Snowden’s act of sacrifice echoes self immolators

Edward Snowden is a remarkable man.

His decision to release a cache of top-secret intelligence documents was cooly considered for years. It will totally change his life and could even have him killed.

He knows that, having worked for the CIA and for outside contractors to the US National Security Agency.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided to the Guardian, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Snowden’s act is one of supreme selflessness – bringing to mind those of people who have set themselves on fire to protest injustice.

Self immolation is routinely misrepresented as suicide, an act of violence in itself, which is not the case. This Counterpunch article puts that right, not least with this passage, quoting two deep religious thinkers, starting with the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan:

“I think in Christianity that something very great has been lost. Jesus’ death, I think, in a very deep sense can be called a self-immolation. I mean that He went consciously to death, choosing that death for the sake of others, reasonably and thoughtfully.” Berrigan argues that people who burned themselves protesting the Vietnam War should not be said to have committed “suicide” since “suicide proceeds from despair and from the loss of hope and I felt that [Roger Laporte, a Catholic Worker self-immolator] did not die in that spirit.”

Thich Nhat Hant, a Buddhist monk says of self-immolation: “I think we must try to understand those who have sacrificed themselves. We do not intent to say that self-immolation is good, or that it is bad. … When you say something is good, you say that you should do that. But nobody can urge another to do such a thing. … It is done to wake us up.” He relates the story of a young Vietnamese woman, Nhat Chi Mai, who immolated herself — and was so joyous the month before that people thought she was planning on getting married. He also argues that others are burning themselves but [quoting another monk] “in a slower way. I am burning myself with austerity, with active resistance against the war.” (See chapter on self-immolation in The Raft is not the Shore — conversations between Berrigan and Nhat Hanh).

I hope Snowden escapes their fate, though it is clear from his Q+A that he’s under no illusion as to what his fate might be.

We should all do what little we can to support him.