Coronavirus, War & Empire: Arundhati Roy & Jeremy Corbyn in Conversation w/ Tariq Ali
Coronavirus, War & Empire: Arundhati Roy & Jeremy Corbyn in Conversation w/ Tariq Ali
Three heavyweight campaigners for social justice come together to discuss Coronavirus, #BlackLivesMatter, China, India, Kashmir, Palestine and much more besides...
Tariq Ali: Good Morning wherever you are watching from. Welcome to the Stop the War discussion on the different viruses that are sweeping the world, starting of course with COVID-19, but moving on to the others.
Before I say anything more, I would like to apologise to you for the fact that stop the war still exists. We would all love it to come to an end but for that, wars have to end, and Stop the War has been going now since the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan after 9/11 and we have kept going cause the wars don’t end. And I hope that all those of you watching realise that that in keeping an organisation like this going - of which Jeremy was one of the earlier chairpersons and I’ve been involved with very actively to – requires funds and requires help, so if you feel so inclined, after the talk is over, please go to the Stop the War website and even a modest donation will help. We are having very difficult times because of the virus and the lack of activity in this country.
Well, it’s interesting that the words spoken by George Floyd as he lay dying on a street in Minneapolis were ‘I can’t breathe’ and for nine minutes the knee didn’t come off his neck. Because what George said of course in his last moments – he didn’t know – is something that also applies to other parts of the world. And it is ironic, if one can use that word, that one of the major symptoms of COVID is the lack of breathing. So, people die because they cant breathe properly.
George Floyd died because a policeman took the breath out of him by putting his knee on his neck. And parts of the world - Palestine and Kashmir in particular - can’t breathe because of what Modi and Netanyahu are doing to the states in terms of the daily continuing repression. And then of course there is the virus of wars in the Middle East and parts of Africa which are still continuing.
So, we have a rich discussion today with Jeremy Corbyn whom you all know, former leader of the Labour Party, still extremely active and always will be active, we hope. And Arundhati Roy, the novelist, essayist and activist who is in Delhi.
So we are going to start with a few comments from Arundhati Roy, then Jeremy and then we’ll take up the discussion along the lines I’ve suggested.
Arundhati, you are in Delhi, where the response to the virus has been absolutely abysmal. Could you give us an account of it?
Arundhati Roy: First of all hello everybody and thanks for watching. Let me try and do this briefly, because we are talking about the virus – of course the virus of war and the virus.
So I’ll start first with the reaction of the Indian government to the COVID-19 virus. The first case was reported in India on the 30th of January. For 2 months the government did nothing about the virus because it had other things to attend to. It had these massive, massive protests, very much like the protests happening in America right now, against the anti-Muslim citizenship law where young people across the board had come together, women in city after city were sitting for weeks in protests. It culminated of course in an anti-Muslim pogrom-ish situation in North East Delhi, that happened at a time when President Trump was visiting and therefore as the virus was spreading when the logical thing to do would have been to shut down airports. Airports were open, people were coming, I think thousands of people came in from America for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event that Modi had organised. And then even after the World Health Organisation had declared it a pandemic, nothing was done. But then the lockdown: when India had 545 cases and 10 deaths, Modi gave a 1.38 billion people four hours’ notice and announced the most punitive lockdown in the world, and the whole world saw what happened in India. Millions of people: people who were just one breath away from being refugees. Working class people were stranded in cities and they began this spectacular long march home.
So, the lockdown, really what does it mean?
Social distancing in the West – but in India it meant physical compression, compression into slums, into buses, in trains, in migrant labour camps. And so, in 55 days this country’s economy was devastated and the virus continued to grow, and no other country in the world have we seen as this graph spikes sharply upwards, the lockdown has ended. And so, you have doubled that devastation. We were hammered both ways: by the lockdown, by the economic devastation and now by this virus that’s spreading. And of course, you know in India you have other illnesses like tuberculosis, where in this period, where 6000 people have died of COVID, 150,000 would have died of tuberculosis in the world.
So that’s one part of the virus, and the other – Tariq since you mentioned Kashmir: today marks 10 months of Kashmir under lockdown. I mean the world may be able to better understand now that when the lockdown was first announced they had no notice, except that there was a massive round of arrests and then they were lockdown for months without phones, without internet - surely a crime, a massive mass human rights violation – and lockdowns have begun and ended but even now there is no proper internet there so Kashmiri’s have been economically crushed. And while we are there, we are talking about imperialism.
Of course, now American imperialism is facing a challenge with China, and having aggravated the special status of Kashmir, enshrining the Indian constitution on the 5th of August, India has basically changed the status quo in the whole region. Now china is threatening India at its borders has occupied territory in Ladakh and of course India cannot respond to China in the way it responds to Pakistan and therefore having aggravated and dissolved the status quo itself, finds itself in an extremely awkward position where the new rising power of China is breathing down India’s neck. And I don’t think it knows what to do.
Tariq: Jeremy, what would have been different had we had a Labour government in Britain in terms of just to start off with, of dealing with the virus?
