“Algebra of Infinite Justice” by Arundhati Roy

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 “The Algebra Of Infinite Justice”
BY ARUNDHATI ROY

Published in October 08, 2001

ARUNDHATI ROY

Arundhati Roy, Indian writer and activist, author of Booker-Prize Winning novel “The God Of Small Things”

In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, an American newscaster said: “Good and Evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last Tuesday. People who we don’t know, massacred people who we do. And they did so with contemptuous glee.” Then he broke down and wept.

Here’s the rub: America is at war against people it doesn’t know (because they don’t appear much on TV).

Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an “International Coalition Against Terror”, mobilised its army, its airforce, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle.

The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we’ll lose sight of why it’s being fought in the first place.

What we’re witnessing here is the spectacle of the world’s most powerful country, reaching reflexively, angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself, America’s streamlined warships, its Cruise missiles and F-16 jets look like obsolete, lumbering things. As deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters, penknives, and cold anger are the weapons with which the wars of the new century will be waged. Anger is the lock pick. It slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn’t show up in baggage checks…

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For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade the American public that America’s commitment to freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it’s an easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true, it’s reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America’s economic and military dominance—the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government’s record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things—to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)?

It must be hard for ordinary Americans so recently bereaved to look up at the world with their eyes full of tears and encounter what might appear to them to be indifference. It isn’t indifference. It’s just augury. An absence of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes around, eventually comes around. American people ought to know that it is not them, but their government’s policies that are so hated. They can’t possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians, their writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office-goers in the days and weeks that followed the attacks.

America’s grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish. However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to try and understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world’s sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own…

* * * * *

Before America places itself at the helm of the “international coalition against terror”, before it invites (and coerces) countries to actively participate in its almost godlike mission—Operation Infinite Justice—it would help if some small clarifications are made. For example, Infinite Justice for whom? Is this America’s War against Terror in America or against Terror in general? What exactly is being avenged here? Is it the tragic loss of almost 7,000 lives, the gutting of 5 million square feet of office space in Manhattan, the destruction of a section of the Pentagon, the loss of several hundreds of thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some airline companies and the dip in the New York Stock Exchange? Or is it more than that?

In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then US Secretary of State, was asked on national television what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it was “a very hard choice”, but that all things considered, “we think the price is worth it.” Madeleine Albright never lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel the world representing the views and aspirations of the US government. More pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in place. Children continue to die.

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilisation and savagery, between the ‘massacre of innocent people’ or, if you like, ‘a clash of civilisations’ and ‘collateral damage’. The sophistry and fastidious algebra of Infinite Justice. How many dead Iraqis will it take to make the world a better place? How many dead Afghans for every dead American? How many dead women and children for every dead man? How many dead mujahideen for each dead investment banker?

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ASDASDAfghanistan’s economy is in a shambles. In fact, the problem for an invading army is that Afghanistan has no conventional coordinates or signposts to plot on a military map—no big cities, no highways, no industrial complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms have been turned into mass graves. The countryside is littered with landmines—10 million is the most recent estimate. The American army would first have to clear the mines and build roads in order to take its soldiers in.

Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens have fled from their homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As supplies run out—food and aid agencies have been asked to leave—the BBC reports that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent times has begun to unfold. Witness the Infinite Justice of the new century. Civilians starving to death, while they’re waiting to be killed.

In America there has been rough talk of “bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age”. Someone please break the news that Afghanistan is already there. And if it’s any consolation, America played no small part in helping it on its way. The American people may be a little fuzzy about where exactly Afghanistan is (we hear reports that there’s a run on maps of Afghanistan), but the US government and Afghanistan are old friends.

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the Communist regime and eventually destabilise it. When it began, it was meant to be the Soviet Union’s Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than that. Over the years, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000 radical mujahideen from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America’s proxy war. The rank and file of the mujahideen were unaware that their jihad was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America was equally unaware that it was financing a future war against itself).

