Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

My tuppence worth on the Wikileaks affair

It’s an interesting time to be a newbie in Australia, what with Julian Assange suddenly going from being some obscure activist geek to the best-known Aussie in the world in a very short space of time. Now, let me make this clear: I firmly believe that Wikileaks has made extremely important contributions to global democracy and openness, and that Julian Assange has been incredibly brave in his willingness to confront international governments by exposing their actions. I’m sure that the efforts of the US and Australian governments, amongst others, to construct legal cases against Wikileaks and Assange are entirely unethical and aimed at clamping down on freedom of information and at covering up their nefarious activities. The complicity of companies such as Paypal, Amazon and Visa with the American-led cover-up is repugnant. And Interpol’s apparent collusion with an effort to trap Assange by whatever means, by making his arrest on rape charges originating in Sweden a matter of international urgency, seems dubious in the extreme. Rape is a vile crime, but how many other sexual predators’ crimes make the priority list?

However, I’ve also been repulsed – but not surprised – by the reactions of parts of the Left to the those sexual assault charges. I don’t know the rights and wrongs of the claims made against Assange; I don’t speak Swedish; I don’t know how the Swedish legal system works; I don’t know what the circumstances were around the original allegations. But then neither do many of the other people moved to comment on Assange’s fate.

It may well be that the women involved have had some kind of ‘CIA links’ and that the charges are false. But that is the kind of allegation which Wikileaks’ supporters should be thinking very, very carefully about making. As ‘Maia’ writes on the Amptoons blog, misogynist myths about rape are widespread. Men have a nasty tendency to suggest that women make up stories of rape; attempts to crunch the number suggest that actually, false claims are no more frequent as a proportion of police rape reports than are false allegations for any other kind of crime. Of course it’s a heated debate; Wikipedia has a useful compilation of some of the research here. Those figures also doesn’t take into account the massive numbers of rapes which go unreported because of women’s fear that they won’t be believed by the police, or that they will be forced to undergo a humiliating court interrogation that ends in their attacker being let off or given a disgustingly short sentence. There are also plenty of discussions of this phenomenon; here‘s one – a report by that well-known feminist pressure group, the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers.

Men also have a nasty tendency to assume that because their buddies are nice, respectable guys around them, they won’t attack women, a fact that John Pilger would do well to remember (along with everyone else surprised to discover that the ‘such a nice man’ from next door or the office beats his wife or harasses his female co-workers).

Much of the commentariat’s frenzy over Wikileaks in recent days and weeks has failed to differentiate the pursuit of Julian Assange by states and corporations from the rape charges. In some ways they are very hard to separate; Assange should face a fair trial on the rape charges in Sweden, but there is no way he’d get one in the USA on espionage claims if the Swedes decided to extradite him. If the charges are false, then they are merely a tool of that pursuit; if they are real, they have been manipulated as part of that pursuit (in the way that violence against women has been manipulated and exploited by men in their conflicts with other men – of other nations, tribes, classes – since time immemorial). If the allegations are real, the women concerned also need to be given the treatment that any victim of a sexual assault should be able to expect.

But, in the eyes of certain men of the Left, who like me have no expertise in the details and reality of the case, this is already a foregone conclusion. Some of the comments I’ve seen in recent days have been stomach-turning in their misogyny and contempt for women.

One of the most revolting examples is an article entitled ‘Julian Assange in the Honey Trap,’ by Antiwar.com editorial director Justin Raimundo. Raimundo goes well beyond any attempt to analyse the situation or to present a civilised argument as to why he thinks that Assange is being set up, and instead descends to a level of woman-hating, tabloidese slander which should make any decent Leftist or anti-war campaigner cringe with embarrassment, feel nauseous at its vitriolic attitude to women, and experience considerable scepticism about the motives of its writer in his willingness to make up his own version of events he has no personal knowledge of. A key paragraph reads:

The “charges” against Assange, made by two women – Anna Ardin, a “feminist” harridan who works as the “gender equity” officer at Uppsala University, and Sophia Wilen, a sometime photographer and former Assange groupie with stalkerish tendencies – are quite murky. Assange had come to Sweden at Ardin’s invitation, or, rather, at the invitation of the ” Brotherhood,” a Christian faction of Sweden’s Social Democratic party for which Ardin is the press secretary. He was staying at her home because she was supposedly going to be gone for a few days with her family, but Ardin returned early, for some reason, and they agreed to cohabit on a temporary basis. Ardin avers that she had agreed to (or perhaps – who knows? – even initiated) consensual sex with Assange, and so, as the Daily Mail reported, “they had sexual relations, but there was a problem with the condom – it had split. She seemed to think that he had done this deliberately but he insisted that it was an accident.” Ardin also claims Assange used the weight of his body to keep her immobilized – being a feminist, she likes to be on top.