Jeremy: Thank you Tariq. First of all, thank you to everyone for joining this call today and thank you for you for hosting and thank you to Arundhati for being a part of this discussion. I think we should reflect for one moment the value of having a call like this. I’ve been looking at the people on the call today and they are from all over the world. And I think that one thing that this Corona crisis has taught us is that is that it’s quite possible to communicate very quickly with each other and have some better understanding of the rest of the world. We don’t necessarily have to go to an amazing place to do it. So can that be a lesson to all of us? That when we do resume our more normal activities, we always make space for those that can come online and so we build up a real sense of international understanding as a result of that.
And I am very impressed with the article that Arundhati wrote recently in which she described the differences in India between the flying classes and the walking classes. Where the flying classes got brought home by the Indian government and the walking classes sadly had to walk huge distances to go back home from where they had been contract-workers, and some died because the only safe place to walk was on a railway track where many were killed. That is an indication of just how the society is. And before I deal with your point Tariq I will just say this: the global pandemic of COVID has exposed the inequality in the health systems around the world, the inequality within societies, the disproportionate death rate of black communities compared to others in the USA and other places. And the way in which Trump and the medical insurance lobby in the United States have attacked the World Health Organisation is very, very serious indeed. The World Health Organisation’s fundamental principle is that everyone should have access to universal healthcare, something that I passionately support and believe in. And how the world is framed post-COVID is going to be very important.
Are we going to go down the road of austerity, poverty, privatisation and more globalised IMF-style of bail-outs to national economies with all the inequality that follows, or are we going to do something very different? I hope definitely that it’s something very different and I do believe that the mobilisation of people around the world on this community level has huge political ramifications for the future on environment and may other issues.
Now when the WHO announced that they had discovered this virus in Wuhan province, there were reports that initially the regional authorities tried to supress new of it, but eventually it did come out quite quickly I suspect, and the WHO sent out a world warning, sent out a view that it was an epidemic and then very quickly became a pandemic and then asked everyone to test locate and isolate where necessary in order to prevent the spread of it. Countries that did that did it very effectively.
2Unfortunately in Britain we had a process where for a while the Prime Minister was following a belief that somehow or other we would develop a herd immunity for it, where in other words, some people would get the virus, and recover from it or not as the case may be, and gradually a herd immunity would develop. Well it’s a method often used in breeding of animals and cattle and so forth, but it actually has its origins in eugenics theories. It is a nonsense, it’s dangerous and it did delay the response in Britain. Eventually the government did get on to it, but discovered that because of a woeful planning there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, there was a shortage of hospital beds, 94% occupancy, because of ten years of austerity and cuts and so we were ill prepared for it.
If we get through all these things, which obviously we will, it’s going to be thanks to the cleaners in hospitals, many of whom are migrant workers, it’s going to be thanks to all those low paid people that work in care and NHS facilities in Britain and as I pointed out in my last Prime Ministers question time I did in march was: who’s more valuable at the present time? A cleaner in a hospital or a hedge fund manager that’s speculating against the future of our public services?
And so, my view is that the British government was too slow to respond and it has exposed all the inequalities. And now the debate moves on to future funding of the NHS but also investment-led economy or austerity of the future?
I’ll finish on this Tariq, cause I know we want to go into questions and discussion. But there are big issues facing the world. You and I were there when we founded Stop the War Coalition in 2001. We were astonished at the number of people that turned up – we were expecting a few hundred and thousands turned up, and thousands continued to turn up and we organised meetings throughout marches and rallies. Like you, I wish that Stop the War didn’t have to exist, but it does, and here we are all these years later. And the derivation of those wars has been the refugee flows of the Middle East, has been the wars all across the Middle East, has been the refugee camps in Libya and Lebanon and so on. There’s also the virus of racism around the world, which the murder of George Floyd is an example of, but there are other people that are murdered around the world in essentially racist and xenophobic lines in many societies. Maybe because of the huge concentration on media with so many people locked down at home, there is going to be a mobilisation that will ensure that we have a better and brighter future. And the last thing I will say is this: the environmental crisis that is facing this world has been exposed. One of the side-effects of Corona has been that for the first time in many big cities people have breathed clean air. Arundhati will no doubt tell us that the air in Delhi suddenly got a lot better when many of the polluting vehicles were not allowed to use the road, and the same stories happened in many cities all around the world. And so it does show: we could do things differently.
So are we to go back to polluting industries or are we going to give people the confidence that environmental sustainability does mean the investment in clean energy, does mean investment for the future, and is actually a better prospect for the future of the entire world, rather than returning to polluting and dangerous industries.
So I think this is a moment of the most enormous opportunity and I am very optimistic – very, very optimistic that post-corona there is going to be that sense of world-solidarity, which started to grow on many occasions in history, grew massively in 2003 when we had 600 demonstrations around the world against the Iraq War. We didn’t stop the Iraq war, obviously, but everyone that was there remembers those moments and are empowered by it. Those that will remember the Corona crisis, and the racism crisis in the USA and other places, are empowered by it and will remember that moment: so I am very optimistic of the future.
