Buy One, Get One Free
18 May, 2003
Full text of the Center
for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)-sponsored lecture delivered by
Arundhati Roy at the Riverside Church in Harlem, New York, on May 13.
In these times when we have
to race to keep abreast of the speed at which our freedoms are being
snatched from us, and when few can afford the luxury of retreating from
the streets for a while in order to return with an exquisite, fully
formed political thesis replete with footnotes and references, what
profound gift can I offer you tonight? As we lurch from crisis to crisis,
beamed directly into our brains by satellite TV, we have to think on
our feet. On the move. We enter histories through the rubble of war.
Ruined cities, parched fields, shrinking forests and dying rivers are
our archives. Craters left by daisy-cutters, our libraries. So what
can I offer you tonight? Some uncomfortable thoughts about money, war,
empire, racism and democracy. Some worries that flit around my brain
like a family of persistent moths that keep me awake at night.
Some of you will think it
bad manners for a person like me, officially entered in the Big Book
of Modern Nations as an "Indian citizen", to come here and
criticise the US government. Speaking for myself, I'm no flag-waver,
no patriot, and am fully aware that venality, brutality, and hypocrisy
are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state. But when a country
ceases to be merely a country and becomes an empire, then the scale
of operations changes dramatically. So may I clarify that tonight I
speak as a subject of the American Empire? I speak as a slave who presumes
to criticise her king.
Since lectures must be called
something, mine tonight is called:
Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy.
Buy One, Get One Free
Way back in 1988, on July 3, the USS Vincennes, a missile cruiser stationed
in the Persian Gulf, accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner and
killed 290 civilian passengers. George Bush the First, who was at the
time on his presidential campaign, was asked to comment on the incident.
He said quite subtly, "I will never apologise for the United States.
I dont care what the facts are."
I dont care what the
facts are. What a perfect maxim for the New American Empire. Perhaps
a slight variation on the theme would be more apposite: The facts can
be whatever we want them to be.
When the United States invaded
Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News survey estimated that 42 per cent of
the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible
for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
And an abc News poll said that
55 per cent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported
Al Qaeda. None of this opinion is based on evidence (because there isnt
any). All of it is based on insinuation, auto-suggestion and outright
lies circulated by the US corporate media, otherwise known as the Free
Press, that hollow pillar on which contemporary American democracy
Public support in the US for the war against Iraq was founded on a multi-tiered
edifice of falsehood and deceit, coordinated by the US government and
faithfully amplified by the corporate media.
Apart from the invented links
between Iraq and Al Qaeda, we had the manufactured frenzy about Iraqs
Weapons of Mass Destruction.
George Bush the Lesser went to the extent of saying it would be "suicidal"
for the US not to attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia
that a starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate almighty
America. (Iraq was only the latest in a succession of countriesearlier
there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Grenada, Panama). But this time it
wasnt just your ordinary brand of friendly neighbourhood frenzy.
It was Frenzy with a Purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a new
bottle: the Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strike, aka The United States Can
Do Whatever The Hell It Wants, And Thats Official.
The war against Iraq has been fought and won and no Weapons of Mass
Destruction have been found. Not even a little one. Perhaps theyll
have to be planted before theyre discovered. And then, the more
troublesome amongst us will need an explanation for why Saddam Hussein
didnt use them when his country was being invaded.
Of course, therell
be no answers. True Believers will make do with those fuzzy TV reports
about the discovery of a few barrels of banned chemicals in an old shed.
There seems to be no consensus yet about whether they are really chemicals,
whether they are actually banned, and whether the vessels theyre
contained in can technically be called barrels. (There were unconfirmed
rumours that a teaspoonful of potassium permanganate and an old harmonica
were found there too.)
Meanwhile, in passing, an ancient civilisation has been casually decimated
by a very recent, casually brutal nation.
Then there are those who
say, so what if Iraq had no chemical and nuclear weapons? So what if
there is no Al Qaeda connection? So what if Osama bin Laden hates Saddam
Hussein as much as he hates the United States? Bush the
Lesser has said Saddam Hussein was a Homicidal Dictator.
And so, the reasoning goes, Iraq needed a "regime change".
