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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Arundhati Roy: Peace & The New Corporate Liberation Theology

Arundhati Roy

Hi all

Here's Arundhati Roy's full speech delivered in Sydney last night, as published by the Sydney Morning Herald. It will probably rattle most of the nice folks in Australia, and so it should. Have a peek at the other page by Arundhati on our website here. I adore her - she's one of the world leaders we're gonna need, especially after Dubya's win in the US. Love you, Arundhati Roy!


The 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy, at the Seymour Theatre Centre, University of Sydney.

Wednesday, November 3 2004

It's official now. The Sydney Peace Foundation is neck deep in
the business of gambling and calculated risk. Last year, very
courageously, it chose Dr Hanan Ashrawi of Palestine for the Sydney
Peace Prize. And, as if that were not enough, this year - of all
the people in the world - it goes and chooses me!
However I'd like to make a complaint. My sources inform me that Dr Ashrawi had a picket all to herself. This is discriminatory. I
demand equal treatment for all Peace Prizees. May I formally
request the Foundation to organize a picket against me after the
lecture? From what I've heard, it shouldn't be hard to organize. If
this is insufficient notice, then tomorrow will suit me just as

When this year's Sydney Peace Prize was announced, I was
subjected to some pretty arch remarks from those who know me well:
Why did they give it to the biggest trouble-maker we know? Didn't
anybody tell them that you don't have a peaceful bone in your body?
And, memorably, Arundhati didi, what's the Sydney Peace Prize? Was
there a war in Sydney that you helped to stop?

Speaking for myself, I am utterly delighted to receive the
Sydney Peace Prize. But I must accept it as a literary prize that
honors a writer for her writing, because contrary to the many
virtues that are falsely attributed to me, I'm not an activist, nor
the leader of any mass movement, and I'm certainly not the "voice
of the voiceless". (We know of course there's really no such thing
as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or
the preferably unheard.) I am a writer who cannot claim to
represent anybody but herself. So even though I would like to, it
would be presumptuous of me to say that I accept this prize on
behalf of those who are involved in the struggle of the powerless
and the disenfranchised against the powerful. However, may I say I
accept it as the Sydney Peace Foundation's expression of solidarity
with a kind of politics, a kind of world-view, that millions of us
around the world subscribe to?

It might seem ironic that a person who spends most of her time
thinking of strategies of resistance and plotting to disrupt the
putative peace, is given a peace prize. You must remember that I
come from an essentially feudal country -and there are few things
more disquieting than a feudal peace. Sometimes there's truth in
old cliches. There can be no real peace without justice. And
without resistance there will be no justice.

Today, it is not merely justice itself, but the idea of justice
that is under attack. The assault on vulnerable, fragile sections
of society is at once so complete, so cruel and so clever - all
encompassing and yet specifically targeted, blatantly brutal and
yet unbelievably insidious - that its sheer audacity has eroded our
definition of justice. It has forced us to lower our sights, and
curtail our expectations. Even among the well-intentioned, the
expansive, magnificent concept of justice is gradually being
substituted with the reduced, far more fragile discourse of 'human

If you think about it, this is an alarming shift of paradigm.
The difference is that notions of equality, of parity have been
pried loose and eased out of the equation. It's a process of
attrition. Almost unconsciously, we begin to think of justice for
the rich and human rights for the poor. Justice for the corporate
world, human rights for its victims. Justice for Americans, human
rights for Afghans and Iraqis. Justice for the Indian upper castes,
human rights for Dalits and Adivasis (if that.) Justice for white
Australians, human rights for Aboriginals and immigrants (most
times, not even that.)