Tariq: If we just come to this point which you stress now, and Arundhati has written about, I’ve spoken about numerous times: What is going to happen after return to some semblance of normality and the COVID virus has been crushed? I’m less optimistic that you for the following reasons Jeremy. I hope you’re right by the way, but I think, after the 2008 Wall Street crash which absolutely shook capitalism to its core, people thought, including bankers, including columnists for the Financial Times etc, that some structural reform was necessary to stop this happening again. And there was some hope that given the response to this crash – people losing jobs, factories collapsing, massive rise in unemployment, the ideological arguments in favour of neoliberalism – that something would happen. Well, it didn’t as we know. And none of the governments in par, anywhere in western Europe or the united states. Bankers in Wall Street were shocked, when they went to see Obama they thought they’d be ticked off for being naughty: instead it was wine and canapes all-round and ‘how are we going to get through this’?
They were really shocked as they wrote about. So, nothing happened.
Now, after the virus is over, the governments – most of the governments will bank on short memories, especially in the West. And I think we’ll probably try and carry on business as usual and hope that the next virus will be long delayed – unless we have some mass-movements. Unless there is continuous opposition. And parliamentary opposition there might be too on a limited scale, but that is not going to stop all the pro-capitalist governments that are in power today. It’s not going to push even Joe Biden, the democratic party nominee in the United States into creating a proper health-service there. So, I’d like Arundhati first, to talk about this, on what we can do after normality is restored, but what governments and the powers that be will do, after it’s restored.
Arundhati: Speaking from here, Tariq, I don’t think that normality can be restored, because the devastation that has happened, the economic devastation that has taken place, the 115 million people who have lost jobs, as I said there was this whole exodus from cities to villages that were devastated in the first place by neoliberalism, people were forced to flee their villages into cities. Now they’ve gone back, of course they will have to come back, because there is nothing in the villages, you know?
And already we are seeing the government doing two things. One is ratchetting up the ideas of privatisation of natural resources - the threat of an elephant sanctuary in Assam being made into a coal mine, big dams, all of that. The privatisation of everything, the privatisation and the online-isation of education that is going to leave millions of under-privileged Dalit children, Adivasi children out of the education system, the privatisation that was on the cards before this happened, you know. So, this online thing, where you don’t have that many people who have access to smartphones and so on, but the rest of the world is racing ahead with it, leaving people behind.
But the other really terrifying thing is that as I said, we’ve taken a double-hit. And now what’s happening – you can see it now – that the government is trying to change the narrative to make people forget about the economy, to make people forget about Corona, which is out of control here now, by ratchetting up its old Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim rhetoric. By arresting students, by arresting activists, by preaching the most horrific, vicious bile through the mainstream media that it controls.
So, they are going to sell us this hatred, pit people against each other more than they already have, to sell a story to a devastated nation. And you know that Modi can sell anything because he is so adored by this particularly powerful middle-class, and the media. So, as they say, he can sell a comb to a bald person. And all of us who buy it will be stupidly combing our bald head, while this kind of hubris of control, the kind of fear in the business community, in the media – everyday you wake up wondering: who is going to be the next person arrested?
There was an anti-Muslim pogrom, the police smashed the Jamia Islamia library, they made war against the students in Aligarh Muslim University with stun-grenades, which were used in anti-terrorist operations. But the people being arrested are all mostly young Muslim students or left activists, and the narrative of us all being anti-India and anti-national and pro-terrorist is being spewed from the 400 24/7 news channels we have here.
So the situation at the moment is pretty terrifying, in terms of how we are going to have COVID and the economic breakdown stuffed down our throats, the ten-month blockade and the destruction of life in Kashmir which nobody’s talking about anymore. Everybody is so broken about what happened to them in the lockdown. While they were exchanging WhatsApp messages and making Zoom calls with each other – think of the Kashmiri locked down with nothing, no communication, no medical care, an army outside, (inaudible) outside, and we call ourselves a democracy, and we are supposed to celebrate what is happening. And perhaps for saying this right now, you will be called all kinds of names, or perhaps things will happen to you. And this applies to someone like me, so you can imagine the rest of the people who don’t even have the protection of being reasonably well-known. The prisons are full of lawyers, activists, students, human-rights people and of course, people in their seventies are being arrested, shoved into jail where COVID is such a real threat.
Tariq: Arundhati, can I just ask you a quick follow-up? The picture you paint is very depressing, and I think you are right, but is there no opposition at all in India within official political, or ‘bourgeois politics’ as we used to call it.
Arundhati: It’s a very interesting question you ask, Tariq, because of course there have been places like Kerala where the crisis has been managed better than in other places, but really the only politician who’s openly attacking Modi is Rahul Gandhi, and he doesn’t really have much support, but he’s doing it. Everyone else, whether they are state-level parties, they are just in complete disarray. One doesn’t know why. One thing is that all of them have some sorts of cases against them and one by one have been cornered into keeping quiet or facing legal action for various things. I don’t know what the reason it, but all I know is, whether it’s the politicians, whether it’s the bureaucrats, whether it’s at the state level, or at the centre where it’s industrialist: everyone’s brains are frozen in a kind of fear, because the minute someone speaks out, they get attacked viciously. I mean, being trolled and threatened, all that is just one part of it. But the attack is merciless. So, there is so much fear.
