The following is excerpted from
Ms. Roy's remarks at an event sponsored by the Lannan
The theme of much of what I write,
fiction as well as nonfiction, is the relationship
between power and powerlessness and the endless,
circular conflict they’re engaged in. The term “anti-American” is
usually used by the American establishment to discredit
its critics (myself included). Once someone is branded
anti-American, the chances are that the person’s
argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national
But what does the term “anti-American” mean?
Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you’re
opposed to freedom of speech? That you don’t
delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you
have a quarrel with giant sequoias? [Audience laughter]
Does it mean that you don’t admire
the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who
marched against nuclear weapons? Does it mean that
you hate all Americans?
This sly conflation of America’s culture, music,
literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the
land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with
criticism of the U.S. government’s foreign
policy is an 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.
But there are many Americans who would be mortified
associated with their government’s policies.
It is dangerous to cede to the
government or the American government the right to
define what “India” or “America” are
or ought to be. To be “anti-American” (or
for that matter, anti-Indian or anti-Timbuktuan)
is not just racist, it’s a failure of the imagination.
An inability to see the world in terms other
than those the establishment has set out for you. If you’re
not a Bushie, you’re a Taliban. If you’re
not Good, you’re Evil. If you’re not
with us, you’re with the terrorists.
Now that the initial aim of the
war in Afghanistan - capturing
Osama bin Laden (dead or alive) - 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, that the U.S. Marines
are actually on a feminist mission. [Laughter, applause]
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 Delhi, Islamabad and
Dhaka be destroyed? Is it possible to bomb bigotry
out of India? Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise?
In everybody’s mind of course,
particularly here in America, is the horror of what
has come to
be known as 9/11. 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
secretly, deeply, that no war, no act of revenge,
no daisy-cutters dropped on someone else’s
ones or someone else’s children, will blunt
the edges of their pain.To fuel yet another war -
this time against Iraq - by manipulating people’s
grief is to pillage even the most private human feelings
for political purpose. It is a terrible, violent
thing for a State to do to its people. [Applause]
Real globalization would be the
idea that human beings across the world do share
love, and terror, and gentleness,
and these things which literature links up. That’s
why I keep saying that literature is the opposite
of a nuclear bomb.
Arundhati Roy received the 1997 Booker Prize for
The God of Small Things.
The full text of her speech for the Lannan Foundation
in Sante Fe is available in her new book, War Talk
(South End Press). Copyright @ 2002 Arundhati Roy.