The Left’s Huge Failure Over Julian Assange

Julian AssangeA couple of months back, I wrote a blog post lamenting the sad decline of the left: once the home of free thought and scientific reasoning, now the home of political correctness (aka “nice censorship”) and authoritarianism. A few weeks later, I was vividly vindicated by the furore around the British threat to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange was claiming political asylum (now granted by Ecuador).

For those of you have been off-planet for the past few years: Assange ran Wikileaks, a courageous organisation, dedicated to free speech, that has been publishing government and military secrets from around the world on its website since 2006. Government after government was revealed to be embroiled in corruption and illegality; but when in April 2010, Wikileaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video, providing strong evidence of the US military murdering civilians and journalists in Iraq, two things were instantly clear: first, that Assange was a hero of free speech; and second, that he was a marked man. The US has committed war crimes for decades, but now it was clear that it could no longer keep them under wraps. The only logical act for the US war machine (other than apologising and cleaning up its act) would be to make an example of those behind the leaks, and instil terror in anyone who thought they might emulate Wikileaks’ behaviour.

Bradley Manning, a US soldier suspected to have leaked the video, was arrested, and remains in detention without charge; his treatment appears to fall within the definition of torture. That, of course, left Assange. The Obama Administration, far from embracing the new openness, has declared war on whistle-blowers, especially anyone associated with Wikileaks. Those denying that the US is after Julian Assange, or that it would deprive him of his liberty permanently if captured, have clearly not been paying attention.

The accusations of rape that surfaced in Sweden in August 2010 were greeted by Wikileaks-watchers with instant suspicion, and with good reason. By early-2011 it had become crystal-clear that this was not being treated by the Swedes like a normal rape case, as shown by testimony from former senior Swedish prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem, and an article by global rape law expert Naomi Wolf. Assange was in London fighting extradition to Sweden. He suspected (again with good reason) that the Swedes were working with the Americans to transfer him into US custody; in June this year, he offered to submit to extradition on the condition that the Swedes promised not to hand him to the Americans. This was refused, and Assange decided (and yet again it seems, with good reason) to claim asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

None of this, of course, casts doubt on the rights of the Swedish women to see justice done; but the behaviour of the Swedish and British authorities is blatant; they obviously have little interest in rape allegations, and every interest in grabbing Assange.

Then in mid-August, something truly astonishing happened. The British government threatened to raid the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange. This was truly unprecedented and dangerous, and provoked outrage around the world; wars have been started for lesser reasons than this. Not only did the threat cause huge damage to Britain’s international standing, but the sheer scale of the threat provided proof that the Swedish charges were a cover for something bigger. Mass murderers have walked free from British custody, yet Assange’s arrest mattered enough that Britain was prepared to wreak huge damage to international relations, and breach a vital core principle of modern diplomacy: the right to claim asylum.

Twitter burst into life, followed by the blogosphere; demonstrators materialised outside the embassy. As I tracked events online, I began to wonder where the mainstream left were – they seemed entirely absent. OK, the threat against Ecuador did come in the middle of holiday season – but surely the opposition couldn’t be silent at such a moment?

In reality of course, poor Ed Miliband’s hands were tied. Senior Labour figures, including Ed’s own big bro are implicated in crimes against humanity; they played along with the worst excesses of America’s “war on terror”, including illegal kidnap, detention, torture, and mass-murder. Labour is as much a part of the repressive, illegal machinery as the Conservatives and the intelligence services, and it seems unable to separate itself from the Blairite clique that disgraced the party so badly. By the end of the day, the moronic, mainstream left had chosen its line: ignore Britain’s disgraceful actions, and instead play the rape card by restarting the old arguments over the Swedish allegations from two years previously. Followers on Twitter followed suit. Soon, anybody who supported Assange had been slurred with the moron buzzword-of-the-week “rape apologist”, as I blogged at the time.

The first word I saw from a Labourite came in the next day’s Independent from Owen Jones, a young and apparently left-wing activist/journalist who is a popular up-and-coming Labour figure. Jones’ article was entitled: There Should Be No Immunity For Julian Assange From These Allegations.

