Of course I cannot be silent about an issue that seems to have jolted the planet. I will not be silent even though the matter has had its fair share of press coverage – and thank goodness for that! I want to join the chorus of angrily clamouring voices from all over the globe, although I must add that Snowden’s revelations came as no surprise to me. Not that I accept what Obama would have us believe: that everybody does it.
If you lived right across the street from a couple who make heady love every night without drawing their curtains, would you watch? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t. I am prepared to concede that many people would indeed watch, but they would not like others to know they were doing so. They would draw their own curtains, so that nobody could see them peeping. On the other hand, if you happened to know that the couple across the street were making heady love behind thick, drawn curtains, and you happened to know that they had a laptop in that same room, would you use a computer program you knew about that could turn on the webcam of that laptop?
There are applications that can do that, and there are people who use them. We call such programs malware, and we call the people who use them criminals. Most of us are not criminals.
I was not surprised because in my mind, USA has had an inglorious history since WWII, a history that would have been impossible unless the powers that be were prepared to break every rule in the book. I won’t go into that, since it would require the writing of a very long text, and such texts already exist, many of them admittedly published in the United States, which means that opposition has not yet altogether been silenced even in that country. Thank goodness for that, too. There is still a long way from USA to North Korea! But a lot of legislation has been put in place since 9/11 that demands considerable courage from citizens who want to speak up.
Fear appears to be woven into the fabric of the US constitution, if the firearms debate is anything to go by.
Many commentators maintain that fear is what has persuaded the nation’s population to allow its democratically elected governments to systematically commit crimes against humanity, to disregard international treaties, and to dismantle transparency.
They must have been afraid from the very outset. Afraid of the “reds”, of course, whose human rights the entire “white” world was not at the time ready to embrace. The US had every reason to be afraid of the colonial power that continued to bully them even after the country had won its independence (War of 1812). Many of the settlers were Calvinists fleeing from religious persecution and thus doubly afraid: born and bred to be afraid of God and the powers that be. There were and there are, still, a lot of preachers. To this day, politicians speak like preachers, oratorically.
They were afraid not so much of Sin as of God’s wrath that punishes not only he/she who sins but the entire community that allows Sin to persist (Sodom and Gomorrah). In this fear, Calvinists were joined by Catholics and Jews. Needless to say, everybody dreaded poverty even more than the Black Death. Nowadays, they are terrified of crime, of hurricanes, of genetically modified foodstuffs, of serial killers, insanity, communists, immigrants, terrorists, Sin and the State, and this is just the top of the list.
Fear is not encoded in their genetic make-up, but the rhetoric of fear has been adroitly nurtured decade after decade, war after war, crisis after crisis, by the people they elected.
Today, the embattled country has every reason to be afraid. Having alienated their allies by supporting ruthless dictators, by refusing to endorse (referring to their right to defend their interests) inter alia the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol, by demanding support for wars most of their allies found nearly impossible to justify to their own populations, they now face a far more formidable foe than they have ever known. “Terrorism” is the elastic term they have coined for this foe. Their definition of the word seems to encompass quite a range of activities, depending on the stakes, just as their definition of “communist”, a word that was used to justify so much injustice a few decades back, was adroitly adapted to fit every context. To this day, many frightened US nationals refer to my peaceful and eminently democratic country as “communist”.
Few of the articles I have read about Edward Snowden vs USA dispute that USA has a case against Snowden. However, most grant Snowden the moral high ground, to say the very least. To quote El País of 7 July (my translation):
The general public and politicians in the UK and USA may never be willing to comprehend fully the magnitude of the torrent of revelations about the intervention of communication all over the world from the fugitive former spy Edward Snowden. For the rest of the world, however, especially for Europe, this is a transcendental moment….Political leaders in Europe will need to ask themselves a whole series of questions. Since when are human rights no longer universal?
Of all the presidents of USA we have known since Kennedy, Obama appears to be the most intelligent. He may yet be able to convince us all that “everybody does it”, not least as it now appears to have been established that the UK is no better. If so, we will all be much the worse off. We will all lose faith in our governments, in “democracy”, in transparency and in everything else that we have believed in and hoped for these past 150 years. I can only hope that the loser of this international moral battle will be USA, and that the rest of us will regain some faith in democracy. In the very long run, this would benefit also USA.
Allow me to add as my purely personal opinion: USA has clearly demonstrated that its agenda is not, repeat not, peace, justice and the welfare of the greatest possible number of its inhabitants. BUT is there any great power that honestly pursues such lofty objectives? I put it to you that we all have a long way to go to attain real democracy.