The Assange affair is not just about WikiLeaks, stupid


WIKILEAKS DOESN’T rape. WikiLeaks can’t make you pregnant. WikiLeaks can’t give you a sexually transmitted disease.

WikiLeaks is, according to Julian Assange in his Ecuadorean embassy balcony speech, all about “shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful” and “making a stand for justice”. It is about getting rid of a culture in which “citizens must whisper in the dark”. It is the antithesis of the “witch hunt”.

The crowd loved it. “I knew there would be witnesses,” he declared, to a surge of emotional applause. He spoke of his family, “my children, who have been denied their father”. But the speech was from the wrong play.

Assange has not sought political asylum because of WikiLeaks. He is on the run from allegations of rape. These alleged crimes are defined as both serious and non-political. Political asylum is a hard-won human right – Assange has abused it. In doing so he has endorsed a real witch hunt – against the women who allege he sexually coerced them.

Assange refused the Swedish public prosecutor’s request that he return to that country for questioning. Believing on the basis of the evidence before her that Assange has a case to answer, she instituted extradition proceedings.

Assange has spent much of the past two years fighting these in the British courts, and when his case failed he jumped bail and took refuge in the embassy of Ecuador, the government of which this summer demonstrated its commitment to freedom of speech by shutting down eight television and radio stations.

Not one word about the allegations in Sweden was uttered during Assange’s Evita-esque performance in London last weekend. We are expected to accept by now that a vast international conspiracy exists whereby the extradition order is merely a ploy to get Assange into Sweden so that the US will be able to extradite him in relation to WikiLeaks, sling him into Guantanamo detention centre and maybe even sentence him to death.

The fact the US has not sought to extradite Assange from the UK, which has the sort of right-wing government that would probably be all too ready to comply with such a request, is not addressed.

Nor is the fact that those accused of sexual offences routinely skip across borders to evade legal proceedings, and that the ability to extradite them is vital. Think Liam Dominic Adams. Think Fr Brendan Smyth. Nor that the assumptions behind the conspiracy theory are based on deeply misogynist notions of why women make rape allegations. Nor that the Swedish justice system is internationally respected in relation to its handling of crimes of sexual violence.

Assange has, however, in the past, been less reticent. “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism,” he has said. “I fell into the hornet’s nest of revolutionary feminism.” One of his lawyers told a British newspaper that “the honey trap has been sprung . . . dark forces are at work . . . this is part of a greater plan”.

Sky News revealed that one of the women involved in the allegations “is a radical feminist . . . known to have a theory that men dominate their social positions through sex”. The Daily Mail described one of them as not only a “radical feminist” but also “an attractive blonde” (in other words undercover) who had in her past been employed as a student equality officer.

The fact both women had engaged in consensual sex with Assange was trumpeted, though both had freely disclosed this. The allegations included having sex while a woman was asleep, and not using a condom. Much was made of the fact the women went to the police together after finding out Assange had been with them both.

Well – “hell hath no fury” – obviously. Abusive posts on a network of websites have multiplied. It is as if neither date rape, consent nor HIV had ever been heard of.

While some commentators have simply glided dismissively over the allegations, others among Assange’s celebrity supporters have fuelled an ugly fire. Michael Moore said they were “a bunch of hooey”. George Galloway (aka the cat from Big Brother) grotesquely proposed that “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion”. Respect?

Galloway has since tweeted that “it’s about WikiLeaks, stupid!” But it isn’t. It is about a high-profile man with powerful support who has done the world a great service through his work, but who delusionally thinks he symbolises truth and justice while refusing to submit to the quest for either in relation to his own behaviour.

It is about two women who have exercised their right to seek redress for alleged injustice. It is also about self-styled radicals whose attitude to rape is as sexist and ignorant as that of ultra-conservative US congressman Todd Akin.

By the way, don’t they know that it isn’t really extradition if it happens when you are asleep?

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