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2004-09-02

Crashing the Party: Famed Indian Writer Arundhati Roy Goes Inside the RNC

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Democracy Now! invites famed Indian writer Arundhati Roy, the author of "The God of Small Things" and Ashwin Desai, a community activist from Durban South Africa and author of "We Are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa" into the Republican National Convention to get their view on the spectacle. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ARUNDHATI ROY: I actually don’t know what to say, because it’s like being in a cult place where there’s some kind of chanting which veering between chilling and calming. I’m confused which it was, but I’m sure it was actually chilling to be in a place which is where the richest and the most powerful people in the world meet to plot the next war to plan the next bombing and war. They look like everybody else, you know? It’s not exactly like — it’s hard to believe even the psychology of how so many people can cheer while the same lies are being reiterated.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you guys think? This is a station in New York. We do radio and television. What is your name?

VERONICA MOSEY: I’m Veronica Mosey.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are you from?

VERONICA MOSEY: Brooklyn, New York.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you a delegate?

VERONICA MOSEY: No. I’m just a voter who decided to come in and see the Republican National Convention.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you think?

VERONICA MOSEY: I thought it was good. You know, Cheney is a little — come on, now. He’s not the best. I wanted to see Arnold, to be honest with you, but I had to see Cheney. I thought it was awesome. I think people need to recognize that the Republican Party is about being free and expressing your opinion and speaking what you want and disagreeing or agreeing but being for a tough president, so let’s go for it.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the invasion of Iraq?

VERONICA MOSEY: I think it was necessary. I think we were threatened. I think people — I had a brother who was in the first gulf war. He saw a lot of stuff that people didn’t see. Women being gutted open and raped and what have you by Saddam’s forces. A lot of people — that stuff wasn’t publicized. He knew about that stuff but nobody else did. Sometimes the media doesn’t publicize things that need to be seen. That’s my opinion, but that’s what I saw. Interesting. I don’t know. I think it’s good that we got Saddam. He’s no longer a threat, and there we go.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think we’re out of there now?

VERONICA MOSEY: No, I don’t. I think — sometimes I think we should pull out. I don’t know it’s kind of an iffy stance on my part, but I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think john Kerry represent as different position than George Bush on that.

VERONICA MOSEY: John Kerry unfortunately too much for me is a bit of a wimp. I wouldn’t feel secure with a commander in chief who is like, I don’t like war.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are from you?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: San Antonio.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your names? BILLY JACK HARLOW: Billie Jack and Terese Harlow.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you a delegate?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: I’m an alternate delegate.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you think tonight?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: I thought Vice President Cheney was awesome. Sure did.

AMY GOODMAN: What most impressed you?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: I think his articulation of the facts and George Bush’s convictions, and john Kerry’s convictions. I think he showed very concisely the differences.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the differences?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: You know them as well as I do, the differences are George Bush is really for the people, John Kerry is for whatever people are telling him what to be for for that moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that George Bush and John Kerry are that different in their attitudes to the invasion and occupation of Iraq?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: You are watching the same TV I am? I’m guessing you might not be, because there’s a huge difference. John Kerry changes from whoever is interviewing him to whoever is interviewing him. I don’t change, and my president doesn’t change.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you watch?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you watch?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: I watch FOX News. I don’t know what you watch. I watch MSNBC; I watch Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews sometimes, but mostly FOX. That’s about all of the TV that I can stand. Just a little bit of the news.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it was a good idea to invade Iraq?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: As far as Bill Jack Harlow is concerned, I think the whole world is better off because we invaded Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, have you seen Farenheight 9/11?

BILLY JACK HARLOW: Not gonna see it. I have no intention of seeing it. I think Michael Moore is despicable. He is a disgrace to Americanism completely. Only because — not because of who he is or anything, but he represents that movie, and I have seen bits and cuts on the TV, — but because he represents it as truth, and it’s so far from the truth. I saw him on Bill O’Reilly talking — asking bill if he would send his sons. Would you send your sons? He’s an idiot.

ARUNDHATI ROY: You know, the man says that he only watches FOX News. That explains everything, doesn’t it? I mean, you really come to the heart of jingoism and then you understand why these things can only be resolved through war in a way, or they try to resolve them through war, because it’s so terrifying to see the product of lies, of the media’s lies, the American media’s lies. You almost feel — you cannot even get angry or dislike him, because you just — you see him as a victim of propaganda. Sort of the most foolish kind, but so powerful, so rich, so deadly. You can hardly even engage in an argument because it’s not — he didn’t want to see Farenheight 9/11. He’s not curious about it. It’s not that he’s open to looking at something and changing. He didn’t want to see it.

