What Have Snowden and Greenwald Got to Do With Gandhi?
June 30, 2013
There is a linguistic gobbledegoo going on about what it is that Edward Snowden has committed that was made possible by the “advocacy journalism” of Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian. While many, in the US and around the world, seem to believe that Snowden committed a “heroic act” by blowing a loud whistle on the global spying by the US, the established order keeps insisting—noop, it’s “treason.”
On Friday, one more US Senator confirmed the latter view. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Takeaway:Photo: Bruce Thomson/cc/flickr
“I’ve been thinking about this as the story has unfolded, and at first I thought [Edward Snowden] was trying to raise a public debate about important issues, and that maybe he’s more like a whistle-blower. … As it’s gone on, I’m moving more and more towards the treason end of the scale.”
Treason is not the right word. Sedition is.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of—treason is: “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government,” whereas, sedition is: “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.”
Snowden didn’t “betray” his country, but his courageous act and Greenwald’s journalism—is certainly “inciting people to rebel against the authority of [the] state.” Viewed in this way, their act could be considered as seditious, and they are in good company—with none other than Mahatma Gandhi.
In March 1922 Gandhi was charged with sedition by the ruling British government in India. He admitted his charges and said: “To preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me. … The only course open to you … is … either to resign your post or inflict on me the severest penalty.” He was sentenced to six years in prison.
What did Gandhi do?
His committed a serious crime—journalism.
Gandhi was one of the finest journalists the world has ever seen. “The sole aim of journalism should be service,” Gandhi wrote in his autobiography. Over a period of four decades he edited six newspapers, some in English, while others in Gujarati and Hindi. One of those was Young India, an English-language weekly paper that was in circulation between 1918 and 1932. He was charged with sedition for “spreading disaffection by writing seditious articles in Young India,” V. N. Narayanan wrote.
In one article Gandhi wrote:
“I have no hesitation in saying that it is sinful for anyone, either soldiers or civilian, to serve this Government … I shall not hesitate … at the peril of being shot, to ask the Indian sepoy [soldier] individually to leave his service and become a weaver. For, has not the sepoy been used to hold India under subjection, has he not been used to murder innocent people at Jalianwala Bagh, has he not been used to drive away innocent men, women, and children during that dreadful night at Chandpur, has he not been used to subjugate the proud Arab of Mesopotamia, has he not been utilised to crush the Egyptian? How can any Indian having a spark of humanity in him, and any Mussalman having any pride in his religion, feel otherwise…? The sepoy has been used more often as a hired assassin than as a soldier defending the liberty or the honour of the weak and the helpless.”
In another instance, Gandhi wrote an article in response to a public speech by Lord Reading, the Viceroy. Reading had said: “I ask myself what purpose is served by flagrant breaches of the law for the purpose of challenging the Government and in order to compel arrest?” In his article Gandhi responded with these words:
“We seek arrest because the so-called freedom is slavery. We are challenging the might of this Government because we consider its activity to be wholly evil. … We desire to show that the Government exists to serve the people, not the people the Government.”
In a third article, Gandhi wrote:
“No empire intoxicated with the red wine of power and plunder of weaker races has yet lived long in this world, as this British Empire, which is based upon organized exploitation of physically weaker races of the earth, and upon a continuous exhibition of brute force…”
There is something remarkable in what the judge said as he proceeded to announce the sentence:
“Mr. Gandhi, you have made my task easy in one way by pleading guilty to the charge. … Nevertheless, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that in the eyes of millions of your countrymen you are a great patriot and a great leader; even all those who differ from you in politics look up to you as a man of high ideals and of noble and even saintly life. … I do not forget that you have consistently preached against violence, or that you have on many occasions, as I am willing to believe, done much to prevent violence.”
As you can see, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have much in common with Gandhi. They are voices of conscience speaking truth to power.The prosecutor was Thomas Joseph Strangman, the first lawyer to successfully prosecute Gandhi. Many of the quotes I mention above come from Strangman’s book, Indian Courts and Characters.
As you can see, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have much in common with Gandhi. They are voices of conscience speaking truth to power.
Furthermore, Gandhi’s writing has much in common with what Greenwald and The Guardian have been doing lately. What is surprising is that the British allowed the Young India to run as long as it did. On January 4, 1932 Gandhi was arrested again for sedition and was held without a trial, not unlike the prisoners at Guantánamo today. Young India folded for good that year. Today, the US government is doing what they can to suppress The Guardian. “The Army admitted Thursday to not only restricting access to The Guardian news website at the Presidio of Monterey, as reported in Thursday’s Herald, but Armywide,” Monterey County The Herald reported yesterday.
Did Gandhi and Young India practice “advocacy journalism”? You bet, they did. His distaste for mainstream media was so strong that on June 19, 1946 he made a naughty remark about the Indian newspapers: “If I were appointed dictator for a day…I would stop all newspapers.”
Glenn Greenwald is also practicing advocacy journalism, as Matt Taibi pointed out in the Rolling Stone on Thursday. Taibbi made an assertion that NBC’s David Gregory had a “brain fart” when he asked Greenwald: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” It may sound funny to you today, but in time, his assertion will find its place in serious history books on journalism. Greenwald’s journalism has shattered the orthodoxy of his field. Today, the corporate media will continue their smear campaign against Greenwald, as if he is running for the US Presidency, and we should dig up his dirty laundry. In the years to come though, there will be—Columbia School of Advocacy Journalism (or something similar elsewhere). Students and scholars will be debating about “comparative advocacy journalism”—across practitioners: Taibbi or Greenwald; across mediums: Goodman or Greenwald; and across time: Gandhi or Greenwald.
It remains to be seen if the courageous work of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald will inspire us to fight for a more just society.
There is a glimmer of sunshine. On Thursday, The New York Times published an op-ed “The Criminal N.S.A” by two legal scholars, Jennifer Stisa Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, and Christopher Jon Sprigman, professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.
While it is necessary to brand the NSA activities exposed by Greenwald and Snowden as criminal, the entire unjust cruel fossil-fueled plutocratic system of the US Empire needs challenging—to ensure the survival of human and nonhuman inhabitants of this Earth.
“But you’re hopeful?” the journalist asked during Gandhi’s first television interview, on April 30, 1931. Gandhi responded: “I’m an optimist.”
Subhankar Banerjee is a photographer, writer, and activist. Over the past decade he has worked tirelessly for the conservation of ecoculturally significant areas of the Arctic, and to raise awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change. He founded ClimateStoryTellers.