Tariq: Jeremy, what do you think is going to happen here, after we return to normality and the government, more or less, returns to as before. And also, given the changes in the Labour Party, whether that party is going to protest as it would have had you been a leader. I mean surely, trade-unions, actions, mobilisations against any further privatisations of the health-service etc etc are absolutely necessary?
Jeremy: I think there’s been a big lesson that has been learned all around the world by people who have been previously sceptical of the point of view that you and I might share about the role of public services in dealing with people’s problem’s and crises, and that is that we now have had a huge amount of public spending in order to maintain jobs and maintain services whilst there’s obviously been a big downturn in taxation income.
Only six months ago in the general election, I was absolutely lambasted by every single one of our newspapers, with the exception of the Morning Star, for wanting to spend too much money, and that it was unaffordable, the programme was unachievable, and a fully-funded NHS, fully-funded education, access to broadband for everybody and public ownership of some of our key-utilities (not even all of them) was absolutely impossible to achieve. Every single media outlet attacked my party and me for what I put forward. And two months later the Corona crisis comes along. We had a meeting with the PM, myself and a number of colleagues, and we put it to him that the government would have to intervene to protect jobs, would have to intervene to defend services and would have to provide a job support package. John McDonnell pushed really, really hard on that and eventually we got the furlough scheme and 80% of wages being paid for people who were laid off because of the Corona crisis. And all the way along the line it’s been pressure that helped to bring that about. It’s not a complete answer to everything, but it was a step forward.
Now at the end of this crisis, are people going to say: “okay, it’s alright now, I’ll lose my job, I’ll go on in the case of Britain to Universal Credit and I’ll wait five weeks to get a payment for it, and hopefully, something will pick up in the future.” Or are we to say “No, this is the time to invest in the future”. An investment lead economy that brings about a more equal society and a more sustainable future.
There are people on this call from pretty much every country, from all around the world, hundreds of people are on this call, thousands. And they’ll all going through a broadly similar experience, where Corona has led to a lockdown, Corona has led to job reductions, job losses and exposed the inequalities of society. Are people just going to meekly accept that we go back to business as usual? I don’t think so – I really don’t think so. Change doesn’t happen unless people do something about it. And so, that does mean: education, it does mean challenging the power of the media and it does mean, using the technology that is available, which we are using today, in order to mobilise and speak to each other.
Now Stop the War hosted this call, and I thank them for that. I think we should just remember that at the start of the Coronavirus crisis in January, Antonio Guterres the General Secretary of the United Nations, called for a ceasefire in all conflicts in order to deal with the Corona crisis. Well done to him for doing that. And yes, the arms still flow to Saudi Arabia that have been used to bomb the people of Yemen, the war carries on in Yemen. The refugee crisis of the Rohingya people moving into camp (inaudible) continues. The refugee crisis in Libya, and Lebanon continues and others do. And so we do need a global movement that recognises the real threat to world security is health and poverty inequality. The real threat to global security are wars based on the abuse of human rights and the thirst for grabbing somebody else’s resources. The real threat to our security is actually the environmental crisis. That we should be facing in the future.
Tariq: Thank you Jeremy. The other question which of course arises, what I said at the beginning of the discussion - and Arundhati has spoken very eloquently as she always does about Kashmir - and the fact that this occupied province, occupied by Indian troops under every single government that has existed in India. The situation has got completely out of control with their concentration camps, where just four days ago 11 Kashmiri’s deaths were not even considered important enough to report in most of the global press.
But I would now like to come to another of the world, which ironically links the knee on the neck of George Floyd to this region. Because a lot of the American police force have been trained in Israel. Not just the Americans but many from the right-wing countries of South America. And the methods of dealing with protests, or even with ordinary citizens is virtually the same. You can find lots of photographs of Israeli’s - when people are brave enough to take photographs – with their knees on the necks of Palestinians.
And this is another subject which has virtually been downgraded, compared to even five or six years ago because people have got frightened by this campaign which alleges that everyone is anti-Semitic except those that support Israel. That basically was the campaign waged by Israeli embassies everywhere, of which one of the several targets was Jeremy Corbyn. But this has been waged in many other parts of the world. Interestingly, American’s are resisting it, young Americans of Jewish origin are resisting it better than almost any other country in the world and especially in Europe. And like the Kashmiri’s, the Palestinians are being ignored by the Arab governments. By the people who rule these countries, though there is a lot of sympathy for the Palestinians amongst ordinary Egyptians, ordinary people who live in other parts of the Arab world. The Palestinians - let’s not beat about the bush - have suffered a huge defeat. It’s not even a secret, their own leaders who are partially responsible for the defeat have admitted so, saying ‘we’ve been screwed’. An occupation is underway, which is going to end what has existed: these little remnants, these Bantustans that have existed in Palestine. As Netanyahu says, he is determined, basically, to take over the whole region, with the western world watching. And you know, it is so upsetting, and it makes one really angry that there is little one can do at the moment. I mean, Europe is a continent without a conscience: either on Palestine, or Kashmir, or the refugees who they pay the Turks off with billions to keep them there in appalling conditions. The United States, on Israel, again is marginally better than many European countries, there’s more criticism, there’s more (inaudible).
What are we going to do about Palestine Jeremy?
Jeremy: Well, I have been nine times to Israel and Palestine in my life, and I had a very interesting Zoom discussion with human right’s and peace-groups in Israel with people from Palestine a couple of weeks ago. And they all agreed on the dangers of the Trump plan. The Trump plan is, as you know, to occupy enormous swathes of the West Bank to break up the continuity of any Palestinian managed territory on the West Bank, the continual separation from Gaza, and as you quite rightly put it, essential a series of Bantustans will be established all over the West Bank. Now the opposition to the plan is huge, there is a global opposition to it and in Trumps greatly weakened position at the present time, maybe he will be focused on other things, but I wouldn’t be so confident about that.
The danger isn’t so much that the plan will go through – I don’t think in it’s current form it would – but that there will be some tinkering around of it a bit, and it will somehow be presented as a victory, when in reality, the Trump plan is a continuation of the strategy that has been adopted against Palestine for a very long time, which is one of division and isolation. And so I do think there has to be a great statement of solidarity, that to bring about any kind of long-term peace, you have to end the occupation, you have to end the settlement strategy, and you have to allow the Palestinian people the freedom to travel, which they are denied at the present time, and to end the siege of Gaza, which is awful in what it says.
Netanyahu himself is greatly weakened, because he is going to be partly occupied with appearances in court, rather than just being the co-prime minister. And there are some forces in Israel that are opposed to the Trump plan and see the dangers of it. But it has been knocked off the headlines by the corona crisis, and I think we need to put the situation back on the headlines, because if we don’t, then what Trump wants and presumably Netanyahu wants on his behalf is the same thing: which is the destruction of the principle of a place that you can call Palestine, and instead, essentially Israeli occupation of the whole of that territory.
That won’t bring peace, it won’t bring concord. It will actually bring a greater sense of insecurity to everyone within the region, and so you cannot keep on denying a people their voice and then not pay the price for it. And so, I say that as somebody that wants to live in a world of peace, and wants to live in a world free of racism. And you mentioned at the start of your comments, Tariq: antisemitism. Let’s just get it clear: anti-Semitism is evil, is wrong, it can never be condoned under any circumstances and I never would, you never would, Arundhati never would, in any way. And we have to all be united against any form of racism of any sort. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, the racism that is current in the USA, following the murder of our friend in Minnesota.
Tariq: I agree. And we have to be equally tough sometimes, when the charge of anti-Semitism is used to stop us speaking about Palestine. That is very important. Arundhati, you have written about Palestine and spoken about Palestine, and if my information is correct, you are a supported of BDS: the only non-violent campaign, started by the Palestinians, that is also being denounced as anti-Semitic. What do you think of what is going on there?
Arundhati: Well I think that, you know, that conflict in Palestine radiates out, and has created such a crisis in the whole world. It isn’t just Palestine and Israel, but the angle just radiates out. And equally now we have a situation where almost all the lessons that have been taught by Israel in the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, are being played out in Kashmir. You have a new domicile policy. You have, really on the cards, a situation where Kashmir and the Kashmiri identity will sort of cease to exist. And you know that you are dealing with two neighbours, both of whom are nuclear powers. China is falling into the mix now, so for us to think that this is just some local problem is ridiculous. And it’s like just putting some sort of gasoline into fault lines and keeping matches very close by.
I think obviously from the time of partition, from the whole angle of despair and horror of what people have been through in this sub-continent, which hasn’t been dealt with, which has been sought to be papered over. All of that is now rising to the surface. And unless we – all of us have a way of thinking, even if it’s an idealistic way - we have to have some ideals, towards which are very local arguments, local protests are geared towards – what it is that we are fighting for. What is it that we are fighting for? What kind of world is it that we want? How is it possible for people in India that belong to the left or that belong to other organisations that are so very, very alert to injustices being done to them, can support the horror that is unfolding in a place like Kashmir, and just hold it in your abdomen – you can’t – it becomes corrosive at some point. And the same thing applies to the same thing that is happening in Palestine, I think. So, when you are talking about that knee on the neck, there is a knee that is on many necks: All the necks and all the knees are connected in some way. We have to understand it, even as we are very local in our protests, and very local and very details in our understanding, whether it’s environmental issues, or whatever it is. Surely these necks and knees are connected.
Tariq: I remember that – your remark now reminds me of what a very great Palestinian writer, spokesperson, activist, Ghassan Kanafani said once in the 70’s – he was killed and shot dead by the Israeli’s. Kanafani said when asked: why is your organisation (he was a member of the Popular Front for Liberation actually) opposed to talking to the Israeli government at the moment and Kanafani replied, ‘it is very difficult for the neck to enter into discussions with the sword’. Which I have to say, you know, when you look at what’s happening in Palestine every single day.
