Roy is a brilliant and ascerbic critic of U.S. policy. And she's no slouch as a novelist either. It is rare to find a literary talent like hers coupled with such political intelligence and passion.
Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?
By Arundhati Roy
19 January, 2004
Last January thousands of us from across the world gathered in Porto
Allegre in Brazil and declared - reiterated - that "Another World is
Possible". A few thousand miles north, in Washington, George Bush and
his aides were thinking the same thing.
Our project was the World Social Forum. Theirs - to further what many
call The Project for the New American Century.
In the great cities of Europe and America, where a few years ago these
things would only have been whispered, now people are openly talking
about the good side of Imperialism and the need for a strong Empire to
police an unruly world. The new missionaries want order at the cost of
justice. Discipline at the cost of dignity. And ascendancy at any price.
Occasionally some of us are invited to `debate' the issue on `neutral'
platforms provided by the corporate media. Debating Imperialism is a bit
like debating the pros and cons of rape. What can we say? That we really
In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It's a remodelled,
streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in history,
a single Empire with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the
world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic and military
hegemony. It uses different weapons to break open different markets.
There isn't a country on God's earth that is not caught in the cross
hairs of the American cruise missile and the IMF chequebook. Argentina's
the model if you want to be the poster-boy of neoliberal capitalism,
Iraq if you're the black sheep.
Poor countries that are geo-politically of strategic value to Empire, or
have a `market' of any size, or infrastructure that can be privatized,
or, god forbid, natural resources of value - oil, gold, diamonds,
cobalt, coal - must do as they're told, or become military targets.
Those with the greatest reserves of natural wealth are most at risk.
Unless they surrender their resources willingly to the corporate
machine, civil unrest will be fomented, or war will be waged. In this
new age of Empire, when nothing is as it appears to be, executives of
concerned companies are allowed to influence foreign policy decisions.
The Centre for Public Integrity in Washington found that nine out of the
30 members of the Defence Policy Board of the U.S. Government were
connected to companies that were awarded defence contracts for $ 76
billion between 2001 and 2002. George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of
State, was Chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He
This brutal blueprint has been used over and over again, across Latin
America, Africa, Central and South-East Asia. It has cost millions of
lives. It goes without saying that every war Empire wages becomes a Just
War. This, in large part, is due to the role of the corporate media.
It's important to understand that the corporate media doesn't just
support the neo-liberal project. It is the neo-liberal project. This is
not a moral position it has chosen to take, it's structural. It's
intrinsic to the economics of how the mass media works.
Most nations have adequately hideous family secrets. So it isn't often
necessary for the media to lie. It's what's emphasised and what's
ignored. Say for example India was chosen as the target for a righteous
war. The fact that about 80,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since
1989, most of them Muslim, most of them by Indian Security Forces
(making the average death toll about 6000 a year); the fact that less
than a year ago, in March of 2003, more than two thousand Muslims were
murdered on the streets of Gujarat, that women were gang-raped and
children were burned alive and a 150,000 people driven from their homes
while the police and administration watched, and sometimes actively
participated; the fact that no one has been punished for these crimes
and the Government that oversaw them was re-elected ... all of this
would make perfect headlines in international newspapers in the run-up
Next we know, our cities will be levelled by cruise missiles, our
villages fenced in with razor wire, U.S. soldiers will patrol our
streets and, Narendra Modi, Pravin Togadia or any of our popular bigots
could, like Saddam Hussein, be in U.S. custody, having their hair
checked for lice and the fillings in their teeth examined on prime-time
But as long as our `markets' are open, as long as corporations like
Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton, Arthur Andersen are given a free hand, our
`democratically elected' leaders can fearlessly blur the lines between
democracy, majoritarianism and fascism.
Our government's craven willingness to abandon India's proud tradition
of being Non-Aligned, its rush to fight its way to the head of the queue
of the Completely Aligned (the fashionable phrase is `natural ally' -
India, Israel and the U.S. are `natural allies'), has given it the leg
room to turn into a repressive regime without compromising its
A government's victims are not only those that it kills and imprisons.
