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Towards A New Political Imaginary
by Corinne Kumar
We have entered the night to tell our tale
Friends of the World Tribunal on Iraq
we live in fearful times :
We live in violent times:
The world, it would seem, is at the end of its imagination .
Only the imagination stands between us and fear : fear makes us behave like sheep when we should be dreaming like poets.
So let me gather some stars and make a fire for you, and tell you a story:
It could be from Iraq.
It is a story about Argentina under the dictators. The hero is a gentle person Carlos Rueda, an intense man who directs a children’s theatre and is at home in the world of children. During the time of the dictators, Carlos discovers that he has an extraordinary gift. He realizes that he is the site, the locus, the vessel for a dream. He can narrate the fate of the missing. From all over Argentina, men and women come to his home and sitting in his garden, Carlos tells them stories : tales of torture, courage, death, stories about the missing, about the disappeared.
One day the regime arrests his wife Celia, for a courageous act of reporting. The world of Carlos collapses till he realizes that he must keep her alive in his imagination.
As the regime becomes more violent, it is the women who object. It is the women as wives, as mothers, as daughters who congregate in silence at the Plaza de Mayo. Silently, each carries a placard announcing or asking about the missing. The women walk quietly, sometimes holding hands.
People realize that they cannot be indifferent observers, spectators, bystanders, even experts . The indifference of the watchers to the regime is not enough.
Everything must be remembered. Nothing must be forgotten.
We must explore the new imaginary not as experts but as witnesses.
Our imaginaries must be different :
This new imaginary will move away from the eurocentric and androcentric methodologies which only observe and describe; methodologies which quantify, percentify, classify, completely indifferent to phenomena which cannot be obtained or explained through its frames. We need to deconstruct the dominant mythology, disallowing the invasion of the dominant discourse; refusing the integration of the South into the agenda of globalization and the war on terrorism. The new imaginary invites us to create a new spectrum of methods which depart from the linear mode of thought and perception to one that is more holistic,holographic. It urges us to search more qualitative methodologies in oral history, experiential analysis, using fluid categories, listening for the nuances,searchingfor the shadow, in poetry, in myth, in metaphor. It invites us to a way of knowing that refuses to control and exploit Nature, but one that finds our connectedness to Nature : to place together these fragments, to discern the essence, to move into another space, another time, recapturing hidden knowledges, regenerating forgotten spaces, refinding other cosmologies, reweaving the future. It is here perhaps, that the notion of the sacred survives; it is here in the cosmologies and rootedness of cultures; here with peoples on the peripheries that we must seek the beginnings of an alternate discourse.
It is not difficult to see that we are at the end of an era, when every old category begins to have a hollow sound, and when we are groping in the dark to discover the new. Can we find new words, search new ways, create out of the material of the human spirit possibilities to transform the existing exploitative social order, to discern a greater human potential?
What we need in the world today are new universalisms ; not universalisms that deny the many and affirm the one, not universalisms born of eurocentricities or patriarchalities ; but universalisms that recognize the universal in the specific civilisational idioms in the world. universalisms that will not deny the accumulated experiences and knowledges of past generations but that which will not accept the imposition of any monolithic structures under which it is presumed all other peoples must be subsumed. New universalisms that will challenge the universal mode- militarization, nuclearism, war. Universalisms that will respect the plurality of the different societies, of their philosophy, of their ideology, their traditions and cultures ; one that will be rooted in the particular, in the vernacular, one which will find a resonance in the different civilizations, birthing new cosmologies.
We need to imagine alternative perspectives for change : to craft visions that will evolve out of conversations across cultures and other traditions;conversations between cultures that challenge and transcend the totalitarianism of the western logos ; conversations that are not mediated by the hegemony of the universal discourse.
