In a piece that appeared titled “The algebra of infinite justice” in the English newspaper The Guardian a couple weeks ago, the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy wrote: “America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an 'international coalition against terror', mobilized its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle. The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one.” The Washington Post and The New York Times refused to print the op-ed.
Arundhati Roy is the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel “The God of Small Things” and of the nonfiction books “The Cost of Living” and “Power Politics,” which explore the price of “development” driven by profit, and the dangers of privatization and globalization, particularly in dam construction. After a visit to Narmada Valley in Gujarat, Arundhati Roy became actively involved in the plight of tribal peoples displaced by the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Roy’s work challenges the idea that only “experts” can speak out on such urgent matters as nuclear war, the human costs of the privatization of India’s power supply by U.S.-based energy companies, and the construction of monumental dams in India.
Just before the U.S. began attacks on Afghanistan, reporter Sputnik Kilambi spoke to Roy in her office in New Delhi.
AMY GOODMAN: In the British newspaper The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, an article appeared called “The algebra of infinite justice.” It was written by the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy. This is a part of what she said:
“America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an 'international coalition against terror', mobilized its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle. The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one.”
According to Roy, The Washington Post and The New York Times refused to print her op-ed. Arundhati Roy is the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things and of the nonfiction books The Cost of Living and Power Politics, which explore the price of “development” driven by profit, and the dangers of privatization and globalization, particularly in dam construction. She is a well-known activist against the Narmada Dam in the Narmada Valley.
Today we’re going to hear an interview that she did with Sputnik Kilambi just before the U.S. began the attacks on Afghanistan. Sputnik spoke with Arundhati Roy at her office in New Delhi.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: It’s interesting that this article, which was published in The Guardian and is probably being circulated in many other European capitals, has not found any takers in the United States.
ARUNDHATI ROY: It is very interesting. I have to say that, personally, I was always a little suspicious about people who said that, you know, the American press is not a free press and that it’s a very, very ideological space, because it gives you all the bunf, you know? And, of course, America does have a lot of very good legislation on free speech, but it’s almost as if the press chooses not to exercise it. So, suddenly I’m seeing a situation where even people in sort of tin-pot dictatorships or people in a country like India, which is — I mean, where suddenly you can breathe deeply and feel that it is a democracy to some extent, where enormous differences in view are being expressed. Even a person selling, you know, tomatoes in a market is better informed about what’s happening than the people in America. And I feel very strange about this, because it’s not just that you’re not well informed, but you think you’re well informed. So, here you have a population that is hostage to the policies of its government, and the media is somehow shackled to the government.
I think people are the product of the information that they receive. So, if you’re an ordinary working American who, I don’t know, is a plumber or an electrician or a painter or a truck driver, and you’re not actually pursuing the alternative voice, you’re not actually browsing the internet to hear voices of dissent, you’re just coming home in the evening after a day’s work and switching on the television, the information that you get is so — it’s so edited that you can’t then blame this person for saying, “Bomb them back to the Stone Age,” or, you know, “Drop nukes on them,” because, you know, you’re living in a society where you’re cosseted by your wealth. You’re geographically isolated from the world. You have this peculiar situation where you have a very insular people with a very adventurous government.
You take the case of what’s happening in Iraq. People say that, “Oh, but people must be responsible for their government.” But, in fact, people who live in a supposedly democratic society ought to be more responsible for their government than people who are in a dictatorship or in a military regime. I think even more powerful than America’s military arsenal has been its hold over the media, in some way. I find that very, very frightening.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: Do you get the sense the media is, in a way, trying to egg the government on to be even more adventurous than it’s being?
ARUNDHATI ROY: I think they are both sort of inflated — they were, anyway, both kind of taking courage from the other. Everyone’s believing their own rhetoric and believing their own publicity. I’m hoping that the — you know, just now everybody is shuffling their feet, and I welcome that. I think it’s very important to shuffle your feet and to blink and to think, you know? So, I don’t see that there’s anything wrong in admitting, say, that, “Look, we reacted because we were so shocked, but we were wrong to say the things we said. And let’s all calm down, and let’s all really talk about the terrible mistakes that have been made in the past. Let’s really become honest about what is terrorism.”
