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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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12/22/2004 Archived Entry: "Book review: An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire"

An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire
By Arundhati Roy
Published by South End Press

Review by Carol Colin

I had never heard of Arundhati Roy before she was interviewed for the L.A. Weekly, February 21-27, 2003, just weeks prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In that article, "Happiness Is A Weapon", Roy spoke about the role of the artist as activist, about being torn between retreating to write her next novel or being out in the streets protesting injustice in her native India. She proposed an appealingly idealistic response to tyranny, a vision of everyone doing what they do best, refusing to fear, refusing to go along with the corporate plan, a vision of the world somehow responding in kind with the peace reasonable people seek.

An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, Roy's third collection of essays, restates this call for peace and justice and goes further, building an eloquent case for practical idealism in a world gone mad. Her written voice has the urgency and informality of the impassioned conversations many of us have been having with friends and neighbors for the past several years. But while our conversations often bog down in despair these days, Roy's message is direct, uncompromising and inspiring. Her perspective is unfamiliar to most of us, and her litany of the daily terrors rampant now in India, a so-called democracy and one of our "natural allies", drives home a loud, clear warning of where the U.S. could be headed.

Roy turns her spotlight on the interdependence of government, corporations, and corporate media. She examines the schism between what we know and what we are told. She explains crisis reportage and how it distorts the real issues, polarizes people, and leads them to make uninformed choices in elections. She talks about the tactics and legacies of Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King. And finally, Roy calls on the ordinary people of the world to exercise the freedoms left to us while we still can.

Using the examples of different directions protest has taken in India, Roy rejects both armed resistance and joining the political fray. She calls on us to agree on a plan that will give our side a victory, overarching factions and diffusing confusion. The point of agreement is that the U.S. must withdraw from Iraq and pay the Iraqi people reparations for the damage the war has inflicted. Characterizing the invasion of Iraq as a dispute between "business partners who fell out over a dirty deal", Roy suggests that the anti-war movement must now "become the global resistance to the occupation", soldiers refusing to fight, reservists refusing to serve, dockworkers refusing to supply. She suggests selectively going after war profiteers, boycotting their products, finding their offices in every city, shutting them down. She calls on us to reclaim civil disobedience as a means to the end, rather than a symbolic media photo-op.

"At a time when opportunism is everything, when hope seems lost, when everything boils down to a cynical business deal, we must find the courage to dream. To reclaim romance. The romance of believing in justice, in freedom, and in dignity. For everybody. We have to make common cause, and to do this we need to understand how this big old machine works - who it works for and who it works against. Who pays, who profits.... Fearlessly, but nonviolently, we must disable the working parts of this machine that is consuming us." p.116, "How Deep Shall We Dig?"
An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire

Replies: 2 comments

Arundhati Roy is a magnificant writer and speaker. She is a wonderful warrior.

Posted by Donald Veach @ 12/23/2004 05:24 AM PST

This just in: January 20, 2005 (inauguration day) has been declared Not One Damn Dime Day. In protest, purchase nothing that day. After that we should be more focused in boycotting the war profiteers. More as available.

Posted by Carol Colin @ 01/05/2005 08:58 AM PST

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