By 1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of relentless conflict, the Russians withdrew, leaving behind a civilisation reduced to rubble. Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to Chechnya, Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA continued to pour in money and military equipment, but the overheads had become immense, and more money was needed. The mujahideen ordered farmers to plant opium as ‘revolutionary tax’. The ISI set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two years of the CIA’s arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source on American streets. The annual profits, said to be between 100 and 200 billion dollars, were ploughed back into training and arming militants.

In 1995, the Taliban—then a marginal sect of dangerous, hardline fundamentalists—fought its way to power in Afghanistan. It was funded by the ISI, that old cohort of the CIA, and supported by many political parties in Pakistan. The Taliban unleashed a regime of terror. Its first victims were its own people, particularly women. It closed down girls’ schools, dismissed women from government jobs, enforced Sharia laws in which women deemed to be ‘immoral’ are stoned to death, and widows guilty of being adulterous are buried alive. Given the Taliban government’s human rights track record, it seems unlikely that it will in any way be intimidated or swerved from its purpose by the prospect of war, or the threat to the lives of its civilians.

After all that has happened, can there be anything more ironic than Russia and America joining hands to re-destroy Afghanistan? The question is, can you destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on Afghanistan will only shuffle the rubble, scramble some old graves and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the burial ground of Soviet Communism and the springboard of a unipolar world dominated by America. It made the space for neo-capitalism and corporate globalisation, again dominated by America. And now Afghanistan is poised to be the graveyard for the unlikely soldiers who fought and won this war for America.

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dscf-barundhati-broy-bone-bof-bmy-bbest-bshots-bat-bthe-bbook-brelease-bof-kochu-bkariyangalude-bponnu-btamburan-304763551Operation Infinite Justice is ostensibly being fought to uphold the American Way of Life. It’ll probably end up undermining it completely. It will spawn more anger and more terror across the world. For ordinary people in America, it will mean lives lived in a climate of sickening uncertainty: will my child be safe in school? Will there be nerve gas in the subway? A bomb in the cinema hall? Will my love come home tonight? Already CNN is warning people against the possibility of biological warfare—small pox, bubonic plague, anthrax—being waged by innocuous crop duster aircraft. Being picked off a few at a time may end up being worse than being annihilated all at once by a nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all over the world, will use the climate of war as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, deny free speech, lay off workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities, cut back on public spending and divert huge amounts of money to the defence industry.

To what purpose? President George Bush can no more “rid the world of evil-doers” than he can stock it with saints. It’s absurd for the US government to even toy with the notion that it can stamp out terrorism with more violence and oppression. Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease. Terrorism has no country. It’s transnational, as global an enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At the first sign of trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move their ‘factories’ from country to country in search of a better deal. Just like the multinationals…

The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card from a world gone horribly wrong. The message may have been written by Osama bin Laden (who knows?) and delivered by his couriers, but it could well have been signed by the ghosts of the victims of America’s old wars. 

The millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,500 killed when Israel—backed by the US—invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed in Operation Desert Storm, the thousands of Palestinians who have died fighting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican republic, Panama, at the hands of all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists who the American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list. For a country involved in so much warfare and conflict, the American people have been extremely fortunate. The strikes on September 11 were only the second on American soil in over a century. The first was Pearl Harbour. The reprisal for this took a long route, but ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This time the world waits with bated breath for the horrors to come.

* * * * *

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Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn’t exist, America would have had to invent him. But, in a way, America did invent him. He was among the jehadis who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the CIA commenced operations. Osama bin Laden has the distinction of being created by the CIA and wanted by the FBI. In the course of a fortnight, he has been promoted from Suspect, to Prime Suspect, and then, despite the lack of any real evidence, straight up the charts to being “wanted dead or alive”.

But who is Osama bin Laden really?

Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden?

He’s America’s family secret. He is the American President’s dark doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of “full spectrum dominance”, its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. 

Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going around in the loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will greet US helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America’s drug-addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43 million subsidy for a “war on drugs”…) Now they’ve even begun to borrow each other’s rhetoric. Each refers to the other as ‘the head of the snake’. Both invoke God and use the loose millenarian currency of Good and Evil as their terms of reference. Both are engaged in unequivocal political crimes. Both are dangerously armed—one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other with the incandescent, destructive power of the utterly hopeless. The fireball and the ice pick. The bludgeon and the axe. The important thing to keep in mind is that neither is an acceptable alternative to the other.

