An Encounter with Disaster – “An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire” By- Arundhati Roy

In An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Arundhati Roy critically examines the ambiguous and inconsistent concepts of Neoliberal capitalism, globalization especially concerned with the corporate aspect of it, a disguised terrorism in the name of Empire. In the chapter, “Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?”, Roy sarcastically brings forth the discussion about New Imperialism unraveling the many folds of hypocrisy hidden underneath the very foundation of the concept. The loopholes and limitations of New Imperialism, the Neoliberal forms of government, can be gauged through the magnanimity of the devastating conflicts taking place because of them. The question now arises that who is benefitting from the conflicts? Is it the people or is it the government, which is constantly endeavouring to gain more and more power and authority over the already trapped subject. Roy seems to suggest that there is an impending risk of civil unrest or war, if the countries, that is, America and the European ones, do not surrender their resources voluntarily to the corporate.

There is a subtle threat in the tone referring to the disastrous effects of New Imperialism when she says, “In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It’s a remodeled, streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in history, a single empire with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony. It uses different weapons to break open different markets.” (84). The threat she implies is from the system of New Imperialism that adopts the concept of Neo Liberalism to camouflage its overpowering capability to destroy the rest of the world for its own vested interests and economic benefits. The threat here is from a government that is no more a government; it has rather converted into an oppressing empire. It reminds us of the history that was ruled by the British Imperialism. But the new form of imperialism is even more powerful and holds the capacity to ‘obliterate the world in an afternoon’. It advocates liberalism, which is not liberalism by any means. It is rather captivity and enslavement that is different in dimensions, is more treacherous and powerful than that of the historical concept of slavery employed by the British colonizers.

To elaborate her point, Roy refers to the concept of New Racism, which, according to her, is one of the most important weapons for New Imperialism. She says, “The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New Racism.” (87). New Racism is a type of “New Genocide” caused through economic sanctions, that implies, “…creating conditions that lead to mass death without actually going out and killing people” (88). She comes back every time, never losing track, to refer to the initial question she made allegorically, “Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?” She refers to the tradition of “turkey pardoning” (87)in Thanksgiving. Roy writes, “Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the U.S. president with a Turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the president spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the fifty million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day.” (87). According to Roy, “…local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers […], some singers, some writers…are given absolution. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity cut, and die of AIDS.”(88).

Roy, in a sarcastic tone, vehemently criticizes the hypocrisies lurking underneath a beautifully presented concept of the new liberalism. She seems to connect dots of oppression across the world- like Neo liberalism, New Imperialism, dominating public motivation with the masses losing power. This Neo Liberalism is not what it represents to be but is a kind of severe exploitation. It is the same old thing repeating itself all over again to oppress people yet at another devastating level. It is a kind of acute manipulation of people and misutilization of one’s own powers and political and economic resources. It is nothing but a complete ‘disaster’ for mankind created by the oppressive nature of New Imperialism in the disguise of Neo Liberalism.

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