Arundhati Roy: elections, global power, empire, lies and resistance


Richard Moore

From: "RightsAction" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: ARTICLE by Arundhati Roy -- 
On elections, global power, empire, lies and resistance
Date: Mon, 1 Nov 2004 22:44:39 -0500

FYI, we forward this interview with Arundhati Roy on
elections, global power, empire, lies and resistance ...


From an interview for the International Socialist Review Issue
38, November-December 2004 with David Barsamian.

DB: I'D LIKE to start with a quote from a recent interview I
did with you, published in the July-August issue of the
International Socialist Review. You said, "It's that we're up
against an economic system that is suffocating the majority of
the people in this world. What are we going to do about it?
How are we going to address it?" So I thought that would be a
really easy way to begin. What are we going to do about it,
and how are we going to address it?

AR: I'VE ONLY been in the United States for three days now,
and I obviously have felt the electricity in the air about the
coming election. Just in May, we had a very important election
in India. I think one of the dangers that we face is that
politics becomes a discussion only about personalities, and we
forget that the system is in place, and it doesn’t matter all
that much who is piloting the machine. So as I said in my talk
at the American Sociological Association in San Francisco,
this whole fierce debate about the Democrats and the
Republicans and whether Bush or Kerry is better is like being
asked to choose a detergent. Whether you choose Tide or Ivory
Snow, they're both owned by Procter & Gamble.


But here, in the United States, they don't even do you the
dignity of that. The Democrats are not even pretending that
they're against the war or against the occupation of Iraq. And
that, I think, is very important, because the antiwar movement
in America has been so phenomenal a service not just to people
here, but also to all of us in the world. And you can't allow
them to hijack your beliefs and put your weight behind
somebody who is openly saying that he believes in the
occupation, that he would have attacked Iraq even if he had
known there were no weapons of mass destruction, that he will
actually get UN cover for the occupation, that he will try and
get Indian and Pakistani soldiers to go and die in Iraq
instead, and that the Germans and the French and the Russians
might be able to share in the spoils of the occupation. Is
that better or worse for somebody who lives in the subject
nations of empire?


DB: I THINK a lot of people here have on their minds the
November 2 election and what to do, who to vote for. Tariq
Ali, who is very critical of Kerry, recently said, "If the
American population were to vote Bush out of office, it would
have a tremendous impact on world opinion. Our option at the
moment is limited. Do we defeat a warmonger government or
not?"  What do you think of Ali's perspective?

AR: LOOK, IT'S a very complicated and difficult debate, in
which I think there are two things you can do: you can act
expediently, if you like, but you must speak on principle. I
cannot sit here with any kind of honesty and say to you that I
support Kerry. I cannot do that.

I'll tell you a small example. In India, you may or may not be
aware of the levels of violence and jingoism and fascism that
we've faced over the last five years. In Gujarat, rampaging
mobs murdered, raped, gang-raped, burnt alive 2,000 Muslims on
the streets, drove 150,000 out of their homes. And you have
this kind of plague of Hindu fascism spreading. And you had a
central government that was supported by the BJP. A lot of the
people who I work with and know work in the state of Madhya
Pradesh, in central India, where there was a Congress state
government for ten years. This government had overseen the
building of many dams in the Narmada valley. It had overseen
the privatization of electricity, of water, the driving out
from their homes and lands of hundreds of thousands of people,
the disconnection of single-point electricity connections
because they signed these huge contracts for privatization
with the Asian Development Bank.

The activists in these areas knew that a lot of the reason
that Congress was also so boldly doing these things was they
were saying, "What option do you have? Do you want to get the
BJP? Are you going to campaign for the BJP? Are you going to
open yourself up not just to being physically beaten but maybe
even killed?" But I want to tell you that they didn't campaign
for the Congress. They didn't. They just said, "We do not
believe in this, and we are going to continue to do our work
outside." It was just a horrendous situation, because the BJP
was pretending to be anti-"reform," saying, "We'll stop this,
we'll change that." They did come to power, the BJP, and
within ten days they were on the dam site saying, "We are
going to build the dam." So people are waiting for their
houses to get submerged. This was the dilemma.

The point is, then, you have to say, "Look, can you actually
campaign for a man [John Kerry] who is saying that I'm going
to send more troops to Iraq?" How? So I think it's very
important for us to remain principled.

