“Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy, Buy One Get One Free”
in New York City at The Riverside Church
May 13, 2003
2003 by Arundhati Roy
by the Center for Economic and Social Rights
Audio provided by: Democracy Now!
In these times, when we have to race to keep abreast of
the speed at which our freedoms are being snatched from us,
and when few can afford the luxury of retreating from the
streets for a while in order to return with an exquisite,
fully formed political thesis replete with footnotes and
references, what profound gift can I offer you tonight?
As we lurch from crisis to crisis, beamed directly into our
brains by satellite TV, we have to think on our feet. On the
move. We enter histories through the rubble of war. Ruined
cities, parched fields, shrinking forests, and dying rivers
are our archives. Craters left by daisy cutters, our
So what can I offer you tonight? Some uncomfortable thoughts
about money, war, empire, racism, and democracy. Some worries
that flit around my brain like a family of persistent moths
that keep me awake at night.
Some of you will think it bad manners for a person like me,
officially entered in the Big Book of Modern Nations as an
"Indian citizen," to come here and criticize the
U.S. government. Speaking for myself, I'm no flag-waver, no
patriot, and am fully aware that venality, brutality, and
hypocrisy are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state. But
when a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an
empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically. So
may I clarify that tonight I speak as a subject of the
American Empire? I speak as a slave who presumes to criticize
Since lectures must be called something, mine tonight is
called: Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One
Way back in 1988, on the 3rd of July, the U.S.S. Vincennes, a
missile cruiser stationed in the Persian Gulf, accidentally
shot down an Iranian airliner and killed 290 civilian
passengers. George Bush the First, who was at the time on his
presidential campaign, was asked to comment on the incident.
He said quite subtly, "I will never apologize for the
United States. I don't care what the facts are."
I don't care what the facts are. What a perfect maxim for
the New American Empire. Perhaps a slight variation on the
theme would be more apposite: The facts can be whatever we
want them to be.
When the United States invaded Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News
survey estimated that 42 percent of the American public
believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the
September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon. And an ABC News poll said that 55 percent of
Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported Al
Qaida. None of this opinion is based on evidence (because
there isn't any). All of it is based on insinuation,
auto-suggestion, and outright lies circulated by the U.S.
corporate media, otherwise known as the "Free
Press," that hollow pillar on which contemporary American
Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was
founded on a multi-tiered edifice of falsehood and deceit,
coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified by
the corporate media.
Apart from the invented links between Iraq and Al Qaida, we
had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq's Weapons of Mass
Destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent of
saying it would be "suicidal" for the U.S. not to
attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia that a
starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate
almighty America. (Iraq was only the latest in a succession of
countries - earlier there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Grenada,
and Panama.) But this time it wasn't just your ordinary brand
of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was Frenzy with a Purpose.
It ushered in an old doctrine in a new bottle: the Doctrine of
Pre-emptive Strike, a.k.a. The United States Can Do
Whatever The Hell It Wants, And That's Official.
The war against Iraq has been fought and won and no Weapons of
Mass Destruction have been found. Not even a little one.
Perhaps they'll have to be planted before they're discovered.
And then, the more troublesome amongst us will need an
explanation for why Saddam Hussein didn't use them when his
country was being invaded.
Of course, there'll be no answers. True Believers will make do
with those fuzzy TV reports about the discovery of a few
barrels of banned chemicals in an old shed. There seems to be
no consensus yet about whether they're really chemicals,
whether they're actually banned and whether the vessels
they're contained in can technically be called barrels. (There
were unconfirmed rumours that a teaspoonful of potassium
permanganate and an old harmonica were found there too.)
Meanwhile, in passing, an ancient civilization has been
casually decimated by a very recent, casually brutal nation.
Then there are those who say, so what if Iraq had no chemical
and nuclear weapons? So what if there is no Al Qaida
connection? So what if Osama bin Laden hates Saddam Hussein as
much as he hates the United States? Bush the Lesser has said
Saddam Hussein was a "Homicidal Dictator." And so,
the reasoning goes, Iraq needed a "regime change."
