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Exile and the prophetic: Edward Snowden, on the run

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Edward Snowden is on the run seeking asylum.   First China, now Russia, on to Ecuador? A Cold War spy thriller after the Cold War went away.

The longer you live, the more you know that ‘after’ only means another twist is around the bend.   

Imagine how the Chinese and Russian dissidents feel as Edward Snowden is hailed by the same police states that make their lives miserable.

How about dissidents in Ecuador?  Human Rights Watch has a file on Ecuador and has to this to say currently – and aptly: 

“President Rafael Correa has undercut freedom of the press in Ecuador by subjecting journalists and media figures to public denunciation and retaliatory litigation. Judicial independence continues to suffer due to transitional mechanisms for judicial reform that have given the government and its supporters in Congress a powerful say in appointing and dismissing judges.”  

Political dissidents have always found refuge in the strangest of places.  It just goes to show that when you’re on the run you can be used by all sorts of folks for their own agendas.  You can also use all sorts for your own agenda.  Is there an ethical Golden Rule on being used and using?

Recently, one of my friendly non-Jewish correspondents suggested that I declare aliyah, become a citizen of Israel, take the benefits accorded me as a Jew under the Law of Return and then disappear into the occupied Palestinian hinterland and write from there.  Whatever your take on the Law of Return it beats the suggestions my unfriendly Jewish correspondents usually offer.  They think it would be better if I had died in the Holocaust.

The powers that be should wake up.  In our computerized world where personal lives are open for public inspection, government’s internal lives are open for public inspection, too.  It’s just a matter of time but even the time frame is changing.  In a fast paced world, leaking secrets has to keep pace.  It is.

Of course, beneath the veneer of a changing world old fashioned politics still applies.  If you’ve noticed the new Palestinian Prime Minister – what’s his name? – tweeted twice and seems to be gone from his position.  Or is he back tweeting again?

The world is an enigma of hope and despair, honesty and corruption.  It’s all a tangle.

What should we think of corruption?

One way is to see corruption as life’s labyrinth – we spend our lives wading knee deep in corruption hoping to keep our head above it.  We rarely accomplish our goal.

Another way is to recognize corruption as quicksand – we walk along with corruption all around us and then suddenly we step into it and we’re gone. 

While we’re thinking of dissent, hypocrisy and corruption, word is that our Secretary of Pandering, John Kerry, is heading back to the Middle East.  I don’t know if he tweets his various economic and political plans.  Since it’s obvious that the cap on his career is empty I doubt he has much of a following anyway.  Maybe it would be better if he resigned and the position was left vacant for a while.  Or if we didn’t know if he had resigned, returned or simply called in on different days.

Staying focused on the topic at hand, I can’t wait for the uplifting Senate hearings on Samantha Power’s appointment to the United Nations..  The UN is the only place in the world where every nation is expected to lie about itself.  She’ll fit right in.

Perhaps I’ll fly to Ecuador and stay there during Power’s confirmation hearings.  But if Stop the Wall’s report, ‘Buying into Occupation: The Implications of Military Ties Between South America and Israel’ ( is correct, I’ll be heading straight into an Ecuadorian-Israeli military partnership zone.  This as Ecuador takes the ‘high’ road of criticizing Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

Needless to say, Stop the Wall doesn’t think too highly of Ecuador’s doubletalk.

When you are on the run, though, is there an ethical Golden Rule on the road you can and cannot take?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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20 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    June 24, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Instead of cut and paste from HRW on what they WANT you to think about Ecuador, please provide the proofs instead.

    • Keith
      June 24, 2013, 2:50 pm

      JUSTPASSINGBY- You are quite right to question the objectivity of Human Rights Watch. The leadership of HRW seems drawn to a significant degree from former US government officials, particularly the Clinton administration. As a consequence, HRW frequently functions as a kind of secular missionary for empire, finding more fault with empire’s victims than with empire itself, and frequently providing the intellectual justification for imperial interventions for supposed humanitarian reasons. Does anyone else find it strange that Human Rights Watch (US) and Amnesty International (UK) come from two vicious empires, yet presume to lecture on human rights? And, yes, they have done some good work, particularly concerning Palestine of late (what would NF do without them?), however, their pronouncements should always be viewed with more than a little skepticism, particularly as they ignore First World interference in Third World political economy.

