Sunday, December 5, 2010

On the Allegations Against Assange

Julian Assange, the spokesman for Wikileaks, stands accused of sexual assault in Sweden. It is well-known that U.S. officials have been scrambling to find something, anything to charge him for in order to try to stop him from doing what he does.

The mere existence of Wikileaks is a threat to the integrity and continued dominance of the U.S. military-industrial complex. To be sure, the whistle-blower website hardly has the power to topple this punishing machine on its own -for that we'd need a mass movement in the belly of the beast. But it is still a serious threat- a threat to the smooth functioning of the U.S. military machine. It is not for nothing, then, that elites are livid. If I were Assange, I would fear for my life- the U.S. government has a long tradition of carrying out political assassinations.

So in this context, it is a bit unsettling that Interpol has issued an international warrant for Assange based on the allegations he faces in Sweden. Whatever it is that is alleged to have occurred in Sweden, and I'll get to that in a moment, you can bet that Interpol and international power brokers don't really give a shit. They just want to bring Assange down by any possible means, solely because of his political role in Wikileaks.

But it is a separate question whether Assange committed rape. I myself have no idea whether he did or not- but I will tell you that much of the response to the question has been dismissive and sexist. For example, from Counterpunch:

"Ardin has written and published on her blog a “revenge instruction”, describing how to commit a complete character assassination to legally destroy a person who “should be punished for what he did”. If the offence was of a sexual nature, the revenge also must also be sex-related, she wrote. Ardin was involved in Gender Studies in Uppsala University, in charge of gender equality in the Students’ Union, a junior inquisitor of sorts.

In other words, she was perfect for the job."
Perfect for the job, huh? Because she worked in a Gender Studies department and was involved in work enforcing gender equality? That sounds to me like feminist-baiting. The caricature is well-known enough: feminists are always women, they are always "man haters" and they are just out for "revenge". They might as well have just called her a "bitch".

Now, I'm not really interested in Ardin the person, what her politics really are, etc. I'm just noting that she's been impugned for allegedly being a feminist, etc. as in the above quote from Counterpunch. It might turn out that she is a CIA agent, and it would hardly matter for the point I'm making here: there should be nothing illicit or suspicious about being a feminist, fighting for gender equality, and so on.

The other layer of the sexism here has to do with the talk about the legal dimensions of rape. It seems to be a favorite line of many sexists that, somehow, all cases of rape are the fault of the woman, on the one hand, or simply malicious acts of "defamation" waged by bitter women that "hate men" on the other. I've read bits about this issue on several websites that more or less invoked these very tropes.

I've also seen character defenses of Assange to the effect that "he simply couldn't have committed rape... he's a great guy who does a lot of good political work!". That's non-sense. As I note above, he is a great guy who does a lot of good political work, to be sure. But that is not a defense in a court of law for a good reason: it has nothing whatsoever to do with whether he did, or did not, sexually assault someone. They don't call it the ad hominem fallacy for nothing.

I've also seen complaints about the allegations that are so general in their attacks that, if generalized, they would to rule out the possibility of conviction in any rape case whatsoever. That's clearly reactionary. As is well-known, the U.S. legal system is woefully unable to address the problem of rape. It's not surprising, then, that a very small percentage of rapes are even reported, and a far small number ever conclude in a conviction. The system is set up against the interests of women.

As far as I can tell, none of this has anything to do with imperialism, the politics of whistle-blowing, hacktivism or global power plays. That is, none of the business in Sweden, whatever the facts are, has anything whatsoever to do with the politics of Wikileaks.

Now, the powers that be want us to think that it does. They want us to think that the allegations in Sweden are a knock against Wikileaks itself. They want us to, irrationally, let the U.S. war machine off the hook because of something Assange, the man, did or didn't do in his personal life. That's clearly bullshit.

So let's not buy into the imperialist narrative. Whatever did or did not happen in Sweden is a separate issue- let's not shit on feminism because the U.S. war machine sucks. And let's not use this as an excuse to further the oppressive myth that rape accusations are always about some "vindictive" feminist scholar looking to castrate some innocent, angelic man.


JM said...

And now Fire dog lake's getting into the act:


Oh and Israel Shamir's pretty anti-semetic too:

JM said...

Oh and it gets worse with the tiny bit of homophobia found here:

Mimi said...

Also--at least in the on-line media--there's seems to be a growing vagueness about the whole thing that smacks of pulling away from a setup. I've read lately that it's a "possible" rape charge. The furor and, it is to be hoped, the newly-awakened scepticism of the public (although I'm not taking any bets on that), may be the reason.

AlanSmithee said...

The exact charge appears to be "having consensual sex without a condom" which is apparently a crime in Sweden.

t said...

It's unclear what the facts are, and it's completely absurd that Interpol is involved.

But the post isn't so much about whether Assange did or didn't do it- it's about the things that are entailed by some of the remarks made about the matter on the internet. If it turns out to be a plot to take Assange down, I wouldn't be surprised. But that doesn't justify making comments to the effect that Ardin, insofar as she is an alleged feminist, is some kind of man-eating avenger. Nor does it justify the bullshit comments some bloggers have made to the effect that rape allegations are, as such, somehow shaky and dubious. The politics of those comments have nothing to do with Wikileaks --which is part of my point. We shouldn't respond to ad hominem fallacies with more of them by trying to "discredit" Ardin by labeling her an "angry feminist". That's bullshit.

Erin said...

To me, it is very striking that Assange is to be taken into custody for questioning in Nov. when the event (I read) supposedly took place in August. Why would it take so long for some law force to act? I absolutely agree with the article, but when the Powers That Be claim to take rape seriously only when it benefits their schemes, it indicates how much "women's" (everyone's) issues are twisted into being divide/conquer tactics as opposed to being legitiamte issues whose solutions are vital to our well-being.

Richard said...

I wouldn't be too sure about saying that what happened in Sweden is separate from the US war machine, because Eric Holder, the US attorney general, is now saying that "action" has been taken against wikileaks, so it is entirely possible that Assange's arrest on the Swedish warrant could result in his transfer to US custody if criminal charges have been filed under seal.

I haven't followed the Swedish case closely, but if it is true that the first prosecutor dropped the case, but another one reopened it because of a request from a Swedish political figure, that doesn't look good.

Of course, the gratuitous feminist bashing is ridiculous, but a curious aspect of the story is the claim that Ardin is closely associated with the anti-Castro Cuban community and has been publicly involved in propaganda efforts against Chavez. Now, that community does assist US intelligence, but it raises the question, what in the world was Assange doing with her in the first place? Setting aside the sexual allegations, nothing good could come from talking with her about anything.

One of the problems in dealing with this subject is the fact that relating to sexual situations with the rationality that one applies to political situations is dubious. There may have just been a spark between Assange and Ardin that went wrong. After all, no one disputes that the encounter was consensual.

JM said...

there's a really good Kate Harding article on this here: