Monday, October 18, 2004

Book Review: The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile: Conversations with Arundhati Roy

Originally titled "The Globalization of Dissent", "The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile" is a series of four interviews with author Arundhati Roy. The interviews, guided conversations, really, are conducted by radio producer David Barsaman. Roy is perhaps best known as the author of the Booker Prize winning novel "The God of Small Things", but she has also written three collections of essays dealing with such various subjects as the corruption of the Indian government, American Imperialism, and nuclear arms proliferation. This book touches on many of these same themes, but also deals with Roy's personal life in a level her essays have not.

The first interview "Knowledge and Power" was conducted in February 2001. As the title suggests, the focus of this interview is on knowledge and power and what both mean to Arundhati Roy. Roy discusses, as she does in her essays, the abuse of power by the Indian government and the arrogance of controlling knowledge. Roy mentions how knowledge can (and has) caused arrogance and corruption in the intellectual elites. Specific instances mentioned include the government letting Enron control and own so much of India's power structure, and the irresponsible destruction caused by the Big Dam projects. This interview paints, in broad strokes, a picture of the overall worldview of Arundhati Roy. This is fantastic stuff. In Roy we discover an intelligent, accomplished, passionate woman who has taken the very human responsibility of trying to make a difference in the world.

The second interview, taken in September 2002, is a much shorter essay. Titled "Terror and the Maddened King", the essay begins with David Barsaman questioning Roy about the charges brought against her because of the novel "The God of Small Things". This interview deals more with Roy's reaction to, and experience with, government bullying. This interview feels as if it is setting up a future discussion, that there is a reason why Roy and others must speak up to the injustices caused by governments and Empires of the world.

In the longest interview, "Privitization and Polarization", Arundhati Roy makes some bold, inflammatory statements. She writes "terrorism is the privitization of war. Terrorists are the free marketers of war - people who believe that it isn't only the state that can wage war, but private parties as well." (92) She then goes on to say that "Osama Bin Laden and George Bush are both terrorists". To the American reader this is a shocking and even inconceivable. Taken from a different perspective and reading how Roy explains her viewpoint, it is not as unbelievable as it seems. From the viewpoint of one who is against globalization and the bullying of the government of the American Empire, the connections in Roy's logic are understandable. She does make a point, however, to distinguish the American people with the political power machine. This interview was conducted in November 2002.

The final interview was conducted on May 26, 2003. The title here, "Globalizing Dissent", is particularly apt. While it is never stated directly, the primary theme running through this interview is the idea that the globalization of a "world economy", which Roy feels is the globalization of the American economy, is necessarily also globalizing a dissent against that same globalization. This, Roy contends, is why the world is seeing a higher amount of and more intense form of terrorism against the forms of globalization. It is seen against America in Iraq and Roy sees it firsthand in India. In this interview Roy talks about how the terrorism of George Bush in Iraq is doing nothing more than causing more and more of this dissent.

There is very much a strong tone of anti-globalization running through "The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile". Arundhati Roy is against the broad application of power which is wielded by the world's most powerful nation. She feels strongly about looking after all of humanity, not just those with power. Ultimately, that is what Roy is trying to accomplish.

The voice of Arundhati Roy is vitally important, no matter what one's opinion of her message. At the very least it is a point of view which should be seriously considered as an alternative. She makes very good points and argues them passionately and with intelligence. She suffers no fools and has no patience with an argument made from simple nationalism. This is an important voice, but perhaps one that many in the world will find uncomfortable as she argues against many of the foundations of Western Society.

The bottom line is that this book expands and explains Roy's essays and gives a deeper personal look inside the life and mind of an important writer.

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