File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2001/bhaskar.0110, message 39

Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2001 22:30:00 +0100
Subject: BHA: <fwd>Arundhoti Roy: Why America must stop the war now. 

'Brutality smeared in peanut butter'
Why America must stop the war now.

By Arundhati Roy

Guardian Unlimited
Tuesday October 23, 2001,4273,4283081,00.html

As darkness deepened over Afghanistan on Sunday
October 7 2001, the US government, backed by the
International Coalition Against Terror (the new,
amenable surrogate for the United Nations), launched
air strikes against Afghanistan. TV channels lingered
on computer-animated images of cruise missiles,
stealth bombers, tomahawks, "bunker-busting" missiles
and Mark 82 high drag bombs. All over the world,
little boys watched goggle-eyed and stopped clamouring
for new video games.

The UN, reduced now to an ineffective acronym, wasn't
even asked to mandate the air strikes. (As Madeleine
Albright once said, "We will behave multilaterally
when we can, and unilaterally when we must.") The
"evidence" against the terrorists was shared amongst
friends in the "coalition".

After conferring, they announced that it didn't matter
whether or not the "evidence" would stand up in a
court of law. Thus, in an instant, were centuries of
jurisprudence carelessly trashed.

Nothing can excuse or justify an act of terrorism,
whether it is committed by religious fundamentalists,
private militia, people's resistance movements - or
whether it's dressed up as a war of retribution by a
recognised government. The bombing of Afghanistan is
not revenge for New York and Washington. It is yet
another act of terror against the people of the world.

Each innocent person that is killed must be added to,
not set off against, the grisly toll of civilians who
died in New York and Washington.

People rarely win wars, governments rarely lose them.
People get killed.

Governments moult and regroup, hydra-headed. They use
flags first to shrink-wrap people's minds and smother
thought, and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury their
willing dead. On both sides, in Afghanistan as well as
America, civilians are now hostage to the actions of
their own governments.

Unknowingly, ordinary people in both countries share a
common bond - they have to live with the phenomenon of
blind, unpredictable terror. Each batch of bombs that
is dropped on Afghanistan is matched by a
corresponding escalation of mass hysteria in America
about anthrax, more hijackings and other terrorist

There is no easy way out of the spiralling morass of
terror and brutality that confronts the world today.
It is time now for the human race to hold still, to
delve into its wells of collective wisdom, both
ancient and modern. What happened on September 11
changed the world forever.

Freedom, progress, wealth, technology, war - these
words have taken on new meaning.

Governments have to acknowledge this transformation,
and approach their new tasks with a modicum of honesty
and humility. Unfortunately, up to now, there has been
no sign of any introspection from the leaders of the
International Coalition. Or the Taliban.

When he announced the air strikes, President George
Bush said: "We're a peaceful nation." America's
favourite ambassador, Tony Blair, (who also holds the
portfolio of prime minister of the UK), echoed him:
"We're a peaceful people."

So now we know. Pigs are horses. Girls are boys. War
is peace.

Speaking at the FBI headquarters a few days later,
President Bush said: "This is our calling. This is the
calling of the United States of America. The most free
nation in the world. A nation built on fundamental
values that reject hate, reject violence, rejects
murderers and rejects evil. We will not tire."

Here is a list of the countries that America has been
at war with - and bombed - since the second world war:
China (1945-46, 1950-53), Korea (1950-53), Guatemala
(1954, 1967-69), Indonesia (1958), Cuba (1959-60), the
Belgian Congo (1964), Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73),
Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70), Grenada (1983),
Libya (1986), El Salvador (1980s), Nicaragua (1980s),
Panama (1989), Iraq (1991-99), Bosnia (1995), Sudan
(1998), Yugoslavia (1999). And now Afghanistan.

Certainly it does not tire - this, the most free
nation in the world.

What freedoms does it uphold? Within its borders, the
freedoms of speech, religion, thought; of artistic
expression, food habits, sexual preferences (well, to
some extent) and many other exemplary, wonderful

Outside its borders, the freedom to dominate,
humiliate and subjugate  usually in the service of
America's real religion, the "free market". So when
the US government christens a war "Operation Infinite
Justice", or "Operation Enduring Freedom", we in the
third world feel more than a tremor of fear.