Let me tell you that during the Indian elections, people used
to keep asking me, "Aren't you campaigning for the Congress?"
Because, of course, I had spent the last five years denouncing
the BJP. I said, "How can I campaign for the Congress that
also oversaw the carnage of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, that
opened the markets to neoliberalism in the early 1990s?" And
every time, you're put under this pressure. I said, "I feel
sometimes when I'm asked this question like I imagine that a
gay person must feel when they're watching straight sex:  I'm
sort of interested but not involved."

I think it's very important for us to understand that we are
people of principle and we are soldiers who are fighting a
different battle, and we cannot be co-opted into this.

So you've got to refuse the terms of this debate; otherwise
you're co-opted. I'm not going to say who you should vote for.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you to vote for this one or
vote for that one, because all of us here are people of
influence and power, and we can't allow our power to be
co-opted by those people. We cannot.


I've grown up in India, and I've lived all my life there. I've
never spent any large amounts of time in the West. So you come
here and you listen to people like Ignatieff, and you think,
even our fascists are not saying that.

I've often been asked to come and debate imperialism, and I
think it's like asking me about the pros and cons of child
abuse. Is it a subject that I should debate?

Every little bylane that we walk down in India, are people
saying, "Bring the British back. We miss colonialism so
badly"? So it's a kind of new racism. And it isn't even all
that new. We can't even give them points for originality on
this. These debates have taken place in the colonial time in
almost exactly the same words: "civilizing the savages," and
so on.

So that isn't even something I think is worth the dignity of a
debate. It is just an aspect of power. It is what power always
will say. And we can't even allow it to deflect our attention
for six seconds.


Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism relies for its success
on a network of agents - corrupt local elites who service

We all know the sordid story of Enron in India. The
then-Maharashtra government signed a power purchase agreement
that gave Enron profits that amounted to 60 percent 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 people!

Unlike in the old days, the New Imperialist doesn't need to
trudge around the tropics risking malaria or diarrhea 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 best allegory for New Racism is the tradition of "turkey
pardoning" in the United States. Every year since 1947, the
National Turkey Federation has presented the US 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 organizations of being
antiturkey? 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 globalization? There's a stampede to get into
Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?

As part of the project of New Racism we also have New
Genocide. New Genocide in this new era of economic
interdependence can be facilitated by economic sanctions. New
Genocide means creating conditions that lead to mass death
without actually going out and killing people. Denis Halliday,
who was the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between 1997
and 1998 (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 institutionalize inequity.

Why else would it be that the US taxes a garment made by a
Bangladeshi manufacturer twenty times more than a garment made
in Britain?

Why else would it be that countries that grow cocoa beans,
like the Ivory Coast and Ghana, are taxed out of the market if
they try to turn it into chocolate?

Why else would it be that countries that grow 90 percent of
the world's cocoa beans produce only 5 percent of the world's

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 subsidized electricity?

Why else would it be that after having been plundered by
colonizing 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?


There is so much going on, so many places to look for
information. But also I think there is a kind of ad busting to
be done, which is you read the mainstream media, but what you
gather from it is not what they want to tell you. You have to
learn to decode it, to understand it for the boardroom
bulletin that it is. And therefore, you use its power against
itself. And I think that's very important to do, because many
of us make the mistake of thinking that the corporate media
supports the neoliberal project. It doesn't. It is the
neoliberal project.


DB: THE GLOBAL demonstrations against the Iraq war on February
15, 2003, turned out at least ten million people and by some
accounts up to fifteen million people. You've called that one
of the greatest affirmations of the human spirit and morality.
But then the war started and many people went home.

AR: THIS IS something we have to ask ourselves about, because
the first part of this question is that you did have this
incredible display of public morality. In no European country
was the support for a unilateral war more than 11 percent.
Hundreds of thousands marched on the streets here.

And still these supposedly democratic countries went to war.
So the questions are, A: Is democracy still democratic? B: Are
governments accountable to the people who elected them? And,
C: Are people responsible in democratic countries for the
actions of their governments? It's a very serious crisis that
is facing democracies today. And if you get caught in this
Ivory Snow vs. Tide debate, if you get caught in having to
choose between a detergent with oxy-boosters or gentle
cleansers, we're finished.

The point is, how do you keep power on a short leash? How do
you make it accountable?

And the fact is that we can't also only feel good about what
we do. What we have done has been fantastic, but we must
realize that it's not enough.  And one of the problems is that
symbolic resistance has unmoored itself from real civil
disobedience. And that is very dangerous, because governments
have learned how to wait these things out. And they think
we're like children with rattles in a crib. Just let them get
on with their weekend demonstration, and we'll just carry on
with what we have to do. Public opinion is so fickle, and so
on. The symbolic aspect of resistance is very important. The
theater is very important. But not at the cost of real civil
disobedience. So we have to find ways of implementing what
we're saying seriously.

