Indian writer and activist. Her novel The God of Small Things won the 1997 Booker Prize. She is the author of numerous works of nonfiction, including An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire. Her latest essay is called "9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)."
As comparisons between the attacks in Mumbai and the September 11th attacks continue to be made, Indian officials unveiled a massive revamp of the country’s security and anti-terror infrastructure last week. I am joined now by someone who warns of the dangers of comparing the attacks in Mumbai to the attacks in New York: award-winning novelist, essayist and activist, Arundhati Roy. Her latest article is called "9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)." It was published in India’s Outlook magazine, Britain’s Guardian newspaper, and on TomDispatch.com here in the United States. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: It’s been over two weeks since the attacks and siege on the Indian city of Mumbai that left 180 people dead. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has now joined US and Indian officials in blaming the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the attacks and emphasizing Pakistan’s support for the group. Brown promised to increase counterterrorism aid to Pakistan and said, "The time has come for action and not words” from Pakistan.
PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: I’ve told President Zardari that three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. So I’ve proposed to President Zardari a new UK-Pakistan pact against terror. My discussions with President Zardari have reassured me that his authorities are determined to act against those who were behind the Mumbai attacks. We will continue to expand our terrorist — counterterrorism assistance program with Pakistan, and it will be more than ever the most comprehensive anti-terrorist program Britain has signed with any country.
AMY GOODMAN: The British premier was speaking at a news conference in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad Sunday, following a visit to India. Pakistani [President] Asif Ali Zardari said that India had yet to offer conclusive evidence of Lashkar’s involvement in last month’s terror attacks but emphasized Pakistan would take strong action against any groups found to be responsible. Over the past week, Pakistan has arrested a number of Islamist leaders and cracked down on both Lashkar-e-Taiba and a charity believed to be linked to the LeT, Jamaat-ud-Daawa.
PRESIDENT ASIF ALI ZARDARI: We want to have the best of relations with India. Terrorism and extremism are a common problem, which required cooperative efforts. Problems are not specific to a country, but are doable.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking in Kashmir Sunday, said he wanted India to “normalize” relations with Pakistan, provided Pakistan stops its support of terror attacks in India.
Senator John Kerry arrived in New Delhi today in a bid to calm tensions between the two countries and discuss counterterrorist cooperation between India and the incoming Obama administration. Senator Kerry is the third US official to visit India since the attacks and follows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
As comparisons between the attacks in Mumbai and the September 11th attacks continue to be made, Indian officials unveiled a massive revamp of the country’s security and anti-terror infrastructure last week.
Right now, I’m joined by someone who warns of the dangers of comparing the attacks in Mumbai to the attacks in New York and Washington: award-winning novelist, essayist, activist, Arundhati Roy. Her latest article is called "9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)." It was published in India’s Outlook magazine, Britain’s Guardian newspaper and on <a href=http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175013/arundhati_roy_the_monster_in_the_mirror >tomdispatch.com here in the United States. Arundhati Roy joins us now from her home in New Delhi.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Arundhati.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you start off by, well, beginning where you begin your piece “9 Is Not 11,” saying, “We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies”? What do you mean?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think, you know, what I mean is that while the attacks in Mumbai may have a lot to do with the consequences of 9/11 and India positioning itself as a quote-unquote "natural ally" of Israel and the US, it has more to do with the history — a very troubled history here. And for us to try and reduce it into something like 9/11, as though, you know, we’ve not suffered a terrorist attack since Pearl Harbor, is to make this history a bit ridiculous and to not look things in the eye and to try and act as though we aren’t who we are and we don’t have the history that we do. And it doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It’s a very dishonest thing to do, in many ways, and also it paves the way towards people trying to behave — I mean, in any case, India — you know, the Indian establishment and the Indian elite are very delighted with the idea of pretending to be a superpower like America and wanting to act like a superpower like America and do all the stupid superpower things that America has done. So my point is that, you know, India isn’t America, and Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan, and we don’t have to look at this through borrowed lenses.