Members of the Jury, the new imaginary invites us to another human rights discourse; one that will not be trapped either in the universalisms of the dominant thinking tied as it is to a market economy, a monoculturalism, a materialistic ethic and the politics and polity of the nation state; neither must it be caught in the discourse of the culture specific but one that will proffer universalisms that have been born out of a dialogue of civilisations. And this will mean another ethic of dialogue. We need to find new perspectives on the universality of human rights: in dialogue with othercultural perspectives of reality, other notions of development, democracy, even dissent, other concepts of power (not power to control, power to hegemonize, but power to facilitate, to enhance) and governance; other notions of equality ; equality makes us flat and faceless citizens of the nation state, perhaps the notion of dignity which comes from depth, from roots, could change the discourse, the Iraqis at the Tribunal speak of dignity : other concepts of justice - justice without revenge, justice with truth and reconciliation, justice with healing of individuals, of communities, because human kind proffersmany horizons of discourse and because our eyes do not as yet behold those horizons, it does not mean that those horizons do not exist.
Take the universal discourse on democracy: the new magical word to reform the world, the Greater Middle East : the dominant understanding on democracy is tied to the notion of individual rights,
private property, the market economy; we are all equal we are told but the market works
In 1996, Madeleine Albright the then US Secretary of State was asked what she felt about the 500,000 Iraqi children who had died as a result of US economic sanctions (in the name of UN Security Council), in the context of the continuing war. Was it a high price to pay? Was it worth it? She replied : yes, all things considered, we think that the price is worth it. Lives of children lost in wars are considered collateral damage;
But what does the right to life mean to the genetically damaged children born all over the world because of depleted uranium? Depleted uranium that was used in wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and in Iraq for this generation, and for the generations to come.
The new political imaginary invites us to write another history :
The peasants in Chiapas, Mexico, describing their new imaginary explain their core vision in their struggle for their livelihoods and for retaining their life worlds. And in their profound and careful organization, in their political imagining and vision do not offer clear, rigid, universal truths ; knowing that the journey is in itself precious, sum up their vision in three little words :
The new political imaginary invites us to dismantle the master’s house ; and as the poet, Audre Lorde said the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. There is an urgent need to challenge the centralizing logic of the master narrative implicit in the dominant discourses of war, of security, of human rights, of democracy . This dominant logic is a logic of violence and exclusion, a logic of developed and underdeveloped, a logic of superior and inferior, a logic of civilized anduncivilized.
The World Tribunal on Iraq speaks to this disruption : It is a disruption of the dominant discourse and the dominant politics of our times and Public Hearings, Peoples Tribunals, Courts of Women are all expressions of people’s resistance : expressions of the new imaginary that is finding different ways of speaking Truth to Power, recognizing that the concepts and categories enshrined in the dominant thinking and institutions in our times, are unable to grasp the violence ;
So, where shall we find justice?
Perhaps, it is in the expressions of resistance seeking legitimacy not by the dominant standards, not from a dominant paradigm, not by the rule of law, but by claims to the truth offering new paradigms of knowledge, of politics : the Truth Commissions, the Public Hearings, the Peoples’ Tribunals, the Courts of Women are movements of resistance that are speaking to Power, challenging Power, creating other reference points ; sources of other inspiration, speaking to the conscience of the world, returning ethics to politics, decolonizing our minds and our imaginations.
The South has, for too long accepted a world view that has hegemonised its cultures, decided its development model, defined its aesthetic categories, outlined its military face, determined its science and technology, its nuclear options and moulded its modes of governance through the modern nation state. For the modern idiom of politics is the euro-centric world of nation states, centralised, bureaucratised, militarised, some even nuclearised. The nation state in its homogenisation of the polity has subsumed all cultural diversity, all civilisational differences, into one uniform political entity, which now belongs to the N ew World Order. A cosmology constructed of what has come to be known as universal values ; a cosmology whose philosophical, ideological, and political roots were embedded in the specific historical context of the culture of the west. What qualified it then to be termed universal ? The vision of the world in which the centre of the world was Europe and later North America (west) encapsulated all civilisations into its own western frames: it reduced their cultural diversities into a schema called civilisation ; it made universal the specific historical experiences of the west. It announced that what was relevant to the west had to be a model for the rest of the world: what was good for the centre had to be meaningful for the periphery. All that was western simply became universal . Every other civilisation, every system of knowledge came to be defined and compared vis-à-vis this paradigm submitting to ‘its insights as imposition, its blindness as values, its tastes as canons, in a word to its euro-centricities’.