Those who are displaced and dispossessed and sentenced to a lifetime of
starvation and deprivation must count among them too. Millions of people
have been dispossessed by `development' projects. In the past 55 years,
Big Dams alone have displaced between 33 million and 55 million people
in India. They have no recourse to justice.
In the last two years there has been a series of incidents when police
have opened fire on peaceful protestors, most of them Adivasi and Dalit.
When it comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit and Adivasi
communities, they get killed for encroaching on forest land, and killed
when they're trying to protect forest land from encroachments - by dams,
mines, steel plants and other `development' projects. In almost every
instance in which the police opened fire, the government's strategy has
been to say the firing was provoked by an act of violence. Those who
have been fired upon are immediately called militants.
Across the country, thousands of innocent people including minors have
been arrested under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and are being
held in jail indefinitely and without trial. In the era of the War
against Terror, poverty is being slyly conflated with terrorism. In the
era of corporate globalisation, poverty is a crime. Protesting against
further impoverishment is terrorism. And now, our Supreme Court says
that going on strike is a crime. Criticising the court of course is a
crime, too. They're sealing the exits.
Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism too relies for its success on a
network of agents - corrupt, local elites who service Empire. We all
know the sordid story of Enron in India. The then Maharashtra Government
signed a power purchase agreement which gave Enron profits that amounted
to sixty per cent of India's entire rural development budget. A single
American company was guaranteed a profit equivalent to funds for
infrastructural development for about 500 million people!
Unlike in the old days the New Imperialist doesn't need to trudge around
the tropics risking malaria or diahorrea or early death. New Imperialism
can be conducted on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on racism of Old
Imperialism is outdated. The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New
The tradition of `turkey pardoning' in the U.S. is a wonderful allegory
for New Racism. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation
presents the U.S. President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year,
in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the President spares that
particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential
pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live
out its natural life. The rest of the 50 million turkeys raised for
Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra
Foods, the company that has won the Presidential Turkey contract, says
it trains the lucky birds to be sociable, to interact with dignitaries,
school children and the press. (Soon they'll even speak English!)
That's how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred
turkeys - the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy
immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell, or
Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself) - are given
absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose
their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and
electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the
pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of
them even work for the IMF and the WTO - so who can accuse those
organisations of being anti-turkey? Some serve as board members on the
Turkey Choosing Committee - so who can say that turkeys are against
Thanksgiving? They participate in it! Who can say the poor are
anti-corporate globalisation? There's a stampede to get into Frying Pan
Park. So what if most perish on the way?
Part of the project of New Racism is New Genocide. In this new era of
economic interdependence, New Genocide can be facilitated by economic
sanctions. It means creating conditions that lead to mass death without
actually going out and killing people. Dennis Halliday, the U.N.
humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between '97 and '98 (after which he
resigned in disgust), used the term genocide to describe the sanctions
in Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid Saddam Hussein's best efforts by
claiming more than half a million children's lives.
In the new era, Apartheid as formal policy is antiquated and
unnecessary. International instruments of trade and finance oversee a
complex system of multilateral trade laws and financial agreements that
keep the poor in their Bantustans anyway. Its whole purpose is to
institutionalise inequity. Why else would it be that the U.S. taxes a
garment made by a Bangladeshi manufacturer 20 times more than it taxes a
garment made in the U.K.? Why else would it be that countries that grow
90 per cent of the world's cocoa bean produce only 5 per cent 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 subsidised electricity? Why else would it be that
For all these reasons, the derailing of trade agreements at Cancun was
crucial for us. Though our governments try and take the credit, we know
that it was the result of years of struggle by many millions of people
in many, many countries. What Cancun taught us is that in order to
inflict real damage and force radical change, it is vital for local
resistance movements to make international alliances. From Cancun we
learned the importance of globalising resistance.
