In the Middle Ages the safety of knights was guaranteed by the use of recognised symbols which declared that the person belonged to a certain spiritual order. While some of it was simply a question of ransom, there was also another aspect, which was that people expected honourable behaviour from one another. It was a shared understanding that if one extended mercy towards others, one could expect the same in return should one find oneself in unfortunate circumstances.
It was ancient, originating, not in Egypt, but in Sumeria and India. It was a universal understanding, like the envoy’s staff of office, which was respected by all sides.
As it becomes more widespread and more fully understood, when it is no longer respected beyond the nation’s borders, it serves a different purpose. It becomes a liability. While it may be useful in one’s home country to develop business or one’s career, it can be wrong to assume the same integrity remains which once existed.
We have seen many examples in the press over the last 20 years or so, of people arrested as spies in foreign countries. Despite protesting their innocence as business people or reporters, some have spent many years in uncomfortable prisons before finally gaining release through the actions of their governments in negotiations with the hostile nation which arrested them. Often these negotiations invovle lucrative economic incentives for the arresting nation. So the ransom element remains high on the agenda.
Far from being a safeguard these same symbols and signs, which serve to get one noticed for the right reasons at home, now serve to get one noticed for the wrong. Perhaps it is time to develop a new collection of symbols that will be recognised and honoured unilaterally.
The sorry thing is that during the last 50 years the idea of honour in international relations seems to have become lost. From the USA planning devastating campaigns in Vietnam destroying forests and villagers indiscriminately through to the stealing of populations from Ukraine by Russia in the last 12 months to the frightful behaviour in Gaza.
When a system no longer serves its purpose the only thing to do is drop it. Meanwhile be careful what you say to others, particularly strangers. It may not be as smart and safe as you previously believed it to be.