The Snowden Syndrome

Now, it’s Alan, the Guardian Editor

Farooque Chowdhury

With the incidents now going on it can be named the Snowden syndrome; and one can say the developing drama with the Snowden syndrome is like a Matryoshka doll, the colorful Russian wooden dolls placed one inside the other. The dolls come out one by one, if someone continues the job of pulling out those.

To ordinary citizens having trust on claims and sayings of state, Snowden revelations came almost like a bolt. The "drama" began. Exposure of state started.

Other aspects of crisis-day statecraft also began their revealing along with the exposure. Issues of democracy, freedom, security, surveillance, citizen's rights, state's authority, rule of law, accountability, transparency, legislature's and judiciary's role, informed citizenry, and balances between these came on the table.

Diplomacy and diplomatic rows accompanied Snowden's journey. It began from Hong Kong, Asia, and spread to Latin America. On the long path it crossed Europe. Putin had to miss an opportunity of an important meeting. Evo, the Bolivian president, had an experience, parallel to which was difficult to find in modern day statecraft and the world of diplomacy. Other countries were there in the web in a way or other.

At the beginning, there was only Snowden, a lone actor. But, within a short time, Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter, was sent nearer to the actor. He was followed by David Miranda, after Miranda reached transit area of an airport. Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, followed them, not yet as an actor, but was drawing pressure and insistence that he has told publicly. The editor's narrative tells it.

Alan's experience, since the Snowden syndrome is, most probably, exceptional. And, the incident he revealed -pulverizing of computers in the basement of the Guardian office to stop Snowden story—are also exceptional. Even, a precedent in the Third or Fourth World is difficult to find out.

Probably, for the concerned authority, it's difficult to say that whether Alan's experience is embarrassing or not. If it's an embarrassment, for whom: the editor or the state? Who's the victim: only the editor or freedom, only the Guardian or journalists, only a newspaper's honor or citizens' rights? Obviously, law can specify the answers. And, time shall delimit also.

Already one state is trying to distance itself from the other that committed the act of breaking computers of the Guardian. A position egresses. It's, at least, an embarrassing position. So, the safe distancing! Probably, there will be further announcements and initiatives by concerned state to minimize the loss of image and to assure journalists.

But the loss has already been done, the exposure of power has already been made, a trend has already been shown.

It's not a trend of strength. On the contrary, it's a trend of decline and weakness. A state or a group of states is failing to stand in front of assertion of rights by a few citizen; or professional delivery of responsibility by a group of professionals -journalists.

Most probably, this subcontinent had no such experience during its days under the British colonial boots. Nazrul Islam, the National poet of Bangladesh, also known as the rebel poet, was thrown behind bars for his writings. That punishment was awarded by the British colonial rulers. The printing press publishing his book was threatened. But his stationary for writing or the printing machine was not broken into pieces. Even, the British colonial rulers kept Tagore under watch. Some members of the Tagore family were under surveillance also. But his writing tools were not broken into pieces as the Guardian office experienced with its computers.

Many persons in this subcontinent consider the UK as one of the cradles of democracy. Many persons in this subcontinent search, when required, precedent in UK democracy, in its practices and rulings. Many in this subcontinent proudly cite freedom of press in the UK. Many of them will ignore the Guardian editor's experience—higher up's suggestion to stop a particular reporting, the Snowden revelations. But another section will question the Guardian incident and search answer to the question.

Politicians and political scientists from a school fervently criticize state, state's power and interests that build up state. Lenin is one of them. He exposes bourgeois democracy also. But in Lenin's critique of state, particularly bourgeois state and bourgeois democracy, it's very difficult to find an example like the Guardian editor's experience.

In this period, the period proudly named as globalization as if it's a new phenomenon although it's going on for centuries, there are roots of such behavior—the Snowden syndrome—by a section of states. It deserves attention as the phenomenon is with those states that are considered as matured and advanced bourgeois democracy. These states play a leading role in spreading democracy in the Third and Fourth Worlds. These states advise, suggest, mediate, supervise spread of democracy in other countries. These states use their economic and financial power for the spread of democracy.

But now, these states, not their adversaries, are exposing the inner workings of the system. There will be no problem with the incidents if there is no connection between moral standing and ideas being propagated, between ethical stand and practices, between political arrangement and constituencies, between freedom and aspiration.

But politics is not only propaganda. And, politics is not only manipulation or coercion. Politics and state expose itself as these don't cease their acts, and the acts are to ensure interests they serve. Their strength and weakness are exposed as they act to impose their will. Vulnerability of politics and state is revealed when acts of individual are considered threat to state.

The Snowden syndrome is exposing powers, strengths and weaknesses of a politics and states. Alan Rusbridger had to face the syndrome. Apparently, it was individuals that came and are coming out in the episode. But, ultimately, it is the acts of states that are coming to view, one after another—the surveillance, the secrecy, the power, the practice, and with these, the type and character of state. It's like a Matryoshka doll. And, the doll is exposing state.

Vol. 46, No. 10, Sep 15 - 21, 2013

Your Comment if any