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[AfroFuturism] Arundhati Roy: Confronting Empire
I've been asked to speak about "How to confront Empire?" It's a huge
question, and I have no easy answers.
When we speak of confronting "Empire," we need to identify what "Empire"
means. Does it mean the U.S. Government (and its European satellites),
the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade
Organisation, and multinational corporations? Or is it something more
In many countries, Empire has sprouted other subsidiary heads, some
dangerous by-products - nationalism, religious bigotry, fascism and, of
course terrorism. All these march arm in arm with the project of
Let me illustrate what I mean. India - the world's biggest democracy -
is currently at the forefront of the corporate globalization project.
Its "market" of one billion people is being prized open by the WTO.
Corporatization and Privatization are being welcomed by the Government
and the Indian elite.
It is not a coincidence that the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the
Disinvestment Minister - the men who signed the deal with Enron in
India, the men who are selling the country's infrastructure to corporate
multinationals, the men who want to privatize water, electricity, oil,
coal, steel, health, education and telecommunication - are all members
or admirers of the RSS. The RSS is a right wing, ultra-nationalist Hindu
guild which has openly admired Hitler and his methods.
The dismantling of democracy is proceeding with the speed and efficiency
of a Structural Adjustment Program. While the project of corporate
globalization rips through people's lives in India, massive
privatization, and labor "reforms" are pushing people off their land and
out of their jobs. Hundreds of impoverished farmers are committing
suicide by consuming pesticide. Reports of starvation deaths are coming
in from all over the country.
While the elite journeys to its imaginary destination somewhere near the
top of the world, the dispossessed are spiraling downwards into crime
and chaos. This climate of frustration and national disillusionment is
the perfect breeding ground, history tells us, for fascism.
The two arms of the Indian Government have evolved the perfect pincer
action. While one arm is busy selling India off in chunks, the other, to
divert attention, is orchestrating a howling, baying chorus of Hindu
nationalism and religious fascism. It is conducting nuclear tests,
rewriting history books, burning churches, and demolishing mosques.
Censorship, surveillance, the suspension of civil liberties and human
rights, the definition of who is an Indian citizen and who is not,
particularly with regard to religious minorities, is becoming common
Last March, in the state of Gujarat, two thousand Muslims were butchered
in a State-sponsored pogrom. Muslim women were specially targeted. They
were stripped, and gang-raped, before being burned alive. Arsonists
burned and looted shops, homes, textiles mills, and mosques.
More than a hundred and fifty thousand Muslims have been driven from
their homes. The economic base of the Muslim community has been
While Gujarat burned, the Indian Prime Minister was on MTV promoting his
new poems. In January this year, the Government that orchestrated the
killing was voted back into office with a comfortable majority. Nobody
has been punished for the genocide. Narendra Modi, architect of the
pogrom, proud member of the RSS, has embarked on his second term as the
Chief Minister of Gujarat. If he were Saddam Hussein, of course each
atrocity would have been on CNN. But since he's not - and since the
Indian "market" is open to global investors - the massacre is not even
an embarrassing inconvenience.
There are more than one hundred million Muslims in India. A time bomb is
ticking in our ancient land.
All this to say that it is a myth that the free market breaks down
national barriers. The free market does not threaten national
sovereignty, it undermines democracy.
As the disparity between the rich and the poor grows, the fight to
corner resources is intensifying. To push through their "sweetheart
deals," to corporatize the crops we grow, the water we drink, the air we
breathe, and the dreams we dream, corporate globalization needs an
international confederation of loyal, corrupt, authoritarian governments
in poorer countries to push through unpopular reforms and quell the
Corporate Globalization - or shall we call it by its name? - Imperialism
- needs a press that pretends to be free. It needs courts that pretend
to dispense justice.
Meanwhile, the countries of the North harden their borders and stockpile
weapons of mass destruction. After all they have to make sure that it's
only money, goods, patents and services that are globalized. Not the
free movement of people. Not a respect for human rights. Not
international treaties on racial discrimination or chemical and nuclear
weapons or greenhouse gas emissions or climate change, or - god forbid -
So this - all this - is "empire." This loyal confederation, this obscene
accumulation of power, this greatly increased distance between those who
make the decisions and those who have to suffer them.
