Edward Snowden: The Honorable Traitor

Editors' Note: This article is part of a Public Square conversation on the Security State. Read other perspectives here.

Ráðumk þér Loddfáfnir
en þú ráð nemir 
njóta mundu ef þú nemr 
þér munu góð ef þú getr 
hvars þú böl kannt 

kveðu þat bölvi at
ok gefat þínum fjándum frið.

I advise you, Loddfafnir,
To take advice
You would benefit, if you took it
Good will come to you, if you accept it
When you discover evil,
Speak out against that evil,
And give your foes no peace.
The words of Óðinn ~ Stanza 127

The debacle surrounding NSA surveillance is impossible to fully discuss in a such a brief essay. Since the attacks of 9/11, Americans have watched their government steadily become more powerful and less transparent. In order to ensure our security, massive organizations like the NSA and the CIA, headed by unelected officials, were given carte blanche to spy on citizens.

The stanza above is from a poem called "Hávamál," part of a collection of holy texts that Heathens often refer to as "Lore." It is a collection of proverbs and wise advice supposedly spoken by the One-Eyed-God, Óðinn, and I believe it can shed a little light on this situation.

The ongoing debate over Edward Snowden is still raging. Is the former NSA contractor-turned-whistle-blower a Hero or a Traitor? Should we decry his actions as a violation of trust, or extol them as a selfless attempt to fight injustice? As an Ásatrúar, I believe we are honor bound to speak out against perceived injustices when we come across them. Óðinn advised us to give our foes no "frið," which is translated here as peace. Frið (or Frith) is a complex social ideal with many layers of meaning. It represents peace, loyalty, fealty, kinship; frið is the bond of honor that holds a family together. When Óðinn says "give your enemies no peace," the statement implies that you should not offer loyalty or kinship with those who would do harm. If your brother were planning to commit some nefarious act, it would be your duty to stand in his way.

When Snowden saw the NSA doing things like tracking the sexual preferences of suspected "Radicalizers" in order to damage their reputations, he decided that the abuse of power had to stop. He broke frið and brought the problem to the attention of the public. True to Óðinn's advice, in the year following his announcement, he has given his enemies no peace. As he said,

"I didn"t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself. All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed."

"I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts...today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many."

So what can we as Pagans contribute to this conversation? What guidance can the leaders within our community offer in this situation, when the motives and implications behind this incident are so muddled? There is no easy answer; no "quick-fix" is going to solve this dilemma. We can't expect any secure government to exist without secrets, but we also can't tolerate abuses of power. What we can do is encourage a culture of "whistle-blowers." I'm not saying that we all necessarily need to take Snowden's side in this debate. But I am saying that we should encourage each other to speak up when we see injustice, rather than passively allowing it to continue. When people are being harmed, and it is within our power to stop it, we cannot afford the luxury of apathy. If we are going to learn only one lesson from this whole incident, let it be that.

1/29/2014 5:00:00 AM
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