Defining a hero

It requires some ability to dodge from what the media, the TV and advertising try to shove down our throats on a daily basis. Directly or indirectly, modern capitalist society exploits our imaginaries to impose which personality should be worshipped. From Cristiano Ronaldo to Gisele Bündchen with a Bono Vox in between, the imposed cult to personalities whose legacies to humankind are vastly debatable is but one of the examples of how we are manipulated. Confessing exhaustion of being told who to admire, George Carlin once asked his audience: “aren’t you sick of being told who your heroes ought to be? Being told who you ought to be looking up to? I chose my own heroes, thank you very much!”

Following Mr. Carlin’s wise piece of advice, I have carefully chosen who are the ones for whom I proudly say that I nurture a genuine admiration. They are the ones whose bravery has indeed changed somehow the world we live in. No sport stars, pretty singers or pseudo-humanitarian messiahs. The real heroes of this century, in my humble opinion, are those who defied the States, banks and large corporations, all at the same time: the whistle-blowers.

Man is a wolf to man

In the broad sense of the term, a whistle-blower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public. Nonetheless, when we are talking about States, the dimension reaches new heights. What a State calls “national interest” is, in most cases, a systematic construction of lies and manipulations aimed to favour the economic, political and military elites at the expense of the peoples. Under the symbiotic marriage between large corporations and a state-centric international system, there is no higher price to pay than having classified documents being exposed to the world or e-mail exchanges between CEOs of private enterprises and head of governments revealing obscure plots and cheap tricks.

WikiLeaks and the whistle-blowers that made it possible are probably the most important event in the world post 9/11. For too long, anyone daring to question the official version told by States were immediately labelled as conspiracy-theory-freaks. Fortunately, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, with Julian Assange offering the platform, have changed the whole thing. Not only fortresses of lies build by States have fallen to pieces but also now an entire database of cables became public and accessible to anyone. From dirty little lies to mammoth manipulations, truth is now exposed, in all its nudity and glory.

I never stop amusing myself with what I read. Recently, Assange revealed that WikiLeaks proved that “the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s private meetings over how to save the planet from climate change were bugged by a country intent on protecting its largest oil companies”. Even worse, back in 2010, they revealed that the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had ordered her diplomats to steal the UN leadership’s biometric data and other information, even though the US government has signed agreements with the UN that it will not engage in such conduct.

Photo: Nozomi Hayase (Flickr) Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 | Support Demonstration in US

As bad as it gets

The list of embarrassing, shocking and compromising revelations by WikiLeaks is vast. In a Democracy Now interview, Julian Assange claimed to have around 1700 emails containing proof that Hillary Clinton has lied under oath and that she was fully aware of weapons shipments to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State rebels. It seems that during Obama’s second term, Secretary of State and soon-to-be president Hillary Clinton authorized the shipment of American-made arms to Qatar, a country friendly to the Libyan rebels. Suspicious are that the scheme’s original intention to topple the Gaddafi government ended up in arms being shiped to Syria in order to fund Al Qaeda in its crusade against Assad. As far as Iran is concerned, cables reveal that several Arab leaders – being King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia the most vocal – privately urged the US to attack the Iranian territory. On the other hand, Israel’s howls of outrage against Tehran and the discourse that it would possibly launch airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program was a big fat poker bluff, as proved by cables showing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s chat with his Russian counterpart on a trip to Moscow in June 2009.

What about Yemen? Cables have revealed that the Obama administration has secretly launched missile attacks on suspected terrorists in Yemen, killing dozens of civilians along with some suspected extremists. The beacon of democracy does not take the blame because, for that, they have the Yemeni government taking responsibility. What about the war on drugs? Interestingly, cables have shown that the then President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, reported to be on the CIA payroll, was a drug trafficker. What to say about cables that show US diplomats describing foreign leaders in childish and offensive terms — from comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler to calling Russia’s Vladimir Putin “alpha-dog” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy “the emperor with no clothes.”

For too long, anyone daring to question the official version told by States were immediately labelled as conspiracy-theory-freaks. Fortunately, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, with Julian Assange offering the platform, have changed the whole thing

WikiLeaks is the transgression of the international relations how we knew it. Since the Westphalian Treaty, nation-states have fed their ‘animus dominandi’ with institutionalized conspiracies. Whether rival theories on international relations dispute which the main actor is in the world system, all would have to agree that, until recently, States saw no limits to sew its plots, create enemies and tailor-make scapegoats. Nevertheless, History, so it seems, likes to take revenge every once in a while. Chelsea Manning, Snowden and Assange are to international relations what that scene in the Truman Show of the boat puncturing the wallpaper of the dome was to Truman. Even though the majority of the population remains oblivious to the amount of truth exposed, the simple fact that top-secret national documents and communications are accessible is a turning point.

Interestingly, cables have shown that the then President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, reported to be one the CIA payroll, was a drug trafficker”.

I moved to London the same year Assange took refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy. Ever since, it has been a constant memory that he is still there. In 2012, I attended one of his rare public appearances, from the balcony of the embassy, and I felt that I was watching History being made before my eyes. Four years later, in Utrecht, I had the opportunity to meet Nancy Hollander. Besides having served as a consultant to the defense of a high-profile terrorism case in Ireland and having represented two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, she is nothing less but the lead counsel for Chelsea Manning on appeal. In the light of the War on Terror, Nancy warned that “those who are shouting the loudest today to limit the rights and protections available to my clients include some who may find themselves on the other side of the law in the future.”

Illustration: MIke Mozart (Flickr) Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 | War criminal and soon-to-be president of the US

After poking the beasts that rule this world with a tiny stick, the most vocal of the whistle-blowers might never walk free. It is importat to highlight that, unlike Manning and Snowden who hold charges on espionage, Assange is accused of sexual abuse. While stating if these accusations are true or false are beyond our reach, it doesn’t seem that this is the real motivation for his besiege.

Societies have always ejoyed adoring certain personalities more than others. It seems natural to me, then, that in the Information Age – as coined by Castells – whistle-blowers become the martyrs and leaked cables the real weapons of war.

  • mm

    Fernando Burgés is from Brazil. He holds a BA in International Relations, a Postgrad Certificate in Nationalism Studies and a Master in Political Science. He currently lives in Brussels.

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