Anyway, let’s move on, before we – I put some questions to you from our listeners.
Let’s just discuss for a few minutes at least, what is happening in the United States. Black people have been killed by cops in the United States since – for a long, long time. The Klu Klux Klan was – it’s worth remembering – the largest political movement to ever have existed in the United States, which infiltrated the police, it infiltrated the political parties and everywhere, for a long long time.
Arundhati: Like RSS in India.
Tariq: Exactly like the RSS in India. Very similar. And so what we are watching is horrific, but it’s not surprising. The attacks on black people in the United States from slavery onwards, with a limited gap after the Civil War, have carried on– and white supremacists have always been strong. Trump is now quite open and his supporters even more open on this question. But it’s clearly something that triggered off the video of George Floyd being killed. It’s the sight of it, that these things are still happening, despite everything, despite the Obama period, where lots of people said, ‘we’re now in a post-racial America’, big joke that is.
And we are now witnessing what we are – which is quite remarkable, because it didn’t happen after Ferguson on this scale. It’s in virtually every state of the United States of America and to think the American president is asking for troops to protect the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, I mean thinking even of Martial Law which has created havoc in the Pentagon, I mean two defence secretaries have attacked this. Pentagon Generals have said ‘we don’t like the army being used’. And I’m not surprised, because there are lots of numbers of black people inside the American army – I mean what are you trying to do – divide the army. But we have now a problem. On one hand, all of us are in favour of observing – not that America is applying them – but generally we are people observing the rules, the distancing, keeping safe, and yet in a movement of spontaneity, hundreds of thousands of Americans have just come our onto the street. Black and white - the solidarity is very, very striking and moving in this movement. And then there have been demo’s in London, in Paris, in Berlin, a huge one in Amsterdam on these issues. So where is this movement going to go, if anywhere Arundhati?
Arundhati: Well I think that – you know I watched that video so many times, and the theatre of it is so chilling, because that man is kneeling on George Floyd with his hand in his pocket and there are people watching and he’s literally daring them. He’s being protected by his officers, one of them is Asian. And when you look at what’s happening, since the advent of slavery and since slavery ended, the American establishment has used so many ways in which to reincarcerate, disenfranchise and somehow hobble the African American community. There is a sort of latent fear and how do you hobble them while appearing to be democratic and constitutional. It is something that has of course gone on – it is a societal thing more than a Democrat vs Republican thing. And here obviously you see similar kinds of theatrical lynching’s of Muslims happening. But what happens is that that rage that is spilling out is because Trump himself is almost secretly in his speeches signalling to white supremacists, he wants the polarisation.
Every time he does something or says something or insults someone who is Chinese or someone who’s black - while some people rally to their support, his base is consolidated. He is a politician who is – I don’t think he’s doing this stupidly or innocently - signalling to his people something. He is saying something in those coded tweets of his. It’s the same over here: every time you lynch a Muslim, every time a vigilante mob lynches a Muslim, they put it up on YouTube, and for all the people that are horrified you have consolidation of the Hindu, right-wing, upper-class group, and this is a constituency. So the narrative is being built on the other side. So that’s why I think the people who are raging on the streets now, are raging at everything that has been done to them by the Trump regime, including the knee on the neck and the theatrical killing of George Floyd.
But they are raging against what the Coronavirus has exposed, the lack of medical attention, historically towards the Black community, which is why they are dying in such great numbers, because they have not had access to medical care, so their bodies are vulnerable to this virus whereas other bodies might be more protected, and then when they get it, they are treated worse. So the explosion cannot be just about one thing. It’s an explosion against an establishment that is trying to polarise people, and this is a manifestation of that polarisation.
I don’t know how it will be resolved, I feel so worried because we’ve all seen the Arab Spring and how those explosions of anger were quickly managed, and the situation was made even worse. The same thing happened in India with the anti-citizenship law amendment protest. How quickly the narrative has been recast and the hatred has been amplified – for example here, blaming Muslims for spreading Coronavirus, calling them human bombs, #coronajihad. All of this is a way of defusing those anti-citizenship law protests. So, in the same way the American establishment will work very, very hard to diffuse any revolutionary dimension to these protests. They will let the angle come out and then they’ll direct it towards ‘vote for the other guy’ and keep the status quo.
Tariq: Yes, and ‘The Other Guy’ – one of his statements was an appeal to the police, not to aim at the heart of the blacks but at their legs; so disable them, don’t kill them.
Jeremy: Can I just ask to you Tariq and Arundhati, how much unity has there been across both Muslim and Hindu young people and for that matter, Sikh young people in India on the citizenship law or has it served what its initial purpose probably was in order to further divide people?
Arundhati: Well when the protest emerged it was one of the most beautiful poetic displays of solidarity between young Sikh’s, between young Hindu’s, between young Muslims. But when – so the Delhi elections happened when the protest was at its peak, when the women were sitting in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, they have been sitting there for months, refusing to go home and the BJP campaign was that these are Jihadi’s, these are Pakistani, these are anti-nationals. And BJP politicians came out saying: “shoot down the traitors.”
