From Volunteers to Terrorists: Should we watch our steps?

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"VSO brings people together to fight poverty." -Mission of VSO


“Affluence creates poverty.”  ~Marshall McLuhan


“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi


“Some 7000 children die in India daily, mainly due to poverty, which is caused by a skewed and totally inhuman notion of ’development’ propagated by Indian and Western elites. Is this not a form of terrorism also? In some senses, it is a worse form of terrorism, not only because it is of a far greater magnitude but also because it causes prolonged pain and suffering to its victims, unlike those who die in an instant in a terrorist attack. We better suffer terrorist attacks from Pakistan than push out the agenda of development being formed by Indian and Western elites. Is this not also a form of terrorism? Is not casteism in Hinduism and Islam a form of terrorism?"  ~ Swami Agnivesh


“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” ~ Charles Darwin


“It is a tragic mix-up when the United States spends $500,000 for every enemy soldier killed, and only $53 annually on the victims of poverty.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


The complexity of poverty


The mission of VSO volunteers “to fight poverty” requires of them to understand what poverty is as much as they can.  It is a complex issue, one in which political, economic, religious, social and philosophical etc. arguments are made in its determination.


In this writing I wish to focus on one major determinant: The political causes of poverty, for these come across to me as one of, if not “the” major cause.  In my readings of such activist thinkers such as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Palagummi Sainath, Arundhati Roy and others, I have noticed a common idea in their writings about how governments, with their policies and politics; creates, supports and perpetuates poverty.  To some, who think (naively) that governments are supposed to represent and uphold its citizenry, this will seem counterintuitive.  But these analysts have concurred that both the USA and India are now fascist states (some now call this corporatism). Meaning that these kleptocractic[1] governments respect the rich elites and large multi-national corporations over and beyond that of the common people that live in their territories.


Fascism’s firm footprint has appeared in India. Let’s mark the date: Spring 2002. While we can thank the US president and the Coalition Against Terror for creating a congenial international atmosphere for fascism’s ghastly debut, we cannot credit them for the years it has been brewing in our public and private lives. - A. Roy[2]


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. specifically indicts the Bush administration for fascistic behaviour in his book "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and his Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy."[3]


In the USA almost all of the peace groups and other progressive groups (such as non-profits) are monitored by the government’s various intelligence agencies.  One might ask why would a government monitor those who favour peace and negotiations over conflict and war?  In his 1961 farewell presidential speech President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about of a body of corporations collectively known as the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) saying:


“…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”


But his warning went unheeded as the MIC was already in a position of power. Other large corporations saw the writing on the wall and the lobbyist parade in Washington D.C. began to change the very nature of democracy. Those who promote peace, and not war, have thus become the enemies of the state and therefore they must be penetrated, watched and discredited. (see here)  Those groups not sanctioned by the government itself, operate uneasily in a world where civil rights have all but been discarded. (recall the Patriot Act). These actions of fascist governments are what make our position as volunteers potentially dangerous. Dare we stand up and advocate for causes to help the poor which interfere with corporate development? You may not like this analogy, but are we fixing the holes in a dam that is structurally unsound? Still we can and do make a difference.


Today, government officials in most countries are composed of corporate businessmen and woman who take office (sometimes literally) and then return to their jobs after their terms, having fulfilled the corporate mandates they were sent to install.  You think I’m being cynical, I’m not. This is a well known practice and you need not look further than the escapades of Dick Cheney to see a vivid picture of this.  It is for this reason many call fascism the way of modern governments.


“Of the world's 100 largest economies, 47 are nations, and 53 are corporations.”[4]


But what has this to do with poverty and volunteerism? Let’s connect the dots. The main driving force in any corporation is “the bottom line”: making the most while spending the least is of prime importance.  This explains why millions of jobs have left North America (including Mexico) to places like Africa, China and India. These developing countries, as we like to call them, are the source of (underdeveloped) cheap labour, and sometimes, as in the case of those picking our cotton, coffee and cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast, Africa, slave child labour[5][6] is the least expensive labour. Along with cheap labour comes poverty and with this comes the millions of citizen sector organizations  (CSOs) there to try to help them out of their despair. A despair that is necessary if the 1st world is going to have cheap toasters, TVs, computers, coffee and T-shirts.


