Making A Difference

Confronting Empire

I've been asked to speak about "How to confront Empire?" It's a huge question, and I have no easy answers....

Confronting Empire

I’ve been asked to speak about "How to confront Empire?" It’s a huge question, and I have noeasy answers.

When we speak of confronting "Empire," we need to identify what "Empire" means. Does itmean the U.S. Government (and its European satellites), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, theWorld Trade Organization, and multinational corporations? Or is it something more than that?

In many countries, Empire has sprouted other subsidiary heads, some dangerous byproducts — nationalism,religious bigotry, fascism and, of course terrorism. All these march arm in arm with the project of corporateglobalization.

Let me illustrate what I mean. India — the world’s biggest democracy — is currently at the forefrontof the corporate globalization project. Its "market" of one billion people is being prised open bythe WTO. Corporatization and Privatization are being welcomed by the Government and the Indian elite.

It is not a coincidence that the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Disinvestment Minister — the menwho signed the deal with Enron in India, the men who are selling the country’s infrastructure to corporatemultinationals, the men who want to privatize water, electricity, oil, coal, steel, health, education andtelecommunication — are all members or admirers of the RSS. The RSS is a right wing, ultra-nationalist Hinduguild which has openly admired Hitler and his methods.

The dismantling of democracy is proceeding with the speed and efficiency of a Structural AdjustmentProgram. While the project of corporate globalization rips through people’s lives in India, massiveprivatization, and labor "reforms" are pushing people off their land and out of their jobs. Hundredsof impoverished farmers are committing suicide by consuming pesticide. Reports of starvation deaths are comingin from all over the country.

While the elite journeys to its imaginary destination somewhere near the top of the world, the dispossessedare spiraling downwards into crime and chaos. This climate of frustration and national disillusionment is theperfect breeding ground, history tells us, for fascism.

The two arms of the Indian Government have evolved the perfect pincer action. While one arm is busy sellingIndia off in chunks, the other, to divert attention, is orchestrating a howling, baying chorus of Hindunationalism and religious fascism. It is conducting nuclear tests, rewriting history books, burning churches,and demolishing mosques. Censorship, surveillance, the suspension of civil liberties and human rights, thedefinition of who is an Indian citizen and who is not, particularly with regard to religious minorities, isbecoming common practice now.

Last March, in the state of Gujarat, two thousand Muslims were butchered in a State-sponsored pogrom.Muslim women were specially targeted. They were stripped, and gang-raped, before being burned alive. Arsonistsburned and looted shops, homes, textiles mills, and mosques.

More than a hundred and fifty thousand Muslims have been driven from their homes. The economic base of theMuslim community has been devastated.

While Gujarat burned, the Indian Prime Minister was on MTV promoting his new poems. In January this year,the Government that orchestrated the killing was voted back into office with a comfortable majority. Nobodyhas been punished for the genocide. Narendra Modi, architect of the pogrom, proud member of the RSS, hasembarked on his second term as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. If he were Saddam Hussein, of course eachatrocity would have been on CNN. But since he’s not — and since the Indian "market" is open toglobal investors — the massacre is not even an embarrassing inconvenience.

There are more than one hundred million Muslims in India. A time bomb is ticking in our ancient land.

All this to say that it is a myth that the free market breaks down national barriers. The free market doesnot threaten national sovereignty, it undermines democracy.

As the disparity between the rich and the poor grows, the fight to corner resources is intensifying. Topush through their "sweetheart deals," to corporatize the crops we grow, the water we drink, the airwe breathe, and the dreams we dream, corporate globalization needs an international confederation of loyal,corrupt, authoritarian governments in poorer countries to push through unpopular reforms and quell themutinies.

Corporate Globalization — or shall we call it by its name? — Imperialism — needs a press thatpretends to be free. It needs courts that pretend to dispense justice.

Meanwhile, the countries of the North harden their borders and stockpile weapons of mass destruction. Afterall they have to make sure that it’s only money, goods, patents and services that are globalized. Not thefree movement of people. Not a respect for human rights. Not international treaties on racial discriminationor chemical and nuclear weapons or greenhouse gas emissions or climate change, or — god forbid — justice.

So this — all this — is "empire." This loyal confederation, this obscene accumulation ofpower, this greatly increased distance between those who make the decisions and those who have to suffer them.

Our fight, our goal, our vision of Another World must be to eliminate that distance.

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 Americayou have had so many — in Bolivia, you have Cochabamba. In Peru, there was the uprising in Arequipa, InVenezuela, President Hugo Chavez is holding on, despite the U.S. government’s best efforts.

And the world’s gaze is on the people of Argentina, who are trying to refashion a country from the ashesof the havoc wrought by the IMF.

In India the movement against corporate globalization is gathering momentum and is poised to become theonly real political force to counter religious fascism.


As for corporate globalization’s glittering ambassadors — Enron, Bechtel, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson —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 canopyof 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 beingsigned, 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 eye-ball to eye-ball 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, laidsiege to "Empire."

We may not have stopped it in its tracks — yet — but we have stripped it down. We have made it drop itsmask. We have forced it into the open. It now stands before us on the world’s stage in all it’s brutish,iniquitous nakedness.

Empire may well go to war, but it’s out in the open now — too ugly to behold its own reflection. Toougly even to rally its own people. It won’t be long before the majority of American people become ourallies.


Only a few days ago in Washington, a quarter of a million people marched against the war on Iraq. Eachmonth, the protest is gathering momentum.

Before September 11th 2001 America had a secret history. Secret especially from its own people. But nowAmerica’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 mostludicrous of them being the U.S. Government’s deep commitment to bring democracy to Iraq.

Killing people to save them from dictatorship or ideological corruption is, of course, an old U.S.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 supportedby the governments of the United States and Great Britain). There’s no doubt that Iraqis would be better offwithout him.

But, then, the whole world would be better off without a certain Mr. Bush. In fact, he is far moredangerous 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 — andregardless 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 U.S. government’s offensive, insulting concession to sometwisted 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 itbecomes a deafening roar.

We can turn the war on Iraq into a fishbowl of the U.S. government’s excesses.

We can expose George Bush and Tony Blair — and their allies — for the cowardly baby killers, waterpoisoners, and pusillanimous long-distance bombers that they are.


We can re-invent civil disobedience in a million different ways. In other words, we can come up with amillion ways of becoming a collective pain in the ass.

When George Bush says "you’re either 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 aMalevolent 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. Toshame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, oursheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’rebeing brainwashed to believe.


The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, theirversion 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.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

(Arundhati Roy was speaking at Life After Capitalism at the WorldSocial Forum, 2003, Porto Alegre, Brazil, January 27, 2003, organised by Znet)