We don’t even know what terrorism is. People have wary things to say about it. Someone says it’s killing innocent people. You know, I mean, you can’t be that intellectually flabby. You’ve got to really come to terms with what it is and look at the countries involved. America, biggest exporter of terror and terrorism ever. Pakistan, its ally, is certainly a terrorist state which is exporting terror to India. India is standing here acting so sanctimonious, when it was busy training the LTTE in Sri Lanka. So everyone has, you know, skeletons in their cupboard. And there’s no point in everyone trying to be so moral and talk about good and evil. Everyone has to try and understand and accept the mistakes they’ve made, and realize, I think, that the world has moved into a different place, into a different zone. Everything has changed. The meaning of technology has changed, you know?
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: Do you think September 11th also is a watershed of sorts?
ARUNDHATI ROY: I think it is. And I think, you know, I mean, being an incurable optimist, I think that it could really be used to turn things around in a way which would then really mean that America was a superpower, if it could hold — stand in its tracks and change from here. I think one would — it would really command a lot of respect if it did that.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: If you were to compare the — we were talking about the lack of takers in the United States with this latest article following the September 11th attack. If you were to compare the reaction here in India? Because you’ve been pilloried in the Indian media, as well, for your positions on other issues, I mean, whether it’s the Narmada dam or in the wake of India’s nuclear tests or what you’ve written against privatization, but this article has struck a different echo, you’d say.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Absolutely. I mean, in the earlier piece — I mean, but this is the trouble. You know, when you’re not writing as an institution or from some particular ideology, but when you’re somebody who’s just — I’m really interested in the nature of opposition and in the fluidity of being somebody who doesn’t have — I don’t have an agenda, you know? I just want to say, here, this was wrong here, and this was right here, and this is why I think so. So, when one opposed the nuclear tests, of course, I was called a foreign agent and all the rest of it. When I wrote The God of Small Things, I was criticized by the left. When I wrote the nuclear bomb, I was criticized — I mean, criticized the nuclear tests, I was criticized by the right. Then, when I did the whole essay on privatization, it was again something which I was really attacked for.
I don’t think it’s a question of right and wrong. It’s a question of how much space are you taking up for yourself, how much of everybody’s thoughts and water and resources and ideology — how much are you colonizing. And what happens is, I think, you know, just as much as America believes in freedom at home or the free speech or the freedom of religion, outside it believes in the freedom to humiliate, the freedom to export terror. The freedom to — and the freedom to humiliate is a very important thing, because that’s what really leads to the rage.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: But that’s a couple of the points you bring up. Whose terrorism are we talking about? Whose freedom are we talking about? Why is it that the Statue of Liberty, for example, wasn’t targeted, and the Pentagon was, and the World Trade Center was?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, because I think — you know, now it sounds like you’re setting up these two oppositional things, where Bush is saying, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” You either believe in Mickey Mouse or in the mullahs. But the whole world lives between that. You know, we don’t have to make this choice. The whole of all the beauty and grace of human civilization exists between those things, and we don’t need to make that choice at all and must not be coerced into it and must not accept that paradigm at all.
