An Ordinary Person's Guide to
by Arundhati Roy
South End Press, 2004, paper
Peace is War
[Speech - March 7, 2003, at the Center for the Study of Developing
Societies (CSDS), New Delhi India]
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 available on sale to the highest bidder.
To control a democracy, it is becoming
more and more vital to control the media. The principal media
outlets in America are owned by six major companies. The six largest
cable companies have eighty percent of cable television subscribers.
Even Internet websites are being colonized by giant media corporations.
It's a mistake to think that the corporate
media supports the neo-liberal project. It is the neo-liberal
project. It is the nexus, the confluence, the convergence, the
union, the chosen medium of those who have power and money. As
the project of corporate globalization increases the disparity
between the rich and the poor, as the world grows more and more
restive, corporations on the prowl for sweetheart deals need repressive
governments to quell the mutinies in the servants' quarters. And
governments, of course, need corporations. This mutual dependence
spawns a sort of corporate nationalism, or, more accurately, a
corporate/nationalism-if you can imagine such a thing. Corporate/nationalism
has become the unwavering anthem of the mass media.
Governments have learned to wait out crises-because they know
that crises by definition must be short-lived. They know that
a crisis-driven media simply cannot afford to hang about in the
same place for too long. It must be off for its next appointment
with the next crisis. Like business houses need a cash turnover,
the media needs a crisis turnover. Whole countries become old
news. They cease to exist. And the darkness becomes deeper than
it was before the light was shone on them. We saw that in Afghanistan
when the Soviets withdrew. We are being given a repeat performance
... Crisis reportage in the twenty-first
century has evolved into an independent discipline-almost a science.
The money, the technology, and the orchestrated mass hysteria
into crisis reporting ...
In this era of crisis reportage, if you don't have a crisis to
call your own, you're not in the news. And if you're not in the
news, you don't exist. It's as though the virtual world constructed
in the media has become more real than the real world.
The space for genuine nonviolent civil disobedience is atrophying.
In the era of corporate globalization, poverty is a crime, and
protesting against further impoverishment is terrorism. In the
era of the War on Terror, poverty is being slyly conflated with
Gaffing anyone who protests against the
violation of their human and constitutional rights a terrorist
can end up becoming a self-fulfilling accusation.
... for most people in the world, peace is war - a daily battle
against hunger, thirst, and the violation of their dignity. Wars
are often the end result of a flawed peace, a putative peace.
And it is the flaws, the systemic flaws in what is normally considered
to be "peace," that we ought to be writing about. We
have to-at least some of us have to-become peace correspondents
instead of war correspondents. We have to lose our terror of the
mundane. We have to use our skills and imagination and our art,
to re-create the rhythms of the endless crisis of normality, and
in doing so, expose the policies and processes that make ordinary
things-food, water, shelter, and dignity-such a distant dream
for ordinary people.
Most important of all, we have to turn
our skills toward understanding and exposing the instruments of
The only way to make democracy real is to begin a process of constant
questioning, permanent provocation, and continuous public conversation
between citizens and the State. That conversation is quite different
from the conversation between political parties representing the
views of rival political parties is what the mass media thinks
of as "balanced" reporting-1 Patrolling the borders
of our liberty is the only way we can guard against the snatching
away of our freedoms. All over the world today, freedoms are being
curbed in the name of protecting freedom. Once freedoms are surrendered
by civil society, they cannot be retrieved without a struggle.
It is so much easier to relinquish them than to recover them.
It is important to remember that our freedoms,
such as they are, were never given to us by any government, they
have been wrested by us. If we do not use them, if we do not test
them from time to time, they atrophy. If we do not guard them
constantly, they will be taken away from us. If we do not demand
more and more, we will be left with less and less.
Understanding these things and then using
them as tools to interrogate what we consider "normalcy"
is a way of subverting the tyranny of crisis reportage.
The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire
[The Guardian (London) April 2, 2003]
President George W. Bush, commander in chief of the U.S. Army,
Navy, Air Force, and Marines, has issued clear instructions: "Iraq.
Will. Be. Liberated." (Perhaps he means that even if Iraqi
people's bodies are killed, their souls will be liberated.) American
and British citizens owe it to the Supreme Commander to forsake
thought and rally behind their troops. Their countries are at
And what a war it is.
