between '97 and '98 (after
which he resigned in disgust), used the term genocide to describe the
sanctions in Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid Saddam Hussein's best
efforts by claiming more than half a million children's lives.

In the new era, Apartheid as formal policy is antiquated and
unnecessary. International instruments of trade and finance oversee a
complex system of multilateral trade laws and financial agreements
that keep the poor in their Bantustans anyway. Its whole purpose is
to institutionalise inequity. Why else would it be that the U.S.
taxes a garment made by a Bangladeshi manufacturer 20 times more than
it taxes a garment made in the U.K.? Why else would it be that
countries that grow 90 per cent of the world's cocoa bean produce
only 5 per cent of the world's chocolate? Why else would it be that
countries that grow cocoa bean, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana, are
taxed out of the market if they try and turn it into chocolate? Why
else would it be that rich countries that spend over a billion
dollars a day on subsidies to farmers demand that poor countries like
India withdraw all agricultural subsidies, including subsidised
electricity? Why else would it be that after having been plundered by
colonising regimes for more than half a century, former colonies are
steeped in debt to those same regimes, and repay them some $ 382
billion a year?

For all these reasons, the derailing of trade agreements at Cancun
was crucial for us. Though our governments try and take the credit,
we know that it was the result of years of struggle by many millions
of people in many, many countries. What Cancun taught us is that in
order to inflict real damage and force radical change, it is vital
for local resistance movements to make international alliances. From
Cancun we learned the importance of globalising resistance.

No individual nation can stand up to the project of Corporate
Globalisation on its own. Time and again we have seen that when it
comes to the neo-liberal project, the heroes of our times are
suddenly diminished. Extraordinary, charismatic men, giants in
Opposition, when they seize power and become Heads of State, they
become powerless on the global stage. I'm thinking here of President
Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of the World Social Forum last
year. This year he's busy implementing IMF guidelines, reducing
pension benefits and purging radicals from the Workers' Party. I'm
thinking also of ex-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Within
two years of taking office in 1994, his government genuflected with
hardly a caveat to the Market God. It instituted a massive programme
of privatisation and structural adjustment, which has left millions
of people homeless, jobless and without water and electricity.

Why does this happen? There's little point in beating our breasts and
feeling betrayed. Lula and Mandela are, by any reckoning, magnificent
men. But the moment they cross the floor from the Opposition into
Government they become hostage to a spectrum of threats — most
malevolent among them the threat of capital flight, which can destroy
any government overnight. To imagine that a leader's personal
charisma and a c.v. of struggle will dent the Corporate Cartel is to
have no understanding of how Capitalism works, or for that matter,
how power works. Radical change will not be negotiated by
governments; it can only be enforced by people.

This week at the World Social Forum, some of the best minds in the
world will exchange ideas about what is happening around us. These
conversations refine our vision of the kind of world we're fighting
for. It is a vital process that must not be undermined. However, if
all our energies are diverted into this process at the cost of real
political action, then the WSF, which has played such a crucial role
in the Movement for Global Justice, runs the risk of becoming an
asset to our enemies. What we need to discuss urgently is strategies
of resistance. We need to aim at real targets, wage real battles and
inflict real damage. Gandhi's Salt March was not just political
theatre. When, in a simple act of defiance, thousands of Indians
marched to the sea and made their own salt, they broke the salt tax
laws. It was a direct strike at the economic underpinning of the
British Empire. It was real. While our movement has won some
important victories, we must not allow non-violent resistance to
atrophy into ineffectual, feel-good, political theatre. It is a very
precious weapon that needs to be constantly honed and re-imagined. It
cannot be allowed to become a mere spectacle, a photo opportunity for
the media.

It was wonderful that on February 15th last year, in a spectacular
display of public morality, 10 million people in five continents
marched against the war on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was not
enough. February 15th was a weekend. Nobody had to so much as miss a
day of work. Holiday protests don't stop wars. George Bush knows
that. The confidence with which he disregarded overwhelming public
opinion should be a lesson to us all. Bush believes that Iraq can be
occupied and colonised — as Afghanistan has been, as Tibet has been,
as Chechnya is being, as East Timor once was and Palestine still is.
He thinks that all he has to do is hunker down and wait until a
crisis-driven media, having picked this crisis to the bone, drops it
and moves on. Soon the carcass will slip off the best-seller charts,
and all of us outraged folks will lose interest. Or so he hopes.

This movement of ours needs a major, global victory. It's not good
enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our resolve,
it's important to win something. In order to win something, we — all
of us gathered here and a little way away at Mumbai Resistance — need
to agree on something. That something does not need to be an over-
arching pre-ordained ideology into which we force-fit our
delightfully factious, argumentative selves. It does not need to be
an unquestioning allegiance to one or another form of resistance to
the exclusion of everything else. It could be a minimum agenda.

If all of us are indeed against Imperialism and against the project
of neo-liberalism, then let's turn our gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the
inevitable culmination of both. Plenty of anti-war activists have
retreated in confusion since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn't the
world better off without Saddam Hussein? they ask timidly.

Let's look this thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud the
U.S. army's capture of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect,
justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack the
Ripper for disembowelling the Boston Strangler. And that — after a
quarter century partnership in which the Ripping and Strangling was a
joint enterprise. It's an in-house quarrel. They're business partners
who fell out over a dirty deal. Jack's the CEO.

So if we are against Imperialism, shall we agree that we are against
the U.S. occupation and that we believe that the U.S. must withdraw
from Iraq and pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the damage that
the war has inflicted?

How do we begin to mount our resistance? Let's start with something
really small. The issue is not about supporting the resistance in
Iraq against the occupation or discussing who exactly constitutes the
resistance. (Are they old Killer Ba'athists, are they Islamic

We have to become the global resistance to the occupation.

Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy
of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially
impossible for Empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should
refuse to fight, reservists should refuse to serve, workers should
refuse to load ships and aircraft with weapons. It certainly means
that in countries like India and Pakistan we must block the U.S.
government's plans to have Indian and Pakistani soldiers sent to Iraq
to clean up after them.

I suggest that at a joint closing ceremony of the World Social Forum
and Mumbai Resistance, we choose, by some means, two of the major
corporations that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq. We
could then list every project they are involved in. We could locate
their offices in every city and every country across the world. We
could go after them. We could shut them down. It's a question of
bringing our collective wisdom and experience of past struggles to
bear on a single target. It's a question of the desire to win.

The Project For The New American Century seeks to perpetuate inequity
and establish American hegemony at any price, even if it's
apocalyptic. The World Social Forum demands justice and survival.

For these reasons, we must consider ourselves at war.

©Arundhati Roy


[1] Mumbai conference calls for boycott of America, Inc.
author: Antonio Gramsci

Activists in India [including Arundhati Roy] and elsewhere are
spearheading a call for an international boycott of corporate
America, starting with the ten biggest donors to the George Bush Jr

Bush Boycott Website [Comprehensive site]

A thousand issues during a week of workshops, protests, and events 
A major theme by many activists is how to defeat
Bush in 2004 and a broader call for a boycott campaign against US
corporations which benefit from the occupation of Iraq.



    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in humanity, not gods, ideologies, or programs.

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