05 July 2013

Twilight of the hypocrites

Hello from Portland, Oregon, where I'm much less connected to the Internet than I am in Elektrostal, Russia! This is just a quick post today, basically to preserve my weekly rhythm. Don't expect anything profound.

No sign of Snowden...
So I was at Sheremetyevo airport a couple of days ago and didn't catch sight of Edward Snowden. Today's news carries a story that Anna Chapman has asked him to marry her. I don't know how much farther this story will descend into farce. I hope at least a few journalists will remember that the main issue is what we do with the revelations about government intrusion and impunity; a very important side story is justice for the revealer.

Commentary on the Snowden saga is full of cynicism and irony. Every time commentators speculated on where Snowden might ask for political asylum, that country's record on human rights and freedom of expression was examined, with the implication that Snowden's arrival in that country would represent hypocrisy on his part: surely their record (China, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, and so on) would be far worse than the USA's.

They have a point, of course. Many of the countries whose politicians use Snowden's situation to bash the USA don't have a great record when it comes to treating their own whistleblowers. My Russian friends suggest that their own native Snowdens, if they showed up at Sheremetyevo's Burger King, would quickly be served a polonium sandwich.

But a more humane consideration of Edward Snowden's real-life options might go a different direction. The vindictive treatment of Bradley Manning (apparently calculated to deter future leakers) must give Snowden pause. Whatever fairness the USA stands for in theory probably doesn't apply to cases like his. Yes, in theory he would get a fair trial, but assuring the world about that fair trial has not been the highest priority of the politicians who've publicly labeled him a traitor.

In general, Snowden's options don't include choosing a destination that has an ideal record for respecting civil liberties. Given that reality, I was a bit irritated about the snide comments concerning possible asylum in Russia, as if it would be totally ridiculous for someone to want to live in Russia or that a normal life in Russia is impossible. Please! Russia has many millions of totally normal people who enjoy normal lives. Not only that, Russia is seen as a desirable destination by hundreds of thousands of people arriving from far more despotic countries in Russia's "near abroad." I'm not denying that life is complicated for politically active people in Russia. I'm just saying that Snowden is a human being with limited options; he's not some kind of slogan or ideology on legs.

Snowden and the "trend toward disunity in the world" ... a Russian reflection.

Snowden and "the anti-authoritarian instinct."

Why does Darleen Ortega keep recommending films depicting oppression or suffering?

"It's easy to be pacifist in Indiana. Try Gaza!"

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