|by Eleanor Lane|
File under: Fake Freedom20 Aug 2013 13:00 EDT
Edward Snowden may have his heart in the right place, but he has the mind of a computer programmer. Such a mind, unfortunately, cannot produce reform now. You cannot bring this system down on a technicality, it will not collapse just because you expose one of its internal contradictions. It is not a logical structure. Recent developments should be proof of this.
Snowden thought that if he could just show the good people of America the facts about government surveillance, they would reject it almost without hesitation. The facts were so bad, reform would be almost irresistable, right? The trouble was, Congress already knew the facts. The president already knew the facts. A large portion of the general population also the knew the facts. These 'controversial' programs were approved in Congress, by elected representatives, without any real controversy and with a significant degree of transparency. Apparently, the only person who wasn't aware of the facts was Snowden himself, and when he discovered them, assumed that everyone else would be just as shocked as he was. So he 'leaked' them.
With what result? He succeeded in prompting a kind of referendum, a re-vote. Which led, predictably, to re-approval. Congress knew then, Congress knows now. Congress approved then, Congress approves now. The people approved then, the people approve now. The problem we face is not one of facts — this should be obvious. The problem is that the people of the United States now treat facts as suggestions, or more precisely, as short-term truths whose long-term consequences are impossible to foresee. Why should we reject Stasi-style surveillance, when a beneficial result seems just as likely as a negative result? (And further, why should we take any issue seriously, since it's all just a crap-shoot anyway?) Was it really worth it for Snowden to risk his life to bring about a doomed referendum? Is this what activism has been reduced to? The opposition must be shaking in its billion dollar boots.
How can he make this right? A first suggestion: being a 'refugee' is not a good idea. Boarding a plane and hoping that the winds of destiny would buffet him to some safe haven was foolish to begin with. And remaining outside of the US is starting to make him look cowardly and spoiled, as if he wants to have his revolutionary reform and his comfortable life too. He's already traded his right to engage in 'anti-American activites' for a 'right of movement' within Russia. What are his options, now? Prison or possibly death in the US, and on the other hand, 'freedom' in a country like Venezuela. Living amongst the children of Chavez and looking over your shoulder every few seconds for a secret agent or a bounty hunter is hardly freedom, let alone a life. His real choices are: formal prison in the US, informal prison elsewhere.
But in fact, his only real chance of freedom is in the US. At the risk of sounding like another collaborationist, I will say this: his best option is to voluntarily return. It is bad form for a revolutionary to leave his country just because he faces imprisonment. Do you think that Nelson Mandela would have fled South Africa, just because he faced imprisonment or torture by the apartheid government? Were those 18 years in a dank cell on Robben Island a waste? A much better example: Do you think John Hancock would have resigned from his position in the Provincial Congress in 1775 and moved to France, just because the British were threatening to arrest him?
A true reformer, a true idealist, is not dissuaded by threats and does not run from the consequences of his actions. For the record, there is a reason why Mandela was never mistreated or killed: he would have been a martyr, his death would have put the government in an untenable moral position which would have quickly lead to its collapse. Snowden has the eyes of the world on him. He has the full attention of the media. He needs to come back and speak now. If he truly believes he has done nothing wrong, he needs to present his case in court, before all the cameras and all the reporters. Only in this way, there is a chance he will be able to win his freedom. He can win over the US population not just with facts, but by his integrity, by setting a brave example. And he will confront the US government head-on, like a real force of opposition, compelling it to make a very uncomfortable and risky decision.
But this, sadly, is all fantasy. We could only dream of a hero who would take such a stand today. Most likely, Snowden is going to flit around that sorry collection of non-aligned countries trying to scrounge together some kind of petty middle-class life, while meanwhile in the US, the people that were once inspired by his example continue to suffer. He's not a hero; he's just a good-hearted computer programmer who made a miscalculation.
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