Because we know that Infinite Justice for some means
Infinite Injustice for others. And Enduring Freedom
for some means Enduring Subjugation for others.

The International Coalition Against Terror is
largely a cabal of the richest countries in the world.
Between them, they manufacture and sell almost all of
the world's weapons, they possess the largest
stockpile of weapons of mass destruction - chemical,
biological and nuclear. They have fought the most
wars, account for most of the genocide, subjection,
ethnic cleansing and human rights violations in modern
history, and have sponsored, armed and financed untold
numbers of dictators and despots. Between them, they
have worshipped, almost deified, the cult of violence
and war. For all its appalling sins, the Taliban just
isn't in the same league.

The Taliban was compounded in the crumbling crucible
of rubble, heroin and landmines in the backwash of the
cold war. Its oldest leaders are in their early 40s.
Many of them are disfigured and handicapped, missing
an eye, an arm or a leg. They grew up in a society
scarred and devastated by war.

Between the Soviet Union and America, over 20 years,
about $45bn (30bn) worth of arms and ammunition was
poured into Afghanistan. The latest weaponry was the
only shard of modernity to intrude upon a thoroughly
medieval society.

Young boys  many of them orphans - who grew up in
those times, had guns for toys, never knew the
security and comfort of family life, never experienced
the company of women. Now, as adults and rulers, the
Taliban beat, stone, rape and brutalise women, they
don't seem to know what else to do with them.

Years of war has stripped them of gentleness, inured
them to kindness and human compassion. Now they've
turned their monstrosity on their own people.

They dance to the percussive rhythms of bombs raining
down around them.

With all due respect to President Bush, the people of
the world do not have to choose between the Taliban
and the US government. All the beauty of human
civilisation - our art, our music, our literature -
lies beyond these two fundamentalist, ideological
poles. There is as little chance that the people of
the world can all become middle-class consumers as
there is that they will all embrace any one particular
religion. The issue is not about good v evil or Islam
v Christianity as much as it is about space. About how
to accommodate diversity, how to contain the impulse
towards hegemony  every kind of hegemony, economic,
military, linguistic, religious and cultural.

Any ecologist will tell you how dangerous and fragile
a monoculture is. A hegemonic world is like having a
government without a healthy opposition. It becomes a
kind of dictatorship. It's like putting a plastic bag
over the world, and preventing it from breathing.
Eventually, it will be torn open.

One and a half million Afghan people lost their lives
in the 20 years of conflict that preceded this new
war. Afghanistan was reduced to rubble, and now, the
rubble is being pounded into finer dust. By the second
day of the air strikes, US pilots were returning to
their bases without dropping their assigned payload of
bombs. As one pilot put it, Afghanistan is "not a
target-rich environment". At a press briefing at the
Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary,
was asked if America had run out of targets.

"First we're going to re-hit targets," he said, "and
second, we're not running out of targets, Afghanistan
is ..." This was greeted with gales of laughter in the
briefing room.

By the third day of the strikes, the US defence
department boasted that it had "achieved air supremacy
over Afghanistan" (Did they mean that they had
destroyed both, or maybe all 16, of Afghanistan's

On the ground in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance -
the Taliban's old enemy, and therefore the
international coalition's newest friend - is making
headway in its push to capture Kabul. (For the
archives, let it be said that the Northern Alliance's
track record is not very different from the Taliban's.
But for now, because it's inconvenient, that little
detail is being glossed over.) The visible, moderate,
"acceptable" leader of the alliance, Ahmed Shah Masud,
was killed in a suicide-bomb attack early in
September. The rest of the Northern Alliance is a
brittle confederation of brutal warlords, ex-
communists and unbending clerics. It is a disparate
group divided along ethnic lines, some of whom have
tasted power in Afghanistan in the past.

