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Towards A New Political Imaginary

by Corinne Kumar

We have entered the night to tell our tale
to listen to those who have not spoken
we who have seen our children die in the morning deserve to be listened to :
we have looked on blankly as they have opened their wounds
Nothing really matters except, the grief of the children
their tears must be revered
their inner silence speaks louder than the spoken word
and all being and all life shouts out in outrage
we must not be rushed to our truths
whatever we failed to say is stored secretly in our minds
and all those processions of embittered crowds
have seen us lead them a thousand times
we can hear the story over and over and over again
our minds are muted beyond the sadness
there is nothing more we can fear. 1

Friends of the World Tribunal on Iraq
Members of the Jury, Friends from Iraq, Friends from Turkey

we live in fearful times :

We live in violent times:
times in which our community and collective memories are dying;
times in which the many dreams are turning into never-ending nightmares,
and the future increasingly fragmenting;
times that are collapsing the many life visions into a single cosmology that has created its own universal truths- equality, development, peace;
truths that are inherently discriminatory, even violent.
times that have created the globalized world order that dispossesses the majority, desacralizes nature, destroys cultures and civilizations, denigrates the women;
times in which the war on terrorism a la Pax Americana brings a time of violent uncertainity , brutal wars :
wars for resources- oil, diamonds, minerals : wars of occupation,
state terrorism, going global patented by the USA,
times that are giving us new words ;
preemptive strike , collateral damage, embedded journalism ,enemy combatants,
new words :
words soaked in blood .
times in which the dominant political thinking, institutions and instruments of justice are hardly able to redress the violence that is escalating, and intensifying,
times in which progress presupposes the genocide of the many;
times in which human rights have come to mean the rights of the privileged, the rights of the powerful
times in which the political spaces for the other is diminishing, even closing.

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 is a story of horror and hope; a story of the missing, the disappeared; a story so real, yet magical: a story from Lawrence Thornton in Imagining Argentina.

It could be from Iraq.
I tell this story for Eman and Hana, Rana, Amal ; and for the children in 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.
Only the imagination, says Carlos, stands between us and fear; fear makes us behave like sheep when we must dream like poets .

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.
It is not just an act of protest; it is a drama of caring; each listening to the other’s story, each assuring the other through touch, weaving a sense of community.
The community grows as the men join them.
All the while, through the window, the Generals watch them.

People realize that they cannot be indifferent observers, spectators, bystanders, even experts . The indifference of the watchers to the regime is not enough.
One must be a witness.
A witness is not a mere spectator.
S/he looks but she also listens.
S/he remembers.

Everything must be remembered. Nothing must be forgotten.
We must retrieve history from memory

We must explore the new imaginary not as experts but as witnesses.
The Mothers of the Plaza Mayo ,in Argentina express this new imaginary.

 

Our imaginaries must be different :
The new imaginary cannot have its moorings in the dominant discourse but must seek to locate itself in a discourse of dissent that comes from a deep critique of the different forms of domination and violence in our times : any new imaginary cannot be tied to the dominant discourse and systems of violence and exclusion :

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
as the guarantor of inequality, of unequal distribution, of how only a few will have and how the many must not have. What shall we do with the rhetoric of political equality on which this democracy is built, while the majority are increasingly dispossessed, living below poverty lines? We must seek new understandings of democracy; that will include a concept of freedom that is different from that which is enshrined in the Enlightenment and its Market. There is an urgent need to reinvent the political; to infuse the political with the ethical:
The new political imaginary speaks to an ethic of care :

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 in the world of rights we all are equal; each has the fundamental right to life

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 :
a counter hegemonic history , a history of the margins. It is a journey of the margins : a journey rather than an imagined destination : a journey in which the dailiness of our life proffers possibilities for our imaginary, survival and sustenance , for connectedness and community. For the idea of imaginary is inextricably linked to the personal, political and historical dimensions of community and identity. It is the dislocation expressed by particular social groups that makes possible the articulation of new imaginaries. These social groups, the margins, the global south, the south in the north, the south in the south, are beginning to articulate these new imaginaries

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 :
asking, we walk .
The asking in itself challenges master narratives, masters’ houses, houses of reason ; universal truths, of power, of politics.
The Zapatistas in offering another logic, draw the contours of this new imaginary.

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.
This centralizing logic must be decentered, must be interrupted, even disrupted .
The new political imaginary speaks to this disruption ; to this trespass.

