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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Arundhati Roy On Bush's Visit to India

Published on Thursday, March 2, 2006 by the International Herald Tribune
Letter from India: India's Activist Author Indignant at Bush Visit
by Amelia Gentleman

NEW DELHI - Last week, Arundhati Roy found herself standing at traffic lights in a sleazy district of Delhi handing out stickers bearing the slogan "Bush Quit India" to passing traffic. No one recognized her as the Booker Prize winning writer. It was a curiously anonymous form of protest for a woman adept at using her celebrity to draw attention to forgotten causes.

Arundhati Roy

"It was very enlightening. People on the auto-rickshaws and horse carts were asking for more," she said; the drivers of cars were less receptive.

Amid the noisy street demonstrations to protest President George W. Bush's trip to India, Roy provides a sober but quietly strident voice of opposition to the United States.

Such is her fury at the new Indian tilt towards Washington that she is giving the campaign all her energy: not content with pouring her literary talents into sharp- tongued written protest, she has joined students in nighttime vigils mourning the event and become an enthusiastic distributor of anti-Bush stickers.

Often laughing, she highlights the ludicrous to underline her despair at the welcome Bush has been given. The organizational details of a presidential trip offer much amusement - particularly the decision to hold the president's landmark speech about the emerging Indo-U.S. strategic partnership in a spot by the Delhi zoo.

"First they tried to see whether he would address Parliament, but most of the MPs said they would heckle and boycott so that was canceled," she said in an interview this week.

The Red Fort was out because the Muslim population surrounding the building made it a security nightmare. "So now he will be speaking in the zoo - to some eminent people and some caged animals. I don't know if the lions can disagree, the cockatoos might say they are against globalization. It's really kind of funny," she said.

Opinion polls offer contradictory information about how widely her antipathy to the U.S. is shared. Beyond the protests organized by Muslim and leftist organizations, there is evidence to suggest that Indian affection for the U.S. is growing. A recent survey found that 71 percent of the population had a positive opinion of the U.S., up from 54 percent three years ago; another study published in India last Friday concluded that 66 percent of the nation see Bush as a friend of India.

But Roy argues that polling in India is notoriously unreliable and particularly ill-equipped to gauge the sentiments of the large remote rural regions.

She believes that people have been seduced by the promise of imminent glory that a partnership with Washington might bring. "The middle class loves nothing more than to be told, now you're a nuclear power, now you're a superpower. They're mesmerized," she said. She finds India's growing closeness with the United States "vaguely humiliating."

"This fawning that goes on. There is such a lack of dignity," she said. But beyond a personal distaste for the style of the courtship, she is concerned about the long-term consequences of such a partnership.

Since "The God of Small Things" appeared in 1997, selling more than 6 million copies, Roy has moved away from fiction and devoted herself instead to campaigning against the brand of globalization that Bush's visit aims to promote. "What is very, very worrying is that if you look at the record of countries that have cooperated with America, that have entered that embrace, most of them have been incinerated," she said. "I'm not talking about the first world - but look at Africa, and Indonesia, Latin America, see what happens."

She bridles at being branded anti- American. "The term 'anti-American' is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and - not falsely, but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics," she wrote in a recent essay. "Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they're heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

"What does the term anti-American mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or you are opposed to free speech?"

Besides, in this current protest, her condemnation of the U.S. is matched by her criticism of the Indian administration.

"I actually have a problem with people protesting against Bush in Bush's visit," she said. "What they should be protesting against is the Indian government."

At a time of surging optimism about India's economic prospects, Roy has become a champion of those left out of the new economic order - those dispossessed by the construction of big dams, the farmers driven to suicide by debts, the "emaciated laborers" who work through the night by candlelight "to lay fiber-optic cables to speed up our digital revolution."

It is not always easy, she finds, to draw the nation's attention to their plight. "It is almost as if the light is shining so brightly that you do not notice the darkness," she says.

Her antipathy to India's ruling Congress government prompted her earlier this year to turn down India's highest literary prize, awarded for a collection of political essays, "The Algebra of Infinite Justice."

The prize was, she said, a ruse to "deal with a troublesome writer."

"Under the BJP government I was sent to jail and under the Congress government I was given this award," she said, referring to a short prison sentence for contempt of court handed down under the previous administration. "I don't see any difference."

Her unstinting activism has taken a heavy toll on her literary output, and now Roy says that her energy for campaigning is beginning to wane. "I must say I am at the end of the rope, in terms of this kind of work," she said.

Will she return to writing fiction? "I hope fiction will return to be written by me. You just need to make a space for yourself before that can happen," she said.

But in order to find time to write she has to find a way to close off her social conscience. "It is very difficult, because it's not superficial things that beckon," she said. "It's easy to believe that you make a difference, which is both true and untrue."

Published on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 by the Seattle Times
Iraq: A Solution to Nothing
by Scott Ritter

As the United States and Iraq approach the third anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, it might do all Americans well to take some time out and reflect on how we got where we are, as well as where we are going in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole.

Gone forever is any talk of song and flowers, economic recoveries paid for by Iraqi oil, or a blooming democracy in the cradle of civilization. The state of affairs between the Bush administration and the newly elected government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari is strained, to say the least, with the United States threatening to cut off aid to Iraq, and Iraq telling the United States to "butt out."