Never mind that forty years ago, the CIA, under President John
F. Kennedy, orchestrated a regime change in Baghdad. In 1963,
after a successful coup, the Ba'ath party came to power in
Iraq. Using lists provided by the CIA, the new Ba'ath regime
systematically eliminated hundreds of doctors, teachers,
lawyers, and political figures known to be leftists. An entire
intellectual community was slaughtered. (The same technique
was used to massacre hundreds of thousands of people in
Indonesia and East Timor.) The young Saddam Hussein was said
to have had a hand in supervising the bloodbath. In 1979,
after factional infighting within the Ba'ath Party, Saddam
Hussein became the President of Iraq. In April 1980, while he
was massacring Shias, the U.S. National Security Adviser
Zbigniew Brzezinksi declared, "We see no fundamental
incompatibility of interests between the United States and
Iraq." Washington and London overtly and covertly
supported Saddam Hussein. They financed him, equipped him,
armed him, and provided him with dual-use materials to
manufacture weapons of mass destruction. They supported his
worst excesses financially, materially, and morally. They
supported the eight-year war against Iran and the 1988 gassing
of Kurdish people in Halabja, crimes which 14 years later were
re-heated and served up as reasons to justify invading Iraq.
After the first Gulf War, the "Allies" fomented an
uprising of Shias in Basra and then looked away while Saddam
Hussein crushed the revolt and slaughtered thousands in an act
of vengeful reprisal.
The point is, if Saddam Hussein was evil enough to merit the
most elaborate, openly declared assassination attempt in
history (the opening move of Operation Shock and Awe), then
surely those who supported him ought at least to be tried for
war crimes? Why aren't the faces of U.S. and U.K. government
officials on the infamous pack of cards of wanted men and
Because when it comes to Empire, facts don't matter.
Yes, but all that's in the past we're told. Saddam Hussein is
a monster who must be stopped now. And only the U.S.
can stop him. It's an effective technique, this use of the
urgent morality of the present to obscure the diabolical sins
of the past and the malevolent plans for the future.
Indonesia, Panama, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan - the list
goes on and on. Right now there are brutal regimes being
groomed for the future - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
Pakistan, the Central Asian Republics.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently declared that
U.S. freedoms are "not the grant of any government or
document, but….our endowment from God." (Why bother
with the United Nations when God himself is on hand?)
So here we are, the people of the world, confronted with an
Empire armed with a mandate from heaven (and, as added
insurance, the most formidable arsenal of weapons of mass
destruction in history). Here we are, confronted with an
Empire that has conferred upon itself the right to go to war
at will, and the right to deliver people from corrupting
ideologies, from religious fundamentalists, dictators, sexism,
and poverty by the age-old, tried-and-tested practice of
extermination. Empire is on the move, and Democracy is its sly
new war cry. Democracy, home-delivered to your doorstep by
daisy cutters. Death is a small price for people to pay for
the privilege of sampling this new product: Instant-Mix
Imperial Democracy (bring to a boil, add oil, then bomb).
But then perhaps chinks, negroes, dinks, gooks, and wogs don't
really qualify as real people. Perhaps our deaths don't
qualify as real deaths. Our histories don't qualify as
history. They never have.
Speaking of history, in these past months, while the world
watched, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was
broadcast on live TV. Like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in
Afghanistan, the regime of Saddam Hussein simply disappeared.
This was followed by what analysts called a "power
vacuum." Cities that had been under siege, without food,
water, and electricity for days, cities that had been bombed
relentlessly, people who had been starved and systematically
impoverished by the UN sanctions regime for more than a
decade, were suddenly left with no semblance of urban
administration. A seven-thousand-year-old civilization slid
into anarchy. On live TV.
Vandals plundered shops, offices, hotels, and hospitals.
American and British soldiers stood by and watched. They said
they had no orders to act. In effect, they had orders to kill
people, but not to protect them. Their priorities were clear.
The safety and security of Iraqi people was not their
business. The security of whatever little remained of Iraq's
infrastructure was not their business. But the security and
safety of Iraq's oil fields were. Of course they were. The oil
fields were "secured" almost before the invasion
On CNN and BBC the scenes of the rampage were played and
replayed. TV commentators, army and government spokespersons
portrayed it as a "liberated people" venting their
rage at a despotic regime. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld said: "It's untidy. Freedom's untidy and free
people are free to commit crimes and make mistakes and do bad
things." Did anybody know that Donald Rumsfeld was an
anarchist? I wonder - did he hold the same view during the
riots in Los Angeles following the beating of Rodney King?