 

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 ;
We must ask where can sovereign people go for redress, for reparation for the crimes committed against them? where will the people of Iraq seek thereparation that is owed to them?
There are no mechanisms in the rights discourse/praxis where sovereign people can take sovereign nation states to task, locked as it is, into the terrain of the nation state : the state on signing the International Covenants/Universal Declaration on Human Rights become the guarantors of human rights and freedoms for their citizens ; but what often happens is that the state become the greatest violator. We know that the International Criminal Court has been ratified by many countries but remains state-centric : the greatest violator, USA, refusing to ratify the Rome statute, continues to make bi-lateral treaties with other states assuring that the USA will 2 not be prosecuted for war crimes that they will continue to commit with impunity.

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.
This cosmos of values has determined the thought patterns of the world, as also the world’s ecological patterns: indicating its scientific signs, giving it the development symbols, generating the military psyche, defining knowledge, truth: universal truths which have been blind, to cultures, race, class, gender. Universal patriarchal truths, whatever the cultural ethos, whatever the civilisational idiom.

 

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 not only as third world, as the civilizations of Asia, the Arab world, Africa, Latin America; but the South as the voices and movements of peoples, wherever these movements exist;

the South as the visions and wisdoms of women:

the South as the discovering of new paradigms, which
challenge the existing theoretical concepts and categories
breaking the mind constructs
, seeking a new language to
describe what it perceives, refusing the one, objective,
rational, scientific world view as the only world view:
the South as the discovery of other cosmologies, as the
recovery of other knowledges that have been hidden,
submerged, silenced: the South as an ‘insurrection of these
subjugated knowledges’

The South as history; the South as memory

The South as the finding of new political paradigms,
inventing new political patterns, creating alternative
political imaginations: the South as the revelation of each
civilization in its own idiom: the South as conversations
between civilizations:

The South then as new universalisms

It invites us to create a new imaginary
The South as new political imaginary 3

 

The Courts of Women are an articulation of the new imaginary :
The Courts of Women are an unfolding of a space, an imaginary: a horizon that invites us to think, to feel, to challenge, to connect, to dare to dream.

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 is a rejection of the silencing of the crimes of violence :
Silence subjugates ; silence kills :
breaking the silence signifies the point of disruption and of counter – hegemonic truth telling,
While the Courts of Women listen to the voices of the survivors, it also listens to the voices of women who resist, who rebel, who refuse to turn against their dreams. It hears challenges to the dominant human rights discourse, whose frames have excluded the knowledges of women. It repeatedly hears of the need to extend the discourse to include the meanings and symbols and perspectives of women.

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 .
The Courts of Women celebrate those disruptive voices, voices that disrupt the dominant narrative of war and occupation, of security, of justice, of patriarchy…

 

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.
In January 2004 at the World Social Forum in India, we held the World Court on US War Crimes with a central session on Iraq and many voices from other sessions of the WTI were heard in the Court. The focus of the WTI-Mumbai session was on the War Crimes of the USA over the last fifty years. It was clear that the US was and continues to be the only country in the world that has actually used weapons of mass destruction : the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the
hydrogen bomb testing on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, the use of depleted uranium in the wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the first 1991 Gulf war and now again in Iraq ;
Agent Orange , chemical warfare in Vietnam, and now again the use of MK-77, a version of napalm in Iraq ; bacteriological warfare in Cuba ; the creation of military bases all over the world, about 130, and still building ...
Members of the Jury, we ask that the rationale for the aggression and war on Iraq – the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction be placed in the context of the global hegemon and its actual use of Weapons of Mass Destruction all over the world.
It has done all this with impunity .
Somebody in this session said that Nuremberg was the justice of the winners, and I wonder if the face of the world, of realpolitik would have changed had the world demanded that America apologise and that justice and reparation be given to the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki : We must right the many wrongs of history :
Perhaps, we must add our voices to the movements for compensation and reparation to the victims of America’s wars : the greatest rogue state of our times.

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 :
2.The WTI-Arab asks for an independent investigation into the crimes at Abu Ghraib placing it in the context of America’s systematic and systemic use of torture and abuse of prisoners, now known as enemy combatants : from Bagram in Afghanistan to Guantanamo in Cuba :
3. The creation of a world commission comprised of scientists, witnesses, experts, scholar-activists, on the weapons of mass destruction of the USA; What it has used, and what it has in stock piles ; and could be used in pre-emptive strikes.
4. An independent investigation on the nuclear war unfolding in Iraq, the use of depleted uranium since 1991, and napalm (MK-77) and the effects of depleted uranium and napalm on the peoples of Iraq, especially the children : Perhaps, we can then make a case for sanctions against the USA : Embargo the USA!
5. The need to hold Peoples’ Courts all over the Arab world challenging the dominant thinking and praxis of wars and violence in our times , gathering and listening to the voices and visions from the Arab street :

