Enough with the Julian Assange hero worship
We are probably risking getting our website sabotaged by saying it, but the unthinking cult of personality that has swelled around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is appalling on several counts. For those who can see past the groupthink glorification, it reveals another example of the dissident space traditionally held by the left being assumed by the populist right—a frightening and growing phenomenon. We will make this case primarily in the words of Assange himself, and his supporters. So, as the ubiquitous catch-phrase in his defense goes, "Don't shoot the messenger"...
Demonizing "revolutionary feminism"
The most blatantly irritating thing is abject demonization of the women who have made the charges of sexual abuse against Assange. In any other context, the summary dismissal of a woman's rape accusations would be seen as utterly politically incorrect. But Assange gets away with anti-feminist rhetoric that would do Rush Limbaugh proud. In an interview now receiving widespread coverage in the British press (e.g. The Telegraph, Dec. 26), Assange says: "Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism... I fell into a hornets' nest of revolutionary feminism." Assange added that one of the women who said she was assaulted took a "trophy photo" of him lying naked in her bed. (TMI, Julian.)
Especially sickening is Naomi Wolf, who sneers in Huffington Post at the international "Dating Police" that have snared Assange. Flaunting her supposed creds as a "longtime feminist activist" in the opening sentence, she writes that "Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke." A Dec. 17 account in The Guardian (based on Swedish police documents that were—ahem—leaked) paints a rather different picture. (E.g.: "She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs.") John Pilger, who presumably wasn't there when the putative leg-pinning took place, nonetheless told ABC Sydney on Dec. 8 the case against Assange is a "political stunt." Wolf's glib dismissal of the allegations is especially ironic in light of her own sexual harassment claims against Harold Bloom, which many had similarly dismissed as spurious (e.g. Meghan O'Rourke in Slate, Feb. 25, 2004).
The Cuban connection —or not?
The apparent ties of one Assange accuser to Cuban dissident organizations is being used as evidence that she was part of a "honey-trap" arranged by US intelligence agents. The Miami Herald informed us Dec. 8: "She visited Cuba about four times between 2002 and 2006 as a representative of Swedish social democrats, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, head of Cuba's Arco Progresista, a social-democratic dissident group." But Arco Progresista—like most of the groups highlighted in the accuser's Uppsala University thesis on Cuban democratic opposition—is a left dissident group, not linked to the right-wing "gusano" establishment in Miami (or, presumably, to the CIA). If anyone has really got dirt on Arco Progresista, we'd like to hear it.
Whither Israel Shamir?
A refreshing voice of dissent from the kneejerk vilification of Assange's accusers is Katha Pollitt in the current edition of The Nation, who despairs that "when it comes to rape, the left still doesn't get it." She also finds that a key source of the "honeytrap" theory is the bizarre Israel Shamir (who we are informed by the British anti-fascist watchdog Searchlight has an alter ego as Swedish anti-Semitic writer "Jöran Jermas"). Follow this carefully...
Pollitt notes claims by blogger Mark Crespin Miller that "Assange accuser 'Miss A' had 'interacted' in Cuba with an anti-Castro women's group supported by terrorist and former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles." (Posada Carriles is indeed utterly sinister, but what does "interacted" mean, Miller?) Pollitt comments:
You would think the left would be more sensitive to charges of guilt by association—since when did marching in a demonstration mean you sign on to everything its supporters support? By those lights, everyone who went to an ANSWER-sponsored march against the Iraq War thinks North Korea is a Marxist paradise.
And everyone who believes and promotes the "information" that "Miss A" is a CIA "honeytrap" is an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier. Because the original source for that story is one Israel Shamir, writing in Counterpunch and vigorously defended by Counterpunch editor and Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn, who also belittles the accusations as "unsafe sex and failure to phone his date the following day." I spent a few hours on www.israelshamir.net and learned that: "the Jews" foisted capitalism, advertising and consumerism on harmonious and modest Christian Europe; were behind Stalin's famine in Ukraine; control the banks, the media and many governments; and that "Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews; the world is." There are numerous guest articles by Holocaust deniers, aka "historical revisionists." We have now produced on the left an echo chamber like that on the far right, where the scurrilous charges of marginal fanatics are disseminated through electronic media and end up, cleansed of their original associations, as respectable opinion.
The predictably vile Counterpunch has of course wasted no time in providing a forum for the ultra-vile Shamir's conspiracy theories in the Assange case. New York magazine meanwhile touts claims (admittedly from right-wing sources) that Shamir may actually work for WikiLeaks. (More about this below...)
Assange the Teabagger?
