Monday 20 August 2012

Fight! Fight!

Y’see, this is how it happens. You read a blog post the first time and make a good humoured and mildly sarcastic comment. Then you check back a little while later and read a couple of other comments. But, crucially, you than get called away to change a nappy or give the kid a bath or something. And because these aren’t the most intellectually stimulating activities, your mind rehashes and dwells upon whatever it was you were thinking about last.

When your parental duties have been discharged, you return to the post and start to write a reply containing everything you’ve been kicking around for the last half-hour or so. A reply so witty, erudite, and compelling that only the most entrenched ideologue would fail to be convinced by its brilliance. And then you realize that, for all its brilliance, it’s probably going to be close to a thousand words long. There’s a word for people who leave thousand word comments on other people’s blogs. Several words, in fact, none of them good. So then you hit delete.

But, fortunately, you have your own blog as well. 1000 words isn’t crazy on your own blog, it’s just ‘joining the debate’. So with apologies to Ant of the unpronounceable Greek squiggles, because frankly he deserves more than well-meant but slightly condescending sarcasm, I present some thoughts on this post and subsequent comments. It’s about Julian Assange and the current fun and games in Knightsbridge, but it’ll make much more sense if you head over and read the build up in situ. Please try to avoid noticing the fact that the original post and comments combined are shorter than what I’ve written here. ‘Joining the debate,’ remember.

Also, as you read this please also bear in mind that most of it was composed whilst wiping up human shit.

It took a while, all right?

"- presume, against evidence, that Sweden pursues all accused 'date-rapers' so vigorously"

This is not the entirety of anyone's argument, it must be stressed. But this specifically is a line of thought with dangerous implications. If you want to invoke Occam's Razor, then the simplest explanation is surely that the women believe they were raped and the authorities are pursuing it to the extent that they are because, what with the global media and political attention, they can't afford to be seen not to.

It's commonly agreed that rape is massively under-reported, and part of that is because police forces the world over fail to take accusations as seriously as they deserve to be. In this case they're undoubtedly pursuing it to the extent that they are due to other factors, but that's exactly what they should be doing all the time. If anything it's setting the bar for rape investigations at the level it should be at anyway. I would argue that that’s a good and desirable thing.

As excuses for scepticism go, 'it's a global political and media conspiracy,' is certainly a step up from, 'she was asking for it 'cos she was wearing a short skirt.' But I would be very, very careful about dismissing rape allegations with such a necessarily partial understanding of the situation as we all have. Assange is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. But equally those women deserve a chance to test that innocence or guilt.

Britain’s veiled threat to ‘invade’ the embassy was a worryingly clumsy misstep. My own view is that it was no more than bluster, but it has left many people quite rightly appalled at the potential unilateral skirting of diplomatic legalities by a sovereign nation. But Assange also unilaterally rode roughshod over diplomatic niceties when he chose to publish the embassy cables, and has twice sought to evade the due process of law, in two separate countries.

Actually, make that three, because remember that he’s technically seeking asylum from Australia. The man gives every impression of trying to have his cake and eat it. If this is about freedom of expression, he perhaps wants to think about exactly where he's running from and where he's running to. The three (four? Should we include the US yet?) countries he's avoiding clearly all have serious issues with press and information freedom, but everywhere does, and these ones are all significantly more free than Ecuador.

Maybe it's like when David Beckham went to play in Los Angeles. It wasn't due to purely selfish reasons, no, he was motivated by the prospect of improving the standard of the domestic league. Maybe that's it? Assange want to help the plucky little South Americans raise their game, and thinks he's just the man to do it?

I wouldn't be surprised, frankly. Every time I've seen him speak, he's come across as a self-aggrandizing prick. Again, this proves nothing either way, and those images I’ve seen are mediated by other people with their own agendas and biases. But this affair long ago stopped being primarily about freedom of speech and information and became primarily about Julian Assange. And I get the distinct impression Julian Assange is just fine with that.

A mediated image

He's not a hero. He's been party to some heroic acts (the blackhawk video for one), but my own feeling is that his own hands are very far from clean and he has consistently shown only a minimal regard for the consequences of his actions for anyone but himself. 

It’s all very well sticking it to The Man (no really, it is and that deserves recognition), but eventually The Man’s going to stick it back and Assange seems wholly unconcerned who gets it in the neck, as long as it’s not him. As long as he can find another Man to wield a stick on his behalf, no matter how unpleasant the new Man's stick might be. I think that's my biggest issue. The sticks. Sorry, the inescapable air of self-obsessed hypocrisy. I may well be falling for the old trick of believing the ‘narrative’ instead of focusing on the facts, but the man himself is just so hugely unsympathetic.

