Tariq Ali: “I see Snowden as a Freedom Fighter”

Interviewed on Outlook India, Tariq Ali discusses the American NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Opinion on Edward Snowden is sharply divided. Some see him as a whistleblower, one who has done great service to the world; others see him as a traitor. How do you see him?

I see him as a freedom fighter. “I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American,” he told the South China Post. If only there were more like him. A whole movement is what is needed. He has informed US and British citizens that they have no privacy whatsoever. The US campaign against China on the hacking issue has been turned upside down. The sheer hypocrisy of Washington is breathtaking. And its not surprising that Germans appear to be the most shocked: the main charge against the Stasi in East Germany was they spied on their own people. They’ve been left far behind by the US and its British satrapy.

How justified are governments to spy on their own citizens?

There is no justification. If a citizen has broken the law then he or she should be arrested and tried in a court of law and the evidence made available. One of the outcomes of 9/11 has been the death of habeas corpus and growing restrictions on democratic rights. This is nothing new. Intelligence agencies in the West and elsewhere have been snooping for years. In the 60s and 70s my post was opened before it was delivered, my phone was tapped and I was told of this by people who had carried it out, but we knew it was happening. The infiltration and destruction of dissident groups in the United States (the Black Panthers in particular) has been well documented. What is different is that the birth of the internet, mobile phones, etc., has made it so much easier. But its also become easier to detect. And so many people are involved that sooner or later someone, disgusted with what is being done, breaks and goes public.

Terrorism today affects most countries. But is that justification enough for governments to listen to private conversations, open e-mail and Face book accounts of people?

Why does ‘terrorism’ happen? Without a cause there is no effect. India has a rich tradition of terrorism: the struggle against the British provoked it in Bengal and the Punjab. The US occupation of the Arab world and Afghanistan, its threats against Iran, the use of drones in Pakistan, etc., anger many people. A tiny minority organises its revenge. It’s politically ineffective, but in a world where there is hardly an opposition from above the spectacle created by terrorist attacks appeals to some. The spillage from the Afghan war has completely destabilised Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban are creating mayhem in the country. I don’t think most of these bearded gentlemen are on Facebook or tweeting each other in between saying their prayers and targeting foreigners.

Should the power given to a government and various other agencies in a democracy to spy be based on blind trust or informed consent?

I think governments should be transparent. All this surveillance has been going on for years. How come that the Boston brothers were not detected? There will always be people who will manage to slip below the radar. How do you stop that? Even if you encourage neighbourhood groups to spy on each other non-stop and report anything suspicious, you become a police state and it won’t work. The real solution lies in changing what is going on in the world. Throughout the Cold War the charge against the Communist countries was that they spied on their citizens, which was true. If it was wrong then, why is it justifiable today? Just because its being carried out by elected governments? The double-standards are grotesque. Read more