Would he care to share his thesis about the Untidiness of
Freedom with the two million people being held in U.S. prisons
right now? (The world's "freest" country has the
highest number of prisoners in the world.) Would he discuss
its merits with young African American men, 28 percent of whom
will spend some part of their adult lives in jail? Could he
explain why he serves under a president who oversaw 152
executions when he was governor of Texas?
Before the war on Iraq began, the Office of Reconstruction and
Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) sent the Pentagon a list of 16
crucial sites to protect. The National Museum was second on
that list. Yet the Museum was not just looted, it was
desecrated. It was a repository of an ancient cultural
heritage. Iraq as we know it today was part of the river
valley of Mesopotamia. The civilization that grew along the
banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates produced the world's
first writing, first calendar, first library, first city, and,
yes, the world's first democracy. King Hammurabi of Babylon
was the first to codify laws governing the social life of
citizens. It was a code in which abandoned women, prostitutes,
slaves, and even animals had rights. The Hammurabi code is
acknowledged not just as the birth of legality, but the
beginning of an understanding of the concept of social
justice. The U.S. government could not have chosen a more
inappropriate land in which to stage its illegal war and
display its grotesque disregard for justice.
At a Pentagon briefing during the days of looting, Secretary
Rumsfeld, Prince of Darkness, turned on his media cohorts who
had served him so loyally through the war. "The images
you are seeing on television, you are seeing over and over and
over, and it's the same picture, of some person walking out of
some building with a vase, and you see it twenty times and you
say, 'My god, were there that many vases? Is it possible that
there were that many vases in the whole country?'"
Laughter rippled through the press room. Would it be alright
for the poor of Harlem to loot the Metropolitan Museum? Would
it be greeted with similar mirth?
The last building on the ORHA list of 16 sites to be protected
was the Ministry of Oil. It was the only one that was given
protection. Perhaps the occupying army thought that in Muslim
countries lists are read upside down?
Television tells us that Iraq has been "liberated"
and that Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming a paradise
for women-thanks to Bush and Blair, the 21st century's leading
feminists. In reality, Iraq's infrastructure has been
destroyed. Its people brought to the brink of starvation. Its
food stocks depleted. And its cities devastated by a complete
administrative breakdown. Iraq is being ushered in the
direction of a civil war between Shias and Sunnis. Meanwhile,
Afghanistan has lapsed back into the pre-Taliban era of
anarchy, and its territory has been carved up into fiefdoms by
Undaunted by all this, on the 2nd of May Bush the Lesser
launched his 2004 campaign hoping to be finally elected U.S.
President. In what probably constitutes the shortest flight in
history, a military jet landed on an aircraft carrier, the
U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, which was so close to shore
that, according to the Associated Press, administration
officials acknowledged "positioning the massive ship to
provide the best TV angle for Bush's speech, with the sea as
his background instead of the San Diego coastline."
President Bush, who never served his term in the military,
emerged from the cockpit in fancy dress - a U.S. military
bomber jacket, combat boots, flying goggles, helmet. Waving to
his cheering troops, he officially proclaimed victory over
Iraq. He was careful to say that it was "just one victory
in a war on terror … [which] still goes on."
It was important to avoid making a straightforward victory
announcement, because under the Geneva Convention a victorious
army is bound by the legal obligations of an occupying force,
a responsibility that the Bush administration does not want to
burden itself with. Also, closer to the 2004 elections, in
order to woo wavering voters, another victory in the "War
on Terror" might become necessary. Syria is being
fattened for the kill.
It was Herman Goering, that old Nazi, who said, "People
can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.… All
you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and
denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing
the country to danger. It works the same way in any
He's right. It's dead easy. That's what the Bush regime banks
on. The distinction between election campaigns and war,
between democracy and oligarchy, seems to be closing fast.
The only caveat in these campaign wars is that U.S. lives must
not be lost. It shakes voter confidence. But the problem of
U.S. soldiers being killed in combat has been licked. More or
At a media briefing before Operation Shock and Awe was
unleashed, General Tommy Franks announced, "This campaign
will be like no other in history." Maybe he's right.
I'm no military historian, but when was the last time a war
was fought like this?
After using the "good offices" of UN diplomacy
(economic sanctions and weapons inspections) to ensure that
Iraq was brought to its knees, its people starved, half a
million children dead, its infrastructure severely damaged, after
making sure that most of its weapons had been destroyed,
in an act of cowardice that must surely be unrivalled in
history, the "Coalition of the Willing" (better
known as the Coalition of the Bullied and Bought) - sent in an
Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think so. It was more like
Operation Let's Run a Race, but First Let Me Break Your Knees.