It is becoming more than clear that violating human rights is an
inherent and necessary part of the process of implementing a
coercive and unjust political and economic structure on the world.
Without the violation of human rights on an enormous scale, the
neo-liberal project would remain in the dreamy realm of policy. But
increasingly Human Rights violations are being portrayed as the
unfortunate, almost accidental fallout of an otherwise acceptable
political and economic system. As though they're a small problem
that can be mopped up with a little extra attention from some NGOs.
This is why in areas of heightened conflict - in Kashmir and in
Iraq for example - Human Rights Professionals are regarded with a
degree of suspicion. Many resistance movements in poor countries
which are fighting huge injustice and questioning the underlying
principles of what constitutes "liberation" and "development", view
Human Rights NGOs as modern day missionaries who've come to take
the ugly edge off Imperialism. To defuse political anger and to
maintain the status quo.

It has been only a few weeks since a majority of Australians
voted to re-elect Prime Minister John Howard who, among other
things, led Australia to participate in the illegal invasion and
occupation of Iraq. The invasion of Iraq will surely go down in
history as one of the most cowardly wars ever fought. It was a war
in which a band of rich nations, armed with enough nuclear weapons
to destroy the world several times over, rounded on a poor nation,
falsely accused it of having nuclear weapons, used the United
Nations to force it to disarm, then invaded it, occupied it and are
now in the process of selling it.

I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking about it,
(sadly at the cost of leaving other horrors in other places to
unfurl in the dark), but because it is a sign of things to come.
Iraq marks the beginning of a new cycle. It offers us an
opportunity to watch the Corporate-Military cabal that has come to
be known as 'Empire' at work. In the new Iraq the gloves are

As the battle to control the world's resources intensifies,
economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging
a comeback. Iraq is the logical culmination of the process of
corporate globalization in which neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism
have fused. If we can find it in ourselves to peep behind the
curtain of blood, we would glimpse the pitiless transactions taking
place backstage. But first, briefly, the stage itself.

In 1991 US President George Bush senior mounted Operation Desert
Storm. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the war. Iraq's
fields were bombed with more than 300 tonnes of depleted uranium,
causing a fourfold increase in cancer among children. For more than
13 years, twenty four million Iraqi people have lived in a war zone
and been denied food and medicine and clean water. In the frenzy
around the US elections, let's remember that the levels of cruelty
did not fluctuate whether the Democrats or the Republicans were in
the White House. Half a million Iraqi children died because of the
regime of economic sanctions in the run up to Operation Shock and
Awe. Until recently, while there was a careful record of how many
US soldiers had lost their lives, we had no idea of how many Iraqis
had been killed. US General Tommy Franks said "We don't do body
counts" (meaning Iraqi body counts). He could have added "We don't
do the Geneva Convention either." A new, detailed study,
fast-tracked by the Lancet medical journal and extensively peer
reviewed, estimates that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since
the 2003 invasion. That's one hundred halls full of people - like
this one. That's one hundred halls full of friends, parents,
siblings, colleagues, you. The difference is that there
aren't many children here today - let's not forget Iraq's children.
Technically that bloodbath is called precision bombing. In ordinary
language, it's called butchering.

Most of this is common knowledge now. Those who support the
invasion and vote for the invaders cannot take refuge in ignorance.
They must truly believe that this epic brutality is right and just
or, at the very least, acceptable because it's in their

So the 'civilized' 'modern' world - built painstakingly on a
legacy of genocide, slavery and colonialism - now controls most of
the world's oil. And most of the world's weapons, most of the
world's money, and most of the world's media. The embedded,
corporate media in which the doctrine of Free Speech has been
substituted by the doctrine of Free If You Agree Speech.

The UN's Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said he found no
evidence of nuclear weapons in Iraq. Every scrap of evidence
produced by the US and British governments was found to be false -
whether it was reports of Saddam Hussein buying uranium from Niger,
or the report produced by British Intelligence which was discovered
to have been plagiarized from an old student dissertation. And yet,
in the prelude to the war, day after day the most 'respectable'
newspapers and TV channels in the US , headlined the 'evidence' of
Iraq's arsenal of weapons of nuclear weapons. It now turns out that
the source of the manufactured 'evidence' of Iraq's arsenal of
nuclear weapons was Ahmed Chalabi who, (like General Suharto of
Indonesia, General Pinochet of Chile, the Shah of Iran, the Taliban
and of course, Saddam Hussein himself) - was bankrolled with
millions of dollars from the good old CIA.