AMY GOODMAN: When you walked in to the big arena, what were your thoughts?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, my thoughts were just that kind of sick power and fundamentalism comes in so many different garbs, you know, like I think that if I were to walk into the — if I had walked into the BJP Convention in India, the one where all of the right wing Hindu groups gathered I would have actually feared for my life. I would have actually worried — because those people there, among them, could be real killers who have personally killed with their hands. And here, you have a much more rarified space where everything — everything appears civilized. It’s like everybody stepped out of some Hollywood film, and some of us even — some of it is even more chilling to me, the fact that it’s so powerful that you can even be nice, you know, and kill at long distance, bomb at long distance, use your proxies. After all, the right wing in my country are the proxies in some sense. So, it’s frightening, and it’s miserable and, you know, you — you really have to understand that we’re up against the most rich and powerful people in the world, and all we have is our convictions, really, because we don’t have the money or the power or the weapons. But I think that the anger is more than — the anger of billions of people is the weapon that will eventually be used against them.

AMY GOODMAN: In an unusual situation, you heard a Democrat, Georgia senator Zell Miller, as well as Republicans, because they invited him to this convention. What were you thoughts about what he had to say?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, you know, apart from the sort of the theatrics of betrayal and so on, you know, the cheap drama of that, I wasn’t — I’m not — I’m not somebody who is astounded by that since politicians do that all the time. I have seen it happen time and again. Everywhere, not just here. But I think what is important about that speech was that it really shows you how — how the exits are being sealed in this — in the rhetoric of democracy today. You know, that it’s come — it’s come to a space where it is really interesting that, the democrats are in a space where they have to eventually, whether they lose or win the election, they are going to have to prove that they are more vicious, more war mongering, more hard than the Republicans. They don’t even have as much space to maneuver as the Republicans do. It’s really very, very interesting thing, and say in India on the issue of Kashmir, which is an occupied territory, the fact is that the equivalent of the Democrats, the congress, have much less room to maneuver because the BJP will always overturn them on that by being really right wing. So, in terms of analysis of power, I think the simple thing about the Democrats are slightly better or the lesser evil and things, is quite dangerous because you saw that speech, and it just closes the space for any kind of softness. Kerry is going to have to prove himself to be, in my terms, worse than Bush.

And then, of course, the talk about now what is soft imperialism? That you’re going to have the support of the u.n and Europe to rape Iraq some more and to take on some other countries? Is that better or worse for us in the Third world? I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I think it was quite a wonderful display of how little space is left in this kind of electoral democracy now. That’s the issue that all of us have to face — that how much expediency can we afford? When are we going to say that we actually, this is not a debate — actually, this is not where public power will be exercised, or the power of a dissenting public.

ASHWIN DESAI: When I looked around at the convention, clearly, you know, 98% of the delegates were white, and what historical analogy can I draw but to the final kind of days of apartheid where the national parties in power would have the same kind of complexion. But I also looked at the Republican Party almost like this kind of the national party in South African at home, having been a party of white supremacy and a party that has just wreaked so much bloodshed and havoc and evil in the world. The likeness of the party, its descendants, was the party of slavery and the party of carpet bombing, but the same kind of smugness. Similarly, the National Party which not only destabilized and killed and maimed and butchered in South Africa, but in the southern African states, destabilizing campaigns, and when I had an opportunity to go to one of the congresses as a reporter, just had the same kind of smugness, the same amnesia that — you know, that it does rankle. It does — they raise the issue that Reagan saw the pulling down of the Berlin Wall. You know, this is a party, despite the protestations of overseeing the development of an apartheid war in Israel. But they can’t see that. Maybe they don’t want to see that. Then, so, it’s a party, I still think, of white power. If this was a time right now, and was a time for a transition from democracy in South Africa, the whites in South Africa would have gotten a much better deal. Through the power of America, the resurgence of a white civilized supremacy attitude, they would have probably gotten guaranteed seat in the parliament. It’s that kind of a time once again. That is scary, but it also involves the rolling back of so many gains that people have made across the world in their own way through blood and struggle. This party and Bush and the new presidency is always seeing alot of the rollbacks of those kinds of things. Just the complete living in a kind of almost bounded enclosed empire, the complete lack of empathy for the kind of history of this nation and what it has done. We bring freedom and liberation. That was very haunting about what the democrat guy said, the people who deliver freedom are soldiers. The people who delivered the vote are soldiers. I wonder if he came from the country like I came from, that lived under, in front of the barrel of the soldier. Whether he would be saying the same thing is ridiculous. Because it’s also a precursor to the soldiers once again becoming hegemonic even in a country like America with its constitution and so on. That was probably the scariest moment, even scarier than Cheney’s speech.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Cheney’s speech?

ASHWIN DESAI: I thought — well, firstly, you know, I don’t know much about Dick Cheney. In all our anti-war marchers at home in South Africa, I know the links between him and Halliburton, the fact that he personally, will gain so much more. These guys are involved in shady deals. These guys are not people to be respected. They merge kind of the ability to serve in the state apparatus while having private interests, which is something that’s an anathema to democracy. Sleazy, sly, chilling. He’s a war monger because war monger suits his private interests. That all came across. His humor was crude, as probably his politics are and his ways of accumulating his own wealth. So, that’s really scary for the rest of the world to know the kind of incredible — the lack of ability to think through an issue. I mean display on, he said what George Bush thinks Saturday night, he will think once again Sunday. It’s a time in the world where you would expect the leaders of the new empire to have a certain mode of flexibility to rethink things.