That final line exposes an awful lot – none of it very nice – about Raimundo. It’s ironic to see the editor of Antiwar.org writing muck which goes even further than the Daily Mail’s usual inane burblings. And it’s disturbing to see a high-profile figure in the antiwar movement showing such intemperate loathing for and contempt of feminism – itself a movement which has been vital in providing critiques of male militarism. But even more moderate Assangophiles have failed to separate the two issues properly; a useful collection of the various ways in which the allegations have been reported can be found here. As the excellent Australian writer Antony Loewenstein quotes in a comment on the wider repercussions of the debate:

If we moralize about Wikileaks and Julian Assange exclusively, we’re not doing our moral duties as citizens, and as human beings. Our job is to watch people with power and try to ensure that people with power don’t misuse it. Part of that is scrutinizing powerful men who have the opportunity to commit rape and be forgiven for it by people who are in solidarity with their politics.

He blogged that with links to an important and wide-ranging piece here which also tries to assess the significance of the Wikileaks affair while questioning the cult of personality which has sprung up around Julian Assange. Another important perspective to bring to bear on this whole debate is that of how male activists – often charismatic, risk-taking, ‘heroic’ figures – get away with physical and sexual violence within movements because of just the kind of cult of personality that certain segments of the Left love to indulge in. A very important article on that subject is here.

Julian Assange may well be an innocent man being persecuted by governments which want to divert attention away from the importance of the facts of their misdeeds which he has exposed, by using false rape claims made by CIA agents. At the other end of the spectrum, he may well be a bully who has traded on his activist credibility to commit sexual assaults. That should be for the Swedish legal system to sort out, as far as is possible; as Michael Moore puts it in his statement on why he posted bail money for Assange, “regardless of Assange’s guilt or innocence, this man has the right to have bail posted and to defend himself” – and possible rape victims have a right to be heard in court. But which is true should almost be irrelevant. Assange’s personal behaviour has no bearing on the revelations made by Wikileaks of government war crimes, corruption and deception. As ‘Maia’ states, “what is most ridiculous about this spreading of rape myths by left-wing supporters of wikileaks is that these myths are completely unnecessary to stand in solidarity with the wikileaks project.”

So, I’ll be at the next rally in defence of Wikileaks that takes place in Adelaide (if I actually manage to find out about it beforehand). But I hope to be able to keep an open mind on Julian Assange’s individual innocence – or guilt – on the rape charges. And most of all, I hope the Left thinks much more carefully about how it talks about rape, rape myths and rape allegations.

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3 comments on “My tuppence worth on the Wikileaks affair

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention My tuppence worth on the Wikileaks affair /  Sarah Irving -- Topsy.com

  2. Dwight Towers
    December 16, 2010

    Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer is quoted in a bbc article on rape allegations/retractions

    He said: “While we must be robust in prosecuting those who seek to pervert the course of justice, cases where someone has reported a rape but then retracts the allegation must be treated very carefully and we must explore the issues behind the retraction, particularly if the victim is under pressure or frightened.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12002727

    Good blog post, btw.

  3. admin
    December 26, 2010

    Since I wrote this I’ve come across a number of other useful articles on and around this subject, including:
    This from Australian ‘radical literary and cultural magazine’ Overland: http://web.overland.org.au/2010/12/22/supporting-assange-%E2%89%A0-condoning-rape/
    This from Jaclyn Friedman in Prospect magazine (the American one, not the British): http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=what_we_talk_about_when_we_talk_about_rape
    A Boxing Day reaction from the two Swedish women who made the rape allegations: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/assanges-accusers-hit-back-2169470.html
    The fierce and widely-reported debate between Jaclyn Friedman and Naomi Wolf on the allegations and feminist responses them – this link is to a transcript but also has a link to a video of the debate: http://community.livejournal.com/ontd_feminism/474278.html

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