By Arundhati Roy
Ive been asked to speak
about "How to confront Empire?" Its 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 Organization,
and multinational corporations? Or is it something more than that?
In many countries, Empire
has sprouted other subsidiary heads, some dangerous byproducts
nationalism, religious bigotry, fascism and, of course terrorism. All
these march arm in arm with the project of corporate globalization.
Let me illustrate what I
mean. India the worlds 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
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 countrys 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 peoples
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 practice now.
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 devastated.
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 hes not and since the Indian "market"
is open to global investors the massacre is not even an embarrassing
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 mutinies.
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 its 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 justice.
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 that distance.
So how do we resist "Empire"?
The good news is that were
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. governments best efforts.
And the worlds 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 globalizations
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?
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 against Iraq.
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 worlds stage in all its brutish, iniquitous
Empire may well go to war,
but its out in the open now too ugly to behold its own
reflection. Too ugly even to rally its own people. It wont 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 Americas secrets are history, and its history is public
knowledge. Its 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. Governments 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).
Theres 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?
Its more than clear
that Bush is determined to go to war against Iraq, regardless of the
facts and regardless of international public opinion.
In its recruitment drive
for allies, The United States is prepared to invent facts.
The charade with weapons
inspectors is the U.S. governments offensive, insulting concession
to some twisted form of international etiquette. Its 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. governments excesses.
We can expose George Bush
and Tony Blair and their allies for the cowardly baby
killers, water poisoners, and pusillanimous long-distance bombers that
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 "youre
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 were 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
Remember this: We be many
and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
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