And so, a country was bombed into oblivion. It's true there have
been some murmurs of apology. Sorry 'bout that folks, but we have
really have to move on. Fresh rumours are coming in about nuclear
weapons in Eye-ran and Syria. And guess who is reporting on these
fresh rumours? The same reporters who ran the bogus 'scoops' on
Iraq. The seriously embedded A Team.

The head of Britain's BBC had to step down and one man committed
suicide because a BBC reporter accused the Blair administration of
'sexing up' intelligence reports about Iraq's WMD programme. But
the head of Britain retains his job even though his government did
much more than 'sex up' intelligence reports. It is responsible for
the illegal invasion of a country and the mass murder of its

Visitors to Australia like myself, are expected to answer the
following question when they fill in the visa form: Have you ever
committed or been involved in the commission of war crimes or
crimes against humanity or human rights? Would George Bush and Tony
Blair get visas to Australia? Under the tenets of International Law
they must surely qualify as war criminals.

However, to imagine that the world would change if they were
removed from office is naive. The tragedy is that their political
rivals have no real dispute with their policies. The fire and
brimstone of the US election campaign was about who would make a
better 'Commander-in-Chief' and a more effective manager of the
American Empire. Democracy no longer offers voters real choice.
Only specious choice.

Even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found in
Iraq - stunning new evidence has revealed that Saddam Hussein was
planning a weapons programme. (Like I was planning to win an
Olympic Gold in synchronized swimming.) Thank goodness for the
doctrine of pre-emptive strike. God knows what other evil thoughts
he harbored - sending Tampax in the mail to American senators, or
releasing female rabbits in burqas into the London underground. No
doubt all will be revealed in the free and fair trial of Saddam
Hussein that's coming up soon in the New Iraq.

All except the chapter in which we would learn of how the US and
Britain plied him with money and material assistance at the time he
was carrying out murderous attacks on Iraqi Kurds and Shias. All
except the chapter in which we would learn that a 12,000 page
report submitted by the Saddam Hussein government to the UN, was
censored by the United States because it lists twenty-four US
corporations that participated in Iraq's pre-Gulf War nuclear and
conventional weapons programme. (They include Bechtel, DuPont, ,
Eastman Kodak, Hewlett Packard, International Computer Systems and

So Iraq has been 'liberated.' Its people have been subjugated
and its markets have been 'freed'. That's the anthem of
neo-liberalism. Free the markets. Screw the people.

The US government has privatized and sold entire sectors of
Iraq's economy. Economic policies and tax laws have been
re-written. Foreign companies can now buy 100% of Iraqi firms and
expatriate the profits. This is an outright violation of
international laws that govern an occupying force, and is among the
main reasons for the stealthy, hurried charade in which power was
'handed over' to an 'interim Iraqi government'. Once handing over
of Iraq to the Multi-nationals is complete, a mild dose of genuine
democracy won't do any harm. In fact it might be good PR for the
Corporate version of Liberation Theology, otherwise known as New

Not surprisingly, the auctioning of Iraq caused a stampede at
the feeding trough. Corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, the
company that US Vice-president Dick Cheney once headed, have won
huge contracts for 'reconstruction' work. A brief c.v of any one of
these corporations would give us a lay person's grasp of how it all
works. - not just in Iraq, but all over the world. Say we pick
Bechtel - only because poor little Halliburton is under
investigation on charges of overpricing fuel deliveries to Iraq and
for its contracts to 'restore' Iraq's oil industry which came with
a pretty serious price-tag - 2.5 billion dollars.

The Bechtel Group and Saddam Hussein are old business
acquaintances. Many of their dealings were negotiated by none other
than Donald Rumsfeld. In 1988, after Saddam Hussein gassed
thousands of Kurds, Bechtel signed contracts with his government to
build a dual-use chemical plant in Baghdad.

