Friday, September 03, 2004
Mickey Z. on Arundhati Roy
My review of the recent Arundhati Roy interview book is in the September
issue of Z Magazine in stores now.
The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile
Conversations with Arundhati Roy
By David Barsamian; Foreword by Naomi Klein
South End Press, Boston, 2004; 178 pp.
Review by Mickey Z.
While much of the U.S. is focused on a presidential campaign between two war-mongering Yale graduates, the primary conflict on the planet remains unaltered: globalization from above vs. globalization from below. Arund- hati Roy, the Indian-born author of the novel The God of Small Things, discusses this fundamental clash in a series of interviews with David Barsamian collected in The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile.
When reading commentary like, “I think it is dangerous to confuse the idea of democracy with elections. Just because you have elections doesn’t mean you’re a democratic country,” it’s not an exaggeration to declare this book has arrived in the proverbial nick of time. There’s plenty to say about The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile, but its greatest value lies in recognizing Roy as the right messenger at the right moment.
To read the rest of the review, click on “more” (or think about subscribing to Z Magazine on line or in print.)
“People are so isolated, and so alone, and so suspicious, and so competitive with each other, and so sure that they are about to be conned by their neighbor, or by their mother, or by their sister, or their grandmother,” she says, her outsider status lending valuable perspective on the land of the free and home of the brave. “What’s the use of having fifty percent of the world’s wealth, or whatever it is that you have, if you’re going to live this pathetic, terrified life?”
Melding personal anecdotes with a generous helping of contemporary Indian issues, Roy shines a light on the world beyond the United States as she ponders the almost universal silence of U.S. citizens in the face of myriad global crises: “It’s a strangely insular place, America,” she tells Bars- amian. “When you live outside it, and you come here, it’s almost shocking how insular it is.... I’m still taken aback at the extent of indoctrination and propaganda in the United States. It is as if people there are being reared in a sort of altered reality, like broiler chickens or pigs in a pen.... People from poorer places and poorer countries have to call upon their compassion not to be angry with ordinary people in America.”
This last point has been dangerously and imprudently ignored all across the U.S. political spectrum and Roy spares no friend or foe in analyzing and deconstructing traditional methods of protest and dissent, i.e. the global February 15, 2003 anti-war demonstrations. “Fifteen million people marched… in perhaps the biggest display of public morality ever seen,” Roy states. “It was fantastic. But it was symbolic. Governments of today have learned to deal with that. They know to wait out a demonstration or a march. They know the day after tomorrow, opinions can change, or be manipulated into changing. Unless civil disobedience becomes real, not symbolic, there is very little hope for change.”
Arundhati Roy brings a passionate message of urgency. Contrary to Western chauvinism, much can be learned from people and, in her unique voice, Arundhati Roy helps articulate some of these lessons. Unless we create persuasive and immediate ways to oppose the predatory status quo, we can expect the victims of our apathy and/or incompetence to hold each and every one of us liable. It’s not enough to connect with our inner child and develop enough self-esteem to sign a petition to free Tibet on our way to yoga class. “We need to be very specific now about what we have to do,” Roy declares. “Because we know the score. Enough of being right. We need to win.”
This message goes well beyond Bush vs. Kerry or the U.S. government recklessly declaring war on a tactic (terror). What Barsamian’s questions provoke is an eloquent and desperate plea for direct, instantaneous action. Roy challenges U.S. activists to step up.
“[The] real fight is waiting to happen now,” she warns. “We need to clearly demarcate battle lines. We cannot take on empire in its entirety. We have to dismantle its working parts and take them on one by one. We can’t use the undirected spray of machine gun fire. We need the cold precision of an assassin’s bullet. I don’t mean this literally. I am talking about nonviolent resistance. We need to pick our targets, and hit them, one by one. It’s not possible to take on empire in some huge, epic sense. Because we simply don’t have the kind of power or reach or equipment to do that. We need to have an agenda, and we need to direct it.”
Do not plan on reading The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile slowly and savoring it like, say, The God of Small Things. This time around, Arundhati Roy can see the point of no return looming ominously on the horizon...and she has issued a call to arms that we cannot afford to ignore.Share
Happy Birthday, Eduardo Galeano
In “The Book of Embraces,” Eduardo Galeano muses:
“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of
Galeano was born on this day in 1940. If he has ever wondered if we’d still need him when he’s 64...well, I’m sure glad he’s around and as passionate as ever.
(Galeano’s quote comes courtesy of Today in Literature, a highly recommended calendar of engaging stories about the great books, writers, and events in literary history: http://www.todayinliterature.com)
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Dissent is a marathon...not a sprint
The revered pugilist/philosopher Iron Mike Tyson once mused: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.” And get hit everyone will. Case in point: Many of the Anybody-But-Bush (ABB) protesters who have taken to the streets of the Big Apple during the Republican National Convention. I don’t just mean blows suffered at the hands of an over-eager policeman; I’m talking about the slings and arrows of activism as a life choice.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that questioned the strategy of only protesting the Republicans when the Democrats are barely distinguishable. I asked: “Where was the planned-for-months-in-advance outrage in Boston last month? The Hitler mustaches? The warnings about fascism? The cataloging of candidate crimes?” I also pondered the efficacy of “anti-authority types submitting to New York’s demands for polite opposition restricted to a pre-determined venue.” I summed up, calling this the “Michael McMoore era of dissent” and declared I would skip town during the RNC (I did a for a day or two but here I am again).
The result (as documented here) was a predictable mélange of misinterpretation by design, overreaction, and personal attack. Most interesting was the righteousness. Individuals much younger than I essentially branded me a traitor and scoffed at my absence. My commitment and activist “credentials” were being seriously questioned...as it were. Fine. I’ve heard much worse and my skin is NYC-thick.
Yet, although I’m aware how sincere and dedicated many of the demonstrators are, I kept hearing a line from The Clash over and over in my head:
“I believe in this and it’s been tested by research:
He who fucks nuns will later join the church”
Even in the face of urgent issues, dissent is a marathon...not a sprint. Activism is not about hating one man or even one party...it is holistic. Twenty-somethings making clever Dick and Bush jokes may cultivate a more nuanced understanding of the “system” but, sadly, many will lose faith and focus...many will embrace compromise and denial.
What do my youthful critics know of my choices and sacrifices? Sure, I’m not digging ditches in Myanmar and I have no desire to overstate my meager hardships, but how many of those who paraded through Manhattan for a few hours on a Sunday will stay the course, evolve, and maintain an open mind over the next few decades...when, as Tyson warns, they get hit? How many will stick to the plan?
Reality: Carrying a sign when you’re 21 rarely translates to remaining steadfast into your 40s...and beyond.