Never mind that forty years ago, the CIA, under President John F. Kennedy,
orchestrated a regime change in Baghdad. In 1963, after a successful
coup, the Baath party came to power in Iraq. Using lists provided
by the CIA, the new Baath regime systematically eliminated hundreds
of doctors, teachers, lawyers and political figures known to be leftists.
An entire intellectual community was slaughtered. (The same technique
was used to massacre hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia and
East Timor.) The young Saddam Hussein was said to have had a hand in
supervising the bloodbath. In 1979, after factional infighting within
the Baath Party, Saddam Hussein became the President of Iraq.
In April 1980, while he was
massacring Shias, the US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinksi
declared, "We see no fundamental incompatibility of interests between
the United States and Iraq." Washington and London overtly and
covertly supported Saddam Hussein. They financed him, equipped him,
armed him and provided him with dual-use materials to manufacture weapons
of mass destruction. They supported his worst excesses financially,
materially and morally. They supported the eight-year war against Iran
and the 1988 gassing of Kurdish people in Halabja, crimes which 14 years
later were re-heated and served up as reasons to justify invading Iraq.
After the first Gulf War, the Allies fomented an uprising
of Shias in Basra and then looked away while Saddam Hussein crushed
the revolt and slaughtered thousands in an act of vengeful reprisal.
The point is, if Saddam Hussein was evil enough to merit the most elaborate,
openly declared assassination attempt in history (the opening move of
Operation Shock and Awe), then surely those who supported him ought
at least to be tried for war crimes? Why arent the faces of US
and UK government officials on the infamous pack of cards of wanted
men and women? Because when it comes to Empire, facts dont matter.
Yes, but all thats
in the past, were told. Saddam Hussein is a monster who must be
stopped now. And only the US can stop him. Its an effective technique,
this use of the urgent morality of the present to obscure the diabolical
sins of the past and the malevolent plans for the future. Indonesia,
Panama, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistanthe list goes on and on. Right
now there are brutal regimes being groomed for the futureEgypt,
Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, the Central Asian Republics.
US Attorney General John
Ashcroft recently declared that US freedoms are "not the grant
of any government or document, but...our endowment from God". (Why
bother with the United Nations when God himself is on hand?)
So here we are, the people
of the world, confronted with an Empire armed with a mandate from heaven
(and, as added insurance, the most formidable arsenal of weapons of
mass destruction in history).
Here we are, confronted with an Empire that has conferred upon itself
the right to go to war at will, and the right to deliver people from
corrupting ideologies, from religious fundamentalists, dictators, sexism,
and poverty by the age-old, tried-and-tested practice of extermination.
Empire is on the move, and Democracy is its sly new war cry. Democracy,
home-delivered to your doorstep by daisy-cutters. Death is a small price
for people to pay for the privilege of sampling this new product: Instant-Mix
Imperial Democracy (bring to a boil, add oil, then bomb).
But then perhaps chinks, negroes, dinks, gooks and wogs dont really
qualify as real people. Perhaps our deaths dont qualify as real
deaths. Our histories dont qualify as history. They never have.
Speaking of history, in these
past months, while the world watched, the US invasion and occupation
of Iraq was broadcast on live TV. Like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban
in Afghanistan, the regime of Saddam Hussein simply disappeared. This
was followed by what analysts called a "power vacuum". Cities
that had been under siege, without food, water and electricity for days,
cities that had been bombed relentlessly, people who had been starved
and systematically impoverished by the UN sanctions regime for more
than a decade, were suddenly left with no semblance of urban administration.
A 7,000-year-old civilisation slid into anarchy. On live TV.
Vandals plundered shops,
offices, hotels and hospitals. American and British soldiers stood by
and watched. They said they had no orders to act. In effect, they had
orders to kill people, but not to protect them. Their priorities were
clear. The safety and security of Iraqi people was not their business.
The security of whatever little remained of Iraqs infrastructure
was not their business. But the security and safety of Iraqs oil
fields were. Of course they were. The oil fields were secured
almost before the invasion began.
On CNN and BBC the scenes
of the rampage were played and replayed.
TV commentators, army and government spokespersons portrayed it as a
liberated people venting their rage at a despotic regime.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "Its untidy. Freedoms
untidy and free people are free to commit crimes and make mistakes and
do bad things." Did anybody know that Donald Rumsfeld was an anarchist?