And I think that, you know, having said all this, I will say that given how little information is allowed through the portals of the free press in America, I’m a great admirer of dissent in America. I don’t think that there are very many countries where protests like the protests against the Vietnam War could have happened. You know, in India, when the nuclear tests happened or when Kargil happened, you know, there were not — I mean, we needed that kind of dissent. Today we need it so badly for all the communal trouble that’s happening. Already, in a few days, you know, there have been huge marches in America. I’m a great admirer of that. I read wonderful people writing. Of course, it’s not coming in the mainstream, but it’s on the net. So, I think those things need to be applauded, you know? I don’t think one should ignore that. I think it’s a fantastic thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, activist and author of The God of Small Things and The Cost of Living. She’s being interviewed by Free Speech Radio News reporter Sputnik Kilambi in New Delhi. You hear a few times the gaps of spaces, and that has to do with this interview being sent over the internet to us, when technology works. We’re going to come back to this interview, and we’re going to deal with President Bush’s meeting with the Chinese President Jiang in our second hour. At that time, we’re also going to hear the voices of Afghan refugees with a Canadian filmmaker who’s just returned and brings us the footage. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we go back to Sputnik Kilambi’s interview with the great author Arundhati Roy, who wrote The God of Small Things, after Sputnik Kilambi asks her about the change of name of the bombing campaign, from Operation Infinite Justice to Operation Enduring Justice.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Enduring freedom for some and enduring slavery for others, I suppose is the way it works, you know. So, this is what I said in my essay, that until America recognizes that it shares the planet with other human beings, with people who, even if they’re not on TV, have histories and songs and griefs and loves and rights, until then, nothing — no single small baby step is going to be taken towards stopping terrorism. And people are going to be held hostage to this kind of aggressive, Rambo-like behavior, you know. So, I think eventually people will realize that it’s for their own sake that they have to stop this.
And the story of Afghanistan, you could not — you know, nobody could have it clearer in front of them in terms of what has happened. Of course, the Taliban are monsters, you know? They’ve killed women. They’ve buried people alive. They have public executions, yes. But where have they sprung from? They are people who have not known women. They are people whose mothers have been killed, 400,000 Afghans killed in that civil war, boys who have just grown up as orphans or people who have just grown up in a sort of maze of landmines, no family, no culture, no religion, no education. What do you expect?
And the big, big lesson here, the biggest lesson, as far as I’m concerned, is that whatever the provocation, you do not inject religious fervor into politics. This is what America did, you know? They really ignited the whole Islamic jihad thing, thinking that they will be very clever in using it to dismantle Soviet communism. This is the mistake that the freedom struggle made in India. It is to inject religion into politics. It gives you very quick results, but then you just can’t control it
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: And one of the many ironies in the case of Afghanistan is that this religious fervor which was injected in the first place 20 years ago or 15 years ago, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we have a strange kind of coming full circle in the sense now you have Russia and America seemingly on the same side.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Absolutely. Now you have Russia and America joining together to destroy the — you know, I think this is the greatest irony of all, that Afghanistan was the springboard that America used to destroy Soviet communism, to set up a unipolar world dominated by America. Afghanistan, that desert, that landmined, broken desert, was what really made the space for corporate globalization and neocapitalism. As strange as it may seem, that was what it was. And now it’s going to — it’s poised to be the graveyard of the soldiers that fought and won this war for America. And from 1991 up to '98, it wasn't just — I mean, of course, as soon as the Soviet Empire crumbled, America lost interest in the jihad. But they still had a great interest in that whole area, because of the oil, you see? And to destabilize — just as they need to destabilize the Middle East, they needed to destabilize Central Asia. And all along, there was these negotiations to build this pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan. And so, the American government was pussyfooting around the Taliban. The point is that this kind of intervention in these kinds of complex societies are lethal. And that’s why I’m so terrified at the Indian government making these welcoming gestures to make — because also the Indian government is a totally right-wing, fundamentalist government, you know?
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: That was going to be my next question. I mean, your take on the Indian government, which now seems to have definitely ditched whatever commitment it had to the concept of nonalignment, vying with Pakistan to be Washington’s frontline state in this great game. And the oil, as you mentioned earlier, is still there.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah. Well, the Indian position is a very dangerous one, you see, because India has the largest population of Muslims of any country, I think. We have some 200 million Muslim people in India. Now, we have, as everyone knows, a right-wing Hindu government. So, India has its own agenda. You know, they are saying Pakistan is exporting terror into Kashmir, which it is. There isn’t any doubt about that. I’m not questioning that. But the Indian government has created a situation in Kashmir where it makes it — the whole thing is such a mess. Since 1989, the whole thing has been such a mess. The state has repressed in every way it could. It hasn’t managed to squash the terrorism, because that’s not how you can squash terrorism.
