Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Edward Snowden and the barbarians

Over the last week, as I've knocked about some of my old haunts on holiday, I've had a number of Kiwis - friends and relatives and more casual acquaintances, all of them thoughtful, self-consciously civilised people - commiserate with me over the barbarism of my adopted homeland of Tonga. "Isn't it terrible how the king there controls everything?" one friend asked. "Do you ever worry about being eaten?" a relative inquired, not entirely in jest. I have seen eyes glazing over, as I try to explain that Tonga had a modern, democratic constitution ensuring free access to land by the year 1875, and that it was antipodeans, not tropical Polynesians, who were still sailing slave ships across the Pacific and  making alliances with headhunters a mere century and a half ago.

Every so often an event arrives which highlights, in neon flashing lights, the hypocrisy inherent in the claims of Western nations like New Zealand to embody civilised values. The invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were two such events; the current persecution of American whistleblower Edward Snowden is another.

After revealing that his government was spying illegally on its own citizens and on much of the rest of world, Snowden has been convicted of treason and espionage in the Western mass media, and harried from one country to another, as government after government proves itself too cowardly to offer him sanctuary. It is hard to read about Snowden's travails without thinking of the pursuit of Leon Trotsky from one nation to another in the 1930s, as European governments frightened by his message made life impossible for him. Trotsky eventually found a haven in Latin America, and the same continent may come to Snowden's rescue today.

I'm pleased that Snowden hasn't turned up in New Zealand, because this country's role as a footsoldier for American imperialism in Afghanistan, Sinai and the Pacific and its absurd persecution of the absurd Kim Dotcom suggest he would not get a friendly reception.

Here's a piece I wrote a couple of years ago about the hypocrisy of the civilised West in the face of barbarism. I left it out of my last book of poems because it seemed too self-righteous and cliched, but I'm posting it now as an utterly ineffectual show of solidarity with Edward Snowden.

The Barbarians

Barbarism can never triumph over civilisation: 
barbarians are inferior to civilised men and women.
The conquerors cannot be barbarians, then,
despite their high fires of books
and the wire round the transit camps.
We must be the barbarians.

It is true that we resemble civilised men and women,
relaxing on the sidewalk of a potholed street,
warming our spare hands on chipped cups of tea,
enjoying our lunchbreak, enjoying the break in the rain,
sharing our rations of cigarettes, our rations of gossip.

Each of us remembers the day the guns grew hoarse,
the day the whole town had to stand to attention,
the day Olaf forgot to close his shop,
refused to stand outside, on the dirty kerb,
while the conquerors called their roll,
the day that Olaf got dragged out of his bakery,
away from his half-kneaded sculptures –
his half-finished masterpieces,
the busts of loaves and croissants arranged on steel trays –
the day Olaf’s knees hit the kerb together
and the fists went into his mouth like bread.

Each of us remembers Olaf in a different way.
One of us scribbles poems –
witty satires, and tub-thumping polemics -
and publishes them in his drawer.

One of us keeps his grandfather’s pistol in a shoebox,
under the bed in the spare room upstairs.
One of us turns tadpoles into frogs,
in the bathtub he is forbidden to fill.
One of us drafts orders for new consignments of boots.
One of us supervises a thesis on Nietszche.

We lean forward in our chairs
and watch a train push out of the barricaded station,
past the emptied zoo, toward the city wall.
We note the pine windows but wave anyway.

Perhaps Olaf is crouching in the third carriage,
in the warm crowded dark,
pushing his fat face against the wood.
Perhaps he is a squinting through a crack in the pine,
through a sliver his big fists made.

If Olaf glimpsed us for a second
we would look like cheerful, civilised men and women,
relaxing on the sidewalk of a potholed street,
warming our spare hands on chipped cups of tea,
enjoying our lunchbreak, enjoying the break in the rain,
sharing our rations of cigarettes, our rations of gossip,
our rations of happiness,
knowing that his train will not stop again here.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

well the Guardian is sticking up for him

10:05 pm  
Anonymous Glenn Greenwald said...

I think the key context, Anderson, is the absolutely atrocious record of the Obama administration when it comes to press freedoms and the treatment of whistleblowers and leakers. The Espionage Act is a 1917 statute that was enacted under the Woodrow administration, designed to criminalize dissent against World War I. And for that reason, it has been used a very sparingly before Barack Obama became president. Only a total of three leakers haves been prosecuted under that statute in the pre-Obama era. Under President Obama, we now have seven, more than double the number, of all previous presidents combined...And I think it is one thing to charge Snowden with crimes, but to charge him with espionage which is when somebody works for a foreign government or sells secrets, given what he did is the kind of extreme excess that the Obama administration is guilty of for years now." - Glenn Greenwald

10:56 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That's a great poem Scott.

Olaf is a generic political prisoner.

Snowden shows a lot of courage, Key is clearly condoning the persecution of New Zealand citizens.

Is there a case for spying? It is no news that all major Imperialist countries use spying.

The difference is that the US and "the free world" pretend they have "justice" but they keep breaking the law. It started (with the US in the 50s after Dien Bien Phu, when the French were defeated by the Vietnamese. The US have always supported right wing Governments and paid lip service to "democracy" - they are probably behind this "uprising" in Syria in order to give more support the Israeli fascists.

Kim dot Com is looking like a revolutionary!!

We need to get this right. Obama - no better than any of the others in this regard - Bush is like the "good cop" and "Obama" hiding behind his "I am black and nice and liberal" bullshit is not much better.

Fuck the US and Key and the CIA.

The bastards deserved 9/11 which was only a tickle up. It was at least some pay back against the murderous bastards.

11:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry but poems must rhyme!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

reposted at

2:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...\

Big Money and the NSA Scandal … How Dangerous is the "Security/Digital Complex"?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013 13:17By Richard Eskow, Campaign for America's
Future | Op-Ed

It should be self-evident that recent NSA revelations bring up some
grave concerns about civil liberties. But they also raise other
profound and troubling questions – about the privatization of our
military, our culture’s inflated expectations for digital technology,
and the increasingly cozy relationship between Big Corporations
(including Wall Street) and Big Defense.

Are these corporations perverting our political process? The campaign
war chest for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who today said NSA whistleblower
Edward Snowden committed “treason,” is heavily subsidized by defense
and intelligence contractors that include General Dynamics, General
Atomic, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Bechtel.

One might argue that a politician with that kind of backing is in no
moral position to lecture others about “treason.”

But Feinstein’s funders are decidedly old-school Military/Industrial
Complex types. What about the new crowd? This confluence of forces
hasn’t been named yet, so for the time being we’ll use a cumbersome
label: the “Security/Digital Complex.”

With computers and communications encompassing an ever-larger portion
of human activity, we may someday learn that this new force dwarfs
even its predecessors in the Feinstein camp when it comes to its
impact on our democracy, our economy and our values.

There’s much we don’t know yet, so it’s wise to be cautious in
describing this new force. But Edward Snowden’s revelations, and the
reactions to them, are offering us a glimpse into rarely-seen
intersections of Wall Street wealth, information technology, and the
national security state.

Revolving doors.

9:03 am  

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