New Internationalist

Edward Snowden is a true patriot

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Hong Kong Rally to Support Edward Snowden on 15 June 2013. Protesters marched to the Consulate General of the US See-ming Lee, under a CC License

Reading about young American whistleblower Edward Snowden, hiding from the US government in a hotel in Hong Kong makes you wonder if you are in the middle of an improbable CIA movie. It’s even more chilling when you consider the fact that the US and Britain, generally considered the bastions of democracy, free speech etc, are hounding Edward Snowden, Manning and Assange. The Orwellian drama unfurling before us is almost surreal.

I grew up in a home where Kennedy was the hero and Kruschev, the bad guy. For the last five decades we’ve been taught that Big Brother looms large in Russia and China. After all, it’s James Bond who is iconic. How ironic it is therefore, that there’s a brave young man, forced to flee the land of Liberty, and take refuge in Hong Kong, where Bond baddies, according to legend, thrive. Snowden’s story is the stuff that warrants a Hollywood epic. He is the quintessential young hero fighting for the American way of life. For truth and justice. The Abe Lincoln of our times, I would have thought.

Consider this: the young man has little to gain from his exposé. He knew he would be on the run for the rest of his life. It took raw courage, to go to the press with his story. He knew he had everything to lose. The resultant smear campaign is shocking. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has said, ‘I felt about Edward Snowden the same way I felt about Daniel Ellsberg, who changed my life, who taught me a lot.’ Most people in the US, and all over the globe, feel that way. Snowden will go down in the annals of history as a hero with extraordinary courage.

The average person in the US is, I gather, appalled that Big Brother can now tap into their bedrooms, family rooms, tape conversations, snoop into emails and track their cell phones. Yet sooner or later, we are being told, systematically brainwashed rather, that we need to put up with all the surveillance for our own good. Because of terrorism. The Patriot Act rules since 9\11. Yet consider this: an unjust war was waged on Iraq though Iraq had nothing to do with 9\11. It is now universally acknowledged that the US and Britain went to war with fudged up, concocted evidence.

For the record, it was the US military’s covert operations which funded, armed and propped up both Saddam and Osama. The first, to fight Iran and the second to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. And now, in an unbelievable twist of mockery, the US proposes to hold talks with the Taliban. Whither women’s rights? What about the concern for democracy and freedom. Or the fight against fundamentalism?

How is it possible that they can do what they do and get away with it? Bush, Cheney and Blair who sent thousands of young US and British soldiers to their deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Iraqi and Afghan bodies don’t count in their view of the world) who threw away billions in an unnecessary, illegal war, are laughing all the way to the bank. Their personal fortunes have grown enormously in the last decade while their countries’ economies plummeted. In my view, they are the criminals.

Yet, a brave young man who has put his life on the line, for the US, to bring to the world an exposé that has shocked everyone, can be hounded and terrorized for his valour and patriotism.

A million people marched in London to stop Blair going to war. They were powerless to change the course of history. Will the world’s most powerful democracy allow the remorseless wheels of the state to cruelly, inexorably grind to dust a good, decent young hero? George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would not today recognize the country they fought for with blood, sweat and tears. The US must rise and fight for its brave, young son. The Statue of Liberty weeps.

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  1. #1 Prabir KC 21 Jun 13

    A million need to walk again. Thanks for this one!

  2. #2 dregstudios 21 Jun 13

    Snowden is a hero and a patriot in my book. We live in an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We’ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we’re waging war against ourselves at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html

  3. #3 Ajit Menon 22 Jun 13

    We are all aware that the US has always spoken about democracy but generally supported authoritarian regimes in the rest of the world. What the Snowden case illustrates is that even within its own borders democracy is being clamped down upon. Has the US returned to the McCarthy days or has it always been this way? Probably the latter!

  4. #4 Jael Silliman 23 Jun 13

    Very thoughful and well rounded article.

  5. #5 chandrika sen sharma 23 Jun 13

    The State Department is now requesting Snowdon be extradited to the US. Another wave of response is surely coming. Hong Kong now says that he has left their shores! It is now an wait and watch game.

