By Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy's speech at the WSF (World Social Forum)
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 Organization, and
multinational corporations? Or is it something more than
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 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
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 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 he's
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.
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 - 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 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
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 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
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, iniquitous nakedness.
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
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 opinion.
In its recruitment drive for allies, The United States is
prepared to invent facts.
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
But for all intents and purposes, the New War against Iraq
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
We can turn the war on Iraq into a fishbowl of the U.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
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
ALERT: THE 50-50 LIE
Cheryl Seal 10:54pm Sat Mar 22 '03
This classic disinformation technique is used to inflate the
opinion the corporate media wants to promote, while
minimizing any dissent against that opinion. To add an even
more egregious dimension of cynical fraud to this crime, it
is billed by the perpetrators as "unbiased news."
In the 50-50 lie, instead of reporting the actual fact that
the number of people moved to take to the streets to protest
the war totally overwhelms those willing to protest in
favor, the networks or newspapers report that "protests both
for and against the war are being staged." Conspicuously
absent from such reports is any mention of comparative
numbers of protests and protestors involved. The implication
is everything, the truth nothing. Here's a classic example:
At the height of this week's international protests
involving millions, one headline on AOL's main page (AOL is
the FOX of the Internet), described this historic situation
as a "Mixed reaction to war around the world." Mixed
reaction? That's like calling Vermont, which has the fewest
non-white residents of all the states, a melting pot. This
isn't unbiased reporting, this is lying by implication and
it is a crime.
The reality is, the number of anti-war protestors outnumbers
the number of pro-war protestors by, at the LEAST, about
100,000 to 100. The largest protest the pro-war people have
mustered is about 6,000, near Valley Forge in PA. And, it
was recently revealed that these protests had been funded by
the corporate media giant, CLEAR CHANNEL i.e, they were a
rightwing corporate sham and hardly a grassroots movement.
On 3/22 as FOX TV showed the hundreds of thousands of
protestors in NYC that that filled all of Broadway south of
Times Square, across the bottom, the banner headline said
"protests for and against the war across the country." On
NBC 3/23 nightly news, the footage was so slanted it was
stomach-turning. The New York protests - over 200,000 people
of all ages, colors, and backgrounds, was juxtaposed in a
50-50 way with a tiny protest in an ultra-rightwing, very
white community in California. Then the protest in London -
over 500,000 strong! - was (can you believe it?!) downplayed
as being not as big as expected...HUH? Then heavily edited
clips (edited to slant) of protests elsewhere were shown. A
Beirut anti-war protest was billed as "Pro-Saddam Hussein"
by the NBC commentator - even though the signs shown in the
sea of protestors all read "NO WAR." Then, at the close of
this farce, Tom Brokaw says what proof this is of a "world
deeply divided." Since when is 6 billion people in several
hundred nations united against a few million right swingers
in, essentially, two countries, a "DIVIDED WORLD." It isn't
- and that is the truth Brokaw and his pals in the Bush
Corporate Empire do not want people to see.
Another 50-50 technique is to present an equal number of pro
and con statements on an issue - even if the cons (or pros,
depending on the case) represent a tiny minority. In truly
unbiased, accurate reporting, the number of statements
presented reflect the reality of your sample. If your
sampling of "men on the street" includes 10 pros and one
con, then you present several pros and one con, without spin
or judgement. That accurately reflects reality. You do not
select the weakest or flakiest pro statement and pair it
with the only con - which is what the media now does.
Arun Gandhi Gives Timely
Talk on War and Peace
The second was ''The world has achieved brilliance
without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and
ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about
peace, more about killing that we know about living.''
As our country enters war with Iraq, many
Americans struggle with their feelings about the
crisis. What better timing and what better
person to deliver the Inaugural Gerson David
Lecture than Arun Gandhi, grandson of The
Mahatma who gave the world a new way of dealing
with conflicts? The University of Houston's
Hilton Hotel was the site of the Third Annual
Social Work Awards breakfast, March 14, 2003,
and Gandhi was there to talk about ''Lessons
from my Grandfather.''