Until the US air strikes, the Northern Alliance
controlled about 5% of the geographical area of
Afghanistan. Now, with the coalition's help and "air
cover", it is poised to topple the Taliban. Meanwhile,
Taliban soldiers, sensing imminent defeat, have begun
to defect to the alliance. So the fighting forces are
busy switching sides and changing uniforms. But in an
enterprise as cynical as this one, it seems to matter
hardly at all.

Love is hate, north is south, peace is war.

Among the global powers, there is talk of "putting in
a representative government". Or, on the other hand,
of "restoring" the kingdom to Afghanistan's 89-year
old former king Zahir Shah, who has lived in exile in
Rome since 1973. That's the way the game goes -
support Saddam Hussein, then "take him out"; finance
the mojahedin, then bomb them to smithereens; put in
Zahir Shah and see if he's going to be a good boy. (Is
it possible to "put in" a representative government?
Can you place an order for democracy - with extra
cheese and jalapeno peppers?)

Reports have begun to trickle in about civilian
casualties, about cities emptying out as Afghan
civilians flock to the borders which have been closed.
Main arterial roads have been blown up or sealed off.
Those who have experience of working in Afghanistan
say that by early November, food convoys will not be
able to reach the millions of Afghans (7.5m, according
to the UN) who run the very real risk of starving to
death during the course of this winter. They say that
in the days that are left before winter sets in, there
can either be a war, or an attempt to reach food to
the hungry. Not both.

As a gesture of humanitarian support, the US
government air-dropped 37,000 packets of emergency
rations into Afghanistan. It says it plans to drop a
total of 500,000 packets. That will still only add up
to a single meal for half a million people out of the
several million in dire need of food.

Aid workers have condemned it as a cynical, dangerous,
public-relations exercise. They say that air-dropping
food packets is worse than futile.

First, because the food will never get to those who
really need it. More dangerously, those who run out to
retrieve the packets risk being blown up by landmines.
A tragic alms race.

Nevertheless, the food packets had a photo-op all to
themselves. Their contents were listed in major
newspapers. They were vegetarian, we're told, as per
Muslim dietary law (!) Each yellow packet, decorated
with the American flag, contained: rice, peanut
butter, bean salad, strawberry jam, crackers, raisins,
flat bread, an apple fruit bar, seasoning, matches, a
set of plastic cutlery, a serviette and illustrated
user instructions.

After three years of unremitting drought, an air-
dropped airline meal in Jalalabad! The level of
cultural ineptitude, the failure to understand what
months of relentless hunger and grinding poverty
really mean, the US government's attempt to use even
this abject misery to boost its self-image, beggars

Reverse the scenario for a moment. Imagine if the
Taliban government was to bomb New York City, saying
all the while that its real target was the US
government and its policies. And suppose, during
breaks between the bombing, the Taliban dropped a few
thousand packets containing nan and kebabs impaled on
an Afghan flag. Would the good people of New York ever
find it in themselves to forgive the Afghan
government? Even if they were hungry, even if they
needed the food, even if they ate it, how would they
ever forget the insult, the condescension? Rudi
Guiliani, Mayor of New York City, returned a gift of
$10m from a Saudi prince because it came with a few
words of friendly advice about American policy in the
Middle East. Is pride a luxury that only the rich are
entitled to?

Far from stamping it out, igniting this kind of rage
is what creates terrorism. Hate and retribution don't
go back into the box once you've let them out. For
every "terrorist" or his "supporter" that is killed,
hundreds of innocent people are being killed too. And
for every hundred innocent people killed, there is a
good chance that several future terrorists will be

Where will it all lead?

Setting aside the rhetoric for a moment, consider the
fact that the world has not yet found an acceptable
definition of what "terrorism" is. One country's
terrorist is too often another's freedom fighter. At
the heart of the matter lies the world's deep-seated
ambivalence towards violence.

Once violence is accepted as a legitimate political
instrument, then the morality and political
acceptability of terrorists (insurgents or freedom
fighters) becomes contentious, bumpy terrain. The US
government itself has funded, armed and sheltered
plenty of rebels and insurgents around the world.