After using the "good offices"
of U.N. diplomacy (economic sanctions and weapons inspections)
to ensure that Iraq was brought to its knees, its people starved,
half a million of its children killed, its infrastructure severely
damaged, after making sure that most of its weapons have been
destroyed, in an act of cowardice that must surely be unrivaled
in history, the "Allies"/"Coalition of the Willing"
(better known as the Coalition of the Bullied and Bought) sent
in an invading army!
Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think
so. It's more like Operation Let's Run a Race, but First Let Me
Break Your Knees.
When the "Allies" bombed the Iraqi television station
(also, incidentally, a contravention of the Geneva Convention),
there was vulgar jubilation in the American media. In fact, Fox
TV had been lobbying for the attack for a while. It was seen as
a righteous blow against Arab propaganda. But mainstream American
and British TV continue to advertise themselves as "balanced"
when their propaganda has achieved hallucinatory levels.
Why should propaganda be the exclusive
preserve of the Western media? Just because they do it better?
As of July 2002, the delivery of $5.4 billion worth of supplies
to Iraq was blocked by the Bush/Blair Pair.° It didn't really
make the news. But now, under the loving caress of live TV, two
hundred and thirty tons of humanitarian aid-a minuscule fraction
of what's actually needed (call it a script prop)-arrived on a
British ship, the Sir Galahad. Its arrival in the port of Umm
Qasr merited a whole day of live TV broadcasts. Barf bag, anyone?
Nick Guttmann, head of emergencies for
Christian Aid, writing for the Independent on Sunday, said that
it would take thirty-two Sir Galahads a day to match the amount
of food Iraq was receiving before the bombing began.
We oughtn't to be surprised, though. It's
old tactics. They've been at it for years. Remember this moderate
proposal by John McNaughton from the Pentagon Papers published
during the Vietnam War.
Strikes at population targets (per se)
are likely not only to create a counterproductive wave of revulsion
abroad and at home, but greatly to increase the risk of enlarging
the war with China or the Soviet Union. Destruction of locks and
dams, however-if handled right-might... offer promise. Such destruction
does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it
leads after time to widespread starvation (more than a million?)
unless food is provided-which we could offer to do "at the
While the American people will end up paying for the [Iraq] war,
oil companies, weapons manufacturers, arms dealers, and corporations
involved in "reconstruction" work will make direct gains
from the war. Many of them are old friends and former employers
of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice cabal... Contracts for "reconstruction"
are already being negotiated. The news doesn't hit the stands
because much of the U.S. corporate media is owned and managed
by the same interests.
... the War against Terror is not really about terror, and the
War on Iraq not only about oil. It's about a superpower's self-destructive
impulse toward supremacy, stranglehold, global hegemony.
In most parts of the world, the invasion of Iraq is being seen
as a racist war. The real danger of a racist war unleashed by
racist regimes is that it engenders racism in everybody-perpetrators,
victims, spectators. It sets the parameters for the debate, it
lays out a grid for a particular way of thinking. There is a tidal
wave of hatred for the United States rising from the ancient heart
of the world. In Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia.
I encounter it every day. Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely
sources. Bankers, businessmen, yuppie students, who bring to it
all the crassness of their conservative, illiberal politics. That
absurd inability to separate governments from people: America
is a nation of morons, a nation of murderers, they say (with the
same carelessness with which they say, "All Muslims are terrorists").
Even in the grotesque universe of racist insult, the British make
their entry as add-ons. Arse-lickers, they're called.
Suddenly, I, who have been vilified for
being "anti-American" and "anti-West," find
myself in the extraordinary position of defending the people of
America. And Britain.
Those who descend so easily into the pit
of racist abuse would do well to remember the hundreds of thousands
of American and British citizens who protested against their country's
stockpile of nuclear weapons. And the thousands of American war
resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam.