The keynote speaker founded the M.K. Gandhi
Institute for Nonviolence with his wife Sunanda
in 1991. It is located in Memphis, Tennessee,
where Dr. Martin Luther King, a disciple of
''The Great Soul'' tried to bring change using
the principles of satyagraha (truth force).
Ironically, both men of peace were killed by
Gandhi began by congratulating the award
winners, saying that social work is serving the
people, which ultimately is serving God. He then
shared two quotations. The first concerned
spending money for guns, warships and rockets
which leaves ''the cold not clothed and the
hungry not fed.''
The audience assumed that the pronouncements were made by
contemporary peace advocates, but the first was from
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the second, from General
A South African-born journalist, author, lecturer and social
activist, Gandhi told of growing up in a country where he
was the victim of Whites because his skin was not light
enough and also of Blacks because his skin was too light. As
a young boy he was filled with rage, so his father decided
the twelve-year-old would benefit by a stay with his
grandfather in India.
Mohandas, known as Gandhiji, knew all too well the prejudice
the young boy faced, since he had experienced it firsthand.
He had been thrown off a train when he arrived in South
Africa in 1893. The incident transformed him. He wanted to
change the culture of violence and ultimately brought the
world a philosophy that not only helped India to win its
independence from England, but served as a beacon for world
leaders. In addition to Dr. King, others like Nelson
Mandela, Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel credit him for the
nonviolent methods they used to bring changes to their
''Grandfather taught that there are two kinds of violence:
passive, like hate, exploitation and anger; and physical,
such as murder, wars and rape. Passive violence often fuels
the fire of its active form.'' Arun was told to keep an
anger journal which resembled a family tree, placing
incidents throughout the day on one side or the other.
The important part was learning how to deal with that anger.
His grandfather compared the emotion to electricity.
Untamed, it can destroy a person and those around him.
Controlled, it can be a powerful force.
He said that by striving to control 50% of our anger, we can
bring about positive attitudes. ''Unfortunately negative
attitudes currently prevail. Capitalism and materialism are
dominant in today's world where we often think of ourselves
before others in our eagerness to get to the top.''
The Mahatma gave his grandson a list of seven blunders that
lead to violence in society. They are: Wealth without Work;
Pleasure without Conscience; Knowledge without Character;
Commerce without Morality; Science without Humanity; Worship
without Sacrifice; and Politics without Principles, to which
Arun added Rights without Responsibilities.
''The tragedy of 9/11 indicates that some people hate us and
want to do us harm.'' Rather than declaring war on people we
don't know, Arun Gandhi suggested that we examine our
relationship with the rest of the world and find out why
they hate us. He felt that instead of going into Iraq
unilaterally, we should take a different approach.
''For the short term,'' he remarked, ''we should go to the
United Nations with humility, not arrogance--as when we said
'You're either with us or against us. We'll go to Iraq
either with or without you.''' He continued, ''For the long
term, we should learn how best we can improve relations in
the rest of the world.''
He feels we should work together, because, in his opinion,
war won't solve problems. Rather, it will result in the loss
of American lives, as well as those of innocent Iraqis. In
addition, more terrorists will attack us on our own soil and
''Can we create secure barriers in our country, while the
rest of the world destroys itself,'' he asked? ''We should
reach out--share our resources and technologies.''
Gandhi agreed that Saddam Hussein is evil. A better strategy
than war, he suggested, would be containment. ''It worked in
the Soviet Union, which was a greater threat to us, with its
nuclear weapons and strong military. We should be able to
contain Saddam and his army. Let him be thrown out by his
In Gandhi's opinion, the silent majority should stand up and
be counted. When asked if he shared his message with
President Bush, he replied that he's tried to reach the
President or anyone else in government via e-mail and
internet boards. So far there has been no response.
