News & Politics

Letter From Arundhati Roy

Memo to America: When you join the battle to reclaim democracy, not in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of the world.
The following is a statement submitted by Arundhati Roy at the Global Exchange Human Rights Award Dinner held on May 22, 2003 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

It is a great honor to receive a Global Exchange Human Rights Award. I regret that I am unable to be with you for tonight's important recognition of women activists who are advancing the global struggle for human rights, justice, peace and democracy. I wish I could be there with all of you. Perhaps it is unfit that I should receive such recognition. Some people have suggested that it is bad manners for a person like me, officially entered in the Big Book of Modern Nations as an "Indian citizen," to criticize the U.S. government.

Speaking for myself, I'm no flag-waver, no patriot, and am fully aware that venality, brutality, and hypocrisy are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state.

But when a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically. So I speak as a subject of the American Empire, as a slave who presumes to criticize her king. But I do so alongside many subjects of the Empire who live within its imperial homeland.

All of us would do well to remember the hundreds of thousands of Americans who protested against its stockpile of nuclear weapons. And the thousands of American war resistors and rebellious GIs who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam.

Thankfully, the most scholarly, scathing, hilarious critiques of the U.S. government, its foreign policy and the "American way of life," come from writers, critics and activists in the United States itself. Suddenly, I, who have been vilified for being "anti-American" and "anti-West," find myself in the extraordinary position of regularly defending the people of America.

Despite the massive campaign of propaganda in support of war on Iraq -- and all the efforts to silence or criminalize dissent -- millions of people in the United States protested the unjust and illegal assault on Iraq we have just witnessed, joining the more than 10 million people around the world who demonstrated on February 15 in the greatest day of solidarity the world has ever known.

The battle to reclaim democracy, if it is to succeed, has to begin here, in the United States. The only institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American civil society.

You have a huge responsibility riding on your shoulders. When you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it can be to be safe instead of scared. To be befriended instead of isolated. To be gentle instead of violent. To be loved instead of hated.

Arundhati Roy lives in New Delhi, India. She is the author of "The God of Small Things" and "Power Politics" (South End Press).
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