In recent weeks two stories hogged the attention of world media. They are remarkably similar, displaying power’s ability to squash. The Power, as I like to call it, has the ability to keep its officials immune from prosecution in the International Criminal Court for war crimes, it can detain captured individuals indefinitely away from its legal system. It enjoys unprecedented economic and military strength and it is focussed to maintain it.
The first story is of Mr Assange — and I won’t bore you with details that you already know. In brief, Mr Assange exposed behind-the-scene, improper deals which are highly contradictory to the lip service paid by the Power to democracy, peace, prosperity for all, freedom, tolerance and human rights. In retaliation, the Power has engaged itself, with all its force, in a catching and killing spree.
It has done this before and got off scot free. It has brought peace in many parts of the planet by eradicating the evils of communism. At present it is weeding out Islamic radicals. The might of the Power is such that it can devote endless time and resources to hunt perpetrators such as Saddam Hussain or Osama Bin Laden.
Like a powerful beast on the prowl, nothing, even mediating bodies like the United Nations (set up by the Power itself) can assuage it. Only a kill soothes it. It forgets, however, that not every run will end in a kill.
Such may be the case with the Assange saga. The beast has cornered him and waits to pounce. Though he has planned an escape, the pack guards him closely, as the end game nears.
The fury is understandable. Assange’s WiKiLeak has leaked credible information disseminating real-time intelligence to security analysts, so that soldiers may act swiftly. Much as it would like to storm the Ecuadorian embassy to get Assange, the precedent, (the law to revoke diplomatic immunity passed in 1987 to cope with extreme abuses, after terrorist sieges at Iranian and Libyan embassies in London), will hardly support such an action.
Frustratingly, Assange is also more like a non-violent dissident who would enjoy similar protection from a British, American or Australian embassy, let’s say, in either Tehran, Beijing, Pyongyang or Moscow. The extraordinary events of Chen Guangcheng, a 40-year-old Chinese villager’s safe passage to American protection, earlier in the year, are still fresh and will long be recounted.
Meanwhile, Assange’s home country, being the closest of the Power’s allies and a willing companion in its adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, refuses to defend him. What’s more, if the recent past is any guide, it will remain mum on the matter, as it did during the detention of its other citizens, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, at Guantanamo Bay.
The Power involved here is supreme. It is supposed to be the apostle of freethinking, liberating mankind from conservatism, dogma and fundamentalism. It is on a vociferous roll to destroy the axis of evil.
Still, it is not that the Power remains free from tangles. Yet, how it gets out of them (and the means it uses) typify the utter disrespect it conveys towards the rest of us. As recent as January 2011, it had to use diplomatic immunity and blood money (compensation) to protect one of its officers, Raymond Allen Davis, who shot two (allegedly) armed men in Lahore; a third man was killed in a hit-and-run incident by a car coming to rescue Mr Davis. Its ability to come up with astounding defence for its repeated intervention and killing is second to none.
The other amazing story, although in the opposite sphere of the Power, is the verdict of two years in jail for the three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band, for an act of protest. The authority punished the band for its views, especially as expressed in their song “Our Lady Chase Putin Out”, performed in a Moscow cathedral, considered to discredit and denounce the government.
The verdict made the band instant global dissident celebrities, while the authority canvassed it as lenient — apparently the trio could have been imprisoned for up to seven years on charges of hooliganism.
History, in all eras, contains many such stories. The enduring tale of Power’s ability to capture and toy with its opposing forces reminds me of a childhood narrative: the cat and mouse game.
A game of constant pursuits, near catches and many getaways. The mouse has no chance of defeating the cat but it can avoid capture, at least for a while.
The cat usually overwhelms the mouse, even though it cannot claim a definitive win. The game goes on.
Irfan Chowdhury writes from Canberra, Australia.