A 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:
- 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”?
- 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.
- 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.