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Empire of Shame

Gian Accardo: Your book is entitled Empire of Shame. What is this empire? Why “shame”? What is this shame?

Jean Ziegler: In the favelas (shantytowns) in the north of Brazil, some mothers may, in the evening, put water in a pot and then put stones in it. They explain to their children who are crying because of hunger that “soon the meal will be ready”, while hoping that meanwhile the children will fall asleep. Can one measure the shame felt by a mother facing her children who are tortured by hunger and whom she is unable to feed?

However the murderous order of the world–which kills 100,000 people every day from hunger and epidemics–does not only make the victims feel ashamed, but also us, Westerners, Whites, rulers, who are accomplices of this massacre, aware, informed and nevertheless silent, cowardly and paralyzed.

Empire of shame? It could be referring to the generalized impact of the feeling of shame caused by the inhumanity of the world order. What is actually implied here is the empire of the private transcontinental companies, directed by the cosmocrats. The 500 most powerful of these companies last year controlled 52 % of the gross world product, i.e. of the entire wealth produced on the planet.

You talk about a “structural violence”. What is the meaning of this?

In the empire of shame, controlled by organized scarcity [of food and essentials], war is not sporadic any more, it is permanent. It is not any more a crisis, a pathology, but normality. It does not any more imply the eclipse of reason–as Horkheimer expressed it–it is the very raison d’être of the empire. The lords of the financial war have put the planet under the scalpel of organized economic destruction. They attack the normative power of the States, challenge the sovereignty of the people, subvert democracy, wreak havoc on nature, destroy human beings and their freedoms. The liberalization of the economy, the “invisible hand” of the market, is their way of dealing with the universe; the maximalization of profit is the way it works. I call this practice and this cosmogony structural violence.

Also you talk about the “death throes of the law”. What do you mean by this expression?

In the future, the preventive eternal war, the permanent aggressiveness of the lords, the arbitrary and the structural violence rule without constraints. The majority of the barriers of international law are collapsing. The UN itself is anemic. Cosmocrats are above the law. My book describes the collapse of international law, quoting numerous examples drawn directly from my experience as special rapporteur at the United Nations for the right to access to food.

You qualify famine as a “weapon of mass destruction.” What solutions do you recommend?

Through the debt, hunger is the weapon of mass destruction which is used by the cosmocrats to crush–and to exploit–the people, in particular in the Southern hemisphere. A complex set of measures, immediately feasible and which I describe in the book, could quickly put a term to hunger. It is impossible to sum these up in one sentence. One thing is certain: world agriculture, in the current state of productivity, could feed twice the number of today’s global population. So it is not a matter of fate: hunger is man made.

Some countries are crushed, you say, by the “odious debt”. What do you mean by “odious debt” and what solutions do you recommend?

Rwanda is a small farming republic of 26 000 km2, located on the mountain ridge of central Africa which separates the water from the Nile and the Congo River. Rwandan farmers grow tea and coffee. From April to June 1994, a dreadful genocide, organized by the Hutu government allied with France at the time of François Mitterrand, caused the death of more than 800,000 Tutsi men, women and children. The machetes that were used for the genocide were imported from China and Egypt, and were financed, essentially, by the Crédit Lyonnais. Today the survivors, farmers as poor as Job, must refund to banks and creditor governments even the credits which were used for the purchase of the machetes used by the genocidal Hutus. That is an example of an odious debt. The solution is immediate debt cancellation and without conditions attached or, to begin with, by an audit of the debt, as the International Socialist Organization recommends and the way president Lula did it in Brazil, and then renegotiate the debt item by item. For each item, there are actually criminal components ­ corruption, hugely padded bills, etc.–which must be reduced. International audit companies, like PriceWaterhouseCooper or Ernst & Young, can perfectly well be in charge of these audits, the way they are each year responsible for auditing the accounts of the multinational corporations.

In your book you also talk about a “new feudalization of the world”. What do you mean?

On August 4, 1789, the deputies of the French National Assembly abolished feudalism. Their action had a universal repercussion. Today, however, we witness a tremendous step backwards. September 11, 2001 did not only provide George W. Bush with the pretext for extending the influence of the United States over the world, the event also served as justification for the staging of organized economic destruction of the people of the Southern hemisphere by the large private transcontinental corporations.

In your book, you very often refer to the French revolution and some of its protagonists (Danton, Babeuf, Marat): In what way do you consider that it still has something to teach us, two centuries later, in such a different world?

Read the texts! The Proclamation of Jacques Roux and the Enragés (radical extremists in the French Revolution who demanded strict economic controls) sets the horizon for any struggle for planetary social justice. The founding values of the republic, or more than that, of civilization itself, date from the time of the Enlightenment. However, the empire of shame destroys even the hope for the realization of these values.