While I don't agree with those who assert that he should just stand up and face the consequences of his actions (regarding Wikileaks) when those consequences threaten to be so massively disproportionate, I also have a good deal of sympathy with the claim that he's been quite happy to piss on everyone's chips and let others take the fall while he hogs the limelight. Not least because the other actions he’s failing to stand up and face are alleged to involve rape.

If the US tries to extradite him after any Swedish trial I'll be the first on the (metaphorical) barricades. But for the time being every action he takes to avoid the process of law in Sweden is a small but real blow to the agonizingly slow progress being made towards treating rape allegations with the seriousness they deserve.

I'm sure you'll let me know if you disagree.


  1. Thank you. As I said to 'hardkoretom', "I will respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with you". My greatest contention with what you have written is how you address what judiciaries should do about rape accusations (NB: accusations). As all of the parties live in 'the real world', not 'Fantasy Land', even if the pursuit of him is appropriate, it is unique. That smell again... It smells to members of the Swedish judiciary too.

    As for referring to 'Occam's Razor', I'll grant that what people find the most economical explanation of events will differ, depending on how they view Assange, agencies of Sweden, the UK and the US, and authority in general. My views on each but Assange are clear.

    Assange? He's a right cock. Not who I'd choose for my cult of personality (not as heroic looking as Che - that is a joke). Yet, I am ever on the side of 'the egg' (see comments to my post). Give me an 'egg' and a 'wall' of equal venality and the 'wall' is going to cause far more human suffering, and even though the 'wall' can achieve more good in the aggregate - should it choose - it always fails in cost/benefit. My heuristic: venality is universal; virtue is individual.

    The theatre is absurd on all sides, thank modern media. Again, I'll take Assange's 'Evita' over police 'jackboots' running up the fire escapes. Each in their way is an attempt to intimidate, but which is intended to intimidate the 1% ('the wall' - all the power) and which the 99% ('the egg' - disempowered us)?

    A final comment. 1%ers have been jailed/killed who have harmed other 1%ers: Madoff, Gadhaffi... How many 1%ers have been jailed for harming any number of 99%ers? No, attacking dictators has never been about all of us they harmed, but about oil/war/etc. profits.

    1. A fine opportunity to quote Auden:

      "Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
      And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
      He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
      And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
      When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
      And when he cried the little children died in the streets."

      I do love that Auden chose "and" over "but" in the last line: there is a causal relationship in these things.

  2. "The theatre is absurd on all sides,"

    I think that's something we can definitely agree on. Not so much Evita as Humpty Dumpty, eh?

    You only touched on the rape accusations in passing, and I'm shamelessly using your post as an excuse to address wider arguments I've seen. Apologies. I've tried to avoid putting words in your mouth or misrepresenting your views, but I’m jumping off you because I know you're one of precious few people on the internet capable of discussing stuff without it descending to a dick-waving comparison of spurious 'facts'.

    Your 'accusations' parenthesis is indeed well noted; I tried to go out of my way to stress the unproven nature of the charges against Assange. Because the simple truth is that no-one really knows the full story to this, and any ‘facts’ people claim to produce are tangential at best. The rest of us are working through supposition and guesswork, so it becomes about how best you ascribe the benefit of the doubt.

    That’s my big concern. Throughout all of this, I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the way many people have been denying that benefit to the original rape allegations. People who in other, more typical (dare I say ‘legitimate’), circumstances I suspect would be appalled if others did the same.

    That being the case, and if we're divvying the world up into 'eggs' and 'walls,' then I can't but conclude that the most fragile eggs here are the women in Sweden. The charges against them of being US stooges are equally unproven. How is it Assange gets the benefit of the doubt regarding his intentions when they don't?

    It also bears pointing out that Assange has now chosen to stand behind a fairly substantial wall himself, one spattered with its own fair share of yolk and albumen.

    You’re right, everything about this stinks, and that includes Assange. I also doubt students will be sticking up monochrome posters of his face on their walls in 20 years time ;)

    1. Sorry this is long... again.

      I am curious on how stuck you are on the rape accusations, but would not psychoanalyze you even if I knew you, or believed in that snake-oil. Do not misunderstand. Rape is not taken seriously enough: it is a form of torture, which is why the US uses it at Abu Ghraib, and on soldiers 'in rendition'. Where an accusation of a form of date-rape falls on a continuum, I do not know, as I am neither a sexual assault victim, nor crown attorney or criminal defence lawyer (Antisthenes tries to use Canadian terms).

