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“Consumerism and materialism deadlier than armed occupation”

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Ramsey Clark: “The U.S. war of aggression [in Iraq] was a supreme international crime, a supreme crime against humanity.”
Ramsey Clark: “The U.S. war of aggression [in Iraq] was a supreme international crime, a supreme crime against humanity.”

Marcus Dam

Ramsey Clark,former U.S. Attorney General, on globalisation, the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, the Iraq war, and more.

Ramsey Clark, the former United States Attorney General, is a controversial figure. He played an important role in the history of the American Civil Rights movement, is affiliated with “VoteToImpeach”, an organisation advocating the impeachment of President George W Bush, and joined in 2004, a panel of lawyers which volunteered to defend Saddam Hussein in his trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Excerpts from an interview during Mr. Clark’s recent visit to Kolkata:

If one were to argue that the much-bandied phrase in today’s political discourse “the international community” is little more than a euphemism for the United States furthering its interests in the new global order, how would you respond?

I think that if those who work towards greater globalisation and domination want the world psychologically to think of itself as a community, it makes their operations easier

The sweep of globalisation, strongly associated with accepting U.S.-style capitalism, has spawned fresh inequities across the world. How do you perceive the phenomena?

It’s a terrible threat to civilisation, to humanity: not only a political threat, an obviously economic one, but at the most fundamental human level a threat to distinct cultures — the same technology, the same entertainment, the same fast foods so to speak. Based on economic power, it is pushing itself into different parts of the world. Consumerism and materialism have a power of their own and perhaps the greatest victim is culture that in a way represents the accumulative imagination, the pains, suffering, and history of the people

But there has been the emergence of alternative strategies for development in different parts of the world to counter the one under whose cover the U.S. is alleged to be establishing its hegemony.

I see an enormous increase in awareness to the problems thrown up by the globalisation process. As an optimist I think we can see a slowing down in the rate of globalisation and more importantly an awareness of its true meaning, what it is doing to individual societies.

Globalisation is often perceived to be a mirror image of neo-colonialism. Would you agree?

The difference between the old imperialism and the new globalisation process is illustrated well in India. The country suffered the brutalities of foreign domination, the impoverishment that resulted from it. But until globalisation, if you look at the Indian movie industry for instance, its facial aspects remained Indian. Now, with the intensity of globalisation reaching into every little corner of life, even the comedians, the jokes, the rhythm of the music has started changing.

This really makes consumerism and materialism deadlier than armed occupation.

In the old colonialism you at least knew who your enemy was, you felt the knife on the back. You knew what had to be done if you wanted a better life. In the new consumerism you are captive and unaware. When the prisoner is unaware of his chains then it’s hopeless. If you look at globalisation you are completely captive in imagination and desires and this is where the greatest danger lies.

Even as we talk a political debates rages in our country over the signing of the civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the U.S. with the Left pointing out that it will be naïve if the deal were seen in isolation and not part of a greater strategic alliance being forged between the two countries. Would you like to comment?

The Indian people are keenly intelligent and they know what they are doing. And though their motives and those of the U.S. may be entirely different, they may come together for various reasons and globalisation certainly fits into this. If you are a strong ally of the U.S. in the nuclear arms level then you are probably completely open to globalisation and erosion of cultures.

Here we are talking not of a nuclear arms pact but an agreement meant entirely for civilian nuclear cooperation.

The cleverness with which technology can change things can, and will, spread the capacity to develop what we call weapons of mass destruction.

If we talk of opposing any other country to develop nuclear weapons for the sake of peace, whose peace are we referring to — their [the peace of the more powerful countries] or world peace? What I am saying is that if I’m the only one to have nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver than anywhere than I have the peace and none else does. ‘I’ll wipe you out, you can’t play with me.’ This is an impermissible defence; a defence too destructive for humanity to be used.

You are widely associated with various campaigns against the U.S. “war of aggression” in Iraq, and had even joined a panel of prominent lawyers in 2004 that volunteered to defend Saddam Hussein in November 2005. Has there been any change in the American position in Iraq over the past few months?

Had the war of aggression prevailed cost free, so to speak; had the resistance within Iraq not been so great and so costly to the U.S. not only in terms of human lives but in world respect and reputation, then perhaps it would be more devastating to world peace. But it has slowed the U.S. down radically. The tragedy is that the U.S. war of aggression was a supreme international crime, a supreme crime against humanity — it is important to recognise the threat of the war of aggression is legally equal to the aggression itself.

The U.S. is freely threatening other countries and this is pretty intimidating — these threats. If you look at the human condition in Iraq it breaks your heart. The devastation at every level of life there is unbearable. The humanitarian crisis is unprecedented. Nearly 2.5 million people are out of their country, one million plus have been killed, 75 per cent are without electricity and drinking water.

And then there is the fear cost. We have never had a situation with such a fear cost — the fear of being killed any moment. That is something the world will have to look at and be united to prevent.

Is the terrorist the U.S. claims to be fighting a Frankenstein of its own creation?

The war on terrorism is really a war on Islam. Most of the politicians are putting it as Islamic terrorists but what they really mean is the threat of Islam. So the idea of the war on Islam is the idea of extermination of a proportion never seen in history at any time.

Why this fear of Islam? The U.S. government, its critics argue, is seized by paranoia. During the Cold War it was the threat of Communism. Now you say it is Islam.

As for Islam it is a faith that has served people well at a time when there seems to be no values, no principles, when economic power, greed and force prevail.

In the U.S. it has touched the lives of African-Americans who have had lives caught in street violence and are fighting for their lives. Suddenly Islam comes to them and they find peace, dignity and a faith they can believe in.

The fear is very real. The underlying value of globalisation is material. In this proliferation of unnecessary necessities, as Mark Twain said, you want to create more things, build more things, sell more things, accumulate more money. And the effect, the deadliest thing that can happen, is the enrichment of the rich and the greater impoverishment of the poor, in every country. Globally, the numbers of the poor are increasing fast, the concentration of wealth is greater. That is an unlivable position.

The U.S. government’s need for an enemy, its search for new enemies is really a way of uniting the country, covering its real motives and appealing for patriotism that is called the last refuge of the scoundrel. Patriotism is not the real motive. The real motive is domination and exploitation, and to get away with it you have to have a rallying ground, an enemy. That is where the military comes in. The U.S. spends more on arms than all other countries combined. While it is threatening countries with obliteration if they try to develop a nuclear weapon, it is developing a new generation of its own nuclear weapons, its own new rocketry that can hit any place in minutes.

Yet you have countries in different parts of the world that are closing ranks against the U.S. designs of world dominance.

Domination in itself is hard work. You dominate to exploit. That is how you get your wealth. You hold others down and get your wealth. But you also distract them so that they cannot see the changes, see what you’re doing to them. If you look at the new independence in Latin America, it is startling. You have the old Cuban revolution whose survival is a miracle; the country has the highest reading scores, the [highest] maths score in the hemisphere in their grammar schools though under powerful sanctions for decades. Then you look at Venezuela, what is happening in Argentina. You look at Brazil and Chile where a woman who was imprisoned by Pinochet and whose father was murdered by him in 1974 is President. These countries have broken their chains and they are coming up.

I think India too sees the enemy in ways it never has never before. So does China. There is power in this region, given the sizes of these two countries — which the U.S. cannot manipulate and handle very easily. So what we have to do is to spread an understanding of the problem. The imbalances in military power can mean us going in for an awfully bloody time if we do not see it.

But above all we have to come up back to values that are better than simply consumerism — that which means ‘I want things, I want better food, a better house, a bigger car’; that which means ‘I want to buy my kid every toy in the world.’


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