No individual nation can stand up to the project of Corporate
Globalisation 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 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 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. Within two years of taking office in 1994,
his government genuflected with hardly a caveat to the Market God. It
instituted a massive programme of privatisation and structural
adjustment, which has left 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 c.v. 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.
This week at the World Social Forum, some of the best minds in the world
will exchange ideas about what is happening around us. These
conversations refine our vision of the kind of world we're fighting for.
It is a vital process that must not be undermined. However, if all our
energies are diverted into this process at the cost of real political
action, then the WSF, which has played such a crucial role in the
Movement for Global Justice, runs the risk of becoming an asset to our
enemies. What we need to discuss urgently is strategies of resistance.
We need to aim at real targets, wage real battles and inflict real
damage. Gandhi's Salt March was not just political theatre. When, in a
simple act of defiance, thousands of Indians marched to the sea and made
their own salt, they broke the salt tax laws. It was a direct strike at
the economic underpinning of the British Empire. It was real. While our
movement has won some important victories, we must not allo
It was wonderful that on February 15th last year, in a spectacular
display of public morality, 10 million people in five continents marched
against the war on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was not enough.
February 15th was a weekend. Nobody had to so much as miss a day of
work. Holiday protests don't stop wars. George Bush knows that. The
confidence with which he disregarded overwhelming public opinion should
be a lesson to us all. Bush believes that Iraq can be occupied and
colonised - as Afghanistan has been, as Tibet has been, as Chechnya is
being, as East Timor once was and Palestine still is. He thinks that all
he has to do is hunker down and wait until a crisis-driven media, having
picked this crisis to the bone, drops it and moves on. Soon the carcass
will slip off the best-seller charts, and all of us outraged folks will
lose interest. Or so he hopes.
This movement of ours needs a major, global victory. It's not good
enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our resolve,
it's important to win something. In order to win something, we - all of
us gathered here and a little way away at Mumbai Resistance - need to
agree on something. That something does not need to be an over-arching
pre-ordained ideology into which we force-fit our delightfully factious,
argumentative selves. It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance
to one or another form of resistance to the exclusion of everything
else. It could be a minimum agenda.
If all of us are indeed against Imperialism and against the project of
neo-liberalism, then let's turn our gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the inevitable
culmination of both. Plenty of anti-war activists have retreated in
confusion since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn't the world better
off without Saddam Hussein? they ask timidly.
Let's look this thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud the U.S.
army's capture of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect, justify
its invasion and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack the Ripper for
disembowelling the Boston Strangler. And that - after a quarter century
partnership in which the Ripping and Strangling was a joint enterprise.
It's an in-house quarrel. They're business partners who fell out over a
dirty deal. Jack's the CEO.
So if we are against Imperialism, shall we agree that we are against the
U.S. occupation and that we believe that the U.S. must withdraw from
Iraq and pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the damage that the war
How do we begin to mount our resistance? Let's start with something
really small. The issue is not about supporting the resistance in Iraq
against the occupation or discussing who exactly constitutes the
resistance. (Are they old Killer Ba'athists, are they Islamic
We have to become the global resistance to the occupation.
Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy of
the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially
impossible for Empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should
refuse to fight, reservists should refuse to serve, workers should
refuse to load ships and aircraft with weapons. It certainly means that
in countries like India and Pakistan we must block the U.S. government's
plans to have Indian and Pakistani soldiers sent to Iraq to clean up
I suggest that at a joint closing ceremony of the World Social Forum and
Mumbai Resistance, we choose, by some means, two of the major
corporations that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq. We could
then list every project they are involved in. We could locate their
offices in every city and every country across the world. We could go
after them. We could shut them down. It's a question of bringing our
collective wisdom and experience of past struggles to bear on a single
target. It's a question of the desire to win.
The Project For The New American Century seeks to perpetuate inequity
and establish American hegemony at any price, even if it's apocalyptic.
The World Social Forum demands justice and survival.
For these reasons, we must consider ourselves at war.