President Bush’s ultimatum to the people of the world—”If you’re not with us, you’re against us”—is a piece of presumptuous arrogance.

It’s not a choice that people want to, need to, or should have to make.”

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ARUNDATHI ROYRead the full article “Algebra of Infinite Justice”

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#Great Films: Alex Cox’s “Walker” (1987) depicts Yankee Imperialism in Central America (Starring Ed Harris and with soundtrack by Joe Strummer)

DEVILS THAT CAN QUOTE SCRIPTURE
by Eduardo Carli de Moraes

Unfortunately, ours ears nowadays continue to be used as toilet seats by demagogues and warmongers who have shit for brains. They talk righteously about their intentions of exporting Democracy and Humanitarianism, when they actually mean Imperial Power and Mass Robbery Of Foreign Natural Resources. But I’m not even gonna start giving vent to my fury against the Yankee’s Petroleum Wars that followed the September 11th attacks, nor will I comment on the use of such techniques of interrogation used in Abu Ghraibs and Guantánamos; nor I’ll waste much time denouncing once again the fact that the Bush administration justified the Iraq War with a lie (no, the whole thing had nothing to do with Sadam’s weapons of mass destruction! And, by the way, it’s the U.S. Army who is written down in history as the only one ever to drop an atom bomb another country’s civil population…). But I won’t even get started on the theme of Hiroshima and Nagasaki being bombed to ashes at the end of the II World War, for what I intend to express here is something else, tough closely related to all these horrors here briefly refered to – here I would like to attempt to explain why I deem Alan Cox’s Walker to be an awesome, deeply provocative film, excellent both as an historical depiction of U.S. Imperialism in the 19th century and as a witty satire of a dangerous neurosis that can turn a man into a Fascist pig. This is a film that continues to have a lot to say to us at the dawn of the 21st century A.D.

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The reason that explains why Walker isn’t so widely recognized as a masterpiece of cinema in the 1980s, as I think it deserves to be, has to do with its very punkish depiction of a Yankee Fascist Pig. Audiences in the U.S. can’t find here any reason to be proud and patriotic. Watching it, one becomes acquainted with crimes against humanity so great that can rob someone of sleep: the bloody scenes may be filmed in Spaghetti-Western style, but they have the power to communicate to the audience the stature of this tragedy (and it’s huge). This is an unusual picture because it doesn’t have a hero as its protagonist, but much to the contrary: Walker is starred by a villanous mass-murderer and a Imperialist filibuster. Actually, according to Wikipedia, “the English term FILIBUSTER is derived from the Spanish filibustero, itself deriving originally from the Dutch vrijbuiter, and means “privateerpirate, robber” (also the root of English “freebooter”). The Spanish form entered the English language in the 1850s, as applied to military adventurers from the United States then operating in Central America and the Spanish West Indies such as William Walker…”. Behind Ed Harris’s blue eyes and blond hair and mild manners, there’s a “crazy gringo”, as many people in Nicaragua referred to him.

Possessed by delusions of grandeur, Walker believes that’s it’s a God-given duty for the United States of America to be leaders of the whole continent, to expand their way-of-life was widely as possible – and by the American Way he means a system quite similar to the one then dominant in U.S.’s South in the years leading up to the American Civil War (1861-1865). Walker is pro-slavery, but not only that: he thinks Slavery is so great an institution that the United States should export it. God up in the heavens wanted the U.S. to use military force, invasion of foreign countries with tanks and bombs, and the burning down of whole villages, believes Walker, in order that the “primitive” people of Nicaragua or Guatemala could be “enlightened” by a Superior Civilization. Alex Cox’s film is a satire because it shows how ridiculous this man’s ambitions and ideals are – he poses as a righteous man-of-God, but he’s in favour of a system of slavery, racial segregation, obscene economical inequalities etc. The Nicaraguans, when they discovered what sort of shit the gringos were trying to enforce upon them, fought against it with all their might. The film permits us to see that, in the perspective of the Nicaraguans, the invasion of the Americans, “the crazy gringos”, was similar to the sudden arrival of a plague of destructive insects, or an attack by a savage horde of barbarians.

