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War Talk. (Books).

By Arundhati Roy

Based on this book's title and timing, readers may expect a critique of the U.S. empire's most recent attempt to "democratize" a sovereign nation by dropping bombs, deposing its (previously U.S.-backed) leaders, and killing innocent people. Writing from New Delhi, Roy adds to that critique but also offers another layer of analysis grounded in the local events that occupy her in her native India. As such, these essays join a body of activist work that has propelled Roy from being an acclaimed novelist to one of the foremost voices from the global south speaking out against war and globalization.

The book opens with three short essays: on India and Pakistan's nuclear standoff, a four-person hunger strike in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, and the state-supported murder of 2,000 Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat. These essays highlight the challenge facing India's social justice activists, as increased state-sponsored violence parallels decreased official attention to citizen-led nonviolent resistance. Roy finds evocative language to explain the resulting rage--her solid grasp of local conditions connects her analysis with the unrest stirring millions of people around the world.

Roy illustrates how local, national, and global wars promoted to increase democracy and security ultimately do just the opposite. Her analysis disentangles "the war on terror" as a ruthless intervention that destroys democracy, increases poverty and inequality, and encourages violence. She asserts that a "government's condemnation of terrorism is only credible it if shows itself to be responsible to persistent, reasonable, closely argued, nonviolent dissent." The Bush and Vajpayee administrations discredit nonviolence and reallocate the resources of the world's two largest democracies toward building and dropping bombs. The political elite tolerate those who turn to violent means" as they squash peaceful resistance and "lavish all their time, attention, funds, research, space, sophistication, and seriousness on war talk and terrorism." While she passionately condemns these political actions, Roy's focus remains on mobilizing the masses. She repeatedly asks, "Are we ready, many millions of us, to rally, not ju st on the streets, but at work and in school and in our home, in every decision we take, and every choice we make? Or not just yet...?" If you answered yes to both questions, as I did, then Roy's challenge is clear: translate anger into action to shift real power to the politically organized masses.

Roy then addresses the citizens of the second largest democracy. She dares Americans to think critically about their country's response to the destruction that occurred on September 11. She examines the need to grieve honestly, the multiple losses from that day, and the Bush administration's rhetoric that "if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists." Roy asserts that the U.S. government and media's war on Iraq "is a vulgar display of the business of grief, the commerce of grief, the pillaging of even the most private human feelings for political purpose." Led by the U.S., nation-states continually use this event to curtail freedom as "all kinds of dissent is being defined as 'terrorism.' In no other essay does Roy so directly challenge U.S. citizens with her particular combination of a critical historical eye and compassion.

In her now-famous statement at the World Social Forum in March, Roy concludes by reminding the disgruntled, "Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us mote than we need them." She calls on average world citizens--connected by a shared dominance under the U.S. empire and doubly affected by local and national uses of the rhetoric of terrorism to support violence--to challenge the unjust actions of their states. Both explicitly and implicitly throughout the book, Roy suggests that racism underlies the current distribution of power and, most recently, has allowed the U.S. to carry out its invasion of Iraq.

Roy fails to proscribe a detailed plan of action for "the many." But perhaps that would not make sense for someone promoting locally driven popular participation around issues of social justice which demand a transnational context. War Talk offers an analysis through which to make sense of the violence perpetrated by the world's most powerful and largest democracies. Along with fueling our fire, Roy compels us to confront this violence through truly democratic means.
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Author:Vithayathil, Trina
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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