ARUNDHATI ROY: That man who you were interviewing with the hat was telling Jeremy that to me he was like an egg. The smooth sort of person who didn’t — didn’t have any doubts about anything because fox news had sorted that all out for him. But if you just took him from this context and put him on a street in almost anywhere else in the world except for America, he would just break. He would just — everything — he would be devastated not by violence, but just by an understanding that he couldn’t have imagined possible. Very fragile. You felt almost sorry for the man. I was interested in that — in two things. One is that at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2003 and in Mumbai this year, there were many, many more people than this. The stadiums were packed with people with flags, with — but — and on the march day before yesterday, you know, the 500,000 people here, a lot of people complained about the fact that there wasn’t a rally and there weren’t speeches and there wasn’t, you know, the taking over of Central Park. I have never marched in America before. I was very thrilled by the fact there wasn’t there. I was thrilled by the fact that there was a diversity of coming — people coming together, many of whom one didn’t necessarily agree with, but everyone was bringing their own joke or their own political insight or their own poster or t-shirt into it, into this mass.

Here it was almost like atomism you know? The chants. It was as if their pupils were dilated. They were just like dolls, you know? And I think the fact is that if you are not a journalist, if you are a — if you are a writer or a person who writes on politics on activists, who comes from an outside country, you cannot but read this heightened, insane, lying nationalism as a hostility toward everything that you stand for. I mean, I’m — I think that’s where it was — it was just the anti-thesis of me. Everything — everything — it was just like amazing to be in a place where within it was — for you, it was what hell on earth would be, to be in that or to have to be with that. We had to be with it, but just physically contain yourself, it was so overwhelmingly sort of blond and white and — you know, kind of — it was like, many, many Barbie dolls with one brain kind of wound up and clock work reactions to things. I said yesterday when you asked me whether I would come whether I was cheap enough just to want to see how it felt to be in the same room with people that you despised and raged against for so long. And I must say — I must say, it was not awesome, you know, to see — I was — I was actually — I just thought that the people, the activists who come in here and have the courage to disrupt this in the heart of it are really awesome people, to watch Dick Cheney repeat the lies about the — you know, the dangers and the nuclear materials being traded, and the terror and the national security. You just want it say ho-hum. Okay. More of the same, you know? Pass the salt or whatever.

ASHWIN DESAI: I was very interested that the symbol is an elephant and I came in thinking it was an African elephant. African elephants cannot be tamed or domestic indicated. Except the Indian elephant.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Hey! [laughter]

ASHWIN DESAI: This party can be tamed [laughter] it can be tamed and domesticated and can be beaten into do tricks for other people and forcing other people to do tricks for it.

ARUNDHATI ROY: You can’t—

ASHWIN DESAI: Listen dear, Indian elephants can be tamed and African elephants can’t. [Laughter] Indian buffalos can be tamed, African elephant can’t be tamed. That’s the truth.

ARUNDHATI ROY: [laughter] Think of something much better. Africans are good, Indians are bad. No, you can only tell by the ears. Ashwin’s ears, for example, are the ears of an African elephant... Mine, on the other hand, are the ears of Mahatma Ghandi, whose —-—

ASHWIN DESAI: —whose political philosophy was to be a part of the empire or be an equal part. [laughter]

ARUNDHATI ROY: [laughter] No, I wanted to see — I wanted to say, when you asked that question about somebody saying whether everybody on earth should vote for the American president, I think, you know, I would — I would feel misrepresented if I thought that I had gone on air in America saying that the — to me, being in the Republican Convention was like being in hell on earth, because I don’t think I would feel that different at the Democratic Convention. The fact is that the — for the rest of the world, for those of us who are in India and South Africa and so on, it is quite frightening that if you think of Kerry as president coming and deepening the penetration of the American multinationals in India you know, or Bill Clinton ruling across Africa with Oprah Winfrey throwing stuffed toys at people while your privatization is happening, while pipelines are being laid, while water and electricity is being cut, it’s — it’s actually very frightening, the idea of this kind of consensus. So, the choice between a stupid emperor or a megalomaniac emperor or a suaver or gentle one is not an easy choice for us. It is not — I mean — so, for us to vote in the American elections is either a ridiculous idea because we are opposing the American empire, not wanting to be co-opted into it.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, author of, God of Small Things. Her latest book, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, along with Ashwin Desai, his latest book is, We are the Poors: Community Struggles and Post Apartheid South Africa. Arundhati Roy had come in from India and Ashwin Desai from Durban, South Africa.

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