On May 28, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave an interview in which he called on whistle-blower (and in my view, American patriot) Edward Snowden to “man up,” return to the U.S., and “trust [himself] to the American system of justice.”
Oh puh-leeze. Why does this make me think of the old rhyme that starts “‘Come into my parlour,’ said the spider to the fly”? It also turned my mind to Renaissance-era Czech theologian and reformer Jan Hus. If you are a little rusty on Hus, let me refresh your memory.
Born in 1369, Hus was a brilliant theologian, at one time rector of Charles University in Prague. He supported the teachings of English reformer John Wycliffe, which were viewed by the Roman authorities as heretical, i.e., a threat to their system of privilege.
After years of struggle, Sigismund of Hungary, heir to the throne of Bohemia, wishing to bring the struggle to an end (since it was causing popular unrest), offered Hus safe conduct if he would come to a Council which he had persuaded the pope of the time, John XXIII (later declared to be an antipope, which is why we got the real John XXIII in the 20th century) to call at the south German city of Konstanz.
Hus accepted the invitation, but it is noteworthy that he made his will before going. Not long after he got there, he was imprisoned and tortured by his opponents, who had persuaded Sigismund that promises of safe conduct made to a heretic (note that he is condemned before being tried) were not binding. Hus was asked not only to deny what he had taught, but even doctrines that he had not taught. He refused, and was burned at the stake in Konstanz on July 6, 1415. (I am happy to note that my own church, the Anglican Church of Canada, remembers him as a small-s saint on October 30, together with his mentor, John Wycliffe.) Within a century, 90% of the Czech population had joined his movement, and to this day, July 6, the day of his martyrdom, is celebrated as a national holiday in the Czech Republic.
I cannot believe that Snowden’s fate would be very different from that of Hus. (Think Chelsea Manning.) The phenomenon of American exceptionalism, whereby standards (e.g., the International Criminal Court) that apply to other nations cannot apply to the U.S., because, well, it’s America, would require that Snowden, regarded as a traitor (read: heretic), would be given only the tenderest mercies of the American “justice” system. So-called traitors in other nations, on this view, are just that, traitors; but an American “traitor” is also guilty of sacrilege, because he rejects exceptionalism. He would be very foolish indeed to accept Kerry’s invitation, and from everything I have read about him, he is not foolish at all.
History will conclude, I am convinced, that Snowden will eventually be regarded not only as an American patriot, i.e., someone with the true well-being of his country at heart, but as a great global citizen. In exposing the surveillance practised by the NSA, which snoops not only on American citizens but on foreign ones, including foreign leaders such as Angela Merkel, Snowden has struck a blow for liberty for which some have suggested that he be given the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read this blog and be instructed, dear friends at the NSA!)
So Edward Snowden, stay in Russia, please; and John Kerry, spare us your fatuous remarks.
Remember Jan Hus.
Hope to see you in Toronto some day soon. I enjoy your thoughts.