      I won't minimize what trauma the two women may have suffered, only for the sake of women who have surely suffered, but I will be honest that I cannot believe them:
      - timing is far too convenient for the US (que bono?)
      - two claimants at once, is too convenient
      - sexual relations are not claimed to be strictly non-consensual, though there are claims of non-consensual elements within the relations, which I can buy; however, there are stories the women boasted of their conquest (possibly lies, possibly not)
      - Sweden downgraded the accusations, and suddenly took them more seriously...
      - Neither Sweden, nor the UK, will agree to no extradition to the US, even though as a foreign citizen to the US, and since he was not under any of their security-grades, he was not subject to any law against releasing the cables (I would defend Manning differently)
      - pursuing the previous point, Sweden has accepted such terms as Assange's team offered in other cases, to facilitate questioning in the UK, yet they seem uniquely eager to get him on a plane

      If the claims are true, I hope the women get justice, in SWEDEN. If the women are parties to a witch-hunt, since I do not believe in hell, I hope they are found out and their lives are ruined. Not so much for Assange's sake, or 'Freedom's' sake, but for the billions of women in history who have been raped. To disrespect them, the words don't exist.

      'kamo', I have read your blog since it began. You are too smart not to see that you should not confuse two issues: the issue of the accusations of non-consensual sex, and the hyperbolic reaction of the four states involved (US, UK, Sweden and Oz). I doubt you have the same anti-authoritarian make-up as I have, but the message from the 'Western' state and the corporations who own the demagogues is clear, from 'kettling' protesters, to torture of 'terrorists', to 'security theatre', to ridicule in the tame media, to hounding of whistle-blowers: you cannot win!

      "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
      - Benito Mussolini

  3. Thanks for the kind words on the blog, and right back atcha. Long is fine, as we shall see…

    I fully concur about the bullying tactics employed by the various states involved. Geography aside, I totally agreed with your original post about this. It’s only the later comments that caused me to raise an eyebrow.

    “I will be honest that I cannot believe them”

    That line right there is my problem, not just from you, but from so many others I consider to be smart, liberal people. Suddenly everyone’s fine with believing the women here were asking for it, or are making it up, and that horrifies me slightly.

    You’re right in not conflating the two issues, and I probably let my personal dislike of the man cloud stuff a bit in my post so that’s a fair call. I’m not so naïve as to think the US aren’t applying pressure, and I actually think Assange’s fears of US persecution are well founded. As I said, first on the barricades if the US do actually try anything. But as of yet they haven’t, and I don’t think those fears mean he gets to bail out on criminal investigations.

    The reductio ad absurdum of that line of thought is that for the last couple of years he’s basically had free rein to commit whatever crime he likes in any country which might extradite him to the US, as long as he muddied the water enough to require investigation. Because then he could skip out and claim asylum regardless of what he’d (been alleged to have) done. What level of proof would be enough to convince he has a case to answer? And how should that proof be collected, if not in accordance with the laws of the country in question?

    So yeah, keep them separate, but to my mind the rape allegations have primacy. As I say, the women are the most vulnerable actors here. I’ve been trying to come up with a witty way of comparing ‘The Man’ and ‘Men’, but will have to settle for saying that sexism is just as much a tool of oppression as kettling or anything else you care to mention, and the easy dismissal of these women’s claims plays straight into that. If I’m ‘stuck’ on this it’s because I’d thought these arguments had finally been won in large sections of society; to see these same sections discard those victories so easily is very disconcerting.

    “If the claims are true… the words don’t exist.” I agree with every word of this paragraph (though I would point out that the nature of Assange’s less scrupulous support means that their lives are probably less then peachy right now anyway. Eggs, remember?). So let’s say you’re the poor Scandinavian bastard in charge of getting that to happen. Let’s pretend you’re acting in good faith and have a new found love of pickled herring. What do you do now to achieve this in SWEDEN? He’s already skipped bail once, costing his supporters tens of thousands of pounds; he does it again on your watch and your career’s over. His previous actions somewhat contradict the hypothetical assurances from his team (NB, he has a ‘team’).

    Assange has been part of great things and deserves protection from any consequences attached to those. That doesn’t give him a pass on the less great stuff, as many people seem to be trying to give him.

