Spanking the Empire

How absolutely brilliant !The United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom are all a United Family once again.

And how so ? By getting the UN Security Council to end 13 years of sanctions against Iraq and legitimizing its occupation by the Anglo-American forces. The French, German and Russian foreign ministers tell us that once more the UN is  `back in the game’ in Iraq.
Apparently, the blue helmeted referee we all saw butchered just a while ago, has been mysteriously rescued from his grave. We can all go back to watching this Imperial Super Bowl over popcorn and coke.

(By some strange coincidence I sit writing this in Munich on a trip to Europe. And my mind can’t help going back to the infamous `Munich Agreement’ 65 years ago when the United Kingdom, France, and Italy got back into the `game’ in similar fashion. By legitimizing Hitler’s occupation of  a hapless Czechoslovakia.)

For has anybody  really considered the cost  to the world of the UN’s readmission into the Iraq `game ? Does this ghost of an umpire really know the new rules by which this `game’ is supposed to be played out ?

And is it all just about a handful of  countries, that happen to be on the Security Council, raising their tired, twisted hands to say `yes’ to the Superpower ? Washing their hands off their responsibility to uphold international law and agreeing to its most flagrant violation since the Second World War ?

Make no mistake about it. On March 20, 2003 when Messrs., George Bush Jr. and Tony Blair claimed to throw the book at Saddam Hussein they in fact did something far more drastic.
Together, these twin terrors of our times, tore up page by page, poured stolen petrol on and set fire to the book- the rule book by which the world has been operating for over half a century. 

There have been violations aplenty of international laws, conventions and norms before but never with such arrogance, never with so much contempt for world opinion, never before have war crimes been broadcast so brazenly on television as during the invasion of Iraq. 

I will leave it to the legal experts to tell us what exact laws have been violated and how, though I am sure the various Geneva Conventions are by now as much dust and ashes as the tomes of Quranic laws burnt in the Baghdad national library.

The basic message, we the people of the world, are getting is quite stark and simple- there are no rules anymore – ANYTHING GOES ! Welcome to the world of neo-con ‘creative destruction’. There is another word for it in the English language- VANDALISM.

On some reflection about this state of affairs, I realize, that I personally have few complaints about all these laws tumbling around me. As a good Indian/South Asian there is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than breaking the law. The bigger the law broken, the greater the pleasure. Call me a born vandal and I will accept the title gladly.

I come from a part of the world where the ´law´ has little meaning and is observed only when all other options are exhausted. In India, as in many parts of the Third World, power flows from the portals of old patriarchal families, feudal clans and connections neatly camouflaged in quasi-capitalist costumes

A semblance of democracy remains on the Indian sub-continent only because everyone at some point of time or the other gets a go at breaking the law. (with differing consequences of course !). 

If you don’t believe me just ask anyone who has been on the road in any part of South Asia. Here every day we break not just the laws of the traffic, divined after all by mere mortals, but we defy the very Laws of Physics. At least Newton’s laws of gravity, action/reaction, kinetic motion and inertia for sure. 

(Einstein’s Theory of Relativity however still commands some respect on Indian roads. The interpretation being: ‘If you run over someone you need an influential ‘relative’ to bail you out. If you don’t want to be run over you have to move close to the speed of light’.)
Now what does all this have to do with the war on Iraq, its consequences for the laws that govern our world and our response to their violation ? In simple terms I would put it like this: since the Emperor ( who has been standing naked before us for a while) has decided to take off even the mask and bare his ugly teeth at us let us join the fun and knock some Imperial dentures off. When the South Asian vandal in me sees two of the most powerful countries in the world break all laws with impunity I am tempted to run out into the streets and scream: ‘ If THEY break a law, WE will break a thousand’. 

For what are all these ‘laws’ about anyway ? Who makes and maintains them ? What purpose do they serve ? Who decides when a ‘law’ is just and moral and when it is against the very basis of human existence ? Who gets punished for breaking the ‘law’ and who does not ? And what really happens to a ´law´ when it is butchered in broad daylight by a vicious bunch of thugs ? Who weeps for the dead ‘law’, who organizes its funeral and who anoints its successor ? 