AMY GOODMAN: You write that if you were watching television, you wouldn’t realize that ordinary Indians died in the Mumbai attacks, and you talk about the places that were attacked.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, that and as well as the fact that the Mumbai attack was only the most recent of a whole state of attacks that has taken place just this year in India. And in Mumbai, they attacked two sort of five-star hotels and a small Chabad center, a small Jewish center. But many of the killings took place in a railway station, where just ordinary people were mowed down.
But the Indian media was just so fascinated by the fact that, you know, finally, this sort of last barricade, the barricade of super citizens in the superpower was somehow attacked and breached. And, of course, partly it had to do with the fact that the drama in these places went on and on, because the — it was like, you know, a siege that lasted many hours. But even now, you know, the television channels, which are behaving like — making Fox News look like radical and left-wing, are just going on and on and on with this elite coming out and making the most shocking suggestions and saying the most shocking things and acting as though it’s the first and only time that such a thing has happened in India.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the other attacks that we don’t hear about, this latest in Mumbai being, as you write, only the most recent?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I mean, in the first — let’s say, in this period, you know, soon after September 11th, there was an attack in Kashmir on the parliament, and then there was a very obviously internationally read-about attack in 2001 on the Indian parliament, when six terrorists attacked Indian parliament and, you know, five of them — six of them were killed. And then India moved a half-a-million troops to the border with Pakistan and almost started a war, said the same thing, of course, that it was the Pakistan ISI behind this, and the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the LeT were the militant groups that were named.
And there was a trial that lasted many years. They arrested — the day after the attack, they arrested four people and a lecturer in Arabic called S.A.R. Geelani and said he was the mastermind. And there was this orgy of nationalism and what turned out to be complete lies that was planted in the press. And eventually, after the trial, three of the four were acquitted of the charges they had been convicted under. S.A.R. Geelani was let off by the Supreme Court. And the fourth person, Mohammad Afzal, has been sentenced to death, but the Supreme Court, in a written judgment, said that we have no evidence to prove that he belonged to any terrorist group, but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, we are sentencing him to death. And in the process of this trial, it was made clear that, you know, evidence had been fabricated, arrest memos had been fabricated, witnesses had lied. Everything was deeply suspect. So, today, we don’t know really who attacked parliament.
After that, of course, there was the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Gujarat, which led to the genocide against Gujarati Muslims. That, too, we don’t know, even today, who burned that train. You know, inquiries have been sort of sabotaged all the time. Subsequent to that, you know, for example, this year, there’s been a series of bombings. Last year, there was a bombing of — you know, Bombay was bombed, Bangalore was bombed, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. There was a bombing of this train called the Samjhauta Express going to Pakistan, and I think 150 people died. Once again, Pakistan was blamed. Then — but now, recently, the Anti-Terrorism Squad in Maharashtra arrested a serving army officer belonging to a Hindu supremacist group that they said they suspected of bombing the Samjhauta Express.
And then, there have been, this year, bombings in Jaipur, in Bangalore, in Delhi, in a small Muslim-dominated town called Malegaon, and in all these attacks — you know, some of them, the police have arrested Muslims, and some of them they’ve arrested Hindus, all Indian nationals. There’s been a lot of questioning of these arrests, too. There was a situation just in August, where the Special Cell of the Delhi police went and sort of shot dead two Muslim students in a place called Jamia Nagar. And this created a huge outcry in Delhi.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, we have to break for a minute, then we’re going to come back to this conversation.
ARUNDHATI ROY: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Next up, after we finish talking to Arundhati Roy, we’ll be joined by the filmmaker, by the director and producer Ron Howard about this new film called Frost/Nixon. We’re talking to Arundhati Roy, the great Indian writer. Her novel The God of Small Things
won the 1997 Booker Prize. Her latest essay is called "9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)." We’re speaking to her in New Delhi. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Arundhati Roy, the great writer, speaking to us from New Delhi, India, from her home. She won the 1997 Booker Prize, the youngest person to win that prize, for her book The God of Small Things, has written a number of books of essays since, and her latest is called "9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)."
Arundhati, could you talk about the significance of the Indian prime minister saying — speaking, going to Kashmir this weekend?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, the significance is — I mean, it’s complex, but Kashmir is really the elephant in the room, you know, behind — or let’s say, one of the elephants in the room, behind all this talk of all this terrorism and all this militancy, because Kashmir is — you know, the people of Kashmir have been struggling for independence for decades. And, you know, while America has 150,000 troops in Iraq, India has more than 500,000 troops in Kashmir holding it down.