      • Donald
        June 24, 2013, 4:03 pm

        I rely on HRW a lot, but I think they do have a US liberal humanitarian sort of bias, for lack of a better term for it. In a way, though, that slant makes them more useful, not less, because nobody can seriously accuse them of having some romantic leftwing worldview–well, of course people do accuse them of that, but they just look like idiots, like Robert Bernstein did a few years ago, claiming they were biased against Israel and devoted most of their attention on Mideast matters to Israel. Which was obviously BS to anyone even slightly familiar with their work.

      • Justpassingby
        June 24, 2013, 4:59 pm

        Dont forget the recent statement by Scott Long on how HRW are biased in favor to Israel.

        “A former insider explains how Human Rights Watch panders to the Israel lobby”

  2. Danaa
    June 24, 2013, 1:16 pm

    Marc Ellis, fact is, only ecuador stepped up to the task of giving refuge to julian Assange, and now – processing refugee papers for Snowden.

    It’s good and well to take the high road on which country to take shelter in when the most powerful, most civilization disruptive country in the world is on your tail. Obviously, Snowden would have preferred Iceland or Norway, or some other fine European country (Switzerland? Luxemburg? Greece?) with long democratic traditions (which are, alas, being sacrificed as we speak, to the Austerians). But very few countries have the ability to stand up to the US. Yes, there’s Tonga, but they have rising sea levels to contend with, don’t they?

    Besides, is any country perfect in terms of their human rights record?

    I would rather Snowden was safe and sound in Ecuador, or even Venezuela, being helped by the likes of the oh-so-teinted russia/China agencies, as long as he manages to escape the clutches of the torture condoning, drone-wielding “targeted’ assassination all-seeing surveillance state. When you are a pauper your choices as to whose handouts you’ll take are rather limited.

    But i do agree that the irony of the likes of Russia and china standing between civilization and armageddon (for e.g., Syria, Iran palestine and free-thinking people of the world) could not be greater. that Russia is now tasked with getting Snowden to safety is a statement not about the moral credentials of Russia but their absence in the US government. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

    • Keith
      June 24, 2013, 3:21 pm

      DANAA- You raise some interesting points. First, it is grossly unfair to judge Third World countries by First World standards. Most Third World countries are the way they are to a significant degree because of the legacy of colonialism and neocolonialism, and due to the constraints imposed by neoliberal globalization. Their development has been intentionally retarded so as to complement First World economies, and their political economies massively interfered with to permit ongoing subjugation. They are weak and their options are few. It would be interesting to see an honest evaluation of what they could even attempt to do under prevailing circumstances. As an aside, “The Poorer Nations” by Vijay Prashad offers some insights.

      The second point concerns Russia and China. While the former USSR had many faults, the one huge benefit it provided was as a countervailing force to US hegemony. The Soviet Union provided the Third World nations with a small degree of wiggle room which, alas, is no longer there. I suspect that Fidel Castro’s Cuba could not come into being in today’s world. Russia and China have limited capacity for opposing empire and, in fact, China has, to a degree, been absorbed into empire. It seems content to jockey for position within the global empire, the Chinese elites doing quite nicely by going along. If the empire was to collapse, China would likely collapse with it, what with it’s economy so integrated within the global structure. As a consequence, the empire is running amok, trying to eliminate or establish control over any and all potential rivals, Russia, China, Iran, whatever. These are dangerous times.

  3. SimoHurtta
    June 24, 2013, 1:53 pm

    Imagine how the Chinese and Russian dissidents feel as Edward Snowden is hailed by the same police states that make their lives miserable.

    Isn’t that a bit far-fetched conclusion. Poor Chinese and Russian dissidents loose their self confidence when the local forces are “honoring” Snowden? Most Chinese, Russians, Europeans, Arabs etc, dissidents and the rest of us, see this Snowden affair only as a US “problem” and are to some amount amused watching the US reactions in hunting the one who revealed the immoral crimes and avoiding to see the problem.

    The Chinese and Russians dissidents certainly know the shortcomings in their own societies, but now they are also forced to see, that USA is not better and in some aspects even worse. It is like the Pope would have been caught for acts of pedophilia, and Pope in this metaphor is not Snowden. The state which for decades has made massive amounts of “freedom, free market & democracy” propaganda, condemned numerous countries and governments and lectured about human rights to everybody who had to listen, is revealed and proven to be a real big brother society. What can USA say from now on: “Do behave as we command you to behave, not like we behave”. A moralist without moral is what is left.