They should know that the most scholarly, scathing, hilarious
critiques of the U.S. government and the "American Way of
life" come from American citizens. And that the funniest,
most bitter condemnation of their prime minister comes from the
British media. Finally, they should remember that right now, hundreds
of thousands of British and American citizens are on the streets
protesting the war. The Coalition of the Bullied and Bought consists
of governments, not people. More than a third of America's citizens
have survived the relentless propaganda they've been subjected
to, and many thousands are actively fighting their own government
In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the United States,
that's as brave as any Iraqi fighting for his or her homeland.
While the "Allies" wait in the
desert for an uprising of Shia Muslims on the streets of Basra,
the real uprising is taking place in hundreds of cities across
the world. It has been the most spectacular display of public
morality ever seen.
Most courageous of all are the hundreds
of thousands of American people on the streets of America's great
cities-Washington, New York, Chicago, San Francisco. The fact
is that the only institution in the world today that is more powerful
than the American government is American civil society. American
citizens have a huge responsibility riding on their shoulders.
How can we not salute and support those who not only acknowledge
but act upon that responsibility? They are our allies, our friends.
At the end of it all, it remains to be
said that dictators like Saddam Hussein, and all the other despots
in the Middle East, in the Central Asian republics, in Africa,
and Latin America, many of them installed, supported, and financed
by the U.S. government, are a menace to their own people. Other
than strengthening the hand of civil society (instead of weakening
it as has been done in the case of Ira, there is no easy, pristine
way of dealing with them. (It's odd how those who dismiss the
peace movement as utopian don't hesitate to proffer the most absurdly
dreamy reasons for going to war: To stamp out terrorism, install
democracy, eliminate fascism, and, most entertainingly, to "rid
the world of evil-doers.")
Regardless of what the propaganda machine
tells us, these tin-pot dictators are not the greatest threat
to the world. The real and pressing danger, the greatest threat
of all, is the locomotive force that drives the political and
economic engine of the U.S. government, currently piloted by George
Bush. Bush-bashing is fun, because he makes such an easy, sumptuous
target. It's true that he is a dangerous, almost suicidal pilot,
but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than the man
Despite the pall of gloom that hangs over
us today, I'd like to file a cautious plea for hope: In time of
war, one wants one's weakest enemy at the helm of his forces.
And President George W. Bush is certainly that. Any other even
averagely intelligent U.S. president would have probably done
the very same things, but would have managed to smoke up the glass
and confuse the opposition. Perhaps even carry the United Nations
with him. George Bush's tactless imprudence and his brazen belief
that he can run the world with his riot squad has done the opposite.
He has achieved what writers, activists, and scholars have striven
to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed
on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the
apocalyptic apparatus of the American Empire.
Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy
[Speech - Riverside Church, New York, May 13, 2003]
George Bush the First after a missile cruiser the USS Vincennes
accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner
"I will never apologize for the United
States. I don't care what the facts are."
When the United States invaded Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News
survey estimated that forty-two percent 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 fifty-five percent of Americans
believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported Al-Qaeda. 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," lat hollow pillar on which contemporary
American democracy rests.
Public support in the United States 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-Qaeda, 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 "suicide" for the United
States 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, 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 Official.
... 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 Hussein was
massacring Shias, U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski
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 fourteen years later
were reheated 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 aren't the faces of U.S. and U.K. government
officials on the infamous pack of cards of wanted men and women?
Because when it comes to Empire, facts
Yes, but all that's in the past, we're
told. Saddam Hussein is a monster who must be stopped now. And
only the United States 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
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 twenty-first 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.
... on February 15,2003, weeks before the invasion, in the most
spectacular display of public morality the world has ever seen,
more than ten million people marched against the war on five 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 tastes, available to be used and abused
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 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
In the United States, the arrangement is more complex. Clear Channel
Communications is the largest radio station owner in the country.
It runs more than twelve hundred channels, which together account
for nine percent of the market. When hundreds of thousands of
American citizens took to the streets to protest against the war
on Iraq, Clear Channel organized pro-war patriotic "Raffles
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 theater directors
instead of journalists.
It is a cruel irony that the United States, 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 serve
to mask the process of the rapid erosion of the possibilities
of actually exercising that freedom.