Historically, the Bechtel Group has had and continues to have
inextricably close links to the Republican establishment. You could
call Bechtel and the Reagan Bush administration a team. Former
Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger was a Bechtel general
counsel. Former Deputy Secretary of Energy, W. Kenneth Davis was
Bechtel's vice president. Riley Bechtel, the company chairman, is
on the President's Export Council. Jack Sheehan, a retired marine
corps general, is a senior vice president at Bechtel and a member
of the US Defense Policy Board. Former Secretary of State George
Shultz, who is on the Board of Directors of the Bechtel Group, was
the chairman of the advisory board of the Committee for the
Liberation of Iraq.

When he was asked by the New York Times whether he was concerned
about the appearance of a conflict of interest between his two
'jobs', he said, "I don't know that Bechtel would particularly
benefit from it [The invasion of Iraq]. But if there's work to be
done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it." Bechtel has
been awarded reconstruction contracts in Iraq worth over a billion
dollars, which include contracts to re-build power generation
plants, electrical grids, water supply, sewage systems, and airport
facilities. Never mind revolving doors, this -if it weren't so
drenched in blood- would be a bedroom farce.

Between 2001 and 2002, nine out of thirty members of the US
Defense Policy Group were connected to companies that were awarded
Defense contracts worth 76 billion dollars. Time was when weapons
were manufactured in order to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured
in order to sell weapons.

Between 1990 and 2002 the Bechtel group has contributed $3.3
million to campaign funds, both Republican and Democrat. Since 1990
it has won more than 2000 government contracts worth more than 11
billion dollars. That's an incredible return on investment,
wouldn't you say?

And Bechtel has footprints around the world. That's what being a
multi-national means.

The Bechtel Group first attracted international attention when
it signed a contract with Hugo Banzer, the former Bolivian
dictator, to privatize the water supply in the city of Cochabamba.
The first thing Bechtel did was to raise the price of water.
Hundreds of thousands of people who simply couldn't afford to pay
Bechtel's bills came out onto the streets. A huge strike paralyzed
the city. Martial law was declared. Although eventually Bechtel was
forced to flee its offices, it is currently negotiating an exit
payment of millions of dollars from the Bolivian government for the
loss of potential profits. Which, as we'll see, is growing into a
popular corporate sport.

In India, Bechtel along with General Electric are the new owners
of the notorious and currently defunct Enron power project. The
Enron contract, which legally binds the Government of the State of
Maharashtra to pay Enron a sum of 30 billion dollars, was the
largest contract ever signed in India. Enron was not shy to boast
about the millions of dollars it had spent to "educate" Indian
politicians and bureaucrats. The Enron contract in Maharashtra,
which was India's first 'fast-track' private power project, has
come to be known as the most massive fraud in the country's
history. (Enron was another of the Republican Party's major
campaign contributors). The electricity that Enron produced was so
exorbitant that the government decided it was cheaper not to buy
electricity and pay Enron the mandatory fixed charges specified in
the contract. This means that the government of one of the poorest
countries in the world was paying Enron 220 million US dollars a
year not to produce electricity!

Now that Enron has ceased to exist, Bechtel and GE are suing the
Indian Government for 5.6 billion US dollars. This is not even a
minute fraction of the sum of money that they (or Enron) actually
invested in the project. Once more, it's a projection of profit
they would have made had the project materialized. To give you an
idea of scale 5.6 billion dollars a little more than the amount
that the Government of India would need annually, for a rural
employment guarantee scheme that would provide a subsistence wage
to millions of people currently living in abject poverty, crushed
by debt, displacement, chronic malnutrition and the WTO. This in a
country where farmers steeped in debt are being driven to suicide,
not in their hundreds, but in their thousands. The proposal for a
Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is being mocked by India's
corporate class as an unreasonable, utopian demand being floated by
the 'lunatic' and newly powerful left. Where will the money come
from? they ask derisively. And yet, any talk of reneging on a bad
contract with a notoriously corrupt corporation like Enron, has the
same cynics hyperventilating about capital flight and the terrible
risks of 'creating a bad investment climate'. The arbitration
between Bechtel, GE and the Government of India is taking place
right now in London. Bechtel and GE have reason for hope. The
Indian Finance Secretary who was instrumental in approving the
disastrous Enron contract has come home after a few years with the
IMF. Not just home, home with a promotion. He is now Deputy
Chairman of the Planning Commission.