The Other in this cosmology were the civilizations of Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Latin America, the Arab world. Scarcely twenty years were enough to make two billion people define themselves as under-developed 2 , vis-à-vis the post war growth model, the market economy and the international economic order conceived of at Bretton Woods. It minisculed all social totalities into one single model, all systems of science to one mega science, all indigenous medicine to one imperial medicine, all knowledge to one established regime of thought, all development to gross national product, to patterns of consumption, to industrialization, to the western self image of homo-economicus with all needs commodity defined , and homo economicus has never been gender neutral.
What is essential is not to develop new doctrines or dogmas, or to define a new, coherent political schema ; but, to suggest a new imaginative attitude, one that can be radical and subversive which will be able to change the logic of our development. Perhaps as the poet says we should nowbreak the routine, do an extravagant action that would change the course of history. What is essential is to go beyond the politics of violence and exclusion of our times and to find new political imaginations.
An imaginary where people of the margins, of the global south are subjects of our own history, writing our own cultural narratives, offering new universals, imagining a world in more life enhancing terms, constructing a new radical imaginary.
We must seek new imaginaries from the South :
the South as the visions and wisdoms of women:
the South as the discovering of new paradigms, which
The South as history; the South as memory
The South as the finding of new political paradigms,
The South then as new universalisms
The Courts of Women are an articulation of the new imaginary :
It is an attempt to define a new space for women, and to infuse this space with a new vision, a new politics. It is a gathering of voices and visions of the global south. The Courts of Women reclaim the subjective and objective modes of knowing, creating richer and deeper structures of knowledge in which the observer is not distanced from the observed, the researcher from the research, poverty from the poor. The Courts of Women seek to weave together the objective reality (analyses ) with the subjective testimonies of the women; the rational with the intuitive; the personal with the political; the logical with the lyrical (through video testimonies, artistic images and poetry) ; we cannot separate the dancer from the dance . It invites us to discern fresh insights, offering us other ways to know, urging us to seek deeper layers of knowledge towards creating new paradigms of knowledge.
The Courts of Women like the World Tribunal on Iraq are public hearings: the Court is used in a symbolic way. The Courts are sacred spaces where women, speaking in a language of suffering, name the crimes, seeking redress, even reparation.
It speaks of a new generation of women’s human rights.
The Court of Womenis a tribute to the human spirit: in which testimonies can not only be heard but also legitimised. The Courts provide witnesses, victims, survivors and resistors not only the validation of their suffering but also the validation of their hopes and dreams that they have dared to hold. It speaks to the right of the subjugated and the silenced to articulate the crimes against them ; it is a taking away of the legitimizing dominant ideologies and returning their life worlds into their own hands .
With our partner organizations, and drawing from the methodology of the Courts of Women, we have held two sessions of the World Tribunal on Iraq.
Last week we held in Tunis the Arab session of the WTI which focused on US war crimes , the Project of the New American Century and the Arab street : There were several recommendationsmade at the WTI-Arab session : and we proffer some recommendations to the Jury :
1. to demand the unconditional End of the Occupation which is illegal and immoral : for Iraq, for Palestine :
Let me bring to the Tribunal a little corner of the Arab street :
Once upon a long time ago, in another place, another time
Do you still wonder why there is so much anger, even hatred?
But there are other voices:
tremors of your network
what more do you long for?
seas shift at your bidding
they kneel alone in terror
listening to the poem from across the seas
As They gather today in Brussels for a Us/Eu/Un/Nato meeting to cancel the debt of Iraq,
Will they tell them
They must listen to other stories:
May I leave you with the very poignant hope of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who reminds us to :
World Tribunal on Iraq, Istanbul, Turkey, June 23-26, 2005