Following is an excerpt from Arundhati Roy’s talk at the closing rally of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on January 27. The full text will appear in her book War Talk, to be published in April by South End Press. –The Editors
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 Chávez is holding on, despite the US 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 Andersen–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. In Washington this January, 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 US government’s deep commitment to bring democracy to Iraq. Killing people to save them from dictatorship or ideological corruption is, of course, an old US 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 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 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 US 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 US 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 reinvent 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 “Either you are 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 inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.