  4. kalithea
    June 24, 2013, 1:59 pm

    Freedom and life trumps ethical quagmires any day. I’m sure Bradley Manning agrees with me.

    I don’t care who Ecuador is in bed with as long as Ecuador helps keep Snowden as far away from the snare of U.S. injustice as possible. Snowden’s options are very limited. Why limit them more with “ethics”?

  5. American
    June 24, 2013, 2:46 pm

    Snowden has dropped out of sight.
    Reporters trying to tail him say he didn’t get on the plane this am in Russia.
    So he and his helpers have laid a false bread crumb trail while he remains in Russia …or he has slipped out on another flight to somewhere after throwing his trackers off course ….or he has been snatched by the US ….or snatched by Russia.
    OR… maybe he was never in Russian officials saw him or talked to him, his request for asylum in Ecuador presented in Russia ‘by Wikileaks attorneys was done by Wiki in his behalf, not by Snowden himself…..Assange appears to be handling this freedom flight ……..since he’s had some experience evading the US maybe he has faked everyone out on Snowden’s whereabouts and Snowden is already wherever he was destined to go.

    Here’s a summary of today’s (the 24th) key events so far:

    • Edward Snowden’s whereabouts are currently unknown after he failed to get on an Aeroflot flight the Russian airline said he was booked on from Moscow to Havana. It has been assumed that he was heading via Cuba for Ecuador; Quito’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca ‏said yesterday the country had received an asylum application from him. But amid farcical scenes the plane full of journalists – and presumably representatives of various governments – took off for Cuba without him. One reporter tweeted a plaintive picture of Snowden’s empty chair.

    • Patino said Snowden – the former NSA contractor whose leaks to the Guardian about US intelligence programmes have caused controversy around the world – had arrived in Russia and said his government was currently considering his asylum request. But he said Quito did not know where Snowden was at this moment – or where he was going next. Patino hinted that if Ecuador accepted Snowden’s request it would be on the grounds of privacy, freedom of speech, and human rights. The country already shelters Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London. Wikileaks was today forced to defend Ecuador’s questionable record on press freedom”

  6. American
    June 24, 2013, 3:38 pm

    ‘One way is to see corruption as life’s labyrinth – we spend our lives wading knee deep in corruption hoping to keep our head above it. We rarely accomplish our goal’>>>>

    No we don’t …mainly because we never nip it in the bud every time it rears it’s ugly head. We let it thrive and grow until it requires some horrendous action or event to rid ourselves of it. And then the ‘replacements’ just start it all over again.
    In my flights of fancy for a solution to this I’d be quit willing to turn the UN from a debating society into a Most On High Assassination Team…just kill every war monger and cretin the first time they make a noise and keep on killing every one that pops up to take their place…until all the ‘would be masters’ get the message….You lie you die, you steal you die, you cheat you die, you war you die, you kill you die.

  7. American
    June 24, 2013, 4:05 pm

    Snowden healthy and safe, says Assange

    US intelligence analyst’s whereabouts continue to be a mystery as Russia defies White House pressure to send him back.
    Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013 18:57

    I’ve been going thru all the overseas newspapers on Snowden and 98% of the comments on the US hunting down of Snowden in order of popularity are…..1)Fuck the USA, (most used one) 2) US Assholes 3) US Hypocrisy 4) America is dead, good riddance.

  8. piotr
    June 24, 2013, 4:07 pm

    “The freedom trail is not exactly China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela. So I hope we’ll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice and let the Russians know there will be consequences if they harbor this guy.” spake Sen. Graham from North Caroline. A bevy of Senators, including Chuck Schumer, chimed in.

    Surprisingly, the readers’ comments are not sympathetic to our Senators (and the President), and I am not talking about Mondoweiss but CNN. The average American online consumer of news is quite alienated from our political elite. Perhaps this is a relatively small segment of the population, but ordinarily such people are viewed not as radicals but as “trendsetters”.

    As a non-American, the Senators’ complaints strike me as infantile. Violation of Russian or Chinese secrets is not a crime in USA and vice versa. And when was the last time that USA made a favor to Russia? Are they aware that after such antics in Washington, Snowden is bound to be a celebrity in Russia and protecting him will become a matter of national dignity? Perhaps they do and do not care, but it is infantile any way you look at it. The only missing thing is Sens. Schumer, Nelson, Graham etc. shouting in unison “We will hunt the varmint ourselves” while clutching their rifles.