And you look at what's happening today. I feel that the Iraqi
resistance is fighting on the front lines of empire. We know
that it's a motley group of former Baathists and fed-up
collaborationists and all kinds of people.

But no resistance movement is pristine. And if we are going to
only invest our purity in pristine movements, we may as well
forget it. The point is, this is our resistance, and we have
to support it.


DB: POTA, the Prevention of Terrorism Act - or, as you and
others have called it, the Production of Terrorism Act - has
its counterpart in the United States in the PATRIOT Act, which
has greatly enhanced the ability of the state to surveil and
imprison its citizens.

AR: Fundamentally the thing about these acts that we have to
understand is that they are not meant for the terrorists,
because the terrorists are just shot or taken, in the case of
America, to Guantanamo Bay, or suspected terrorists. Those
acts are meant to terrorize you. So basically all of us stand
accused. It prepares the ground for the government to make all
of us culprits and then pick off whichever one of us it wants
to.  And once we give up these freedoms, will we we ever get
them back?

In India, at least when the Congress Party was campaigning, it
said it was going to withdraw POTA. It probably will, but not
before it puts into legislation other kinds of legislation
that approximate it. So it won't be POTA, it will be MOTA or
whatever. But here, are they even saying that they will repeal
the PATRIOT Act? It's an insult to you that they don't even
think they have to say it. Is it populist to say that we are
going to deal in sterner ways with terror and we are going to
make America stronger and safer and have more oxy-boosters?

It's a crazy situation that they don't even lie. I know a lot
of people say that, "Oh, you know, Kerry is saying this, but
when he comes to power, he will be different." But nobody
moves to the left after they come to power; they move only to
the right.


DB: IN ONE of your essays in your book War Talk, you conclude
with a paraphrase of Shelley's poem "Mask of Anarchy": "You be
many, they be few." Talk about that.

AR: THAT IS what is happening. It is in the nature of
capitalism, isn't it? The more profit you make, the more you
plow back into the machine, the more profit you make. And so
now you have a situation in which, like I said, 500
billionaires have more money than the GDP of 135 countries.
And that rift is widening. I think today's paper said that the
rift between the rich and the poor of the United States is
widening even more.

Everywhere that's happening. And the fact is that I believe
that wars must be waged from positions of strength. So the
poor must fight from their position of strength, which is on
the streets and the mountains and the valleys of the world,
not in boardrooms and parliaments and courts. I think we are
on the side of the millions, and that is our strength. And we
must recognize it and work with it.

DB: THERE IS an alternative to terrorism. What is it?


DB: HOW DO we get there?

AR: THE POINT is that terrorism has been isolated and made to
look like some kind of thing that has no past and has no
future and is just some aberration of maniacs. It isn't. Of
course, sometimes it is. But if you look at it, the logic that
underlies terrorism and the logic that underlies the war on
terror is the same: Both hold ordinary people responsible for
the actions of governments.

And the fact is that Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, in their
attacks on September 11, took the lives of many ordinary
people. And in the attacks in Afghanistan and on Iraq,
hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans paid for the
actions of the Taliban or for the actions of Saddam Hussein.
The difference is that the Afghans didn't elect the Taliban,
the Iraqis didn't elect Saddam Hussein.

So how do we justify these kinds of wars?

I really think that terrorism is the privatization of war.
Terrorists are the free marketeers of war. They are the ones
who say that they don't believe that legitimate violence is
only the monopoly of the state. So we can't condemn terrorism
unless we condemn the war on terror.

And no government that does not show itself to be open to
change by nonviolent dissent can actually condemn terrorism.
Because if every avenue of nonviolent dissent is closed or
mocked or bought off or broken, then by default you privilege

When all your respect and admiration and research and media
coverage and the whole economy is based on war and violence,
when violence is deified, on what grounds are you going to
condemn terrorism?

Whatever people lack in wealth and power they make up with
stealth and strategy. So we can't just every time we're asked
to say something, say, "Oh, terrorism is a terrible thing,"
without talking about repression, without talking about
justice, without talking about occupation, without talking
about privatization, without talking about the fact that this
country has its army strung across the globe.

And then, of course, even language has been co-opted. If you
say "democracy," actually it means neoliberalism. If you say
"reforms," it actually means repression. Everything has been
turned into something else.

So we also have to reclaim language now.


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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

"Global Transformation: Whey We Need It And How We Can Achieve It", current 
    "...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.

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