The Common Good
July-August 2003

Fighting Words

by Judy Coode | July-August 2003

Justice-focused economists understand that the dominant world financial
system is based on con- stant replenishment, and those who are unable for whatever reason
to ...

Justice-focused economists understand that the dominant world financial system is based on con- stant replenishment, and those who are unable for whatever reason to contribute to the system are simply disposable. If you're not contributing, you are a drain, and it's easier to allow diseases like AIDS, internal tribal fighting, landmines, and a few floods caused by newly designed electricity-generating dams to cull the ranks of the "unproductive" rather than create alternative methods of support for them.

In her new collection of essays, War Talk, Arundhati Roy rages about the connection between the profound violence on our planet, poverty, and the surge in corporate and military globalization. She writes with intense emotion for those considered "disposable" by capitalism and wonders how we can maintain our collective humanity in light of our callous disregard for everyone's inherent dignity.

Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, is a trained architect, raised in southern India, who now resides in New Delhi. Her essays on issues of social justice have been published around the world and in two previous collections, Power Politics and The Cost of Living.

War Talk is a slim book, with only 112 pages of double-spaced, wide-margined essays, followed by a glossary (helpful for those unfamiliar with Indian terms), extensive footnotes, and index. Do not, however, mistake its petite design for light reading. Roy is an incisive, infuriated citizen of the world, and she is determined not to allow the powers that thrive on imbalance and inequity to silence her.

The essays are fairly easy to read, though at times their subject matter is difficult to stomach. Roy barely restrains herself from screaming in frustration at humans and their inability to recognize the connection between inequality and the lack of peace. She exposes herself fully, writing with such emotion and articulation that the reader can almost see her expression of righteous fury and hear her (surely) strong voice choked with tears.

ROY'S PRIMARY TARGETS are political leaders who have rolled over and ignored any sense of civic duty in order to promote private corporate financial goals, followed closely by the super-secret international-finance triumvirate of the World Bank, IMF, and World Trade Organization. In the essay "Democracy: Who is She When She is at Home?" Roy lashes out at India's leaders who passively allowed Hindus to slaughter Muslims in the state of Gujarat, which she describes as "the petri dish in which Hindu fascism has been fomenting an elaborate political experiment." Her description of the pogroms against Muslims is horrifying.

Other topics include the tiny but insistent nonviolent struggle against dams in India that would drown out thousands of people; the subtle efforts by the West (the United States in particular) to gain control of the Middle East's resources (dramatically advanced by the war against Iraq); and the significant contribution made by Noam Chomsky to critical political analysis in the era of mass media double-speak.

In her last essay, "Confronting Empire," which is based on her speech to delegates at this year's World Social Forum, Roy shares some advice and strategy to fellow strugglers for peace: Expose the emperors wearing no clothes, reinvent civil disobedience ("come up with a million ways of becoming a collective pain in the ass"), and publicly, loudly, consistently refuse to be herded into the "for us or against us" model of citizenship. "When George Bush says, ‘You're either with us, or you are with the terrorists,'" Roy writes, "we can say ‘No thank you.' We can let him know that the people of the world do not need to choose between a Malevolent Mickey Mouse and the Mad Mullahs." Indeed.

Judy Coode is communications manager for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington, D.C.

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