During the Q & A session, Gandhi replied to a question about
Fundamentalists in the Hindu Party today. He said that
Fundamentalists made eight attempts on Gandhiji's life
before succeeding in 1948. ''Grandfather made a study of all
scriptures, believing there was truth in every religion. No
religion is perfect. We should take nuggets of truth from
each one and incorporate them within ourselves.''
Arun's answer had special meaning, as he was just elected
Chair of The Interfaith Alliance (TIA) Board. The
non-partisan grassroots organization has more than 150,000
members from 65 faith traditions. Under Gandhi's leadership,
the association will have the benefit of the Mahatma's
wisdom, passed to new generations. Hopefully, lessons of
love, respect and understanding will bring an era of peace
to a troubled world.
Ellen I. Goldberg
Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free)
by Arundhati Roy
Sponsored by the Center for Economic and Social Rights
May 19, 2003
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
So what can I offer you tonight? Some uncomfortable thoughts
war, empire, racism, and democracy. Some worries that flit
around my brain
like a family of persistent moths that keep me awake at
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 criticize the U.S.
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 criticize her king.
Since lectures must be called something, mine tonight is
called: Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One
Way back in 1988, on the 3rd of July, the U.S.S. 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 apologize
for the United States. I don't care what the facts are."
I don't 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
estimated that 42 percent of the American public believed
that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the
September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon. And an ABC News poll said that 55 percent of
Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported Al
Qaida. None of
this opinion is based on evidence (because there isn't any).
All of it is based on insinuation, auto-suggestion, and
outright lies circulated by the U.S. corporate media,
otherwise known as the "Free Press," that hollow pillar on
which contemporary American democracy rests.
Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was
founded on a multi-tiered edifice of falsehood and deceit,
coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified
by the corporate media.
Apart from the invented links between Iraq and Al Qaida, we
had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq's Weapons of Mass
Destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent of
saying it would be "suicidal" for the U.S. 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
countries - earlier there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya,
Grenada, and Panama.) But this time it wasn't just your
ordinary brand of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was
Frenzy with a Purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a
new bottle: the Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strike, a.k.a. The
United States Can Do Whatever The Hell It Wants, And That's
The war against Iraq has been fought and won and no Weapons
of Mass Destruction have been found. Not even a little one.
Perhaps they'll have to be planted before they're
discovered. And then, the more troublesome amongst us will
need an explanation for why Saddam Hussein didn't use them
when his country was being invaded.
Of course, there'll 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're really chemicals,
whether they're actually banned and whether the vessels
they're contained in can technically be called barrels.
(There were unconfirmed rumours that a teaspoonful of
potassium permanganate and an old harmonica were found there
Meanwhile, in passing, an ancient civilization 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
Qaida 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 Ba'ath party came to power in Iraq.
Using lists provided by the CIA, the new Ba'ath 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
Ba'ath Party, Saddam Hussein became the President of Iraq.
In April 1980, while he was massacring Shias, the U.S.
National Security Adviser 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
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 aren't the faces of U.S. and
officials on the infamous pack of cards of wanted men and
Because when it comes to Empire, facts don't matter.
Yes, but all that's in the past we're told. Saddam Hussein
is a monster who must be stopped now. And only the U.S. can
stop him. It's 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, Afghanistan - the list
goes on and on. Right now there are brutal regimes being
groomed for the future - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
Pakistan, the Central Asian Republics.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently declared that
U.S. 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
So here we are, the people of the world, confronted with an
with a mandate from heaven (and, as added insurance, the
arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in history). Here we
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
don't really qualify as real people. Perhaps our deaths
don't qualify as real deaths. Our histories don't qualify as
history. They never have.
Speaking of history, in these past months, while the world
watched, the U.S.
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 seven-thousand-year-old civilization 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
Iraq's infrastructure was not their business. But the
security and safety of Iraq's oil fields were. Of course
they were. The oil fields were "secured" almost before the
On CNN and BBC the scenes of the rampage were played and
commentators, army and government spokespersons portrayed it
as a "liberated
people" venting their rage at a despotic regime. U.S.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "It's untidy.
