Come September —Arundhati Roy

My talk today is called “Come September.”Living as I do, as millions of us do, in the shadow of the nuclear holocaust that the governments of India and Pakistan keep promising their brain-washed citizenry, and in the global neighbourhood of the War Against Terror (what President Bush rather biblically calls “The Task That Never Ends”), I find myself thinking a great deal about the relationship between Citizens and the State.
In India, those of us who have expressed views on Nuclear Bombs, Big Dams, Corporate Globalisation and the rising threat of communal Hindu fascism — views that are at variance with the Indian Government’s — are branded ‘anti- national.’ While this accusation doesn’t fill me with indignation, it’s not an accurate description of what I do or how I think. Because an ‘anti-national’ is a person who is against his or her own nation and, by inference, is pro some other one. But it isn’t necessary to be ‘anti-national’ to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism. Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead. When independent- thinking people (and here I do not include the corporate media) begin to rally under flags, when writers, painters, musicians, film makers suspend their judgment and blindly yoke their art to the service of the “Nation,” it’s time for all of us to sit up and worry. In India we saw it happen soon after the Nuclear tests in 1998 and during the Cargill War against Pakistan in 1999. In the US we saw it during the Gulf War and we see it now during the “War Against Terror.” That blizzard of Made-in-China American flags.

Recently, those who have criticised the actions of the US government (myself included) have been called “anti-American.” Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology.

The term “anti-American” is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely — but shall we say inaccurately — define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they are heard, and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

But what does the term “anti-American” mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you’re opposed to freedom of speech? That you don’t delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don’t admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America’s culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the US government’s foreign policy (about which, thanks to America’s “free press”, sadly most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It’s like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.

But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government’s policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in US government policy come from American citizens. When the rest of the world wants to know what the US government is up to, we turn to Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Amy Goodman, Michael Albert, Chalmers Johnson, and William Blum to tell us what’s really going on.

Similarly, in India, not hundreds, but millions of us would be ashamed and offended if we were in any way implicated with the present Indian government’s fascist policies which, apart from the perpetration of State terrorism in the valley of Kashmir (in the name of fighting terrorism), have also turned a blind eye to the recent state-supervised program against Muslims in Gujarat.

To call someone “anti-American”, indeed to be anti-American, (or for that matter, anti-Indian or anti-Timbuktuan) is not just racist, it’s a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those the establishment has set out for you. If you’re not a Bushie you’re a Taliban. If you don’t love us, you hate us. If you’re not Good, you’re Evil. If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists.

Last year, like many others, I too made the mistake of scoffing at this post- September 11th rhetoric, dismissing it as foolish and arrogant. But I’ve realised it’s not foolish at all. It’s actually a canny recruitment drive for a misconceived, dangerous war. Everyday I’m taken aback at how many people believe that opposing the war in Afghanistan amounts to supporting terrorism, of voting for the Taliban. Now that the initial aim of the war — capturing Osama bin Laden (dead or alive) — seems to have run into bad weather, the goalposts have been moved. It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, we are being asked to believe that the US marines are actually on a feminist mission (If so, will their next stop be America’s military ally Saudi Arabia?). Think of it this way: in India there are some pretty reprehensible social practices against “untouchables”, against Christians and Muslims, against women. Pakistan and Bangladesh have even worse ways of dealing with minority communities and women. Should they be bombed? Should Delhi, Islamabad and Dhaka be destroyed? Is it possible to bomb bigotry out of India? Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise? Is that how women won the vote in the US? Or how slavery was abolished? Can we win redress for the genocide of the millions of Native Americans upon whose corpses the United States was founded by bombing Santa Fe?

Suzanna Arundhati Roy is an Indian novelist, writer and activist. This is an excerpt from a speech Roy made at the Lensic Performing Arts Centre in Santa Fe, New Mexico on September 18, 2002, one year after 9/11

 

 

Source: Daily Times, 23/7/2008

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