Think about it: The notional profits of a single corporate
project would be enough to provide a hundred days of employment a
year at minimum wages (calculated at a weighted average across
different states) for 25 million people. That's five million more
than the population of Australia. That is the scale of the horror
of neo-liberalism.

The Bechtel story gets worse. In what can only be called
unconscionable, Naomi Klein writes that Bechtel has successfully
sued war-torn Iraq for 'war reparations' and 'lost profits'. It has
been awarded 7 million dollars.

So, all you young management graduates don't bother with Harvard
and Wharton - here's the Lazy Manager's Guide to Corporate Success:
First, stock your Board with senior government servants. Next,
stock the government with members of your board. Add oil and stir.
When no one can tell where the government ends and your company
begins, collude with your government to equip and arm a
cold-blooded dictator in an oil-rich country. Look away while he
kills his own people. Simmer gently. Use the time collect to
collect a few billion dollars in government contracts. Then collude
with your government once again while it topples the dictator and
bombs his subjects, taking to specifically target essential
infrastructure, killing a hundred thousand people on the side. Pick
up another billion dollars or so worth of contracts to
'reconstruct' the infrastructure. To cover travel and incidentals,
sue for reparations for lost profits from the devastated country.
Finally, diversify. Buy a TV station, so that next war around you
can showcase your hardware and weapons technology masquerading as
coverage of the war. And finally finally, institute a Human Rights
Prize in your company's name. You could give the first one
posthumously to Mother Teresa. She won't be able to turn it down or
argue back.

Invaded and occupied Iraq has been made to pay out 200 million
dollars in "reparations" for lost profits to corporations like
Halliburton, Shell, Mobil, Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken
and Toys R Us. That's apart from its 125 billion dollar sovereign
debt forcing it to turn to the IMF, waiting in the wings like the
angel of death, with its Structural Adjustment program. (Though in
Iraq there don't seem to be many structures left to adjust. Except
the shadowy Al Qaeda.)

In New Iraq, privatization has broken new ground. The US Army is
increasingly recruiting private mercenaries to help in the
occupation. The advantage with mercenaries is that when they're
killed they're not included in the US soldiers' body count. It
helps to manage public opinion, which is particularly important in
an election year. Prisons have been privatized. Torture has been
privatized. We have seen what that leads to. Other attractions in
New Iraq include newspapers being shut down. Television stations
bombed. Reporters killed. US soldiers have opened fire on crowds of
unarmed protestors killing scores of people. The only kind of
resistance that has managed to survive is as crazed and brutal as
the occupation itself. Is there space for a secular, democratic,
feminist, non-violent resistance in Iraq? There isn't really.

That is why it falls to those of us living outside Iraq to
create that mass-based, secular and non-violent resistance to the
US occupation. If we fail to do that, then we run the risk of
allowing the idea of resistance to be hi-jacked and conflated with
terrorism and that will be a pity because they are not the same

So what does peace mean in this savage, corporatized,
militarized world? What does it mean in a world where an entrenched
system of appropriation has created a situation in which poor
countries which have been plundered by colonizing regimes for
centuries are steeped in debt to the very same countries that
plundered them, and have to repay that debt at the rate of 382
billion dollars a year? What does peace mean in a world in which
the combined wealth of the world's 587 billionaires exceeds the
combined gross domestic product of the world's 135 poorest
countries? Or when rich countries that pay farm subsidies of a
billion dollars a day, try and force poor countries to drop their
subsidies? What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq,
Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and Chechnya? Or to the aboriginal people
of Australia? Or the Ogoni of Nigeria? Or the Kurds in Turkey? Or
the Dalits and Adivasis of India? What does peace mean to
non-muslims in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia
and Afghanistan? What does it mean to the millions who are being
uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? What
does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their
resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water,
shelter, survival and, above all, some semblance of dignity? For
them, peace is war.