Nearly three months have passed since the "historic" elections of December 2005, and the Iraqis have just now selected a prime minister (Jafari, a Shiite Islamic fundamentalist closely allied with Iran), and seemed hopelessly deadlocked on the issue of forming a government that will not promote an immediate outbreak of sectarian violence once formed.

The Sunni insurgency is stronger than ever, and Shiite death squads roam the street in the guise of government police and soldiers. Torture, rape and murder are rampant as official tools of government suppression. And American troops appear to be powerless to stop this mindless slide into the abyss, all the while being killed and maimed for a cause that has always been nebulous.

"Duty," "honor" and "country" mean little when the majority of the American citizens supposedly being served by the ongoing occupation of Iraq are more interested in "American Idol" than the process of bringing peace and stability to ancient Babylon, or when American politicians seem content to continue to allow the men and women who honor our nation through their service to die while those in power grasp for a politically face-saving way to "solve the Iraqi problem." And herein lies the problem: We continue to try to solve a problem we have yet to define, meaning we are seeking a solution to nothing.

America continues to pretend that we are building something of value in Iraq. And yet, common sense dictates that when one seeks to build on a corrupt foundation, whatever it is that is being constructed is doomed eventually to collapse. Our nation's involvement in Iraq is based on as corrupt a foundation as imaginable. We didn't go to war for sound national-security reasons (i.e., a threat that manifested itself in a form solvable only through military intervention), but rather for domestic political reasons based on ideology that exploited the fear and ignorance of the American people in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.

In the topsy-turvy world of domestic American politics, this reality continues to fail to resonate. Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq continue to be demonized and marginalized, while those who supported it are embraced and applauded.

This "through the looking glass" quality in the American body politic not only hamstrings the nation collectively on the issue of solving the Iraq problem, but also continues to distort reality when dealing with other emerging problems confronting our country and the world, such as the looming crisis with Iran over its nuclear programs.

Even as we fail to grasp the lessons of our unraveling failure in Iraq, we seem to be moving full steam ahead into a similar catastrophe in Iran, making the same mistakes by embracing a threat model (nuclear weapons) void of any hard evidence, and promoting a solution (democracy) that is undefined.

If the upcoming leather anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq tells us anything as a nation, it is that we are in desperate need of a national "time out" when it comes to the issue of Iraq, Iran and the global war on terror. We need to learn the lesson that every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine serving oversees knows only too well — you don't reinforce failure.

If our politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, are unable or unwilling to engage in a rancor-free discussion about where we as a nation are heading when it comes to issues of war and peace, then perhaps we the people should engage in one of our own, and in the process establish agreed-upon principles and standards that not only would serve as a solid foundation upon which to build any future endeavors in the Middle East and elsewhere, but also set forward values and ideals that could be used to hold to account those whom we elect to represent us in higher office.

Scott Ritter is a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq (1991-1998) and Marine Corps intelligence officer. He is the author of "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein," published by Nation Books.

Published on Monday, February 27, 2006 by The Nation
Bush in India: Just Not Welcome
by Arundhati Roy

On his triumphalist tour of India and Pakistan, where he hopes to wave imperiously at people he considers potential subjects, President Bush has an itinerary that's getting curiouser and curiouser.

For Bush's March 2 pit stop in New Delhi, the Indian government tried very hard to have him address our parliament. A not inconsequential number of MPs threatened to heckle him, so Plan One was hastily shelved. Plan Two was to have Bush address the masses from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort, where the Indian prime minister traditionally delivers his Independence Day address. But the Red Fort, surrounded as it is by the predominantly Muslim population of Old Delhi, was considered a security nightmare. So now we're into Plan Three: President George Bush speaks from Purana Qila, the Old Fort.

Ironic, isn't it, that the only safe public space for a man who has recently been so enthusiastic about India's modernity should be a crumbling medieval fort?

Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings, who in India go under the category of "eminent persons." They're mostly rich folk who live in our poor country like captive animals, incarcerated by their own wealth, locked and barred in their gilded cages, protecting themselves from the threat of the vulgar and unruly multitudes whom they have systematically dispossessed over the centuries.

So what's going to happen to George W. Bush? Will the gorillas cheer him on? Will the gibbons curl their lips? Will the brow-antlered deer sneer? Will the chimps make rude noises? Will the owls hoot? Will the lions yawn and the giraffes bat their beautiful eyelashes? Will the crocs recognize a kindred soul? Will the quails give thanks that Bush isn't traveling with Dick Cheney, his hunting partner with the notoriously bad aim? Will the CEOs agree?

Oh, and on March 2, Bush will be taken to visit Gandhi's memorial in Rajghat. He's by no means the only war criminal who has been invited by the Indian government to lay flowers at Rajghat. (Only recently we had the Burmese dictator General Than Shwe, no shrinking violet himself.) But when Bush places flowers on that famous slab of highly polished stone, millions of Indians will wince. It will be as though he has poured a pint of blood on the memory of Gandhi.

We really would prefer that he didn't.

It is not in our power to stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will. The government, the police and the corporate press will do everything they can to minimize the extent of our outrage. Nothing the happy newspapers say can change the fact that all over India, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages, in public places and private homes, George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America, world nightmare incarnate, is just not welcome.

Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning author of 'The God of Small Things' and 'The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire', lives in New Delhi, India.

© 2006 The Nation

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