Distractions and derailments

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2010

There are so many damned layers to the Wikileaks story that it’s getting hard to keep track of them all. Assange’s arrest yesterday here in the UK has – quite naturally – refocussed attention on the figurehead rather than the phenomenon, and my inner conspiracy theorist – along with that of about half the internet, so far as I can tell – can’t help but think “well, that’s convenient”.

Complications arise from the nature of the accusations levelled at Assange, however; rape is a contentious issue at the best of times, and when combined with a highly polarising political story like Wikileaks… well, let’s just say there’s a whole lot of FAIL going on, mostly involving pro-Assange folk leaping to the assumption that the charges are trumped up, and a subsection of those folk springboarding from there into the realms of casual and institutionalised misogyny – you know, “liberal laws mean women can call rape whenever they’ve decided they didn’t like the guy after all”, that sort of thing. Assange becomes the victim of the narrative, while his accuser becomes a lying manipulative cock-tease… which is pretty much the standard narrative surrounding rape cases of much smaller profile than this one, sadly. So here’s some much needed sanity from Kate Harding at Salon:

Look, for all I know, Assange’s primary accuser does have CIA ties. Perhaps it was all a setup from the beginning. Perhaps she is lying through her teeth about the rape. Anything is possible. But in the absence of any real evidence one way or another, we’re choosing to believe these guys? Or at least this guy at Firedoglake, who says he’s “spent much of [his] professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence” — giving his post a shiny veneer of credibility, even though it’s a pure regurgitation of Shamir and Bennett’s — but segues from there into an indictment of the accuser’s post-rape behavior. She socialized with her attacker again! An expert like him can tell you that real victims never do that.

The fact is, we just don’t know anything right now. Assange may be a rapist, or he may not. His accuser may be a spy or a liar or the heir to Valerie Solanas, or she might be a sexual assault victim who now also gets to enjoy having her name dragged through the mud, or all of the above. The charges against Assange may be retaliation for Cablegate or (cough) they may not.

Public evidence, as the Times noted, is scarce. So, it’s heartening to see that in the absence of same, my fellow liberal bloggers are so eager to abandon any pretense of healthy skepticism and rush to discredit an alleged rape victim based on some tabloid articles and a feverish post by someone who is perhaps not the most trustworthy source. Well done, friends! What a fantastic show of research, critical thinking and, as always, respect for women.

As hinted at above, I’m very much of the instinctive opinion that the charges against Assange are dubious, if not completely fabricated; it really is astonishingly convenient for a lot of people who’d like him out of the way, and the inherent controversy of the crime he is accused of makes it even more so – just look at how the “did he/didn’t he?” aspect of the story is taking the foreground, not to mention providing great ammunition for Assange’s enemies.

But as Harding points out, we don’t actually know… and as such we should STFU and let the law run its course, while keeping a keen eye out for dodginess. My message to pro-Wikileaks people would be this: talk about the leaks, talk about the legality of the leaks, talk about the wrongdoings they expose, but shut up about Assange’s charges. Although the relationship is complicated, Wikileaks != Julian Assange – what the organisation does and what its figurehead does are not necessarily connected. And if you really believe the guy is being framed, then surely you’re playing into the hands of his framers by letting them steer the dialogue and turn it into a very public pillory?

For the sake of clarity: heroism isn’t a get-out-of-jail card. If Assange did what he’s accused of, then he should pay the price for it in the same way anyone else should. Just because he’s doing things you think are important to the world doesn’t make him any less flawed or human than the rest of us. So stop assuming his innocence – if you think about it, to do so is completely contrary to the philosophy of Wikileaks itself.