I wonderdid he hold the same view during the riots in Los Angeles
following the beating of Rodney King? Would he care to share his thesis
about the Untidiness of Freedom with the two million people being held
in US prisons right now? (The worlds freest country
has the highest number of prisoners in the world.) Would he discuss
its merits with young African-American men, 28 per cent of whom will
spend some part of their adult lives in jail? Could he explain why he
serves under a president who oversaw 152 executions when he was governor
Before the war on Iraq began, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian
Assistance (ORHA) sent the Pentagon a list of 16 crucial sites to protect.
The National Museum was second on that list. Yet the Museum was not
just looted, it was desecrated. It was a repository of an ancient cultural
heritage. Iraq as we know it today was part of the river valley of Mesopotamia.
The civilisation that grew along the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates
produced the worlds first writing, first calendar, first library,
first city, and, yes, the worlds first democracy.
King Hammurabi of Babylon was the first to codify laws governing the
social life of citizens. It was a code in which abandoned women, prostitutes,
slaves, and even animals had rights. The Hammurabi code is acknowledged
not just as the birth of legality, but the beginning of an understanding
of the concept of social justice. The US government could not have chosen
a more inappropriate land in which to stage its illegal war and display
its grotesque disregard for justice.
At a Pentagon briefing during
the days of looting, Secretary Rumsfeld, Prince of Darkness, turned
on his media cohorts who had served him so loyally through the war.
"The images you are seeing on television, you are seeing over and
over and over, and its the same picture, of some person walking
out of some building with a vase, and you see it twenty times and you
say, My god, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there
were that many vases in the whole country?."
Laughter rippled through
the press room. Would it be alright for the poor of Harlem to loot the
Metropolitan Museum? Would it be greeted with similar mirth?
The last building on the
ORHA list of 16 sites to be protected was the Ministry of Oil.
It was the only one that
was given protection. Perhaps the occupying army thought that in Muslim
countries lists are read upside down? Television tells us that Iraq
has been liberated and that Afghanistan is well on its way
to becoming a paradise for womenthanks to Bush and Blair, the
21st centurys leading feminists. In reality, Iraqs infrastructure
has been destroyed. Its people brought to the brink of starvation. Its
food stocks depleted. And its cities devastated by a complete administrative
breakdown. Iraq is being ushered in the direction of a civil war between
Shias and Sunnis. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has lapsed back into the pre-Taliban
era of anarchy, and its territory has been carved up into fiefdoms by
Undaunted by all this, on May 2, Bush the Lesser launched his 2004 campaign
hoping to be finally elected US President. In what probably constitutes
the shortest flight in history, a military jet landed on an aircraft
carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, which was so close to shore that,
according to the Associated Press, administration officials acknowledged
"positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for
Bushs speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San
Diego coastline". President Bush, who never served his term in
the military, emerged from the cockpit in fancy dressa US military
bomber jacket, combat boots, flying goggles, helmet. Waving to his cheering
troops, he officially proclaimed victory over Iraq. He was careful to
say that it was "just one victory in a war on terror...(which)
still goes on".
It was important to avoid
making a straightforward victory announcement, because under the Geneva
Convention a victorious army is bound by legal obligations of an occupying
force, a responsibility that the Bush administration does not want to
burden itself with. Also, closer to the 2004 elections, in order to
woo wavering voters, another victory in the War on Terror
might become necessary. Syria is being fattened for the kill.
It was Herman Goering, that
old Nazi, who said, "People can always be brought to the bidding
of the leaders.... All you have to do is tell them theyre being
attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing
the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Hes right. Its
dead easy. Thats what the Bush regime banks on. The distinction
between election campaigns and war, between democracy and oligarchy,
seems to be closing fast.
The only caveat in these
campaign wars is that US lives must not be lost. It shakes voter confidence.
But the problem of US soldiers being killed in combat has been licked.
More or less.
At a media briefing before
Operation Shock and Awe was unleashed, General Tommy Franks
announced, "This campaign will be like no other in history."
Maybe hes right.
Im no military historian,
but when was the last time a war was fought like this?
After using the good
offices of UN diplomacy (economic sanctions and weapons inspections)
to ensure that Iraq was brought to its knees, its people starved, half
a million children dead, its infrastructure severely damaged, after
making sure that most of its weapons had been destroyed, in an act of
cowardice that must surely be unrivalled in history, the Coalition
of the Willing (better known as the Coalition of the Bullied and
Bought) sent in an invading army!