Freedom's 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 wonder - did 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 U.S. prisons right now? (The world's "freest"country
has the highest number of prisoners in the world.) Would he
discuss its merits with young African American men, 28
percent 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 of Texas?
Before the war on Iraq began, the Office of Reconstruction
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
civilization that grew along the banks of the Tigris and the
Euphrates produced the world's first writing, first
calendar, first library, first city, and, yes, the world's
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 U.S.
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 it's 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
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
women-thanks to Bush and Blair, the 21st century's leading
feminists. In reality, Iraq's 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 hostile warlords.
Undaunted by all this, on the 2nd of May Bush the Lesser
launched his 2004
campaign hoping to be finally elected U.S. President. In
what probably constitutes the shortest flight in history, a
military jet landed on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S.
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 Bush's 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 dress - a U.S. 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 Ö [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 the 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 they're 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."
He's right. It's dead easy. That's what the Bush regime
banks on. The distinction between election campaigns and
war, between democracy and oligarchy, seems to be closing
The only caveat in these campaign wars is that U.S. lives
must not be lost. It shakes voter confidence. But the
problem of U.S. soldiers being killed in combat has been
licked. More or less.
At a media briefing before Operation Shock and Awe was
Tommy Franks announced, "This campaign will be like no other
in history." Maybe he's right.
I'm 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
Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think so. It was more like
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 legitimizing 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. U.S. 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 honor their pre-war oil
contracts with Iraq. 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 governments -
despite the opposition from the majority of their people -
When the Turkish government temporarily bowed to the views
of 90 percent of
its population, and turned down the U.S. government's 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 percent. 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. What's it called? New Democracy?
(Like Britain's New Labour?)
In stark contrast to the venality displayed by their
governments, on the 15th of February, 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 5 continents. Many of you, I'm sure, were
among them. They - we - were disregarded with utter disdain.
When asked to react to the anti-war demonstrations,
President Bush said, "It's like deciding, well, I'm 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 world's
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 World's
whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a
whole range of taste, available to be used and abused at
Until quite recently, right up to the 1980's, 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 democracy - the "independent" judiciary, the "free"
press, the parliament - and molding them to their purpose.
The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code.
Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary
mean little when the free market has reduced them to
commodities 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 World's Largest: India,
(which I have written about at some length and therefore
will not speak about tonight). The World's Most Interesting:
South Africa. The world's most powerful: the U.S.A. And,
most instructive of all, the plans that are being made to
usher in the world's newest: Iraq.
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
program of structural adjustment, privatization, and
liberalization has only increased the hideous disparities
between the rich and the poor. More than a million people
have lost their jobs. The corporatization of basic services
- electricity, water, and housing-has meant that 10 million
South Africans, almost a quarter of the population, have
been disconnected from water and electricity. 2 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. It's apartheid
with a clean conscience. And it goes by the name of
Democracy has become Empire's euphemism for neo-liberal
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 percent
of Italy's 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 percent of Italy's 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 percent of the market. Its CEO
contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bush's
election campaign. When hundreds of thousands of American
citizens took to the streets to protest against the war on
Iraq, Clear Channel organized 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
pretense, and start hiring theatre directors instead of
As America's show business gets more and more violent and
war-like, and America's wars get more and more like show
business, some interesting cross-overs 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 U.S., 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 defense 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 U.S. is for the
most part controlled by a few major corporations - AOL-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.
America's media empire is controlled by a tiny coterie of
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 is - the World's Greatest Democracy, led by a man
who was not legally elected. America's Supreme Court gifted
him his job. What price have American people paid for this
In the three years of George Bush the Lesser's 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 U.S. educational system. According to a survey by the
National Council of State Legislatures, U.S. states cut 49
billion dollars in public services, health, welfare
benefits, and education in 2002. They plan to cut another
25.7 billion dollars this year. That makes a total of 75
billion dollars. Bush's initial budget request to Congress
to finance the war in Iraq was 80 billion dollars.