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British director Alex Cox previous movie had been the bio-pic Sid & Nancy (1986), in which he captured quite authentically the downward spiral of The Sex Pistols’s musician Sid Vicious and his groupie-girlfriend Nancy Spungen, embodiments of the live fast, die young” motto. For his next project after Sid & Nancy, Cox teamed-up with Joe Strummer, who composed the original soundtrack of the film, in one of his greatest works after The Clash had disbanded and The Mescaleros hadn’t yet been born. Ed Harris played the lead role as William Walker (1824-1860) and as usually displayed his high excellence in acting. If Cox’s film can be called punk it’s not because its production is cheap or faulty – on the contrary, this is was a 5-million-dollar budget film, and technically it looks so great as Sergio Leone’s or Gillo Pontecorvo’s films did. It is quite punk for its courageous and rebellious attitude of denouncing, and covering in ridicule, an authoritarian war-criminal such as Walker. In other words: this is punkish left-wing cinema that portrays The Enemy.  Walker is a guy devoted to the dogma of Yankee superiority, and to the right of the United States to rule the whole world, and who puts his neurosis to practice in such murderous ways that I hope that you, dear readers, will agree with me in calling him by the un-polite but very fitting term “Fascist Pig”.

But one may ask: why make a movie, in the mid 1980s, about the international relations between the United States and Nicaragu ? Well, it was then a very urgent and pulsating theme in the public debate and on the media, and director Alex Cox remembers as follows the situation when Walker was made – the era of Ronald Reagan (in the U.S.) and Margaret Tatcher (in the U.K.):

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 “Reagan and Thatcher’s maniac front was working overtime to destroy the Sandinista revolution by any means. Thatcher had even attempted to criminalize the word ‘Sandinista’ – hence The Clash album of the same name. It would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the punk movement at that time. The Clash, The Jam, The Pistols, and their successors were almost the only beachhead many of us had against a tidal wave of reactionary politics.” (ALEX COX, in Let Fury Have The Hour, pg. 80)

That’s what makes Walker such an interesting and exciting movie: it feels like a manifesto written by British punks, in which they make a very powerful political statement about Imperialism and War Crimes. Even tough The Clash’s Sandinista was regarded by many as a lousy follow-up to one of the greatest albums in the history of popular music (1979’s  London Calling), it was also a political statement right from its title: “sandinista” was then a forbidden word, and the sandinistas were painted by Reagan and Tatcher’s obedient dogs at the commercial media as dangerous and deadly “commies”.  By doing an album like Sandinista, The Clash was trying to make several statements: firstly, they refused to record commercial bullshit only to sell records and honour contracts with CBS; they wouldn’t accept being censored in their language or themes, not they would accept quietly all the lies that were being spread about Nicaragua and the Sandinistas and the need for an Humanitarian Military Intervention by the Yankee’s armies; The Clash would stay rooted in rebellion against a establishment that, after Vietnam and Camboja, after spreading Military Dictatorships all over Latin America (Chile in 1973, Brazil in 1964…), was acting once again with murderous villany against other countries.

In “Washington Bullets”, one of Sandinista’s greatest songs, Joe Strummer asks The Clash’s audience to remember, among other things, the plots to kill Fidel Castro and to sabotage the Cuban Revolution, and also depicts what happened in Chile, in September 11th, 1973, when Salvador Allende’s regime came tumbling down (with lots of Washington Bullets and CIA agents helping out the installment of Pinochet’s dictartorship). “Eevery prison cell in Chile will tell”, sings Strummer,  “the cries of tortured men…”. Chile, after 3 years under the yoke of democratically-elected president Allende, was plunged in dark times while Pinochet’s system killed and tortured all around, in order to be able to enforce all the policies that Mr. Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys deemed excellent for profitable markets (Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine tells the whole history quite well).