Operation Iraqi Freedom?
I dont think so. It was more like Operation Lets Run a Race,
but First Let Me Break Your Knees.
As soon as the war began,
the governments of France, Germany and Russia, which refused to allow
a final resolution legitimising the war to be passed in the UN Security
Council, fell over each other to say how much they wanted the United
States to win. President Jacques Chirac offered French airspace to the
Anglo-American air force. US military bases in Germany were open for
business. German foreign minister Joschka Fischer publicly hoped for
the rapid collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Vladimir Putin publicly hoped for the same. These are governments that
colluded in the enforced disarming of Iraq before their dastardly rush
to take the side of those who attacked it. Apart from hoping to share
the spoils, they hoped Empire would honour their pre-war oil contracts
Only the very naive could expect old Imperialists to behave otherwise.
Leaving aside the cheap thrills and the lofty moral speeches made in
the UN during the run-up to the war, eventually, at the moment of crisis,
the unity of Western governmentsdespite the opposition from the
majority of their peoplewas overwhelming.
When the Turkish government
temporarily bowed to the views of 90 per cent of its population, and
turned down the US governments offer of billions of dollars of
blood money for the use of Turkish soil, it was accused of lacking "democratic
principles". According to a Gallup International poll, in no European
country was support for a war carried out "unilaterally by America
and its allies" higher than 11 per cent. But the governments of
England, Italy, Spain, Hungary and other countries of Eastern Europe
were praised for disregarding the views of the majority of their people
and supporting the illegal invasion. That, presumably, was fully in
keeping with democratic principles.
Whats it called? New Democracy? (Like Britains New Labour?)
In stark contrast to the venality displayed by their governments, on
February 15, weeks before the invasion, in the most spectacular display
of public morality the world has ever seen, more than 10 million people
marched against the war on five continents. Many of you, Im sure,
were among them.
Theywewere disregarded with utter disdain. When asked to
react to the anti-war demonstrations, President Bush said, "Its
like deciding, well, Im going to decide policy based upon a focus
group. The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security,
in this case the security of the people."
Democracy, the modern worlds
holy cow, is in crisis. And the crisis is a profound one. Every kind
of outrage is being committed in the name of democracy. It has become
little more than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content
or meaning. It can be whatever you want it to be. Democracy is the Free
Worlds whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy
a whole range of taste, available to be used and abused at will.
Until quite recently, right
up to the 1980s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed
in delivering a degree of real social justice.
But modern democracies have
been around for long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how
to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the
instruments of democracythe independent judiciary,
the free press, parliamentand moulding them to their
purpose. The project of corporate globalisation has cracked the code.
Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little
when the free market has reduced them to commodities available on sale
to the highest bidder.
To fully comprehend the extent
to which democracy is under siege, it might be an idea to look at what
goes on in some of our contemporary democracies. The Worlds Largest:
India (which I have written about at some length and therefore will
not speak about tonight). The Worlds Most Interesting: South Africa.
The worlds most powerful: the U.S.A. And, most instructive of
all, the plans that are being made to usher in the worlds newest:
In South Africa, after 300
years of brutal domination of the black majority by a white minority
through colonialism and apartheid, a non-racial, multi-party democracy
came to power in 1994.
It was a phenomenal achievement. Within two years of coming to power,
the African National Congress had genuflected with no caveats to the
Market God. Its massive programme of structural adjustment, privatisation
and liberalisation has only increased the hideous disparities between
the rich and the poor. More than a million people have lost their jobs.
The corporatisation of basic serviceselectricity, water and housinghas
meant that 10 million South Africans, almost a quarter of the population,
has been disconnected from water and electricity. Two million have been
evicted from their homes.
Meanwhile, a small white
minority that has been historically privileged by centuries of brutal
exploitation is more secure than ever before. They continue to control
the land, the farms, the factories and the abundant natural resources
of that country. For them the transition from apartheid to neo-liberalism
barely disturbed the grass. Its apartheid with a clean conscience.
And it goes by the name of Democracy.
Democracy has become Empires
euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism.
In countries of the first
world, too, the machinery of democracy has been effectively subverted.