We know very well who benefits from war in the age of Empire.
But we must also ask ourselves honestly who benefits from peace in
the age of Empire? War mongering is criminal. But talking of peace
without talking of justice could easily become advocacy for a kind
of capitulation. And talking of justice without unmasking the
institutions and the systems that perpetrate injustice, is beyond

It's easy to blame the poor for being poor. It's easy to believe
that the world is being caught up in an escalating spiral of
terrorism and war. That's what allows the American President to say
"You're either with us or with the terrorists." But we know that
that's a spurious choice. We know that terrorism is only the
privatization of war. That terrorists are the free marketers of
war. They believe that the legitimate use of violence is not the
sole prerogative of the State.

It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the
unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage
of war and occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We
cannot support one and condemn the other.

The real tragedy is that most people in the world are trapped
between the horror of a putative peace and the terror of war. Those
are the two sheer cliffs we're hemmed in by. The question is: How
do we climb out of this crevasse?

For those who are materially well-off, but morally
uncomfortable, the first question you must ask yourself is do you
really want to climb out of it? How far are you prepared to go? Has
the crevasse become too comfortable?

If you really want to climb out, there's good news and bad

The good news is that the advance party began the climb some
time ago. They're already half way up. Thousands of activists
across the world have been hard at work preparing footholds and
securing the ropes to make it easier for the rest of us. There
isn't only one path up. There are hundreds of ways of doing it.
There are hundreds of battles being fought around the world that
need your skills, your minds, your resources. No battle is
irrelevant. No victory is too small.

The bad news is that colorful demonstrations, weekend marches
and annual trips to the World Social Forum are not enough. There
have to be targeted acts of real civil disobedience with real
consequences. Maybe we can't flip a switch and conjure up a
revolution. But there are several things we could do. For example,
you could make a list of those corporations who have profited from
the invasion of Iraq and have offices here in Australia. You could
name them, boycott them, occupy their offices and force them out of
business. If it can happen in Bolivia, it can happen in India. It
can happen in Australia. Why not?

That's only a small suggestion. But remember that if the
struggle were to resort to violence, it will lose vision, beauty
and imagination. Most dangerous of all, it will marginalize and
eventually victimize women. And a political struggle that does not
have women at the heart of it, above it, below it and within it is
no struggle at all.

The point is that the battle must be joined. As the wonderful
American historian Howard Zinn put it: You Can't Be Neutral on a
Moving Train.

Arundhati Roy


  • At Monday, November 08, 2004 9:50:00 AM, Blogger Nayano said…

    Arundhati Roy?s speech made me despair. Who does this stuff speak to, other than the already committed and bigoted? Roy does make some good points, but her speech is mostly polemic. She deliberately ignores facts that don?t fit her argument, for example, the paragraph about the first Gulf war gives the impression that Bush Senior mounted the campaign alone, and solely for the joy of ?butchering? (her word). There is no mention of the act that precipitated the invasion ? Hussein?s invasion of Kuwait- nor of Bush?s refusal to conquer Iraq completely, although the US was certainly capable. The suffering of the Iraqis between the two Gulf wars was not only caused by the sanctions but in great part by Hussein?s corrupt siphoning of the food for oil program. Roy does not mention this. I am tired of idiots like Michael Moore beating up and manipulating the facts, but it is worse when a seemingly ?respectable? figure does so. The more I know about international affairs, and about human beings, the more I understand that most of us, right, left and centre, are motivated by what we believe to be ?good intentions?, but that these intentions are easily twisted by greed for power and money. Everyone is like this. As long as we indulge in polemic then ?scoring points? will preclude discussion that may actually lead to peace.


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