This is an edited extract from the 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy at the Seymour Center last night.
Sometimes there's truth in old cliches. There can be no real peace without justice. And without resistance there will be no justice. Today, it is not merely justice itself, but the idea of justice that is under attack.
The assault on vulnerable, fragile sections of society is so complete, so cruel and so clever that its sheer audacity has eroded our definition of justice. It has forced us to lower our sights, and curtail our expectations. Even among the well-intentioned, the magnificent concept of justice is gradually being substituted with the reduced, far more fragile discourse of "human rights".
This is an alarming shift. The difference is that notions of equality, of parity, have been pried loose and eased out of the equation. It's a process of attrition. Almost unconsciously, we begin to think of justice for the rich and human rights for the poor. Justice for the corporate world, human rights for its victims. Justice for Americans, human rights for Afghans and Iraqis. Justice for the Indian upper castes, human rights for Dalits and Adivasis (if that.) Justice for white Australians, human rights for Aborigines and immigrants (most times, not even that.)
It is becoming more than clear that violating human rights is an inherent and necessary part of the process of implementing a coercive and unjust political and economic structure on the world. Increasingly, human rights violations are being portrayed as the unfortunate, almost accidental, fallout of an otherwise acceptable political and economic system. As though they are a small problem that can be mopped up with a little extra attention from some non-government organization.
This is why in areas of heightened conflict - in Kashmir and in Iraq for example - human rights professionals are regarded with a degree of suspicion. Many resistance movements in poor countries which are fighting huge injustice and questioning the underlying principles of what constitutes "liberation" and "development" view human rights non-government organizations as modern-day missionaries who have come to take the ugly edge off imperialism - to defuse political anger and to maintain the status quo.
It has been only a few weeks since Australia re-elected John Howard, who, among other things, led the nation to participate in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.
That invasion will surely go down in history as one of the most cowardly wars ever. It was a war in which a band of rich nations, armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, rounded on a poor nation, falsely accused it of having nuclear weapons, used the United Nations to force it to disarm, then invaded it, occupied it and are now in the process of selling it.
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I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking about it, but because it is a sign of things to come. Iraq marks the beginning of a new cycle. It offers us an opportunity to watch the corporate-military cabal that has come to be known as "empire" at work. In the new Iraq, the gloves are off.
As the battle to control the world's resources intensifies, economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback. Iraq is the logical culmination of the process of corporate globalization in which neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism have fused. If we can find it in ourselves to peep behind the curtain of blood, we would glimpse the pitiless transactions taking place backstage.
Invaded and occupied Iraq has been made to pay out $US200 million ($270 million) in "reparations" for lost profits to corporations such as Halliburton, Shell, Mobil, Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Toys R Us. That's apart from its $US125 billion sovereign debt forcing it to turn to the IMF, waiting in the wings like the angel of death, with its structural adjustment program. (Though in Iraq there don't seem to be many structures left to adjust.)
So what does peace mean in this savage, corporatized, militarized world? What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and Chechnya? Or to the Aboriginal people of Australia? Or the Kurds in Turkey? Or the Dalits and Adivasis of India? What does peace mean to non-Muslims in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan? What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? What does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources? For them, peace is war.
We know very well who benefits from war in the age of empire. But we must also ask ourselves honestly who benefits from peace in the age of empire? War mongering is criminal. But talking of peace without talking of justice could easily become advocacy for a kind of capitulation. And talking of justice without unmasking the institutions and the systems that perpetrate injustice is beyond hypocritical.
It's easy to blame the poor for being poor. It's easy to believe that the world is being caught up in an escalating spiral of terrorism and war. That's what allows George Bush to say, "You're either with us or with the terrorists." But that's a spurious choice. Terrorism is only the privatization of war. Terrorists are the free marketeers of war. They believe that the legitimate use of violence is not the sole prerogative of the state.
It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We cannot support one and condemn the other.