There can be no doubt that as far as the rule book by which the world lives is concerned we are indeed at a turning point in history. This is a time when the global elites through their tactics of slash and burn, shock and awe are trying to violently re-order the world to suit THEIR needs and match THEIR ambitions. This is what the neo-cons have dubbed the ‘unipolar moment’ – when they and their thugs can do whatever they want- loot, pillage, occupy weaker countries at will and beat us all into submission for the entire century ahead. 

It may be unipolar but it is surely not a mere moment for us. For the people of the world it is like an unending night of the long knives. THEIR dream, OUR nightmare.

But again when I think of it that does not really seem to be  the entire story ? Is it not possible to give this sorry tale a twist by turning the ‘unipolar’ into the ‘popular’ moment through the sheer force of people’s power ? The moment when the people of this planet wrest power and control over their lives from the hands of every authoritarian force, at every level- global, local, personal ? The moment, when we the people,  break some, make some, remake some of these  `laws’   to turn this world more just and humane ?

Many friends from around the world, in recent weeks,  have expressed a total helplessness in the face of vandalism of the powerful. The real message coming from the invasion of Iraq to people all over the world, they say, was ” You miserable little people, stay home and don’t you ever come out of your little hole !”

How can we, they ask, even begin to argue with such a display of violence and aggression towards not just Iraq but also the entire world by the would-be Masters of our Universe ?
How can we, the little people, even dare to confront the Emperor and all his men backed as they are by the mightiest weapons and armed forces in the world ?  How can we break the rules THEY have imposed on us ?

Of course, the people of the world have not sat silently by all these days and have done many unprecedented acts of rebellion and resistance. The fantastic, unprecedented, worldwide anti-war rallies, the dozens of courageous human shields who landed up in Baghdad while the bombing was still underway, the numerous acts of relentless protests in continents big and small, the naming and shaming of those who seek glory and riches in the gory acts of unjust war.

And yet this new/old colonial war machine, though it blinks often at these protests and bothers our civil liberties and freedoms – it does not really grind to a halt. The challenge before all of us is quite frankly: what should we do to really Spank the Superpower ? 

I am not very qualified to answer this question at all. The last time I threatened to spank  someone it all ended in a miserable failure. My three year old daughter froze me on my tracks by asking ‘Why, because you are bigger ?’ But her little act of defiance also gives me an idea. That is what we should be working towards – a world where it is not the BIG who always get to spank the small but the SMALL who collectively spank the big through defiance, through disobedience. (for God’s sake, don’t tell my daughter this !)

Obviously not a very new idea but I think the global civil disobedience movement that is already underway needs to strategize, discuss, debate a bit more to keep up the anti-war momentum  in the days ahead.

Here are five broad principles I think are important for any global action to create the new book of rules for a better world.

Upholding the right to life and livelihood for all: (Including that Chimp off the old Bloc. I swear, we will not put up a ‘Do Not Feed’ sign when we finally cage him)

Deepening democracy: (Deep enough to bury the scum masquerading as the ‘elected’ reps of the people but serving the interests of the un-elected elites)

Establishing Quality of Life over Quantity of Life: (Public and individual health should be at the center of all policy making)

Restoring ecological balance on planet Earth: (Stop that SUV !)

Creating a child-centered society: (Where it is adults who learn how to ‘behave’ and not children. Plus – some more babies please !)

Now for some operational issues. How do we go about achieving our goals- through what methods ? Is some bit of `direct action’ allowed or should all our acts be strictly non-violent ?

Let me confess, though I admire the great man immensely, I am not much of a Gandhian personally. For example, I am not a vegetarian, I don’t like goat’s milk and have a fascination for that very smart American expression ‘Let’s go kick some ass !’. Unfortunately (and fortunately for SOME) my legs neither reach very far nor pack the required power of propulsion to live out such fantasies. Let me rephrase what I said earlier- I am a Gandhian- by sheer default.

But hey, I don’t really mind this because I feel today, as all of us confront a new emerging Empire, we have helluva lot to learn from the ‘naked fakir’ as Winston Churchill, Dubya’s alleged role model, once contemptuously called him. Gandhi helped pack off Churchill’s British empire and it is our job to see that Dubya presides over the shortest lived Empire in human history.

Gandhi’s deep sense of fair play, integrity and ethical behavior, his ability to convert personal conviction into a political force and genius for organizing participatory mass movements are all needed today by the global anti-war and justice movements. I do not know what exact stratagem this great man would have followed faced with the life destroying forces that we confront – but there is no doubt he would have been at the forefront calling upon everyone to disobey, disarm, dissolve these forces.

