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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #8 (February 22, 2005), page 15.
Return of The Empire
An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire
By Arundhati Roy
South End Press, 2004
Paperback, 156 pages, $12.00
Democracy is on a slide, according Booker-Prize-winning novelist and global activist Arundhati Roy, and the slide is out the door. Empire is back in the seamless effort between big government and even bigger business, one eagerly fueling the other. Enterprising media networks recognize their irresistible resolve and earnestly ride along.
"The battle to reclaim democracy," argues Ms. Roy, "if it is to succeed … has to begin in America. The only institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American civil society." A tall order, for a sated consumer society.
An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire is a collection of six post-Twin-Towers essays on the direction of a new global order gobbling up our precious planet. It is, anyone alert during the last century will verify, the same old imperial urges dressed only slightly better than before.
Arundhati Roy is a tireless social activist on behalf of a number of community empowerment projects on several continents. Her latest book is a call to arms. Each piece is properly journalistic, abundantly supported by citations and authorities; each argument is passionately set out, beautifully paced. Ms. Roy’s writing is sheer joy even while her message is dark. Foreboding.
For example, in her fiercely precise criticism of Western media, "Peace is War," Ms. Roy describes network news as having evolved into "crisis reportage" — news without complex historical context. She writes, "Crises reportage has left us with a double-edged legacy. While governments hone the art of crisis management (the art of waiting out a crisis), resistance movements are increasingly being ensnared in a sort of crisis production."
This is terrific writing, and that is a tidy relationship. Ms. Roy points out that many if not most angry communal outbursts are reactions to economic marginalization; government needs protest to look irrational, and protestors, at least those who want to make CNN, need to look dangerous. Deadly is best. It is an odd but ironically effective calculus. It seems to work for all thus engaged.
Among the answers for this unholy yet remarkably well-oiled and self-fulfilling phenomena, Ms. Roy insists, is more democracy. Poor people need to organize. Old World and New World middle classes need to engage, that is, activism by consumers of all that single-minded government, business, and news, will be necessary to save the sorrowing poor and our aching planet.
"We’re running out of time," Ms. Roy writes in "How Deep Shall We Dig?" "The circle of violence is closing in. Either way, change will come. It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful. It depends on us."