As soon as the war began, the governments of France, Germany,
and Russia, which refused to allow a final resolution
legitimizing the war to be passed in the UN Security Council,
fell over each other to say how much they wanted the United
States to win. President Jacques Chirac offered French
airspace to the Anglo-American air force. U.S. military bases
in Germany were open for business. German Foreign Minister
Joschka Fischer publicly hoped for the "rapid
collapse" of the Saddam Hussein regime. Vladimir Putin
publicly hoped for the same. These are governments that
colluded in the enforced disarming of Iraq before their
dastardly rush to take the side of those who attacked it.
Apart from hoping to share the spoils, they hoped Empire would
honor their pre-war oil contracts with Iraq. Only the very naïve
could expect old Imperialists to behave otherwise.
Leaving aside the cheap thrills and the lofty moral speeches
made in the UN during the run up to the war, eventually, at
the moment of crisis, the unity of Western governments -
despite the opposition from the majority of their people - was
When the Turkish government temporarily bowed to the views of
90 percent of its population, and turned down the U.S.
government's offer of billions of dollars of blood money for
the use of Turkish soil, it was accused of lacking
"democratic principles." According to a Gallup
International poll, in no European country was support for a
war carried out "unilaterally by America and its
allies" higher than 11 percent. But the governments of
England, Italy, Spain, Hungary, and other countries of Eastern
Europe were praised for disregarding the views of the majority
of their people and supporting the illegal invasion. That,
presumably, was fully in keeping with democratic principles.
What's it called? New Democracy? (Like Britain's New Labour?)
In stark contrast to the venality displayed by their
governments, on the 15th of February, weeks before the
invasion, in the most spectacular display of public morality
the world has ever seen, more than 10 million people marched
against the war on 5 continents. Many of you, I'm sure, were
among them. They - we - were disregarded with utter disdain.
When asked to react to the anti-war demonstrations, President
Bush said, "It's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide
policy based upon a focus group. The role of a leader is to
decide policy based upon the security, in this case the
security of the people."
Democracy, the modern world's holy cow, is in crisis. And
the crisis is a profound one. Every kind of outrage is being
committed in the name of democracy. It has become little more
than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content or
meaning. It can be whatever you want it to be. Democracy is
the Free World's whore, willing to dress up, dress down,
willing to satisfy a whole range of taste, available to be
used and abused at will.
Until quite recently, right up to the 1980's, democracy did
seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a
degree of real social justice.
But modern democracies have been around for long enough for
neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They
have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of
democracy - the "independent" judiciary, the
"free" press, the parliament - and molding them to
their purpose. The project of corporate globalization has
cracked the code. Free elections, a free press, and an
independent judiciary mean little when the free market has
reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.
To fully comprehend the extent to which Democracy is under
siege, it might be an idea to look at what goes on in some of
our contemporary democracies. The World's Largest: India,
(which I have written about at some length and therefore will
not speak about tonight). The World's Most Interesting: South
Africa. The world's most powerful: the U.S.A. And, most
instructive of all, the plans that are being made to usher in
the world's newest: Iraq.
In South Africa, after 300 years of brutal domination of the
black majority by a white minority through colonialism and
apartheid, a non-racial, multi-party democracy came to power
in 1994. It was a phenomenal achievement. Within two years of
coming to power, the African National Congress had genuflected
with no caveats to the Market God. Its massive program of
structural adjustment, privatization, and liberalization has
only increased the hideous disparities between the rich and
the poor. More than a million people have lost their jobs. The
corporatization of basic services - electricity, water, and
housing-has meant that 10 million South Africans, almost a
quarter of the population, have been disconnected from water
and electricity. 2 million have been evicted from their homes.
Meanwhile, a small white minority that has been historically
privileged by centuries of brutal exploitation is more secure
than ever before. They continue to control the land, the
farms, the factories, and the abundant natural resources of
that country. For them the transition from apartheid to
neo-liberalism barely disturbed the grass. It's apartheid with
a clean conscience. And it goes by the name of Democracy.