Let me bring to the Tribunal a little corner of the Arab street :
It speaks with another logic :
the Arab street in privileged and civilized parlance
is a street of violence, of extremism, peopled by killers, by terrorists, by savages, by barbarians
the barbarian of course, is the evil one, the uncivilized:
and its civilized range is full spectrum dominance
from communist to terrorist
the word barbarian invites us to remember a story:

Once upon a long time ago, in another place, another time
women and men turned away from the Empire
they withdrew from the civic life of their times and gathered their strengths
to withstand the coming hordes of barbarians
a story much like today :
with one very important difference.
this time we are not warned that the barbarians are coming,
that they are waiting at the borders, knocking at the gate
because they have already been there for sometime
in Washington,
inside the White House,
inside our lives .
destroying our heritage, re-writing our history
killing our collective memory, overtaking our dreams

Do you still wonder why there is so much anger, even hatred?
As Bush asks why, especially when we are so good
especially when we are so democratic
perhaps its is our Wealth? perhaps it is our Freedom?
echo the Washington Clique
Perhaps if they listened carefully to the Arab street
they would hear other stories; stories of why people burn the American flag,
stories that point to the US unilateral support to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
stories of its support to corrupt leaders, brutal regimes in the region,
in order to secure its own strategic interests
controlling oil reserves, preserving its own economic interests
It is a story of the last forty years of US foreign policy in the Arab region
its petro-military complex more vicious now with its ambitions of global hegemony
the new world order and the new American Century:

But there are other voices:
voices of conscience, voices of compassion :
voices from the American street,
here is the voice of a poet, that reaches across to a little corner on the Arab street
the poem written in another moment of time:

tremors of your network
cause kings to disappear
your open mouth in anger
makes nations bow in fear
your bombs can change the seasons
obliterate the spring

what more do you long for?
why are you suffering?

seas shift at your bidding
your mushrooms fill the sky
why are you unhappy?
why do your children cry?

they kneel alone in terror
with dread in every glance
their nights are threatened daily
by a grim inheritance
you dwell in whitened castles
with deep and poisoned moats
and cannot hear the curses
which fill your children’s throats 4

listening to the poem from across the seas
understanding the story of the barbarians across time
knowing the wisdoms written in our history, in our memory

As They gather today in Brussels for a Us/Eu/Un/Nato meeting to cancel the debt of Iraq,
we must ask them what debt is owed to Iraq,
what reparations will they pay for all the death and destruction of a people, of a civilization?
How will they calculate what is owed?
As They look into the eyes of the children
What stories will they tell them?

Will they tell them
that once-not-so long ago
when thousands of Iraqis were being massacred
they looked away; that they preferred to look to the future created by the warmongers.
that they listened to their doublespeak
validated their political somersaults
erasure and extermination was their script : even as they made the UN irrelevant
empire building is their Finale
And as they look into the eyes of their children
will they tell them that they had no answers and that all that they accepted were only violent ones?
What will They tell the children?

They must listen to other stories:
stories that come from the corners of the Arab street – stories from Iraqi mothers,
from Abu Ghraib,
stories that come from people of conscience all over the world
stories of courage and commitment ; stories of harmony and hope :
stories of the dignity of a people
stories that come from the children
tortured, terrorized, traumatized
in wars, civilized or uncivilized
children from the tears, children of the storm
children of the stars ;
they offer a hope
they speak of a justice
a justice that will stop the curse of greed and violence and war;
Is not this what this war of occupation is all about?
Because only justice, only justice can stop a curse!

May I leave you with the very poignant hope of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who reminds us to :

pay attention to the drunkenness of light
even as light as the butterfly
in the darkness of the tunnel.


remembering the Zapatistas who celebrate the tunnels that unite us.

I thank you for listening:
Istanbul, June 26, 2005 

Corinne Kumar, El Taller International, Asian Women’s Human Rights Council and WiB India
Email: eltaller@eltaller.org
Web: www.eltaller.org

World Tribunal on Iraq, Istanbul, Turkey, June 23-26, 2005


1 Congregation of the Storytellers at the Festival of the Children of Soweto
Mazise Kunene
Ancestors and the Sacred Mountains.

2 Ivan Illich, Shadow Work, Vernacular Values Examined, Marion
Boyars Inc. London, 1981.

3 A South Wind, Towards A New Political Imaginary, Corinne Kumar; Dialogue and Difference, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

4 Maya Angelou, USA  

 
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