Our fight, our goal, our vision of Another World must be to eliminate
So how do we resist "Empire"?
The good news is that we're not doing too badly. There have been major
victories. Here in Latin America you have had so many - in Bolivia, you
have Cochabamba. In Peru, there was the uprising in Arequipa, In
Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez is holding on, despite the U.S.
government's best efforts.
And the world's gaze is on the people of Argentina, who are trying to
refashion a country from the ashes of the havoc wrought by the IMF.
In India the movement against corporate globalization is gathering
momentum and is poised to become the only real political force to
counter religious fascism.
As for corporate globalization's glittering ambassadors - Enron,
Bechtel, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson - where were they last year, and
where are they now?
And of course here in Brazil we must ask ...who was the president last
year, and who is it now?
Still ... many of us have dark moments of hopelessness and despair. We
know that under the spreading canopy of the War Against Terrorism, the
men in suits are hard at work.
While bombs rain down on us, and cruise missiles skid across the skies,
we know that contracts are being signed, patents are being registered,
oil pipelines are being laid, natural resources are being plundered,
water is being privatized, and George Bush is planning to go to war
If we look at this conflict as a straightforward eye-ball to eye-ball
confrontation between "Empire" and those of us who are resisting it, it
might seem that we are losing.
But there is another way of looking at it. We, all of us gathered here,
have, each in our own way, laid siege to "Empire."
We may not have stopped it in its tracks - yet - but we have stripped it
down. We have made it drop its mask. We have forced it into the open. It
now stands before us on the world's stage in all it's brutish,
Empire may well go to war, but it's out in the open now - too ugly to
behold its own reflection. Too ugly even to rally its own people. It
won't be long before the majority of American people become our allies.
Only a few days ago in Washington, a quarter of a million people marched
against the war on Iraq. Each month, the protest is gathering momentum.
Before September 11th 2001 America had a secret history. Secret
especially from its own people. But now America's secrets are history,
and its history is public knowledge. It's street talk.
Today, we know that every argument that is being used to escalate the
war against Iraq is a lie. The most ludicrous of them being the U.S.
Government's deep commitment to bring democracy to Iraq.
Killing people to save them from dictatorship or ideological corruption
is, of course, an old U.S. government sport. Here in Latin America, you
know that better than most.
Nobody doubts that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator, a murderer
(whose worst excesses were supported by the governments of the United
States and Great Britain). There's no doubt that Iraqis would be better
off without him.
But, then, the whole world would be better off without a certain Mr.
Bush. In fact, he is far more dangerous than Saddam Hussein.
So, should we bomb Bush out of the White House?
It's more than clear that Bush is determined to go to war against Iraq,
regardless of the facts - and regardless of international public
In its recruitment drive for allies, The United States is prepared to
The charade with weapons inspectors is the U.S. government's offensive,
insulting concession to some twisted form of international etiquette.
It's like leaving the "doggie door" open for last minute "allies" or
maybe the United Nations to crawl through.
But for all intents and purposes, the New War against Iraq has begun.
What can we do?
We can hone our memory, we can learn from our history. We can continue
to build public opinion until it becomes a deafening roar.
We can turn the war on Iraq into a fishbowl of the U.S. government's
We can expose George Bush and Tony Blair - and their allies - for the
cowardly baby killers, water poisoners, and pusillanimous long-distance
bombers that they are.
We can re-invent civil disobedience in a million different ways. In
other words, we can come up with a million ways of becoming a collective
pain in the ass.
When George Bush says "you're either with us, or you are with the
terrorists" we can say "No thank you." We can let him know that the
people of the world do not need to choose between a Malevolent Mickey
Mouse and the Mad Mullahs.
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to
it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our
music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our
sheer relentlessness - and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories
that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are
selling - their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their
weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I
can hear her breathing.
Porto Alegre, Brazil
January 27, 2003
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