Additionally the government of India is working hard to give the country’s CSOs more work to do, that is more poverty to try to reduce.  P. Chidambaram, now home minister, has a vision to get 85% of India’s population to live in cities. “Realizing this “vision” would mean inducing, or forcing, about five hundred million people to migrate from the countryside into cities. That process is well underway and is quickly turning India into a police state in which people who refuse to surrender their land are being made to do so at gunpoint.[7]   


P. Sainath, in his book “Everybody loves a good drought” puts a number of over 55 million as to how many people have already been displaced with most of them being promised, but never paid compensation for their land.  He says the number is higher, as the 55 million only represent land owners (often small plots of land) and not all those other people that work in the communities which have been destroyed for corporate development.


This is what has happened to the Naxalites in the east of India, who have lost their land to development, land that was constitutionally protected, but sold in total disregard of the law to international corporations, and then labelled as terrorists (when they protested for payment) demonstrates that we too could be branded for the work we do.[8]


Do we need to be careful on how we proceed to promote ourselves, which causes we take on, which CSOs we associate with?  Would we do well to only associate with NGOs that have been classified as Near Government Organizations, those that the government uses as a showpiece for political purposes?  Our freedom to try to make a difference can easily become politicised against us. But in the long run, we should not forget who we fight against: our real enemies are the corporations that promote their own greed ahead of all else using government as a medium for its intrusion into our society and ecosystem.  Consider these articles below about how non-violent groups have been labelled terrorist groups:


"Labelling political advocacy as 'terrorist activity' is a threat to legitimate dissent which has never been considered a crime in this country," said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. "Spying on people who simply disagree with our government's policies is a tremendous waste of police resources." 


The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court to request the release of FBI surveillance files on its own organization as well as other national groups including Greenpeace, United for Peace and Justice, Code Pink, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In response to the lawsuit, the FBI has revealed that it has thousands of pages of documents that mention those groups.


"This document confirms our fears that federal and state counterterrorism officers have turned their attention to groups and individuals engaged in peaceful protest activities," said Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney and counsel in a lawsuit seeking the release of additional FBI records. "When the FBI and local law enforcement identify affirmative action advocates as potential terrorists, every American has cause for concern."


Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, is calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).


The Maryland State Police have admitted classifying 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists, including opponents of the war and the death penalty, and tracking them in state and federal “terrorism” databases. Cops infiltrated organizing meetings and rallies, and spied on political email lists, similar to the government infiltration of the RNC.


When Political Activism Gets Treated as Potential Terrorism




“What we call civilization has usually been a form of kleptocracy, varying mainly in its efficiency (the Romans were no nicer than the barbarians, just more orderly). Yes, we’ve had a few generations of government somewhat of, by, for the people in some places — but that’s an outlier in the broader sweep of things.” [9]


See also  

FBI Expands 'Witch Hunt' Against Antiwar Activists by Charles Davis


Dr. Binayak found guilty of providing health care


Dr. Binayak’s Bio is at




[1] See quote at end of text

[2] Listening to Grasshoppers: field notes on democracy, Arundhati Roy, Penguin Books 2009

[3] Thom Hartman, on Republican Fascism, New York Times, Dec 10, 2010

[4] Economic Apartheid in America, by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

[5] Chocolate Firms Launch Fight Against 'Slave Free' Labels, by Sumana Chatterjee


[6] US Department of Labor Lists Cocoa, Cotton and Other Goods as Products Made by Forced, Child Labor


[7] Listening to Grasshoppers: field notes on democracy, Arundhati Roy, Penguin Books 2009

[8] Listening to Grasshoppers: field notes on democracy, Arundhati Roy, Penguin Books 2009

[9] Hive-minds and Kleptocrats, Paul Krugman, New York Times, Dec 10, 2010,


Position: Executive Director, Takefman Citizen Sector Consulting




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