The CIA and Pakistan's ISI trained and armed the
mojahedin who, in the 80s, were seen as terrorists by
the government in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Today,
Pakistan - America's ally in this new war - sponsors
insurgents who cross the border into Kashmir in India.
Pakistan lauds them as "freedom-fighters", India calls
them "terrorists". India, for its part, denounces
countries who sponsor and abet terrorism, but the
Indian army has, in the past, trained separatist Tamil
rebels asking for a homeland in Sri Lanka - the LTTE,
responsible for countless acts of bloody terrorism.

(Just as the CIA abandoned the mujahideen after they
had served its purpose, India abruptly turned its back
on the LTTE for a host of political reasons. It was an
enraged LTTE suicide bomber who assassinated former
Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989.)

It is important for governments and politicians to
understand that manipulating these huge, raging human
feelings for their own narrow purposes may yield
instant results, but eventually and inexorably, they
have disastrous consequences. Igniting and exploiting
religious sentiments for reasons of political
expediency is the most dangerous legacy that
governments or politicians can bequeath to any people
- including their own.

People who live in societies ravaged by religious or
communal bigotry know that every religious text - from
the Bible to the Bhagwad Gita - can be mined and
misinterpreted to justify anything, from nuclear war
to genocide to corporate globalisation.

This is not to suggest that the terrorists who
perpetrated the outrage on September 11 should not be
hunted down and brought to book. They must be.

But is war the best way to track them down? Will
burning the haystack find you the needle? Or will it
escalate the anger and make the world a living hell
for all of us?

At the end of the day, how many people can you spy on,
how many bank accounts can you freeze, how many
conversations can you eavesdrop on, how many emails
can you intercept, how many letters can you open, how
many phones can you tap? Even before September 11, the
CIA had accumulated more information than is humanly
possible to process. (Sometimes, too much data can
actually hinder intelligence - small wonder the US spy
satellites completely missed the preparation that
preceded India's nuclear tests in 1998.)

The sheer scale of the surveillance will become a
logistical, ethical and civil rights nightmare. It
will drive everybody clean crazy. And freedom - that
precious, precious thing - will be the first casualty.
It's already hurt and haemorrhaging dangerously.

Governments across the world are cynically using the
prevailing paranoia to promote their own interests.
All kinds of unpredictable political forces are being
unleashed. In India, for instance, members of the All
India People's Resistance Forum, who were distributing
anti-war and anti-US pamphlets in Delhi, have been
jailed. Even the printer of the leaflets was arrested.

The rightwing government (while it shelters Hindu
extremists groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
and the Bajrang Dal) has banned the Islamic Students
Movement of India and is trying to revive an anti-
terrorist Act which had been withdrawn after the Human
Rights Commission reported that it had been more
abused than used. Millions of Indian citizens are
Muslim. Can anything be gained by alienating them?

Every day that the war goes on, raging emotions are
being let loose into the world. The international
press has little or no independent access to the war
zone. In any case, mainstream media, particularly in
the US, have more or less rolled over, allowing
themselves to be tickled on the stomach with press
handouts from military men and government officials.
Afghan radio stations have been destroyed by the
bombing. The Taliban has always been deeply suspicious
of the press. In the propaganda war, there is no
accurate estimate of how many people have been killed,
or how much destruction has taken place. In the
absence of reliable information, wild rumours spread.

Put your ear to the ground in this part of the world,
and you can hear the thrumming, the deadly drumbeat of
burgeoning anger. Please. Please, stop the war now.
Enough people have died. The smart missiles are just
not smart enough. They're blowing up whole warehouses
of suppressed fury.

President George Bush recently boasted, "When I take
action, I'm not going to fire a $2m missile at a $10
empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to
be decisive." President Bush should know that there
are no targets in Afghanistan that will give his
missiles their money's worth.

Perhaps, if only to balance his books, he should
develop some cheaper missiles to use on cheaper
targets and cheaper lives in the poor countries of the
world. But then, that may not make good business sense
to the coalition's weapons manufacturers. It wouldn't
make any sense at all, for example, to the Carlyle
Group - described by the Industry Standard as "the
world's largest private equity firm", with $13bn under

Carlyle invests in the defence sector and makes its
money from military conflicts and weapons spending.