Gandhi would have surely called on us to  break those laws that threaten to break our world.

Peacefully, non-violently- yes – because for Gandhi that required the highest display of moral courage and on a global scale that is what will be most participatory and effective. But we should not forget that Gandhi when queried about what the Jewish community should do to resist Nazi terror six decades ago also conceded that it is better to stand and fight oppression and injustice even with arms than to accept wrong and run away

Now we come to the really tough part. The ideas, where are the ideas for specific global action ? We can’t be doing big rallies all the time can we ? How do we come up with a broad program of action that everyone can participate in and that will be effective ? Believe me,
I am completely clueless on this question.

But as a good South Asian living in Thailand I am going to indulge in some grand international piracy and steal a few ideas- from Messrs. Dubya and Blair themselves ! (After all how can we dare to do anything that THEY have not already blazed a path for, eh ?)
So here is my proposal. Let us look carefully at what the Emperor and his favourite Minion have advocated and achieved in Iraq. I am convinced that if we creatively interpret their strategy we can come up with a spanking new action program- one that I am confident will help all of us Spank the Superpower.

Here are ten concepts emerging from the rubble of the war on Iraq that, with some imagination, can yield excellent ideas for our movements:

1) International Sanctions: This is what the global consumer boycott of  corporations that  back the warmongers is already doing. Imposing sanctions, by the people of the world, against those who profit from or support the war.

2) Weapons Inspections/ Disarmament: Exactly what we need to carry out against the world’s weapons manufacturers, arms traders and all those who benefit from this killer industry.

3) Intellectual Property Violation: What else is this concept of `pre-emptive strike’ all about ? Stolen straight from Attila the Hun’s war manual. So our response should be to resist the very idea of anything `intellectual’ being converted into `property’. I tell you, all those fellows who claim to have come up with their `unique’ inventions and products all by themselves should be put away in solitary confinement. Going by their own logic that is when they perform the best.

4) Ground Invasion:  Consider this fact- not a single one of the 125,000 or more US, British and Australian soldiers invading Iraq had a proper visa or authorization to enter the country. I remember, when I was visiting Sydney last year, the amount of bloody fuss that the Howard government was making about a few Iraqis and Afghan refuges entering Australia `illegally’. So what should we do now about all these armed visa violators in Iraq ? Simple- for every coalition soldier in Iraq send back ten Iraqis to the US, UK and Australia (Poland and Spain too). The phenomenon of `illegal migrants’ from developing countries entering richer ones in search of security and livelihood is really a silent revolt against the unfair laws of corporate globalisation- that allow only dead objects to cross borders but imprison animate ones.

5) Regime Change: This is an absolute goldmine of a concept for us. One that needs to be applied across the board- from governments to corporations to every institution that refuses to work for the benefit of the people.

6) Undermining Global Institutions: Good idea. Let us do to the World Bank, IMF and the WTO what the US and UK have done to the United Nations. Thanks Dubya.

7) Embedded Media: Keep THEM chained to that bed ! That way they do less harm to the world than while yakking away in front of the cameras.

8) Palace Raids: Now, now, now. Who would have thought of bringing down palaces of the rich and mighty but for our very own Rumsfeld- that closet socialist revolutionary ! Just follow his lead and take the gold plating out of every Palace built with ill-gotten wealth. (You know, I am really tempted to advocate some looting a la Baghdad except that the process is really so `messy’. But the redistribution of resources it results in should surely be endorsed by the global movement for peace and justice)

9) Power Cuts: Given the critical role that the endless quest for energy has played in the invasion of Iraq some parts of  the developed world can really do with some more power cuts like in Baghdad. In much of the Third World power shortages are a daily reality so idea will not really work there but how about cutting off Dubya’s hot water ? (the cold water may help him reconsider his imperial misadventures) This is exactly what activists of the Anti-Privatisation Front in Johannesburg, South Africa did  last year to Amos Masondo the city’s mayor for his support for the selling off of public utilities.

10) Coalition of the Willing: Now, that is what we are already building all across the globe- from Asia to Africa to America. The Coalition of those very, very willing- to Spank the Superpower.

Satya Sagar is an Indian journalist based in Thailand. He can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a comment