Politicians, media barons, judges, powerful corporate lobbies and government
officials are imbricated in an elaborate underhand configuration that
completely undermines the lateral arrangement of checks and balances
between the constitution, courts of law, parliament, the administration
and, perhaps most important of all, the independent media that form
the structural basis of a parliamentary democracy.
Increasingly, the imbrication is neither subtle nor elaborate.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for instance, has a controlling
interest in major Italian newspapers, magazines, television channels
and publishing houses. The Financial Times reported that he controls
about 90 per cent of Italys TV
viewership. Recently, during a trial on bribery charges, while insisting
he was the only person who could save Italy from the left, he said,
"How much longer do I have to keep living this life of sacrifices?"
That bodes ill for the remaining 10 per cent of Italys TV viewership.
What price Free Speech? Free Speech for whom?
In the United States, the arrangement is more complex. Clear Channel
Worldwide Incorporated is the largest radio station owner in the country.
It runs more than 1,200 channels, which together account for 9 per cent
of the market. Its CEO contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars
to Bushs election campaign. When hundreds of thousands of American
citizens took to the streets to protest against the war on Iraq, Clear
Channel organised pro-war patriotic Rallies for America
across the country. It used its radio stations to advertise the events
and then sent correspondents to cover them as though they were breaking
news. The era of manufacturing consent has given way to the era of manufacturing
news. Soon media newsrooms will drop the pretence, and start hiring
theatre directors instead of journalists.
As Americas show business
gets more and more violent and war-like, and Americas wars get
more and more like show business, some interesting crossovers are taking
place. The designer who built the 250,000-dollar set in Qatar from which
General Tommy Franks stage-managed news coverage of Operation Shock
and Awe also built sets for Disney, MGM and Good Morning America.
It is a cruel irony that
the US, which has the most ardent, vociferous defenders of the idea
of Free Speech, and (until recently) the most elaborate legislation
to protect it, has so circumscribed the space in which that freedom
can be expressed.
In a strange, convoluted way, the sound and fury that accompanies the
legal and conceptual defence of Free Speech in America serves to mask
the process of the rapid erosion of the possibilities of actually exercising
The news and entertainment
industry in the US is for the most part controlled by a few major corporationsAOL-Time
Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation. Each of these corporations
owns and controls TV stations, film studios, record companies and publishing
ventures. Effectively, the exits are sealed.
Americas media empire
is controlled by a tiny coterie of people. Chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission Michael Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell,
has proposed even further deregulation of the communication industry,
which will lead to even greater consolidation.
So here it isthe Worlds
Greatest Democracy, led by a man who was not legally elected. Americas
Supreme Court gifted him his job. What price have American people paid
for this spurious presidency?
In the three years of George
Bush the Lessers term, the American economy has lost more than
two million jobs. Outlandish military expenses, corporate welfare and
tax giveaways to the rich have created a financial crisis for the US
educational system. According to a survey by the National Council of
State Legislatures, US states cut $49 billion in public services, health,
welfare benefits and education in 2002. They plan to cut another $25.7
billion this year. That makes a total of $75 billion. Bushs initial
budget request to Congress to finance the war in Iraq was $80 billion.
So whos paying for
the war? Americas poor. Its students, its unemployed, its single
mothers, its hospital and home-care patients, its teachers and health
workers. And whos actually fighting the war?
Once again, Americas
poor. The soldiers who are baking in Iraqs desert sun are not
the children of the rich. Only one of all the representatives in Congress
and the Senate has a child fighting in Iraq. Americas volunteer
army in fact depends on a poverty draft of poor whites, Blacks, Latinos
and Asians looking for a way to earn a living and get an education.
Federal statistics show that African-Americans make up 21 per cent of
the total armed forces and 29 per cent of the US army. They count for
only 12 per cent of the general population. Its ironic, isnt
itthe disproportionately high representation of African-Americans
in the army and prison? Perhaps we should take a positive view, and
look at this as affirmative action at its most effective. Nearly 4 million
Americans (2 per cent of the population) have lost the right to vote
because of felony convictions. Of that number, 1.4 million are African-Americans,
which means that 13 per cent of all voting-age Black people have been
For African-Americans theres also affirmative action in death.
A study by the economist Amartya Sen shows that African-Americans as
a group have a lower life expectancy than people born in China, in the
Indian state of Kerala (where I come from), Sri Lanka or Costa Rica.