And right now, there are elections in Kashmir, you know, what are known as free and fair elections, except that they are taking place under the supervision of this incredible presence of security forces who, you know, now are so entrenched there. And it’s not — I’m not suggesting that, you know, they’re forcing people to vote, though they have in the past. Elections have been rigged, and people have been forced at gunpoint to vote. But this time it’s slightly more complicated than that.
And only in August, there was a massive uprising in Kashmir, completely nonviolent — I was there, in fact, and saw it — where hundreds of thousands of people chanting for freedom were out on the streets. And the response to that, of course, was a really cruel curfew for days and days and days, which broke the back of that.
So, he went there, because the elections are on, to speak, and also knowing that it is the flashpoint and it is the bone of contention. So often, when people say, let’s say, you know, militants or terrorists who attack targets in India are Pakistani, they’re often from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, because in 1947, when India and Pakistan were partitioned, Kashmir, which was an independent kingdom, was just, you know, occupied, half by India and half by Pakistan. And that battle still wages.
AMY GOODMAN: You write, “On this nuclear subcontinent,” Arundhati Roy, “the context is Partition. The Radcliffe Line, which separated India and Pakistan and tore through [the] states, [the] districts, [the] villages...” I think people in the United States have very little understanding of the history of India and Pakistan and then how that is playing out today.
Actually, interestingly, when Barack Obama was running for president, in an interview, he talked, in talking about Afghanistan and the war on terror in Pakistan, said we have to go back to Kashmir, which fuels what is happening in Pakistan.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, basically — let me see if I can just explain it briefly. But, basically, you know, from the beginning, let’s say from the early 1920s, the fight for independence, even by somebody like Gandhi, did take on a sort of religious overtone, which Gandhi himself would, I suppose, have liked to say — call “spiritual.” But others did see it as more or less religious. And the fight for independence — alongside the fight for independence, there was an enormous amount of divisive and violent fighting between the two communities, Hindu and Muslim, which was, I would say, quite unwisely fomented by both Hindu and Muslim leaders and managed badly. And eventually, it came to a stage where the Muslims were demanding a separate homeland, because they were scared of being swamped by a Hindu majority.
And since the 1920s, there was this organization called the RSS, which is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was founded along the lines of Italian fascism, which really admired Hitler and which believed that the Muslims were the Jews of India. And that organization, which is sort of the holding company of the right-wing Hindu political parties now, has grown and grown and grown and grown. And today, it has something like 45,000 branches and 700,000 volunteers. Among them are former Prime Minister Vajpayee; our aspiring prime minister, L.K. Advani; the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who sort of supervised the genocide against Muslims in 2002. So this is the RSS.
And, anyway, in 1947, along with independence came partition. And the British government, as it left, drew the Radcliffe Line, which was drawn almost overnight, and it sort of tore through states and villages and communities and water systems and post offices and file notings, and it triggered the movement — I think the biggest migration of a human population in modern history, where something like eight — well, the lowest estimate is eight, others say twelve — million people, Hindus fleeing the new Pakistan, Muslims fleeing the new India, sort of just by foot, you know, with the clothes on their back, were crossing each other. There was — a million people were killed. And this hatred continues to inform everything, in terms of this Hindu-Muslim divide.
So — and then Pakistan declared itself an Islamic republic and then soon became a violent military dictatorship. India declared herself a democratic secular republic, but the poison of the RSS was dripping fast into the veins, you know? And so, while India was and is a democracy and has a modern constitution, it’s also a very feudal society that has given up nothing of its social conditioning. It continues to hold onto the caste system. It continues to hold onto all kinds of prejudices. And so, these are the two nations that are facing each other now, you know? And each of them has at their heart a very troubled history and an inability to tear themselves apart from each other.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, you write in your piece in a sub-headline that says “Releasing Frankensteins,” “Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America’s ally, first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening toward civil war.”