Joe Strummer, in the 1980s, was moving away from the mainstream arena, venturing into of a shadowy underground where music and social activism were together as one: he didn’t want much to do with the music industry and its hit-producing machinery. Strummer was interested in radical political films – such as Gillo’s Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and Burn! – and he wanted music to act as a helping hand in the struggles for social justice around the world. Strummer wanted to be punk’s Woody Guthrie and in Sandinista, for example, he took his characters from recent History – in “Washington Bullets”, he was singing in memory of Chilean singer, songwriter, poet and teacher Victor Jara (1922-1973), who had been murdered by the fascists in Santiago, September 11th, 1973. With “Washington Bullets”!

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Joe Strummer, after The Clash had disbanded, wrote the soundtrack for Alan Cox’s Walker and acted in a supporting role. He would also be an actor in Cox’s next film, “Straight to Hell”.

William Walker is the embodiment of a very dangerous characteristic, that some insist on calling a virtue, but that should be looked upon with skepticism and suspicious, methinks: Walker is a deeply righteous and arrogant man. He believes he’s on the side of Civilization, of Goodness, of God. But in reality he acts like a mad assassin who won’t refrain from shooting his own brother down. Anyone who dares question his authority is treated like a beast that deserves to be spanked or  shot dead. He invades Nicaragua backed-up materially by big-money, big capitalist interests, greedy Yankee businessmen wanting to rule over Central America and control the territory that links the oceans. But he always tries to pretends he’s a saint and a god-send, who has just descended from Heaven to help the ignorant and uncivilized peoples of Central American (actually, Walker didn’t descend from Eden, but came out of Nashville, Tennessee…). Even tough he preaches lofty sermons as if he was the Messiah, the Chosen One that will lead his sheep to salvation, what he actually does is only to bring disaster and death to all those around him, including himself. Thus Alan Cox’s intermingles satire with tragedy – to impressive aesthetic effects.

Maddened by his Messiah Complex, delusional like those Insane Asylum Napoleons, Walker acts as if he is a Roman Emperor (he has even his moments of Nero-like incendiary behavior). Deeply racist, he tries to enforce slavery into Nicaragua and be the tyrant of an enslaved nation. He stinks of hypocrisy and agressiveness, and yet he seems to think of himself as a lofty idealist, a revolutionary of a New Enlightenment… He can’t see how blind and dumb he has become by his faithful obedience to his ideals: his righteousness is in fact an embodiment of Right-Wing politics, of Imperial Power acting to enslave and rob other nations. Smells like Bush, right? Walker calls himself a “social democrat”, but the democracy which he wishes to impose on Nicaragua is a bloody bad joke: after ordering the firing squad to get rid of the opposition to his presence in Nicaragua, he decrees himself president without any need for elections. He “democratically” proclaims himself president of Nicaragua, a country he had just invaded with murdering soldiers and mercenaries, and orders the newspapers to print that he has been elected (with only one vote – his own).

These occurrences that Alex Cox’s films depicts so well are also a interesting portrayal of an archetype, of a paradigm. What I mean is this: in many Historical occasions, methinks, men acted very similarly to Walker. If we push the forward button of the remote control of History’s Newsreel, and take a look some years ahead, we’ll discover very similar episodes – for example, as I tried to express in the previous paragraphs, Salvador Allende’s death in 1973 and the beginning of Pinochet’s dictartorship in Chile. But Walker still has a lot to say about much more contemporary events like The War on Terror. Walker is a great historical epic with a punkish mood and filled with witty satire. It’s a film that will be particularly tasty to those who enjoy violent Westerns such as Leone’s or Peckinpahs’s. But its great value lies in its denounciation of the inner machineries and outer actions of an archetypical fascist pig. Behind his blue eyes, this blondie is a “crazy gringo” that invades, plunders, murders and burns while always clinging to the belief that God is on his side and that he knows what’s better for the peoples of the whole globe. He’s just one more example of that archetypical figure, so common in History, of a human devil that can quote Scripture.