So who's paying for the war? America's poor. Its students,
its unemployed, its single mothers, its hospital and
home-care patients, its teachers, and health workers.
And who's actually fighting the war?
Once again, America's poor. The soldiers who are baking in
Iraq's desert sun
are not the children of the rich. Only one of all the
representatives in the House of Representatives and the
Senate has a child fighting in Iraq. America's "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 percent of the total armed
forces and 29 percent of the U.S. army. They count for only
12 percent of the general population. It's ironic, isn't it
- the 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 percent 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 percent of all voting-age
Black people have been disenfranchised.
For African Americans there's 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 Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr.'s 74th birthday, President Bush denounced the University
of Michigan's affirmative action program favouring Blacks
and Latinos. He called it "divisive," "unfair," and
"unconstitutional." 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 don't suppose affirmative action for
White Boys From Yale ever is.
So we know who's paying for the war. We know who's fighting
it. But who will benefit from it? Who is homing in on the
reconstruction contracts estimated to be worth up to one
hundred billon dollars? Could it be America's poor and
unemployed and sick? Could it be America's single mothers?
Or America's 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
Consider this: the Defense Policy Board is a
government-appointed group that
advises the Pentagon. Its members are appointed by the under
secretary of defense 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
9 out of the 30 members of the Defense Policy Board are
connected to companies that were
awarded defense contracts worth 76 billion dollars 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 President's 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 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."
Bechtel has been awarded a 680 million dollar reconstruction
contract in Iraq. According to the Center for Responsive
Politics, Bechtel contributed hundreds of thousands of
dollars to Republican campaign efforts.
Arcing across this subterfuge, dwarfing it by the sheer
magnitude of its malevolence, is America's anti-terrorism
legislation. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed in October 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 legislation."
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 Washington's old ally, General Pinochet. More than
1,000 people, many of them Muslim or of Middle Eastern
origin, have been detained, some without access to legal
Apart 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
Meanwhile, Iraq is being groomed for "liberation." (Or did
they mean "liberalization" all along?) The Wall Street
Journal reports that "the Bush administration has drafted
sweeping plans to remake Iraq's economy in the U.S. image."
Iraq's 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
companies to bid for contracts that range between road
building, water systems, text book distribution, and cell
Soon after Bush the Second announced that he wanted American
farmers to feed the world, Dan Amstutz, a former senior
executive of Cargill, the biggest
grain exporter in the world, was put in charge of
agricultural reconstruction in Iraq. Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's
policy director, said, "Putting Dan 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 short-listed to run operations for
managing Iraqi oil have worked with Shell, BP, and Fluor.
Fluor is embroiled in a lawsuit by black South African
workers who have accused the company of exploiting and
brutalizing them during the apartheid era. Shell, of course,
is well known for its devastation of the Ogoni tribal lands
Tom Brokaw (one of America's best-known TV anchors) was
inadvertently succinct about the process. "One of the things
we don't want to do," he said, "is to destroy the
infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days we're 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
U.S. 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 U.S. military aggression by saying that it will
increase the possibilities of terrorist strikes is futile.
It's like threatening Brer Rabbit that you'll throw him into
the bramble bush. Any one who has read the documents written
by The Project for the New American Century can attest to
that. The government's suppression of the Congressional
committee report on September 11th, 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 U.S. 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 it's no different in the case of the psychology
of nations. Empire is paranoid because it has a soft
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 targets - Coke, Pepsi,
McDonalds - government agencies like USAID, the British DFID,
British and American banks, Arthur Andersen, Merrill Lynch,
and 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 Globalization 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 Empire's 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 postwar 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
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, and 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 U.S. 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 Emperor's chambers. Empire's 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 Zinn's A People's 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, that's as brave as any
Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her
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 people.
History is giving you the chance.
Seize the time.