You accuse the total war against terrorism of diverting resources necessary to other more important struggles such as the struggle against hunger. Do you think that terrorism is a false threat, cultivated by some States? If so, what makes you think that? Do you think that this threat is not real or that it deserves a different treatment?

The state terrorism of Bush, Sharon, Putin… is as appalling as Islamic Jihad terrorism of small groups or other insane and bloodthirsty men of that kind. They are two faces of the same kind of barbarism. They are both quite real, since Bush kills and Ben Laden kills. The problem is the eradication of terrorism: it can be done only by the total disruption of the empire of shame. Only through global social justice will it be possible to cut the Jihadists off from their roots and deprive the cosmocrats’ lackeys of their pretexts for counterattacks.

You were appointed special rapporteur at the UN on the right to food in 2002. What reflection did you draw from this mission?

My mandate is fascinating: I am totally independent and answerable to the General Assembly of the UN and the commission for human rights. I have to make a new human right justifiable, through statutory or conventional rights: the right to food. It is a Sisyphus task! It advances millimeter by millimeter. The essential center of this struggle is the collective conscience. For a long time, the destruction of human beings by hunger has been tolerated with a kind of ice cold acceptance. Today, it is regarded as intolerable. Public opinion puts pressure on governments and on the international organizations (WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, etc.) so that basic measures are taken to slay the enemy: land reform in the Third World, suitable prices paid for the agricultural produce of the South, rationalization of humanitarian aid in the event of sudden catastrophes, the closing of the Chicago Stock Exchange for agricultural products and raw materials, which speculates in the rise of prices of major food products, fights against the privatization of drinking water, etc.

You seem to defend the cause of the “altermondialistes”, even as if you were a spokesman for this movement. How is it that you so seldom participate in the “alternative” demonstrations and that you are generally not regarded as an “alternative” intellectual?

What do you mean? I spoke in front of 20,000 people in the “Gigantino” of Porto Alegre in January 2003. I feel like an organic intellectual of the new planetary civil society, of its multiple faces of resistance, this tremendous fraternity of the night. But I remain faithful to the principles of the revolutionary class analysis, in Jacques Roux, Babeuf, Marat and Saint-Just.

You seem to attribute all the misfortunes of the world to the multinationals and to a handful of States (the United States, Russia, Israel): isn’t that a bit simplistic?

The order of the current world is not only murderous, it is also absurd. It kills, destroys, slaughters, but it does so for no other reason than the desire for maximum profit for some cosmocrats who are driven by an obsession for power and unlimited greed.

Bush, Sharon, Putin? Lackeys, henchmen. I will add a postscript on Israel: Sharon is not Israel. He is the perversion of Israel. Michael Warshavski, Lea Tselem, the “Rabbis for human rights” and many other resistance organizations incarnate the true Israel, the future of Israel. They deserve our total solidarity.

Do you think that morals have a place in international relations, since they are rather dictated by economic and geopolitical interests?

There is no choice. Either you choose development and normative organization or you choose the invisible hand of the market, the violence of the strongest and the arbitrary. Feudal power and social justice are radically paradoxical.

“Ahead towards our roots”, urges the German Marxist Ernst Bloch. If we do not urgently restore the values of the Enlightenment, the Republic, international law, civilization such as we have built it for two hundred and fifty years in Europe will be annihilated, absorbed by the jungle.

Since the departure of the Taliban, the Middle East and the Arab-Muslim world seem to be hit by a wave of more or less spontaneous democratization (elections in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine, the opening of the presidential election to multiple candidates in Egypt). How do you feel about that and do you think that democracy can be exported to those countries? Or do you believe that they are condemned to having despotic systems?

It is not a question “of exporting democracy”. The desire of autonomy, democracy, popular sovereignty is innate in human beings, whatever the area of the world where they were born. My friend the great Syrian sociologist Bassam Tibi wants lo live a life in democracy and has a right to it. However, for thirty years he has been living in Germany, in exile from the dreadful dictatorship which prevails in his country. Elias Sambar, the Palestinian writer, another one of my friends, has a right to a free and democratic Palestine, not to an occupied Palestine, nor should he have to live a life under the obscurantist iron rule of the Islamists. Tibi, Sambar and I want the same thing and we all have a right to it: democracy. The problem: the cold war, the instruments of the systems in place by the great powers, and finally the cowardice of the Western democrats, their lack of active and real solidarity have made it possible for the tyrants of the Middle East, of Saudi Arabia, of Egypt, of Syria, of the Gulf and of Iran to last until today.

This interview, conducted by GIAN PAULO ACCARDO, took place some months ago on TV5 (Canadian television). Translated by Siv O’Neall, from the French original, to be found at at the site of La libre Belgique. Jean Ziegler, rapporteur at the UN on questions of food resources has just published a book translated in 14 languages: Empire of Shame (Editions Fayard).

 

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