  9. ToivoS
    June 24, 2013, 6:07 pm

    HRW is an extension liberal FP types who are also advocates of humanitarian war. Their primary interest is to demonize enemies of US imperialism. Of course they have some mild complaints when our own allies become too obvious in their suppression of dissidents.

    Too small examples. One is the activities of HRW in Lebanon today documenting the atrocities happening in Syria. Basically there is only one ogre and that is the Assad government. Rebel atrocities are hardly mentioned, and when they are attenuated by excusing them due to circumstances.

    Second is in the report that Marc cites: subjecting journalists and media figures to public denunciation and retaliatory litigation.

    Notice the term litigation. No reporters have been prosecuted by the state. Correa happened to sue three reporters for libel. He won and after making his point waved the settlement. Correa is a popular politician who has very powerful enemies among the landed aristocracy. Of course he is going to denounce them, they denounce him. Compare this to Turkey. Before the latest protests there were about 70 reporters serving jail sentences for this they said. I might have missed it, but I do not recall seeing HRW making a big issue over that.

    Marc Ellis has written some good pieces during this series. He comes across as a good and honest person with interesting insights but there is a political naivete that often shows up. It comes up here glaringly. HRW is not to be trusted.

    • piotr
      June 24, 2013, 7:44 pm

      Concerning authoritarian behavior in countries that USA likes to criticize one has to consider what happens next door in countries that USA does not like to criticize. In Equador and Venezuela opposition newsmen can be harangued and harassed, in Columbia and Honduras they can be gunned down.

      How does it benefit the majority of American citizens to make Colombia and Honduras our pets and to put Venezuela and Equador on the list of no-goodniks, and not the other way around is hard to tell. Sometimes our pets vote with us in UN on the subjects concerning Israel. Sometimes they accept more expensive medicines and provide us with cheaper cut flowers. We maintain vestiges of empire in the age when empires make no sense.

  10. lysias
    June 24, 2013, 6:38 pm

    If Snowden succeeds in getting to Ecuador and U.S. power continues to decline, he is likely within a few years to be able to live in a more cosmopolitan country like Argentina, Brazil, or Mexico.

  11. Don
    June 24, 2013, 6:58 pm

    “an Ecuadorian-Israeli military partnership zone”

    Given the % of the population in Ecuador that is Catholic, perhaps this constitutes a somewhat ridiculous, military variation of your concept of “the Ecumenical Deal”.

  12. bilal a
    bilal a
    June 24, 2013, 7:45 pm

    Lots or reporting on the Israeli tech firms backdoor into NSA us private emails, phone calls, etc (Gen petraeus ?) but so far no mention by the guardian or wapo about the Israeli espionage ongoing.

  13. atime forpeace
    atime forpeace
    June 25, 2013, 11:11 am

    The Edward Snowden episode has polarized many in both the right and left towards the civil liberties middle.

    I hope that you all saw this very telling quote by Dan Senor expressing his fear on behalf of the U.S Govt…what he calls the U.S govt must be our ruling elites in the Democratic Party and Republican Party united.

    On ABC’s This Week, former Iraq War military spokesperson Dan Senor offered his take, along with ABC military correspondent Martha Raddatz (6/23/13):
    SENOR: Snowden’s, you know, interviews that he gave, and documents he released to the Chinese press, obviously puts us in a very uncomfortable position. But I think domestically, the U.S., I think this further strengthens the center on national security. I think there was a real risk over the last couple weeks that there would be this left/right coalition that would backlash against the United States government, sort of libertarian uprising. And I think Snowden just traveling around the world, flying to these anti-American capitals, behaving the way he’s doing further strengthens–I think the center is holding right now in the U.S., and I think that’s a positive development.

    Left Right coalition is the remedy that is need to break the logjam, the question is how do we get there, i am guessing it could come about around the issue of foreign policy.

  14. Les
    June 25, 2013, 1:20 pm

    Curious isn’t it that many of our politicians calling for the jailing of Snowden for espionage call for the pardoning of Jonathan Pollard who actually committed espionage.

    • atime forpeace
      atime forpeace
      June 26, 2013, 5:40 pm

      The Pollard question should be asked of Peter King and the Christian Zios Graham and “get off of my lawn” McCain. But alas our press belongs to them, the(U.S govt).

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