Now the politicians that came out actually saying these things, still remain highly visible, still remain seated at the side of ministers who are announcing this meagre compensation for Covid victims. But this whole episode of the Tablighi Jamaat that met in Nizamuddin quite near my house, before the lockdown and then were locked in to Nizamuddin during the lockdown and turned out to be super spreaders, but now are being blamed for purposely doing Corona Jihad, for spreading the disease and the fear of the disease, the fear of the epidemic has created an atmosphere in which Muslims are being associated with Corona. Somehow in the way that Nazi’s used to associate Jews with the spreading of Typhus.
So, a lot of the solidarity has been diffused pretty successfully with this media campaign. And one doesn’t know if it will reassemble, but in order to prevent it from reassembling, people are being arrested. Left leaders, young students, Muslims are being arrested every day and thrown into prison, accused of plotting the North-East Delhi anti-Muslim massacre. Muslims are being arrested for that. So the bizarreness is out of control. But it’s a very, very dangerous situation right now. But yes there’s a lot of mobilisation and solidarity and a lot of anger too, although it can’t be expressed because everybody is now terrified of this virus which is on the loose, the lockdown has ended, but the numbers are spiking, so there’s a lot of fear and into that fear this hatred is being reinjected.
Jeremy: Thanks. On the US questions that you raised Tariq – and I was very grateful for Arundhati to have described the situation in India just now. That’s really good.
In the US, I kind of wonder, if Trump’s extreme statements over the last few days are not actually a totally cynical calculated way in which he will mobilise his own events and then slightly modify his message in a couple of months’ time and hope somehow or other he can get re-elected get in November on this. Cause what I do observe in the USA is a sense of anger about the killing of George Floyd, a sense of anger about the wholly disproportionate number of Black people that have died in New York, in Chicago, in California all across the USA because of Corona crisis, and while there are some people are trying to give some medical reason for this, I think the overwhelming issue has to be addressed and that is the levels of poverty, of inequality, of lack of access to healthcare, of poor-quality food, of limited life-expectancy etc which underline all the inequalities in the USA. And whilst they are very extreme in the USA, they exist in other countries as well, including my own here in Britain and so it is interesting as to how it’s going to develop in the USA, but it also means that those opposed to Trump have got to be very serious in putting forward an alternative and that is why the messages from Bernie Sanders and Alexandria O-C are on Green New Deal, on greater equality on universal healthcare, are so very, very important.
They do provide an alternative and they do provide an alternative to the way the USA behaved toward the rest of the world. But I think we shouldn’t be too complacent about this, it’s not automatic that the end of the corona crisis everyone is going to come together and demand everything we on this call generally want and believe in. It does have to be campaigned for and fought for and that’s why the point I was making earlier about the media and education are very important and the understanding of history as well. I noticed on the strap-line coming across - and there are some wonderful points coming across there – someone said: on this occasion we should read the works of Franz Fanon. Well quite right, and there are many other people’s works we should read but in particular I think that message about understanding global history and that our inequalities come from that, and understanding that history is a way that we can go forward together.
So, it is about mobilising people and our actions with it and getting that message across. And in the USA – I don’t know if there are any callers on from the USA, because it must be quite early in the morning – though it would be interesting to hear what their perception is on the degree of unity on the streets, of all communities in support and solidarity with the Black community in the BLM campaign. Certainly, in this country there has been a massive response, a massive support for Black Lives matter whereas a few months ago many people wouldn’t really have understood what the concept of the BLM campaign was about -they certainly do now.
Arundhati: I just wanted to ask Jeremy something which is that – since he is a politician, it’s interesting that while the Corona crisis was uncoiling in America, you had one democratic politician who was speaking about healthcare for all. And all the people that supported him – the democratic party basically didn’t want him there, and still doesn’t want him there. So how does one look at this really cosy little party that electoral politics has become? I’m not saying that people should not vote but vote for the enemy they want to have. Vote Trump out, yes. But isn’t it amazing how this nexus between finance and politicians have created a system where the exits have been sealed off. So, the people that talk sense aren’t even considered an outlier for this.
Jeremy: Thanks for that. I’ve got some experience of the nexus coming together to attack people for what are very sensible very reasonable ideas, all I was saying in the election was: every child matters and every school should be properly funded, everybody’s health matters and should be properly funded, and everybody’s right for somewhere to live should be funded and there should be houses built to achieve it, and that the very biggest corporations should pay their tax. And this was seen as such a devastating attack on the whole system that the whole lot opened up on the Labour Party, me and the supporters. And I’m very well aware of the very cosy relationship we developed on all governments in all parties round the world between the richest and most powerful, most influential people in the media and in big business and the only way you can overcome that is mass movements from outside. And I spent five years as leader of the party, trying to build the party, build the base and build that sense of understanding, and we became the largest political party in Europe as a result of it, there were 600,000 members when I stepped down as leader of the party. We lost the election. I know, mainly because of perceptions about Brexit but also because of the attacks on us.