Bangladeshi men have a better chance of making it to the age of forty
than African-American men from here in Harlem.
This year on what would have
been Martin Luther King Jrs 74th birthday, President Bush denounced
the University of Michigans affirmative action programme favouring
Blacks and Latinos. He called it "divisive", "unfair"
The successful effort to keep Blacks off the voting rolls in the State
of Florida in order that George Bush be elected was of course neither
unfair nor unconstitutional. I dont suppose affirmative action
for White Boys From Yale ever is.
So we know whos paying for the war. We know whos fighting
it. But who will benefit from it? Who is homing in on the reconstruction
contracts estimated to be worth up to one hundred billion dollars? Could
it be Americas poor and unemployed and sick? Could it be Americas
single mothers? Or Americas Black and Latino minorities?
Operation Iraqi Freedom,
George Bush assures us, is about returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people.
That is, returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people via Corporate Multinationals.
Like Bechtel, like Chevron, like Halliburton.
Once again it is a small,
tight circle that connects corporate, military, and government leadership
to one another. The promiscuousness, the cross-pollination is outrageous.
Consider this: The Defence
Policy Board is a government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon
on defence policy. Its members are appointed by the under-secretary
of defence and approved by Donald Rumsfeld. Its meetings are classified.
No information is available for public scrutiny.
The Washington-based Center
for Public Integrity found that nine out of the 30 members of the Defence
Policy Board are connected to companies that were awarded defence contracts
worth $76 billion between the years 2001 and 2002.
One of them, Jack Sheehan, a retired marine corps general, is a senior
vice president at Bechtel, the giant international engineering outfit.
Riley Bechtel, the company chairman, is on the Presidents Export
Council. Former secretary of state George Shultz, who is also on the
Board of Directors of the Bechtel Group, is the chairman of the advisory
board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. When asked by the
New York Times whether he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict
of interest, he said, "I dont know that Bechtel would particularly
benefit from it. But if theres work to be done, Bechtel is the
type of company that could do it."
Bechtel has been awarded a $680 million reconstruction contract in Iraq.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bechtel contributed
$1.3 million towards the 1999-2000 Republican Campaign.
Arcing across this subterfuge,
dwarfing it by the sheer magnitude of its malevolence, is Americas
anti-terrorism legislation. The USA Patriot Act, passed on October 13,
2001, has become the blueprint for similar anti-terrorism bills in countries
across the world. It was passed in the House of Representatives by a
majority vote of 337 to 79. According to the New York Times, "Many
lawmakers said it had been impossible to truly debate or even read the
The Patriot Act ushers in
an era of systemic automated surveillance. It gives the government the
authority to monitor phones and computers and spy on people in ways
that would have seemed completely unacceptable a few years ago. It gives
the FBI the power to seize all of the circulation, purchasing and other
records of library users and bookstore customers on the suspicion that
they are part of a terrorist network. It blurs the boundaries between
speech and criminal activity, creating the space to construe acts of
civil disobedience as violating the law.
Already hundreds of people
are being held indefinitely as "unlawful combatants". (In
India, the number is in the thousands. In Israel, 5,000 Palestinians
are now being detained). Non-citizens, of course, have no rights at
all. They can simply be disappeared like the people of Chile
under Washingtons old ally, General Pinochet. More than one thousand
people, many of them Muslim or of Middle Eastern origin, have been detained,
some without access to legal representatives.
from paying the actual economic costs of war, American people are paying
for these wars of liberation with their own freedoms. For
the ordinary American, the price of New Democracy in other
countries is the death of real democracy at home.
Flight from Basra: home-delivered
Meanwhile, Iraq is being
groomed for liberation. (Or did they mean liberalisation
all along?) The Wall Street Journal reports that "the Bush administration
has drafted sweeping plans to remake Iraqs economy in the US image".
Iraqs constitution is being redrafted. Its trade laws, tax laws
and intellectual property laws rewritten in order to turn it into an
American-style capitalist economy.
The United States Agency
for International Development has invited US companies to bid for contracts
that range between road-building, water systems, textbook distribution
and cellphone networks.
Soon after Bush the Second
announced that he wanted American farmers to feed the world, Dam Amstutz,
a former senior executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in
the world, was put in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq.
Kevin Watkin, Oxfams policy director, said, "Putting Dam
Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting
Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission."