Carlyle is run by men with impeccable credentials.
Former US defence secretary Frank Carlucci is
Carlyle's chairman and managing director (he was a
college roommate of Donald Rumsfeld's). Carlyle's
other partners include former US secretary of state
James A Baker III, George Soros and Fred Malek (George
Bush Sr's campaign manager). An American paper  the
Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel - says that former
president George Bush Sr is reported to be seeking
investments for the Carlyle Group from Asian markets.

He is reportedly paid not inconsiderable sums of money
to make "presentations" to potential government-

Ho hum. As the tired saying goes, it's all in the

Then there's that other branch of traditional family
business - oil. Remember, President George Bush (Jr)
and Vice-President Dick Cheney both made their
fortunes working in the US oil industry.

Turkmenistan, which borders the north-west of
Afghanistan, holds the world's third largest gas
reserves and an estimated six billion barrels of oil
reserves. Enough, experts say, to meet American energy
needs for the next 30 years (or a developing country's
energy requirements for a couple of centuries.)
America has always viewed oil as a security
consideration, and protected it by any means it deems
necessary. Few of us doubt that its military presence
in the Gulf has little to do with its concern for
human rights and almost entirely to do with its
strategic interest in oil.

Oil and gas from the Caspian region currently moves
northward to European markets. Geographically and
politically, Iran and Russia are major impediments to
American interests. In 1998, Dick Cheney - then CEO of
Halliburton, a major player in the oil industry -
said, "I can't think of a time when we've had a region
emerge as suddenly to become as strategically
significant as the Caspian. It's almost as if the
opportunities have arisen overnight." True enough.

For some years now, an American oil giant called
Unocal has been negotiating with the Taliban for
permission to construct an oil pipeline through
Afghanistan to Pakistan and out to the Arabian sea.
>From here, Unocal hopes to access the lucrative
"emerging markets" in south and south-east Asia. In
December 1997, a delegation of Taliban mullahs
travelled to America and even met US state department
officials and Unocal executives in Houston. At that
time the Taliban's taste for public executions and its
treatment of Afghan women were not made out to be the
crimes against humanity that they are now.

Over the next six months, pressure from hundreds of
outraged American feminist groups was brought to bear
on the Clinton administration.

Fortunately, they managed to scuttle the deal. And now
comes the US oil industry's big chance.

In America, the arms industry, the oil industry, the
major media networks, and, indeed, US foreign policy,
are all controlled by the same business combines.
Therefore, it would be foolish to expect this talk of
guns and oil and defence deals to get any real play in
the media. In any case, to a distraught, confused
people whose pride has just been wounded, whose loved
ones have been tragically killed, whose anger is fresh
and sharp, the inanities about the "clash of
civilisations" and the "good v evil" discourse home in
unerringly. They are cynically doled out by government
spokesmen like a daily dose of vitamins or anti-
depressants. Regular medication ensures that mainland
America continues to remain the enigma it has always
been - a curiously insular people, administered by a
pathologically meddlesome, promiscuous government.

And what of the rest of us, the numb recipients of
this onslaught of what we know to be preposterous
propaganda? The daily consumers of the lies and
brutality smeared in peanut butter and strawberry jam
being air-dropped into our minds just like those
yellow food packets. Shall we look away and eat
because we're hungry, or shall we stare unblinking at
the grim theatre unfolding in Afghanistan until we
retch collectively and say, in one voice, that we have
had enough?

As the first year of the new millennium rushes to a
close, one wonders - have we forfeited our right to
dream? Will we ever be able to re-imagine beauty?

Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow,
amazed blink of a newborn gecko in the sun, or whisper
back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear
- without thinking of the World Trade Centre and

[Note: Arundati Roy is author of the London Times #1
Best Seller, God of Small Things, and of Power
Politics: Algebra of Infinite Justice. Interviewed by
Dennis Bernstein on, Roy said,
"All around the world, they publish me, in America now
the free press will not." But see Roy's moving
condemnation of nuclear weaponry in her essay, The End
of Imagination, Nation 9/28/1998. - mdover]

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