So, the Indian government is now — you know, all these years it said — refused third-party negotiations. It said that it’s a matter between us and Pakistan. And it’s become very, very sensitive every time someone says that “Why don’t you discuss it?” It’s blocked every discussion. Now suddenly it’s saying, “Please, America, why don’t you intervene? And how dare you only go to Pakistan? What about us?” Of course everyone has to look out for their own interests, but in a country where you have a huge minority community of 200 million or so Muslim people, you can’t behave like this, you know? You run the risk of turning all of them hostile. You know, they could break this country apart if they got angry enough. And I’m not saying you should pacify and pussyfoot around, but you — don’t be absurd, you know? For your own good, don’t try this. After all, 1998, when you did those nuclear tests, what were you trying to say? You were just criticizing America and acting like you had just released India from the shackles of colonialism. Now you want to crawl to them. I mean, you might as well have crawled under their nuclear umbrella and given up these nuclear tests.
It’s like Bush is this big sheikh with two begums in the subcontinent, begum Pakistan and begum India. Now, begum Pakistan has delivered the sheikh one male child and is now in the process of delivering a second. Begum India is in a snit because she hasn’t produced any male babies. And begum — and Bush, Sheikh Bush, is in the delivery room, and he keeps looking up every now and then, saying, “I love you, too, darling,” but then goes back to the business of the male child being born. So, it’s all like this, you know? And people — I mean, it is complex, but it’s also simple. It also requires some common sense, which no one seems to have, you know? Both the begums are pointing nuclear weapons at each other. The sheikh has even more nuclear weapons. And meanwhile, Afghanistan is running wild.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: So, what is Afghanistan, if Pakistan is one begum and India the other begum?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Afghanistan is — Afghanistan is — Afghanistan is like the teenage — the first child that the begum produced, was obedient until he became a teenager. Now he’s completely turned against his father.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: So, while we see Afghanistan going through its adolescent crisis, from all indications, it looks like the United States now is going to be in this region for some time to come. I mean, the stakes are very high, and we’re talking about oil.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Been in this region. Let’s not make the mistake of “going to be.” It’s been in this region.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: But in a more visible way than before, perhaps.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Maybe. I mean, it’s been in this region, you know, with the pipeline, all the way up to around 1998. And the point is that, you know, initially it sort of was setting up its training camps, or its terrorist training camps, so-called, from Pakistan to move up into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Now it wants to go to the Soviets and fund the Northern Alliance to fight down south, you know? So, it just keeps hopping around, funding warriors. And I think that we have — even ordinary, well-meaning people have conversations like, “They should put in a democracy.” You see, you don’t put in a democracy. For a society to become a democratic society takes years and years and years of maturing. You know, now, of course, that process has to start, and how it starts has to be negotiated and talked about. But, you know, if you’re going to go and give some more guns and bombs to the Northern Alliance because now you’re fed up with the Taliban, and a few years ago you were happy with the Taliban, it’s going to come — I mean, the same thing will happen a few years from now, you know?
So, I think one — that’s what I’m saying just now, that I think it’s a great opportunity — it could be seen as a great opportunity for the whole world to — I mean, to form an international coalition for honesty, you know, not against terrorism but for honesty, before you can start even understanding, because there isn’t even an understanding of what terrorism means just now, you know? To the Taliban, the Northern Alliance are terrorists. So, what are you — you know, if you’re going to fund them, it’s a different kind of terrorism, you know? Everybody has their own definition. So…
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: So, in the meantime, I mean, the international community, or, read, the United States, has now renamed — it’s no longer a crusade, it’s a war, a global war against global terrorism, which they compare to kind of a multinational enterprise. So, they’re going after the CEO of this multinational enterprise, which is, how conveniently, Osama bin Laden. So, you say India has a very good case to make for the extradition of another CEO. I mean, he has a lot of blood on his hands, even if he wasn’t directly responsible — I mean, as Osama wasn’t directly responsible — Mr. Warren Anderson of Union Carbide, for 16,000 deaths.