Democracy has become Empire's euphemism for neo-liberal
In countries of the first world, too, the machinery of
democracy has been effectively subverted. Politicians, media
barons, judges, powerful corporate lobbies, and government
officials are imbricated in an elaborate underhand
configuration that completely undermines the lateral
arrangement of checks and balances between the constitution,
courts of law, parliament, the administration and, perhaps
most important of all, the independent media that form the
structural basis of a parliamentary democracy. Increasingly,
the imbrication is neither subtle nor elaborate.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for instance, has a
controlling interest in major Italian newspapers, magazines,
television channels, and publishing houses. The Financial
Times reported that he controls about 90 percent of
Italy's TV viewership. Recently, during a trial on bribery
charges, while insisting he was the only person who could save
Italy from the left, he said, "How much longer do I have
to keep living this life of sacrifices?" That bodes ill
for the remaining 10 percent of Italy's TV viewership. What
price Free Speech? Free Speech for whom?
In the United States, the arrangement is more complex. Clear
Channel Worldwide Incorporated is the largest radio station
owner in the country. It runs more than 1,200 channels, which
together account for 9 percent of the market. Its CEO
contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bush's
election campaign. When hundreds of thousands of American
citizens took to the streets to protest against the war on
Iraq, Clear Channel organized pro-war patriotic "Rallies
for America" across the country. It used its radio
stations to advertise the events and then sent correspondents
to cover them as though they were breaking news. The era of
manufacturing consent has given way to the era of
manufacturing news. Soon media newsrooms will drop the
pretense, and start hiring theatre directors instead of
As America's show business gets more and more violent and
war-like, and America's wars get more and more like show
business, some interesting cross-overs are taking place. The
designer who built the 250,000 dollar set in Qatar from which
General Tommy Franks stage-managed news coverage of Operation
Shock and Awe also built sets for Disney, MGM, and "Good
It is a cruel irony that the U.S., which has the most ardent,
vociferous defenders of the idea of Free Speech, and (until
recently) the most elaborate legislation to protect it, has so
circumscribed the space in which that freedom can be
expressed. In a strange, convoluted way, the sound and fury
that accompanies the legal and conceptual defense of
Free Speech in America serves to mask the process of the rapid
erosion of the possibilities of actually exercising
The news and entertainment industry in the U.S. is for the
most part controlled by a few major corporations - AOL-Time
Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation. Each of these
corporations owns and controls TV stations, film studios,
record companies, and publishing ventures. Effectively, the
exits are sealed.
America's media empire is controlled by a tiny coterie of
people. Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
Michael Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell,
has proposed even further deregulation of the communication
industry, which will lead to even greater consolidation.
So here it is - the World's Greatest Democracy, led by a
man who was not legally elected. America's Supreme Court
gifted him his job. What price have American people paid for
this spurious presidency?
In the three years of George Bush the Lesser's term, the
American economy has lost more than two million jobs.
Outlandish military expenses, corporate welfare, and tax
giveaways to the rich have created a financial crisis for the
U.S. educational system. According to a survey by the National
Council of State Legislatures, U.S. states cut 49 billion
dollars in public services, health, welfare benefits, and
education in 2002. They plan to cut another 25.7 billion
dollars this year. That makes a total of 75 billion dollars.
Bush's initial budget request to Congress to finance the war
in Iraq was 80 billion dollars.
So who's paying for the war? America's poor. Its students, its
unemployed, its single mothers, its hospital and home-care
patients, its teachers, and health workers.
And who's actually fighting the war?
Once again, America's poor. The soldiers who are baking in
Iraq's desert sun are not the children of the rich. Only one
of all the representatives in the House of Representatives and
the Senate has a child fighting in Iraq. America's
"volunteer" army in fact depends on a poverty draft
of poor whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians looking for a way
to earn a living and get an education. Federal statistics show
that African Americans make up 21 percent of the total armed
forces and 29 percent of the U.S. army. They count for only 12
percent of the general population. It's ironic, isn't it - the
disproportionately high representation of African Americans in
the army and prison? Perhaps we should take a positive view,
and look at this as affirmative action at its most effective.
Nearly 4 million Americans (2 percent of the population) have
lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. Of that
number, 1.4 million are African Americans, which means that 13
percent of all voting-age Black people have been
For African Americans there's also affirmative action in
death. A study by the economist Amartya Sen shows that African
Americans as a group have a lower life expectancy than people
born in China, in the Indian State of Kerala (where I come
from), Sri Lanka, or Costa Rica. Bangladeshi men have a better
chance of making it to the age of forty than African American
men from here in Harlem.