Equally disconcerting are Assange's recent comments to Time magazine expounding his political philosophy—which turns out to be fashionably muddle-headed and reactionary. This is winning Assange some friends among our (supposed) enemies. In a post entitled "Julian Assange: Villain or Victim?," the Virginia-based Teabagger blog Capitol Rush approvingly quotes from the Time interview (emphasis added):
"[The US] Constitution comes out of a revolutionary movement and has a Bill of Rights appraised by James Madison and others that includes a nuanced understanding for the balancing of power of [the] states in relation to the government" He continues, "The United States has some immutable traditions, which, to be fair, are based on the French Revolution and the European Enlightenment. The United States' Founding Fathers took those further and the federalism of the United States also, of relatively powerful states trying to constrain federal government from becoming too centralized. [They] also added some important democratic controls and understandings. So there is a lot of good that has historically come from the United States."
Assange continues by saying, "But after World War II, the federal government of the United States started sucking the resources to the center, and the power of states started to diminish. Interestingly, the First Amendment started overriding states' laws around that time, which I see as a function of increasing central power in the United States. The US saw the French Revolution and it also saw the behavior of the UK and the other kings and dictatorships, so it intentionally produced a very weak President. The President was, however, given a lot of power for external relations, so as time has gone by the presidency has managed to exercise its power through its foreign affairs function."
Woah, Nelly! Does Assange really think it is a bad thing that "the First Amendment started overriding states' laws"? The only thing he can possibly mean by this is that states cannot make laws abridging free speech—which has been the case not since "after World War II," but since the post-Civil War 14th Amendment, extending Bill of Rights restrictions to the state governments: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
All the gains of the civil rights movement are predicated on this fundamental principle, which is why Jim Crow defenders put forth the bogus doctrine of "state sovereignty"—now being revived by the most noxious elements of the anti-Obama backlash. How strange for a supposed First Amendment advocate like Assange to be echoing this poisonous rhetoric. Julian, if you are reading this—can you please explain what the hell you mean?
Dissidents hung out to dry?
The voluminous diplomatic communications seemingly dumped on the Web more or less indiscriminately by WikiLeaks of course contain much incriminating dirt on authoritarian regimes around the world—and connivance with them by Western powers. Among the many revelations is British training of a Bangladeshi paramilitary force that rights groups call a "death squad" and that even the US State Department derided (in private) as culpable of gross violations. (The Guardian, Dec. 21)
But those responsible for passing on incriminating information to diplomats may face repercussions on the ground. Reuters reports Dec. 25:
Zimbabwe's attorney general plans to set up a commission to investigate possible treason charges against locals over briefings with US diplomats reported in confidential State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.
The move appears to be targeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, following state media reports that hawks in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party wanted an official probe into Tsvangirai's briefings with the US ambassador in Harare.
In comments cited in one US State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks, Tsvangirai appeared to suggest that his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was not genuine in calling for the lifting of Western sanctions against ZANU-PF.
There is admittedly a certain irony in the fact that Robert Mugabe's regime may prosecute dissidents for talking to the US while the White House may prosecute Assange for revealing those conversations. But are Assange and his supporters going to loan any solidarity to the dissidents if they do face prosecution? Or they are all dupes of US imperialism, and we don't care about their rights?
In Belarus, WikiLeaks and Israel Shamir have been directly implicated in repression—reportedly passing on to the regime leaked evidence that opposition figures were in communication with Western governments. From The Guardian Dec. 23:
Assange defended one of WikiLeaks' collaborators, Israel Shamir, following claims Shamir passed sensitive cables to Belarus's dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko has arrested 600 opposition supporters and journalists since Sunday's presidential election. The whereabouts and fate of several of the president's high-profile opponents are unknown.
Of Shamir, Assange said: "WikiLeaks works with hundreds of journalists from different regions of the world. All are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and are generally only given limited review access to material relating to their region. We have no reason to believe these rumours in relation to Belarus are true."
Neocons love Assange
The crowning irony of the Assange affair may be that much of the leaked diplomatic material actually vindicates the very hardline interventionists that the WikiLeaks cult hopes to undermine. Gloats the neocon Jewish Policy Center:
The WikiLeaks documents demonstrate that the White House's Middle East policy is based on a cloud of mythologies wholly rejected and contradicted by the analysis of American diplomats and allies in the region... Arab states throughout the Middle East have called upon the United States to stop Iran's nuclear program by any means (and without preconditions). Saudi Arabia King Abdullah calls Iran "evil" and urges the US to "cut the head off the snake," while the Saudi ambassador to Washington recalls the king's "frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran." The king of Bahrain says Iran's nuclear program "must be stopped," and according to another cable, "the danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it." The Emariti Crown Prince Bin Zayed explains the danger of appeasing Iran: "Ahmadinejad is Hitler."
WikiLeaks' uncovering of US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan is morally unassailable, and we owe every support to Bradley Manning, the courageous military whistle-blower who now faces charges for his leak. Nothing we say here changes that. But a bandwagon is still subject to the pathologies of mass psychology—even if it is a left-wing bandwagon. And if you look at the actual politics, the Julian Assange bandwagon isn't even all that left-wing.
See our last post on the WikiLeaks controversies.