ARUNDHATI ROY: A journalist who was in Delhi at the time of the Bhopal gas leak told me that he was at the airport when Warren Anderson arrived, and there were all these television cameras and so on. And he came out of the plane, with all these 16,000 people — I mean, at that time there were less; the death toll has mounted over the years — but had died. And you know the stories of all the medical lawyers coming here to try and make some money. And everyone had his mics and cameras in his face, and he said, “What do you expect me to say? I’ve just arrived.” And he looks in the camera and goes, “Hi, Mom.” You know? So, I mean, when you’re talking about insensitivity, I mean, I don’t know. This is — this person told me this story. But yeah, that’s what I’m saying.
You know, the point is that it’s all politics, isn’t it? And if you’re going to start saying good and evil or terrorism versus war or state versus the — there’s no end to the number of interpretations that will be given. The fact is that there is a lot of rage in the world. Much of it is directed at America. And it would be good for the American people if they asked for an explanation for that, you know, if they tried to understand that when — I mean, I’ll give you a small example. If an American crew comes to shoot the Gujarat earthquake and asks their Indian crewman to fly every day to Bombay to the Oberoi to bring them food, what do you think people are going to think? And this is an example of what it does, you see, I mean, on a global level, walking out of Kyoto, walking out of Durban. You know, this is what I mean.
You have to acknowledge that you share the world, the planet, with other people. And other people, it isn’t as though — you know, I mean, this is what I tried to say in my essay, that it isn’t as if — America is also loved for many things, you know, for its music and for its sport and all that. That’s not the issue. But it cannot take up all the space. You know, everyone else also has music, and everyone else also has languages and stories and writers, and it doesn’t matter if they’re good or better or worse or bad or good. Everybody must be given a little bit of space, you know? I think that’s the crucial thing. However much you hate what someone else stands for, give them some space. It’s not enough to say, “I want free speech, and I want to be able to say what I want to say.” It’s also important to say, “Let him have free speech, and let him have a little space, or let her have a little space to say what she wants to say.” It’s not just about the right to say it, but also about the space to say it.
SPUTNIK KILAMBI: So, in the meantime, would you say that maybe George Bush and Osama bin Laden are, in a way, two sides of the same coin? Both have God on their sides. Both talk in terms of good against evil and waging the just war.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the — if you want, I can read it out to you — the last paragraph of my essay.
It says, “Who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He’s America’s family secret. He is the American president’s dark doppelgänger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of 'full-spectrum dominance', its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going around in the loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will greet US helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America’s drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43m subsidy for a 'war on drugs'....)”
AMY GOODMAN: And that is Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, interviewed by Sputnik Kilambi. And that does it for the program. Democracy Now! in Exile produced by Kris Abrams, Brad Simpson, Miranda Kennedy; our technical director, Anthony Sloan. I’m Amy Goodman, in exile from the studios of WBAI. Thanks for listening.
[End of Hour 1]
AMY GOODMAN: From Ground Zero Radio, this is Democracy Now! in Exile.
RAWA MEMBER: It looked like a cemetery. Now our country has turned to a cemetery. And it’s not like a country. Now our people are like moving deads. They are not alive.
AMY GOODMAN: Afghan refugees speak out. And as President Bush and Chinese President Jiang declare themselves partners in the war on terrorism, the U.S. continues the heavy bombing of Kabul and Kandahar, killing civilians, and China executes three Muslim ethnic minorities for political crimes. All that and more, coming up. Welcome to Democracy Now! in Exile's War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.
Canada says it has overridden Bayer’s patent for Cipro, an antibiotic to treat anthrax, and ordered a million tablets of its generic version from a Canadian company. The White House says it is unmoved by Canada’s action and is not considering breaking Bayer’s patent. But New York Senator Charles Schumer says he’s been negotiating with the administration on a plan to buy generic versions of Cipro, and says he’s called Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, to renew his plea that the United States follow Canada’s lead.
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India’s home minister today accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists and vowed tough action if Pakistan continues to send Islamic militants to fight in Kashmir. The attack on Pakistan, which came amid rising border tensions between the two nuclear rivals, was among the strongest yet from India. Two days ago, India and Pakistan exchanged fire in the most serious border shooting in nearly a year. The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group warned this week of fresh suicide strikes in New Delhi, Bombay and elsewhere in India in retaliation for the firing.
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