This year, on what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr.'s 74th birthday, President Bush denounced the University
of Michigan's affirmative action program favouring Blacks and
Latinos. He called it "divisive,"
"unfair," and "unconstitutional." The
successful effort to keep Blacks off the voting rolls in the
State of Florida in order that George Bush be elected was of
course neither unfair nor unconstitutional. I don't suppose
affirmative action for White Boys From Yale ever is.
So we know who's paying for the war. We know who's fighting
it. But who will benefit from it? Who is homing in on the
reconstruction contracts estimated to be worth up to one
hundred billon dollars? Could it be America's poor and
unemployed and sick? Could it be America's single mothers? Or
America's Black and Latino minorities?
Operation Iraqi Freedom, George Bush assures us, is about
returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people. That is, returning
Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people via Corporate Multinationals.
Like Bechtel, like Chevron, like Halliburton.
Once again, it is a small, tight circle that connects
corporate, military, and government leadership to one another.
The promiscuousness, the cross-pollination is outrageous.
Consider this: the Defense Policy Board is a
government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon. Its
members are appointed by the under secretary of defense and
approved by Donald Rumsfeld. Its meetings are classified. No
information is available for public scrutiny.
The Washington-based Center for Public Integrity found that 9
out of the 30 members of the Defense Policy Board are
connected to companies that were awarded defense contracts
worth 76 billion dollars between the years 2001 and 2002. One
of them, Jack Sheehan, a retired Marine Corps general, is a
senior vice president at Bechtel, the giant international
engineering outfit. Riley Bechtel, the company chairman, is on
the President's Export Council. Former Secretary of State
George Shultz, who is also on the Board of Directors of the
Bechtel Group, is the chairman of the advisory board of the
Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. When asked by the New
York Times whether he was concerned about the appearance
of a conflict of interest, he said, "I don't know that
Bechtel would particularly benefit from it. But if there's
work to be done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do
Bechtel has been awarded a 680 million dollar reconstruction
contract in Iraq. According to the Center for Responsive
Politics, Bechtel contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars
to Republican campaign efforts.
Arcing across this subterfuge, dwarfing it by the sheer
magnitude of its malevolence, is America's anti-terrorism
legislation. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed in October 2001,
has become the blueprint for similar anti-terrorism bills in
countries across the world. It was passed in the House of
Representatives by a majority vote of 337 to 79. According to
the New York Times, "Many lawmakers said it had
been impossible to truly debate or even read the
The Patriot Act ushers in an era of systemic automated
surveillance. It gives the government the authority to monitor
phones and computers and spy on people in ways that would have
seemed completely unacceptable a few years ago. It gives the
FBI the power to seize all of the circulation, purchasing, and
other records of library users and bookstore customers on the
suspicion that they are part of a terrorist network. It blurs
the boundaries between speech and criminal activity creating
the space to construe acts of civil disobedience as violating
Already hundreds of people are being held indefinitely as
"unlawful combatants." (In India, the number is in
the thousands. In Israel, 5,000 Palestinians are now being
detained.) Non-citizens, of course, have no rights at all.
They can simply be "disappeared" like the people of
Chile under Washington's old ally, General Pinochet. More than
1,000 people, many of them Muslim or of Middle Eastern origin,
have been detained, some without access to legal
Apart from paying the actual economic costs of war, American
people are paying for these wars of "liberation"
with their own freedoms. For the ordinary American, the price
of "New Democracy" in other countries is the death
of real democracy at home.
Meanwhile, Iraq is being groomed for "liberation."
(Or did they mean "liberalization" all along?) The Wall
Street Journal reports that "the Bush administration
has drafted sweeping plans to remake Iraq's economy in the
Iraq's constitution is being redrafted. Its trade laws, tax
laws, and intellectual property laws rewritten in order to
turn it into an American-style capitalist economy.
The United States Agency for International Development has
invited U.S. companies to bid for contracts that range between
road building, water systems, text book distribution, and cell
Soon after Bush the Second announced that he wanted American
farmers to feed the world, Dan Amstutz, a former senior
executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in the world,
was put in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq.
Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's policy director, said, "Putting
Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq
is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights
The two men who have been short-listed to run operations for
managing Iraqi oil have worked with Shell, BP, and Fluor.
Fluor is embroiled in a lawsuit by black South African workers
who have accused the company of exploiting and brutalizing
them during the apartheid era. Shell, of course, is well known
for its devastation of the Ogoni tribal lands in Nigeria.
Tom Brokaw (one of America's best-known TV anchors) was
inadvertently succinct about the process. "One of the
things we don't want to do," he said, "is to destroy
the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days we're going
to own that country."
Now that the ownership deeds are being settled, Iraq is ready
for New Democracy.
So, as Lenin used to ask: What Is To Be Done?
We might as well accept the fact that there is no conventional
military force that can successfully challenge the American
war machine. Terrorist strikes only give the U.S. Government
an opportunity that it is eagerly awaiting to further tighten
its stranglehold. Within days of an attack you can bet that
Patriot II would be passed. To argue against U.S. military
aggression by saying that it will increase the possibilities
of terrorist strikes is futile. It's like threatening Brer
Rabbit that you'll throw him into the bramble bush. Any one
who has read the documents written by The Project for the New
American Century can attest to that. The government's
suppression of the Congressional committee report on September
11th, which found that there was intelligence warning of the
strikes that was ignored, also attests to the fact that, for
all their posturing, the terrorists and the Bush regime might
as well be working as a team. They both hold people
responsible for the actions of their governments. They both
believe in the doctrine of collective guilt and collective
punishment. Their actions benefit each other greatly.
The U.S. government has already displayed in no uncertain
terms the range and extent of its capability for paranoid
aggression. In human psychology, paranoid aggression is
usually an indicator of nervous insecurity. It could be argued
that it's no different in the case of the psychology of
nations. Empire is paranoid because it has a soft underbelly.
Its "homeland" may be defended by border patrols and
nuclear weapons, but its economy is strung out across the
globe. Its economic outposts are exposed and vulnerable.
Already the Internet is buzzing with elaborate lists of
American and British government products and companies that
should be boycotted. Apart from the usual targets - Coke,
Pepsi, McDonalds - government agencies like USAID, the British
DFID, British and American banks, Arthur Andersen, Merrill
Lynch, and American Express could find themselves under siege.
These lists are being honed and refined by activists across
the world. They could become a practical guide that directs
the amorphous but growing fury in the world. Suddenly, the
"inevitability" of the project of Corporate
Globalization is beginning to seem more than a little
It would be naïve to imagine that we can directly confront
Empire. Our strategy must be to isolate Empire's working parts
and disable them one by one. No target is too small. No
victory too insignificant. We could reverse the idea of the
economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire and its
Allies. We could impose a regime of Peoples' Sanctions on
every corporate house that has been awarded with a contract in
postwar Iraq, just as activists in this country and around the
world targeted institutions of apartheid. Each one of them
should be named, exposed, and boycotted. Forced out of
business. That could be our response to the Shock and Awe
campaign. It would be a great beginning.
Another urgent challenge is to expose the corporate media for
the boardroom bulletin that it really is. We need to create a
universe of alternative information. We need to support
independent media like Democracy Now!, Alternative Radio, and
South End Press.
The battle to reclaim democracy is going to be a difficult
one. Our freedoms were not granted to us by any governments.
They were wrested from them by us. And once we surrender them,
the battle to retrieve them is called a revolution. It is a
battle that must range across continents and countries. It
must not acknowledge national boundaries but, if it is to
succeed, it has to begin here. In America. The only
institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American
civil society. The rest of us are subjects of slave nations.
We are by no means powerless, but you have the power of
proximity. You have access to the Imperial Palace and the
Emperor's chambers. Empire's conquests are being carried out
in your name, and you have the right to refuse. You could
refuse to fight. Refuse to move those missiles from the
warehouse to the dock. Refuse to wave that flag. Refuse the
You have a rich tradition of resistance. You need only read
Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States
to remind yourself of this.
Hundreds of thousands of you have survived the relentless
propaganda you have been subjected to, and are actively
fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate
that prevails in the United States, that's as brave as any
Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her
If you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands, but
in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of
the world. And you will see how beautiful it is to be gentle
instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended instead
of isolated. Loved instead of hated.
I hate to disagree with your president. Yours is by no means a
great nation. But you could be a great people.
History is giving you the chance.
Seize the time.
Presented in New York City at The Riverside Church
May 13, 2003
Sponsored by the Center for Economic and Social Rights