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The New American Century

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But as long as our "markets" are open, as long as corporations like Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton and Arthur Andersen are given a free hand to take over our infrastructure and take away our jobs, our "democratically elected" leaders can fearlessly blur the lines between democracy, majoritarianism and fascism.

This article was adapted from Arundhati Roy's January 16 speech to the opening plenary of the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

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Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives. She has...

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What's next in a world where democracy has been so hollowed out, so emptied of meaning?

Opposition to President Bush's visit to India was so intense
that the only public space deemed acceptable for him to deliver a
speech is a crumbling old fort that also houses the Delhi zoo.

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 United States are "natural allies"), has given it the leg room to turn into a repressive regime without compromising its legitimacy.

A government's victims are not only those 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 fifty-five years, big dams alone have displaced between 33 million and 55 million in India. They have no recourse to justice. In the past two years there have been a series of incidents in which police have opened fire on peaceful protesters, 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 the 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 globalization, poverty is a crime. Protesting against further impoverishment is terrorism. And now our Supreme Court says that going on strike is a crime. Criticizing the court is a crime too, of course. They're sealing the exits.

Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism 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 that gave Enron profits that amounted to 60 percent 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 diarrhea 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 Racism.

The best allegory for New Racism is the tradition of "turkey pardoning" in the United States. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the US 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 organizations of being antiturkey? 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 globalization? There's a stampede to get into Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?

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