The two men who have been shortlisted to run operations for managing
Iraqi oil have worked with Shell, BP and Fluer. Fluer is embroiled in
a lawsuit by Black South African workers who have accused the company
of exploiting and brutalising them during the apartheid era. Shell,
of course, is well known for its devastation of the Ogoni tribal lands
Tom Brokaw (one of Americas best-known TV anchors) was inadvertently
succinct about the process. "One of the things we dont want
to do," he said, "is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq
because in a few days were going to own that country."
Now that the ownership deeds
are being settled, Iraq is ready for New Democracy.
So, as Lenin used to ask:
What Is To Be Done?
We might as well accept the
fact that there is no conventional military force that can successfully
challenge the American war machine.
Terrorist strikes only give
the US government an opportunity that it is eagerly awaiting to further
tighten its stranglehold. Within days of an attack you can bet that
Patriot II would be passed. To argue against US military aggression
by saying that it will increase the possibilities of terrorist strikes
is futile. Its like threatening Brer Rabbit that youll throw
him into the bramble bush. Anybody who has read the document called
The Project for the New American Century can attest to that. The governments
suppression of the Congressional Committee Report on September 11, which
found that there was intelligence warning of the strikes that was ignored,
also attests to the fact that, for all their posturing, the terrorists
and the Bush regime might as well be working as a team. They both hold
people responsible for the actions of their governments. They both believe
in the doctrine of collective guilt and collective punishment. Their
actions benefit each other greatly.
The US government has already displayed in no uncertain terms the range
and extent of its capability for paranoid aggression. In human psychology,
paranoid aggression is usually an indicator of nervous insecurity. It
could be argued that its no different in the case of the psychology
of nations. Empire is paranoid because it has a soft underbelly.
Its homeland may be defended
by border patrols and nuclear weapons, but its economy is strung out
across the globe. Its economic outposts are exposed and vulnerable.
Already the Internet is buzzing with elaborate lists of American and
British government products and companies that should be boycotted.
Apart from the usual targetsCoke, Pepsi, McDonaldsgovernment
agencies like USAID, the British DFID, British and American banks, Arthur
Andersen, Merrill Lynch, American Express could find themselves under
siege. These lists are being honed and refined by activists across the
world. They could become a practical guide that directs the amorphous
but growing fury in the world.Suddenly, the inevitability
of the project of Corporate Globalisation is beginning to seem more
than a little evitable.
It would be naive to imagine
that we can directly confront Empire. Our strategy must be to isolate
Empires working parts and disable them one by one. No target is
too small. No victory too insignificant. We could reverse the idea of
the economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire and its Allies.
We could impose a regime of Peoples Sanctions on every corporate
house that has been awarded with a contract in post-war Iraq, just as
activists in this country and around the world targeted institutions
of apartheid. Each one of them should be named, exposed and boycotted.
Forced out of business. That could be our response to the Shock and
Awe campaign. It would be a great beginning.
Another urgent challenge
is to expose the corporate media for the boardroom bulletin that it
really is. We need to create a universe of alternative information.
We need to support independent media like Democracy Now, Alternative
Radio, South End Press.
The battle to reclaim democracy
is going to be a difficult one. Our freedoms were not granted to us
by any governments. They were wrested from them by us. And once we surrender
them, the battle to retrieve them is called a revolution.It is a battle
that must range across continents and countries. It must not acknowledge
national boundaries, but, if it is to succeed, it has to begin here.
In America. The only institution more powerful than the US government
is American civil society. The rest of us are subjects of slave nations.
We are by no means powerless, but you have the power of proximity. You
have access to the Imperial Palace and the Emperors chambers.
Empires conquests are being carried out in your name, and you
have the right to refuse. You could refuse to fight. Refuse to move
those missiles from the warehouse to the dock. Refuse to wave that flag.
Refuse the victory parade.
You have a rich tradition
of resistance. You need only read Howard Zinns A Peoples
History of the United States to remind yourself of this.
Hundreds of thousands of
you have survived the relentless propaganda you have been subjected
to, and are actively fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic
climate that prevails in the United States, thats as brave as
any Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her homeland.
If you join the battle, not
in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted
joyously by the rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it
is to be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended
instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated.
I hate to disagree with your
president. Yours is by no means a great nation. But you could be a great
History is giving you the
Seize the time.