Recently, those who have criticized 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 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're heard and the argument
will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.
What does the term mean? That you're anti-jazz?
Or that you're opposed to free speech? That you don't delight in
Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant
sequoias? Does it mean 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 music, literature,
the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures
of ordinary people with criticism of the US government's foreign
policy 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.
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.
(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.)
To call someone anti-American, indeed, to be
anti-American, is not just racist, it's a failure of the imagination.
An inability to see the world in terms other than those that the
establishment has set out for you: 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 11 rhetoric, dismissing it as
foolish and arrogant. I've realized that it's not. It's actually
a canny recruitment drive for a misconceived, dangerous war. Every
day I'm taken aback at how many people believe that opposing the
war in Afghanistan amounts to supporting terrorism. Now that the
initial aim of the war - capturing Osama bin Laden - 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're 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?
Uppermost on everybody's mind, of course, particularly
here in America, is the horror of what has come to be known as 9/11.
Nearly 3,000 civilians lost their lives in that lethal terrorist
strike. The grief is still deep. The rage still sharp. The tears
have not dried. And a strange, deadly war is raging around the world.
Yet, each person who has lost a loved one surely knows that no war,
no act of revenge, will blunt the edges of their pain or bring their
own loved ones back. War cannot avenge those who have died. War
is only a brutal desecration of their memory.
To fuel yet another war - this time against Iraq
- by manipulating people's grief, by packaging it for TV specials
sponsored by corporations selling detergent or running shoes, is
to cheapen and devalue grief, to drain it of meaning. We are seeing
a pillaging of even the most private human feelings for political
purpose. It is a terrible, violent thing for a state to do to its
The US government says that Saddam Hussein is
a war criminal, a cruel military despot who has committed genocide
against his own people. That's a fairly accurate description of
the man. In 1988, he razed hundreds of villages in northern Iraq
and killed thousands of Kurds. Today, we know that that same year
the US government provided him with $500m in subsidies to buy American
farm products. The next year, after he had successfully completed
his genocidal campaign, the US government doubled its subsidy to
$1bn. It also provided him with high-quality germ seed for anthrax,
as well as helicopters and dual-use material that could be used
to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
It turns out that while Saddam was carrying out
his worst atrocities, the US and UK governments were his close allies.
So what changed?
In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait. His sin
was not so much that he had committed an act of war, but that he
acted independently, without orders from his masters. This display
of independence was enough to upset the power equation in the Gulf.
So it was decided that Saddam be exterminated, like a pet that has
outlived its owner's affection.
A decade of bombing has not managed to dislodge
him. Now, almost 12 years on, Bush Jr is ratcheting up the rhetoric
once again. He's proposing an all-out war whose goal is nothing
short of a regime change. Andrew H Card Jr, the White House chief-of-staff,
described how the administration was stepping up its war plans for
autumn: "From a marketing point of view," he said, "you
don't introduce new products in August." This time the catchphrase
for Washington's "new product" is not the plight of people
in Kuwait but the assertion that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
Forget "the feckless moralizing of the 'peace' lobbies,"
wrote Richard Perle, chairman of the Defence Policy Board. The US
will " act alone if necessary" and use a "pre-emptive
strike" if it determines it is in US interests.
Weapons inspectors have conflicting reports about
the status of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and many have
said clearly that its arsenal has been dismantled and that it does
not have the capacity to build one. What if Iraq does have a nuclear
weapon? Does that justify a pre-emptive US strike? The US has the
largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world. It's the only country
in the world to have actually used them on civilian populations.
If the US is justified in launching a pre-emptive attack on Iraq,
why, any nuclear power is justified in carrying out a pre-emptive
attack on any other. India could attack Pakistan, or the other way
Recently, the US played an important part in
forcing India and Pakistan back from the brink of war. Is it so
hard for it to take its own advice? Who is guilty of feckless moralizing?
Of preaching peace while it wages war? The US, which Bush has called
"the most peaceful nation on earth", has been at war with
one country or another every year for the last 50 years.
Wars are never fought for altruistic reasons.
They're usually fought for hegemony, for business. And then, of
course, there's the business of war. In his book on globalization,
The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Friedman says: "The hidden
hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's
cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas. And the hidden fist that
keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish
is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." Perhaps
this was written in a moment of vulnerability, but it's certainly
the most succinct, accurate description of the project of corporate
globalization that I have read.
After September 11 and the war against terror,
the hidden hand and fist have had their cover blown - and we have
a clear view now of America's other weapon - the free market - bearing
down on the developing world, with a clenched, unsmiling smile.
The Task That Never Ends is America's perfect war, the perfect vehicle
for the endless expansion of American imperialism. In Urdu, the
word for profit is fayda. Al-qaida means the word, the word of God,
the law. So, in India, some of us call the War Against Terror, Al-qaida
vs Al-fayda - The Word vs The Profit (no pun intended). For the
moment it looks as though Al-fayda will carry the day. But then
you never know.
In the past 10 years, the world's total income
has increased by an average of 2.5% a year. And yet the numbers
of the poor in the world has increased by 100 million. Of the top
100 biggest economies, 51 are corporations, not countries. The top
1% of the world has the same combined income as the bottom 57%,
and the disparity is growing. Now, under the spreading canopy of
the war against terror, this process is being hustled along. The
men in suits are in an unseemly hurry. While bombs rain down, contracts
are being signed, patents registered, oil pipelines laid, natural
resources plundered, water privatized and democracies undermined.
But as the disparity between the rich and poor
grows, the hidden fist of the free market has its work cut out.
Multinational corporations on the prowl for "sweetheart deals"
that yield enormous profits cannot push them through in developing
countries without the active connivance of state machinery - the
police, the courts, sometimes even the army. Today, corporate globalization
needs an international confederation of loyal, corrupt, preferably
authoritarian governments in poorer countries, to push through unpopular
reforms and quell the mutinies. It needs a press that pretends to
be free. It needs courts that pretend to dispense justice. It needs
nuclear bombs, standing armies, sterner immigration laws, and watchful
coastal patrols to make sure that its only money, goods, patents
and services that are globalize - not the free movement of people,
not a respect for human rights, not international treaties on racial
discrimination or chemical and nuclear weapons, or greenhouse gas
emissions, climate change, or, God forbid, justice. It's as though
even a gesture towards international accountability would wreck
the whole enterprise.
Close to one year after the war against terror
was officially flagged off in the ruins of Afghanistan, in country
after country freedoms are being curtailed in the name of protecting
freedom, civil liberties are being suspended in the name of protecting
democracy. All kinds of dissent is being defined as "terrorism".
Donald Rumsfeld said that his mission in the war against terror
was to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue
their way of life. When the maddened king stamps his foot, slaves
tremble in their quarters. So, it's hard for me to say this, but
the American way of life is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn't
acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.
Fortunately, power has a shelf life. When the
time comes, maybe this mighty empire will, like others before it,
overreach itself and implode from within. It looks as though structural
cracks have already appeared. As the war against terror casts its
net wider and wider, America's corporate heart is hemorrhaging.
A world run by a handful of greedy bankers and CEOs whom nobody
elected can't possibly last.
Soviet-style communism failed, not because it
was intrinsically evil but because it was flawed. It allowed too
few people to usurp too much power: 21st-century market-capitalism,
American-style, will fail for the same reasons.