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 Conference of State Legislatures,
U.S. states cut forty-nine billion dollars 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 seventy-five
billion dollars. Bush's initial budget request to Congress to
finance the war in Iraq was eighty 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 its 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 Congress 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 twenty-one percent of the total armed forces and twenty-nine
percent of the U.S. Army. They account for only twelve 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 four million Americans (two
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 thirteen 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 sixty-five than African American
men from ... Harlem.
When the Saints Go Marching Out
The strange fate of Martin, Mohandas, and Mandela
[Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, August 25, 2003]
Martin Luther King, Riverside Church, New York City, April 4,
"I could never again raise my voice
against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having
first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the
world today-my own government."
Stokley Carmichael at an anti-war demonstration in Manhattan,
described the draft as:
"... white people sending Black people
to make war on yellow people in order to defend land they stole
from red people."
Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?
[World Social Forum, Bombay, India, January 14, 2004]
International instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex
system of multilateral trade laws and financial agreements that
keep the poor in their Bantustans ... Its whole purpose is to
institutionalize inequity. Why else would it be that the United
States taxes a garment made by a Bangladesh manufacturer twenty
times more than it taxes a garment made in the United Kingdom?
Why else would it be that countries that grow ninety percent of
the world's cocoa bean produce only five percent of the world's
chocolate? Why else would it be that countries that grow cocoa
bean, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana, are taxed out of the market
if they try and turn it into chocolate? Why else would it be that
rich countries that spend over a billion dollars a day on subsidies
to farmers demand that poor countries like India withdraw all
agricultural subsidies, including subsidized electricity? Why
else would it be that after having been plundered by colonizing
regimes for more than half a century, former colonies are steeped
in debt to those same regimes and repay them some $382 billion
No individual nation can stand up to the project of corporate
globalization on its own. Time and again we have seen that when
it comes to the neo-liberal project, the heroes of our times are
suddenly diminished. Extraordinary, charismatic men, giants in
the opposition, when they seize power and become heads of state,
they become powerless on the global stage. I'm thinking here of
President Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of the World Social
Forum (WSF) last year. This year he's busy implementing IMF guidelines,
reducing pension benefits, and purging radicals from the Workers'
Party. I'm thinking also of ex-president of South Africa Nelson
Mandela. He instituted a program of privatization and structural
adjustment, leaving millions of people homeless, jobless, and
without water and electricity.
Why does this happen? There's little point
in beating our breasts and feeling betrayed. Lula and Mandela
are, by any reckoning, magnificent men. But the moment they cross
the floor from the opposition into government they become hostage
to a spectrum of threats-most malevolent among them
the threat of capital flight, which can
destroy any government overnight. To imagine that a leader's personal
charisma and a résumé of struggle will dent the
corporate cartel is to have no understanding of how capitalism
works, or for that matter how power works. Radical change will
not be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people.
How Deep Shall We Dig
[IG Khan Memorial Lecture, Aligarh Muslim University in India,
on April, 2004]
When a government more or less openly supports a pogrom against
members of a minority community in which up to two thousand people
are brutally killed, is it fascism? When women of that community
are publicly raped and burned alive, is it fascism? When authorities
collude to see to it that nobody is punished for these crimes,
is it fascism? When one hundred and fifty thousand people are
driven from their homes, ghettoized, and economically and socially
boycotted, is it fascism? When the cultural guild that runs hate
camps across the country commands the respect and admiration of
the prime minister, the home minister, the law minister, the disinvestment
minister, is it fascism? When painters, writers, scholars, and
filmmakers who protest are abused, threatened, and have their
work burned, banned, and destroyed, is it fascism? When a government
issues an edict requiring the arbitrary alteration of school history
textbooks, is it fascism? When mobs attack and bum archives of
ancient historical documents, when every minor politician masquerades
as a professional medieval historian and archeologist, when painstaking
scholarship is rubbished using baseless populist assertion, is
it fascism? When murder, rape, arson, and mob justice are condoned
by the party in power and its stable of stock intellectuals as
an appropriate response to a real or perceived historical wrong
committed centuries ago, is it fascism? When the middle-class
and the well-heeled pause a moment, tut-tut, and then go on with
their lives, is it fascism? When the prime minister who presides
over all of this is hailed as a statesman and visionary, are we
not laying the foundations for full-blown fascism?