Friday, 20 June 2014

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

Lowdown: First person views on the Edward Snowden revelations.
Reviews:
Back when Edward Snowden first started making himself into a household name, one of the many things I found puzzling was his choice of using Glenn Greenwald as the conduit of his public message. I knew Greenwald before, having generally admired his work and his stands; if I remember correctly, we even exchanged a brief Twitter dialog.
However, shortly before Snowden burst into the scene, Greenwald managed to get himself embroiled with another person I look up to, Sam Harris. The former was accusing the latter of Islamophobia.  Harris covered the clash on his blog, Greenwald responded over The Guardian. I was not at a position enabling me to determine right from wrong, but similarly to this guy I tended to drift Harris’ way. Briefly skimming through them, I did not feel like Greenwald was raising proper arguments.
Then history happened. Snowden came in and reshuffled the deck. More than that, the guy is responsible for completely revising my views on this world we live in. Greenwald’s No Place to Hide discusses the process behind the scenes of this reshuffling.
No Place to Hide is generally a three acts book. In the first we hear Greenwald’s first person journey from how he almost missed out on the whole Snowden adventure till roughly the time Snowden went underground in Hong Kong. The second act provides an overview of Snowden’s revelations; nothing that hasn’t been published already, but all organised here for maximum impact clarity. As in, if you haven’t delved into Snowden’s message yet but would like to do so now, this book is probably where you’d want to go. In the third act Greenwald takes the discussion into the philosophical level, discussing the meaning and implications. Basically, this is the part of the book that reads like Orwell’s 1984, only that this is much scarier than the original: unlike 1984, No Place to Hide is no work of fiction.
There is a river of criticism flowing out of No Place to Hide. A lot of it is directed at Obama, the president that promised a change for the better and instead turned out to be the harshest president yet on those who aspire for transparency, whistleblowers and journalists included. We all mocked George W, but in many respects Obama did much worse. He continued with Bush's surveillance programs despite promises to cease these operations, and he took them much further. I find it interesting to hear many people clapping their hands lately to Obama’s late-to-the-party words on global warming; sure, we need to do something and quickly, but let us not forget that this is the same person that ordered his agencies to track everything about us. Everything.
By far the harshest criticism coming from No Place to Hide is directed by Greenwald at fellow journalists of the majority type, the type that became institutionalised and is now nothing more than a loudspeaker for government agendas. By making it normal for us to automatically accept whatever the government thinks or does, these people have disabled society’s self correcting mechanisms (in much the same way as I alluded to in my recent review of Time magazine); thus they allow mistakes and misdirections to go through uninterrupted, while opposition is marginalised and removed from debate. Opposition such as Snowden, who was lucky enough to have a message so powerful even the most powerful were unable to marginalise him enough to subdue his message. In Snowden’s case, even the threat of an eternity in jail and exile in Russia did not stop the message passing through; problem is, Snowden is very much unique in this regard.
To say that Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide is an important book would be to underestimate one of the most important stories of contemporary society. It is my opinion that while humanity has many great challenges on its hand, ranging from the threat of self annihilation to mass extinction through global warming, humanity will not be at a position to sort these problems out until we get to the stage where we sort ourselves out first. And sorting ourselves out means getting rid of tyrannical implementations such as the NSA and its complex net of surveillance.
The way I see it, the reason why the NSA’s tapping into everything we do online (and over the phone, for that matter) is such a great danger starts with the reason why the NSA is doing what it’s doing in the first place. Greenwald provides all the evidence one may need to prove the whole charade is not about that magical word, “Terrorism”, but rather about power. In the exact same way Orwell put it back in 1949, the NSA is all about control. Control over us.
At this point most people I know react by briefly pulling their shoulders and asking aloud in what way do the NSA tappings relate to them; they are but an innocent person, and in no way can they be harmed by that. Greenwald provides an answer to that argument, too: yes, he says, those who pose no challenge to the powers that be are rarely targeted by them; they are therefore in a position where they can convince themselves that oppression does not exist. But it does, it clearly does – as Snowden shows and as the news of the world have been informing us since humanity started recording history.
No Place to Hide culminates with the story of David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner in life, and his arrest in Heathrow under terrorism accusations. Miranda was no terrorist, and not even those who arrested him claimed he was one. Miranda was a normal person, like you and I, whose only “crime” was aiding the process of reporting on this scoop of the century – Snowden’s revelations. So yes, Miranda's own case  clearly demonstrates how innocent people can be oppressed if they dare cross the line and raise a challenge. I don’t know about you, but the next time I will be visiting the UK – for no important reason, just a family visit – I will be scared at what local authorities might do to me at their whim. If you’re a normal person, a person not unlike Miranda, you should be scared, too.
Overall: Did Greenwalrd alleviate the concerns I've had after his clash with Harris? Yes, and more: Clearly, No Place to Hide is a most important book covering one of the most important leaks ever. It’s a must, and it’s also worthy of a hefty 4.5 out of 5 crabs.

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