I have three basic problems with the article:

  1. It is bland and populist. It contains all the ingredients needed to appeal to the centre-left, without saying very much of substance. It is a rallying cry to the Labour heartland, and it seems designed to rally Labourites against Assange. It contains the kind of meaningless-yet-popular phrases that would go down brilliantly at a Labour conference – for example, “Let’s be clear: rape is rape”. Whatever next – “Education, Education, Education”?
  2. It is inaccurate. It amplifies some of the old arguments that had been used against Assange, but ignores some other key points. An excellent blog post, Don’t Call Me A Rape Apologist by @EthicalGirl, covers Jones’ apparent bias regarding his coverage of the “facts” of the rape allegations. In addition, Jones repeats an old slur against Tory Minister Ken Clarke, which I blogged about at the time. I’m all for Tory-bashing, but prefer when it’s done with honesty and good reason. Again, this was great for the Labour heartland, not so great for accuracy and integrity.
  3. But the biggest problem is, of course, that Jones almost entirely ignores the big, Huge, ENORMOUS story of the day. His only, tangential reference to it is as follows: “Though its UK Embassy must be protected from any British Government attempt to attack its sovereignty, it is wrong to offer Assange political asylum”. Yes, that’s it. No comment on the government’s quite-probably-illegal behaviour, at all.

I have no idea whether Jones’ omissions are made through genuine ignorance or not. If he was (hypothetically) building up his profile ready for a safe Labour seat at the next election, his Independent article would have been perfectly pitched to capture grassroots support, while giving a wink to Labour top-brass that he could be relied upon to behave himself when it came to the Big Issues.

I generally agree with much of what Jones writes – but I selected this article as the earliest and most high-profile example of how the mainstream left managed to ignore (or deflect from) a very important story. I’m pretty sure that if Assange had been accused of something else – violence against a man, for example – many more of his supporters would have largely raised eyebrows and stood by him. But the “rape apologist” slur is one that terrifies the “liberal” male, and many good people buckled and became silent under the onslaught. I’ve no idea who first used it to label Assange supporters, but it was very well-chosen to have a chilling effect on the debate. Apparently a rape allegation is sacred; no man may ever cast doubt on it, however bizarre the behaviour of the prosecutors, because he will be accused, stupidly, of somehow supporting rape.

It is only thanks to brave and unimpeachable female anti-rape campaigners, like Naomi Wolf (above) and the veteran British group Women Against Rape, who wrote a marvellous article defending Assange, that debate wasn’t crushed altogether. But what a sad state the left is revealed to be in, if it is afraid to defend a hero of free speech for fear of being branded with the R-word.

19 thoughts on “The Left’s Huge Failure Over Julian Assange”

  1. good article and somewhat unexpectedly collects important briefs from elsewhere into a comprehensive package. I would however add Ove Bring’s comments on Radio Sweden as they seem to indicate an amount of fluctuance from Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny

    Ove Bring, professor emeritus of international law, recently stated that the prosecutor would probably have to drop the case against Assange once he has been questioned, since ”the evidence is not enough to charge him with a crime”.

    Radio Sweden
    http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=5235707

    Glen Greenwald
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/22/julian-assange-media-contempt

    Ove Bring bio
    http://rwi.lu.se/about/board/ove-bring/

  2. I am always fearful for the integrity of young, idealistic bloggers and activists who all of a sudden find they can make a Hell of a lot more money writing for the corporate, pro-war media. We know it has all happened before (when starting out in journalism was the norm). Chris Hitchens, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and George Monbiot all found they loved their newfound employers more than their principles. I think all of them exhibited the symptoms you talk about here and all (those who are still with us) completely distance themselves from the whistleblowers.

    George Monbiot is an interesting case. He will use the phrase ‘genocide denial’ for people who could be seen to minimise or trivialise well known atrocities such as the Srebrenica massacre and the Rwanda Genocide. Chomsky brilliantly rebutted him when Monbiot tried to implicate Chomsky in what he saw as Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s ‘genocide denial’ in their book, the Politics of Genocide (for which Chomsky wrote the foreword) without substantiating why the authors were wrong. He pointed out how conservative figures on the numbers dead in Iraq, the Second Indochina War or even the rape of the Americas in the early modern era circulate, and even become the mainstream received wisdom, with little to no controversy.

