by Arundhati Roy
[Speech Given at World Social
Forum January 27, 2003, in Porto Alegre, Brazil]
North Bay Progressive newspaper,
Feb 25 - Mar 25, 2003
I've been asked to speak about "How
to confront Empire ?" It's a huge question, and I have no
When we speak of confronting "Empire,"
we need to identify what "Empire" means. Does it mean
the U.S. Government (and its European satellites), the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization,
and multinational corporations? Or is it something more than that?
In many countries, Empire has sprouted
other subsidiary heads, some dangerous byproducts-nationalism,
religious bigotry, fascism and, of course terrorism. A11 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 pried 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 Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh (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
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, textile 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 inconvenience.
There are more than one hundred million
Muslims in India. A time bomb is ticking in our ancient land.
All this to say that it is a myth that
the free market breaks down national barriers. The free market
does not threaten national sovereignty, it undermines democracy.
As the disparity between the rich and
the poor grows, the fight to corner resources is intensifying.
To push through their "sweetheart deals," to corporatize
the crops we grow, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and
the dreams we dream, corporate globalization needs an international
confederation of loyal, corrupt, authoritarian governments in
poorer countries to push through unpopular reforms and quell the
Corporate Globalization-or shall we call
it by its name?-Imperialism-needs a press that pretends to be
free. It needs courts that pretend to dispense justice.
Meanwhile, the countries of the North
harden their borders and stockpile weapons of mass destruction.
After all they have to make sure that it's only money, goods,
patents and services that are globalized. Not the free movement
of people. Not a respect for human rights. Not international treaties
on racial discrimination or chemical and nuclear weapons or greenhouse
gas emissions or climate change, or-god forbid-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 efforts
And the world's gaze is on the people
of Argentina, who are trying to refashion a country from the ashes
of the havoc wrought by the IMF.
In India the movement against corporate
globalization is gathering momentum and is poised to become the
only real political force to counter religious fascism.
As for corporate globalization's glittering
ambassadors-Enron, Bechtel, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson-where were
they last year, and where are they now?
And of course here in Brazil we must ask...who
was the president last year, and who is it now?
Still, many of us have dark moments of
hopelessness and despair. We know that under the spreading canopy
of the War Against Terrorism, the men in suits are hard at work.
While bombs rain down on us, and cruise
missiles skid across the skies, we know that contracts are being
signed, patents are being registered, oil pipelines are being
laid, natural resources are being plundered, water is being privatized,
and George Bush is planning to go to war against Iraq.
If we look at this conflict as a
straightforward eyeball to eyeball confrontation
between "Empire" and those of us who are resisting it,
it might seem that we are losing.
But there is another way of looking at
it. We, all of us gathered here, have, each in our own way, laid
siege to "Empire."
We may not have stopped it in its tracks-yet-but
we have stripped it down. We have made it drop its mask. We have
forced it into the open. It now stands before us on the world's
stage in all its 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 11, 2001 America had
a secret history. Secret especially from its own people. But now
America's secrets are history, and its history is public knowledge.
It's street talk.
Today, we know that every argument that
is being used to escalate the war against Iraq is a lie. The most
ludicrous of them being the U.S. Government's deep commitment
to bring democracy to Iraq.
Killing people to save them from dictatorship
or ideological corruption is, of course, an old U.S. government
sport. Here in Latin America, you know that better than most.
Nobody doubts that Saddam Hussein is a
ruthless dictator, a murderer (whose worst excesses were supported
by the governments of the United States and Great Britain). There's
no doubt that Iraqis would be better off without him.
But, then, the whole world would be better
off without a certain Mr. Bush. In fact, he is far more dangerous
than Saddam Hussein.
So, should we bomb Bush out of the White
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 crawl through.
But for all intents and purposes, the
New War against Iraq has begun. What can we do?
We can hone our memory, we can learn from
our history. We can continue to build public opinion until it
becomes a deafening roar.
We can turn the war on Iraq into a fishbowl
of the U.S. government's excesses.
We can expose George Bush and Tony Blair-and
their allies-for the cowardly baby killers, water poisoners, and
pusillanimous long-distance bombers that 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
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.