    I’m bouncing off you as much to test my own ideas as anything; it’s helping me work a lot through in my own head and I genuinely appreciate it. Thanks for keeping this going in such a considered manner (though I expected nothing less).

    1. If he is guilty of sexual assault I want him to pay the same price that any native or visitor to Sweden would pay, which would be in Sweden. Yes, this does dirty/muddy his running after asylum. It's almost like American agencies would choose the one crime many of his PC supporters couldn't abide...

      No, I haven't proven he's innocent, and I haven't proven the women are liars and this is a 'honey pot', but shit it all looks dubious and suits the US too well, too well timed. Hell, the allegations may even be true, but nobody pursued them until a US agency heard of them. I am arguing from 'the Duck Test'.

      If you have much more time on your hands, read about American activities around the world in the following book. All matters of public record, by the way.

  4. You guys know that the definition of "rape" in Sweden is so diluted these days that giving a leery look to a girl can now constitute a legal rape? Ok, not really, but it's not that far off

    1. And your reasons for coming to Japan suddenly become much clearer ;)

      Fair play to you if you've waded through all that. Even I'm finding it tough going at this point...

      Rape hinges on consent, and that can often be difficult to prove one way or another. I really know bugger all about the Swedish legal system, but am just troubled by the way so many people are happy to dismiss those allegations out of hand without even that kind of rudimentary understanding.

      For what it's worth, I understand one of the women was asleep, which raises its own issues.

    2. Watch your wording: "I understand [it is alleged] one of the women was asleep."

      I read a good point somewhere else on this that as he is an alleged rapist, he has been proven to be as guilty of rape as you, me and Mr. Salaryman: not found guilty in a reputable court of law. In fact, he has not been charged. The brouhaha is to get him to Sweden for questioning by US interrogators... Freudian slip.

      Sweden has the presumption of innocence, right? And so does the UK and the US?

      My last word here. I promise.

    3. I lied: a point I missed.

      "troubled by the way so many people are happy to dismiss those allegations out of hand"

      I didn't, and still don't, dismiss them out of hand. I think he should be questioned by Swedes, and I think he should go to a Swedish jail if found guilty by an impartial jury, or whatever Sweden uses that is similar. I also think it eminently reasonable after other activities of US agencies, including the ongoing torture of Bradley Manning (same cables, same issue to the US) that he gets guarantees of this, even if it is unusual to do this. Assange would have to be insane and no student of history not to be deeply worried about the US and its bitches.

  5. Yep, probably better to draw this to a close, for the sake of all our sanity. Thanks again for being such a rigorous sounding board, I’ve appreciated all of your comments.

    Well, all except this one –

    “Watch your wording… Freudian slip.”

    No. This is a wee bit cheeky and you know full well why. You’re right to insist upon accuracy, but through a few thousand words of dialogue I’ve consistently stressed that he’s innocent until proven guilty. Against that you want to take a single error from a sentence written in haste and extrapolate some spurious insinuation about my motivations? You know that’s a cheap shot.

    It’s particularly ballsy given how this exchange kicked off. Just about the only indisputable thing in this that all sides can agree on is that the country Assange is seeking asylum in is Ecuador. What does the fact that you couldn’t even get that right before voicing your opinions say about your motivations and your ability to accurately assess the situation?

    My own view is that it actually says very little. These throwaway mistakes happen and the views we’ve exchanged over the past few months make me think that you’ve got enough insight to offer to forgive a couple of innocent typing errors. I had rather hoped the feeling was mutual.

    And apart from that single comment I’ve gained a lot from this, so thanks again for (almost) all your comments and I’ll finish here before we both lose the run of ourselves.

    1. Sorry you misinterpreted those. "Watch your wording" only meant that I thought you should use the word 'alleged' in the sentence: "I understand [it is alleged] one of the women was asleep." I did not meant to accuse you of doing it consciously, subconsciously or maliciously. I merely meant that we both know that at present they are allegations.

      And I meant the 'Freudian slip' to be mine: that I am saying the pursuit of Assange is for the purpose of "questioning by US interrogators".

      I may have written poorly, or you may have read in a hurry. I hope you accept this clarification.

      PS: Mentioning the Peru error the first time was funny. Mentioning it again is descending the the level you misinterpreted me to have sunk to.

    2. Exactly. That was kind of the point, to show up how low that (perceived) level was.

      Clarification fully accepted (and with not a little relief). As I said, it seemed out of place in what has otherwise been a greatly appreciated discussion. Thanks again.