    And now I worry about Richard Seymour (of Lenin’s Tomb) who recently came out in support of the CIA and Saudi backed Free Syrian Army not long after he became a fixture at the Guardian and even rubbished his critics as Assad apologists, etc. I could be wrong about him (he has only taken the same position as his SWP comrade Alex Callinicos), but I sense the same pattern of behaviour.

    1. elgabal – yes, I clashed with leninstomb once. Don’t remember details but dogma overtook any thinking ability he may have had

    2. I think Monbiot is sincere. Indeed I feel his own, self cnsious and over whelming sincerity blinds him to the possibility of continuing biases in his own approach. The debate between him and Chomsky was an amazing exchange.

      Regarding this blog post more generally, hats off well done. Though I think you are a little too shocked at the faluire from the professional, i.e. labour party, left. What’s so amazingly bad about the current situation is that by putting themselves on the side of “explicit consent” feminists the people going after assange have managed to split even the “real” (i.e. not labour party) left.

      Then again the whole leftist project is suffering a crisis of identity which doesn’t help. I blame the post-structuralists. Wankers.

  3. The Swedish women did not accuse Assange of rape. They were inquiring if he could be tested for STD. The Swedish police made more of it so they could go after Assange. This was no doubt the work of Karl Rove. The US government, with Karl Rove’s help, are used to using women to entrap men. Check my website to see how I have come close to being entrapped myself.

  4. One thing about the British hatred of Assange that people never comment on is that he is Australian. Lurking just below the surface of British attitudes is jeering contempt bordering on frank hatred. i

    1. Absolutely, and given its evidence in UK’s everyday life it is a wonder that Mr. Assange came to UK once he found that he could not obtain permanent residency in Sweden, especially since succession UK governments have been little more than US lapdogs. (It’s a bit like an avowed communist going to 1950’s USA) & allegedly so it has proved to be, and Mr. Assange now finds himself trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy.
      Though perhaps Mr. Assange can be forgiven for this tactical error given the very large number of Australians in UK.

  5. There has definitely been a split in the left over this issue, in particular it turned many against Galloway, Pilger to name a few, where they had previously been “on the fence”.

    But I can’t see why this post would change anyone’s mind.

    The worst part of the whole Assange fan club thing is that they are starting to sound like 911 truthers. To them, it is self evident that the whole thing is a conspiracy, and they see no reason to provide any proof. It is enough to merely provide innuendo and supposition. If that doesn’t convince you, then you are considered either part of the conspiracy or just too naive to understand.

    We are told that the US has “declared war on anyone associated with wikileaks”, but the grand total of people the US has taken action against is 1, and that is Manning. Perhaps in assange supporter land, the deliberate release of gargantuan secret data files by serving officers, without the faintest clue as to what they contain, is whistleblowing that earns a pat on the head and that ‘will lead to new openness’. Like what, live posting all future diplomatic cables in public? And whistleblowing means revealing wrongdoing. When you massively, indiscriminately release files and have no idea what they contain, that is not whistleblowing. This is an important distinction.

    We are told that Naomi Wolf is an expert on Swedish rape law, and linked to an article she wrote. Yet the comments to that article reveals she made numerous errors. Some expert!

    We are also told that Assange suspected the US was after him, yet where did he flee to? One of the closest allies of the US. How does that make sense? I guess we aren’t supposed to ask that question.

    We are told that the Swedish and British authorities have little interest in rape allegations, but again this is a faith based claim. There is nothing to back it up.

    We are told that the UK threatened to raid the Ecuadoran embassy, but the source for that claim is Ecuador itself. Suddenly the great sceptics of government are all too eager to take politicians at their word. I guess its different when they say what you want to hear. In that case, pronouncements by a government which has a habit of shutting down opposition media are treated as fact.