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah. Well, that obviously was the next big thing that happened in Pakistan, where it was the sort of crucible for America’s jihad against the Soviet Union. And today, I mean, I just heard what Gordon Brown said about Pakistan. And this is the thing, that Pakistan was the recruiting agent for this war. So the Pakistan government and the ISI and the Pakistan army were in charge of the funds and were in charge of really recruiting these foreign fighters, with CIA and Saudi money, from all across the Arab world to fight in Afghanistan. And they were in charge of indoctrinating them, setting up these madrasahs, and so on. And now, America wants — I mean, a little while earlier, expected it could just whistle them in like trained Mastiffs, but, of course, that didn’t happen, and they came calling in the homeland on September 11th.
And the point about these kind of battles is that they are — it’s not just that a gun was put in their hands and they were sent off to fight. It’s not just that they were equipped with Stinger missiles. They were indoctrinated. It was so they were turned into these kinds of people. Now, that has become something that you can’t just recall. And so, you have a situation in which you have, on the — I mean, so, to blame Pakistan for what’s happening now is a bit like trying to blame the crucible in which you conducted your experiments. Of course, the Pakistanis were also willing to do it, but there’s very little point in looking at it so simplistically.
And I think — I mean, the truth is now that the Pakistan government is not in full control of its own people, you know, as we know. So, how it’s all going to pan out is very difficult to say, because Afghanistan is out of control. The might of the US couldn’t control it or subdue it. And now that is spreading to regions in Pakistan and obviously filtering into India, as well. And then India is contributing to it with its own, you know, fascist pogroms that it’s conducted. So, all in all, it’s a very complex situation where flashcards won’t do.
AMY GOODMAN: You conclude, Arundhati Roy, by talking about “the Monster in the Mirror.” Explain.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, you know, obviously, when these attacks were happening, as I said earlier, one of the reasons why people kept saying "9/11" was that they wanted — I mean, the elite and the TV anchors of all our sixty-seven news channels were just baying for war, and they wanted, you know, the Indian government to go and bomb these so-called terrorist camps, which is a bit silly, because now Pakistan and India are both nuclear — have nuclear weapons, and obviously if India bombs anything, it’s going — Pakistan is going to retaliate, and it’s going to escalate.
And what I was saying is that, you know, to try and pin down the problems of a terrorist strike now and locate it within the boundaries of one country is like trying to pin down the provenance of corporate money. Already, we know that there are links. Sure, it might have begun in Pakistan, but there are links to the Muslim community in India, if what the police are saying is true, and we have our own homegrown Muslim, as well as Hindu, bomb attackers and terrorists on the loose.
So what I’m saying is that we have — India has something like 150 million Muslims, who have been shamefully persecuted, who have been targeted as a community, who have had genocide, who have had the oppression in Kashmir, who have had the destruction of the Babri Masjid. And so, you are creating conditions in which you may surely go after the ones that you catch, you know, but for every one that you catch, you’re manufacturing many. You’re creating a culture in which people, young people, are seeing no justice on the horizon. They just think, OK, let me go down and let me take you with me, you know? So you’re creating a situation which isn’t just a danger to yourself, but also to the whole world.
And according to me, the only way of addressing this situation is to make sure that people believe that they do have hope for justice, which means that you’ve got to go after the people who have come out on TV and boasted about how many Muslims they killed in the Gujarat pogrom. You have the biggest industrialists saying that Modi is the best investment — I mean, Modi’s Gujarat is the best investment destination. You have corporate spokesmen saying Modi is God. You have, when a thousand Muslims are slaughtered and raped and killed on the street, 300 people are arrested and 289 — I mean, I’ve forgotten the exact figures, but I think 250 people were arrested under the terrorism law, and 249 were Muslims. So — and every day, more and more young men are being picked up on false charges, are being tortured. India has the highest number of custodial deaths in the world. It refuses to sign a covenant, international covenant, on torture.
So, this kind of situation is going to lead us to a very, very dark place. So what I said was, look at the monster in the mirror. And it’s standing at the crossroads, and one points to the path to justice, and the other points to civil war. And we’ve got to choose between one or the other, because there is no third sign, and there’s no going back.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, I want to thank you very much for being with us, speaking to us from New Delhi, a writer, activist. Her novel, The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, her latest essay called "9 Is Not 11 (And November Isn’t September)." Among her other books of essays, Power Politics, Public Power in the Age of Empire and War Talk.