But interestingly, every single one, because of the individual policies that we put forward: public ownership of mail, rail, water, national education service fully funded, publicly owned and run NHS, access to internet, the Green Industrial revolution. Every one of those when opinion polled had an overwhelming majority in support. It was the attempt at the destruction of those that were speaking out on these issues that was successful. So unless we challenge the power of monopoly control of so much of our information and media, then it’s always going to be hard to get that message across. Now it can be done by what we are doing today, and it can be done by lots of other means, but you don’t do it by sitting at home and shouting at the TV screen, it doesn’t do you any good, it damages your throat.
Tariq: Great. We have to move now to questions from the viewers. Actually, looking down at them, most of what has been said today answers the questions which I’ve got except on one theme.
What I haven’t talked about and what a questioner Lawrence – it’s a question for all the panel. Do you think that there might be a war between the United States and China, and what explains Trump’s aggression towards the Chinese at this particular moment?
Arundhati: There might be some sort of proxy-wars, I don’t think we are in direct conflict. But like I said, India has aligned itself with Trump and Modi and Trump and great friends, and there is trouble on the borders which I think they are trying to settle, but it is a very uneasy situation, Nepal is trying also involved in it. So these conflicts will not be direct, but they will be proxy-conflicts. But one of the reasons for Trump’s aggression : I think before the George Floyd thing happened, there was definitely a plan to fight the elections, using China as the demon, just like India would use Pakistan in it’s election campaigns, so there was definitely the hope of trying to have some incidence, to create a monster, to lay the blame on someone, to portray yourself as a hero. These huge massive protests because of the death of George Floyd might have destabilised that path – that’s what I think.
Jeremy: I think there is a danger of a military conflict between the USA and China and it could be sparked off by south China sea naval manoeuvres, it could be sparked off by issues surrounding North Korea, or it could be that we begin to understand that the pressures of this come from the Asia-specific strategy which the Obama Government started and that China has developed a much greater military capacity. But surely there has be a realisation that a growing militarisation between the US and China is dangerous, is utterly disastrous and one really asks the questions why the USA feels it really necessary to build this massive military presence on the sea just off the coast of China? For what purpose is it? Because if they are worried about Chinese economic power around the world, which is considerable, huge and growing, then they should also ask themselves the question: why are so many American companies investing themselves in China and that China itself has a huge leverage which I think I’m right in saying, although I’m sure there will be somebody on the call who will correct me if I’m wrong, has the largest dollar reserves in any government in any government in the world.
So the dangers are huge, and the dangers of a trade war, morphing into a hot-war are also huge and so anyone who wants to read the history of where trade wars lead to, read the history of the collapse of empires into war in 1914, which was in part about commercial interests around the world. And so that does mean we’ve got to be very aware of this, we’ve got to oppose the militarisation, and the nuclear non- proliferation conference was postponed from April/May of this year till next year. That gives us an opportunity to say that the real issues of security around the world are environmental, are of food-supply, are of health equality and are about the sustainability of the entire planet. Covid has awakened people’s mind’s- let’s keep them alive.
Tariq: I think a hot-war between China and the United States – of course one can’t rule out anything – would create such havoc all over, it would be a global catastrophe. And the regions through which the United States normally has tried to intervene in China have been Taiwan and to a certain degree Hong Kong as well, but I don’t think they are going to get support for war. So these are nuclear states. The Chinese army is largely defensive, and effectively defensive, so if any attempt is made to start a direct war, I think the Americans will be in for a surprise.
What we are seeing, as Jeremy said, big trade clashes because of the Chinese economic developments that have taken place, they want to stop that, they fear it, they are trying to get the other European states to gang up – Britain is first behind them, some of the statements that have been made – we’ll see what the Germans do. And the hostility towards China has risen, not because of the trade exclusively, but also because China has taken its own positions on global issues. It didn’t support the United- so most of the wars that the US has recently started – it has it’s own position, it’s opposed to sanctions in Iran and Venezuela, and this assertion of Chinese sovereignty is angering the United States which was used to Russian and China backing them up for quite some time after the 90s – that has stopped happening.
Thanks to everyone who has listened, thanks to Arundhati and Jeremy for being with us as to all of you listening abroad, and it would be great if some of you actually joined, even if you are in other parts of Europe - there’s no Stop the War in your countries.
Stop the War is a unique, unique organisation we created, all of us collectively in Britain after 9/11 and after the war against Afghanistan. And it needs help and it needs you to join, so being a European doesn’t, and despite Brexit, doesn’t mean you can’t join Stop the War, and one last thing they’ve asked me: that on the 24th of June at 6:30 PM, there will be another event, a screening of the film Shadow World, introduced by Andrew Feinstein the writer, Lindsey German and the rapper Lowkey. So we will hopefully have many, many more of these events as Jeremy said, even after return to normality. Actually, it’s a very democratic way of having a discussion and involving people with it and next time I hope we have more time for discussions. Thanks everyone.
Arundhati: Thank you.
Jeremy: Thank you to Arundhati and to everyone who joined.
Arundhati: Thank you, it was a pleasure.