  6. #6 Peter Berger 24 Jun 13

    So true, one has to wonder where the ideals have been lost. Nothing of which we grew up with holds true any longer. The individual has no rights, the voiceless no voice and tyranny is now inside the former bastions of freedom. The President of the USA came to power in the belief that he would be the broom to sweep all the filth and secrecy of the Bush era out. How the mighty have fallen, expediency rules not justice.

  7. #7 Shyla and Nandakumar 24 Jun 13

    Well written Mari. Thanks

  8. #8 Ludwig Pesch 26 Jun 13

    In recent decades, heroism as a value in its own right has been overstretched by regimes all over the world - just think of the pathetic return of dead soldiers lured into combat on the basis of blatant lies as in GW Bush's invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; being forced to terrorize civil a population incapable of doing any harm or defending themselves against high-tech intruders.
    In some states of India, Adivasis are caught between extremists and the army, apparently without any choice or understanding of the underlying issues; and vice versa - who would qualify as ’hero’ in such a quagmire? See Ramachandra Guha's insightful analysis of the ongoing tragedy:
    “The continuing tragedy of the adivasis” in The Hindu, May 28, 2013
    ’... the full implementation of the Forest Rights Act, a temporary ban on mining projects in Fifth Schedule Areas, and a revival of the powers of gram panchayats. That would be a far more effective strike against Naxalites than sending in fighter planes or massed battalions.’
    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-continuing-tragedy-of-the-adivasis/article4756954.ece
    So much for ’heroic struggles’ in post-independence India. On a personal note, and with an upbringing in post-war, cold war Germany, and being a conscentious objector, I have my reservations about heroes and even patriots. (Too many ’heroes’, and even more innocent victims, in Nazi Germany ...) Yet I can't help admiring ’whistle blowers’ who stand to gain so little personally, if anything, other than going down in history of somebody's list of heroes. Time will tell whose role in human history was worth the sacrifice, the suffering of years of isolation if not lifelong imprisonment possibly awaiting Edward Snowden.
    Are there any Indian whistle blowers/heroes/traitors yet? Perhaps here's a first indication that not all is cozy outside the US either - anywhere:
    ’India’s surveillance project may be as lethal as PRISM’ - June 21, 2013
    ’... with no scope of a transparent public disclosure of who is being monitored, for what purpose and for how long, privacy and free speech activists are protesting and raising many questions. The government, meanwhile, is proceeding undeterred.
    http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indias-surveillance-project-may-be-as-lethal-as-prism/article4834619.ece?homepage=true

  9. #9 david cohen 09 Jul 13

    Mari sensed I was troubled by her blog. I am. Mari's
    devotedness to free and open discussion encourages my
    response. She walks the walk of free and open inquiry.

    I want to set a context. In every way I think the Obama
    Administration is deeply wrong in its lack of transparency.
    It is doubly wrong because it criticized its predecessors
    but did not undo their policy. It compounded previous errors.
    Furthermore its Director of Intelligence lied to Congress
    in responses to questions about the PRISM program.

    To be specific, PRISM stands for Planning Tool for Resource
    Integration, Synchronization and Management. It's part of
    ’big data.’ It refers to the actual computer program used to
    collect data and analyze it that is legally requested by the
    National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA does not have direct
    access to the server of the internet companies.

    Where the debate breaks down for me is casting Snowden as a
    hero or a traitor. He is neither. He broke the law, duly
    enacted by Congress and signed by the President. He chose
    to not fight it which makes him different from whistleblowers
    who have stayed and fought the laws. Failure to fight, or
    breaking the law, does not make him a traitor. In the heat
    of argument, and a refusal to challenge the law creates
    excess on all sides.

    There are real issues to be argued about which deal with
    wiretapping and privacy. Obama has indicated in statements
    that the usefulness of programs such as PRISM may have
    outlived their time. The security bureaucracy will
    resist Obama. But Obama's statements can be interpreted
    to invite an effort at a political solution which requires
    doing the hard work of winning the public argument,
    organizing and having the stamina and persistence to do
    the necessary public work.

    We have an overweening security state in an ever increasingly
    dangerous world. Solutions will not come from distractions.
    Making Snowden a hero, or a traitor, takes us away from
    working through the needed solutions.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    July 9,

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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