    We are told that the allegations against Assange are “old arguments” and “playing the rape card”. Well they wouldn’t be so old if Assange hadn’t been evading justice for two years. As for the “rape card”, well, its not the most offensive thing I’ve heard about this case (Ecuador’s President has certainly said worse), but its pretty repugnant.

    Finally, the “rape apologist slur”. I am partly in agreement with this, since if you think Assange didn’t do what these women said he did, then you should not be called a rape apologist. But one of the most interesting aspects of this case is that it has put the _definition_ of rape into focus. And there are those, from Galloway to the President of Ecuador and many others, who claim that if every word these women said was true, then Assange would still be innocent since what they describe is not rape. This is 100% in rape apologist territory. What these women describe certainly fit my definition of the term. So I think Galloway et all are correctly attacked as rape apologists. It is an important debate to have – let there be no mistake that this is “bad sexual etiquette”.

    1. Mr Danger – you’re inaccurate on a number of points but to select two: the US war on whistle-blowers has been vicious and aimed at far more than 1 person. The threat to raid the Ecuadorian embassy is now widely reported as fact by governments and media with no denial from the British. Technically it’s an allegation, in reality it’s fact.

      1. I didn’t say the US had only ever gone after one whistleblower (ignoring the fact that neither Manning nor Assange are classic whistleblowers, but that’s my definition of the term). I was talking about Wikileaks. You said the US had ‘declared war’ on ‘anyone associated with Wikileaks’, which is quite a grand and sweeping statement. Yet so far it seems ‘declared war’ means ‘do nothing’ and ‘anyone associated with wikileaks’ means not even the person who founded it. Now you are saying its ‘vicious’ but again we are expected to just accept that as true. Perhaps you need to look up Ramin Pourandarjani if you want to find out what ‘vicious’ pursuit of whistleblowers looks like.

        As for the raid, did you even look before you made that claim? In 10 seconds I found statement by William Hague that ‘There’s never been a plan to storm the embassy’. I found a statement by Philip Barton, UK observer at the OAS, saying “At no time did the UK make any threat against the embassy of Ecuador”. You call this ‘no denial’? Admit it, you didn’t even look.

        The news articles I read refer to a ‘threat’ (i.e. putting it in quotations). You should have been more skeptical given that there is no document with a threat in it or UK public statement that included the threat. The only source for the claim is Ecuador.

        But apparently I’m inaccurate on a number of other points, so I hope you will let me know which ones.

        1. Looks like you put someone in their place. It’s easy to troll on people who don’t take the time to do actual research themselves, which is quite a few people on this page it seems.

  6. September 2 and a member of Assanges legal team is again stopped at an airport

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2197003/Lawyer-Assange-detained-Heathrow-told-secret-watch-list.html#ixzz25Jdc8q2F

    and asked to obtain ‘special permission’ to fly to her own country. Quite a public display of absurd harassment simply because she chooses to defend Assange. If there is no ‘conspiracy’ then someone explain to me why is this happening. Perhaps they will have us wear yellow stars next.

  7. Naomi Wolf, a ‘global rape law expert’? Um, really? I don’t believe she’s an expert in any field. (And she seems to be something of a paranoid conspiracy theorist too.)

    As for Assange, I’ve no doubt that the Americans want to get him, and that the allegations against him are probably being pursued for political reasons. But that doesn’t mean they have no substance to them. Judging by the reports, he does, at the very least, have a case to answer; and if he was a man of any courage, he would go to confront the allegations, rather than trying to hide behind his status as an ‘oppressed hero’. In other words, even if the proceedings against him *are* a conspiracy – which they may well be – he should *still* go to Sweden to face them, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    So he’s worried his life could be in danger? Well, he didn’t show such concern when he named American informants across the world, putting their lives in danger, did he? Sorry, while I respect the good things Wikileaks have done, I’ve got absolutely zero respect for Assange as a person.

  8. what nobody ever talks or write about ,is that the two woman never reported assange with rape,the charge was invented by two moronic policemen in stockholm because he had s ex without a condom,the whole afair stinks to high heven of cia nsi fbi and other sick letter comb. the americans can invent.before the kgb controled sweden now its the usa

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