I’ve written before in this blog about my mixed feelings about Julian Assange.
On the one hand, I think the work he did with WikiLeaks was totally awesome and incredibly important, yet as I’ve explained before I have many reservations towards Assange the person – or rather the persona he projects to the world.
Possibly this is because I was slightly underwhelmed when I saw him speak at a curious debate on whistle blowers organized by the New Statesman in Kensington Town Hall back in April 2011. And then there was his performance on the steps of St Paul’s last October – a messiah for the media age. As readers of reesesrants will also know, I’m mildly – OK totally fascinated – with the phenomenon that is celebrity culture and I see Assange as very much a product of our celebrity obsessed age.
If I was being mean I would also point out that Assange bares an uncanny resemblance to Mr Humphries from the sitcom Are You Being Served.
Obviously I am intrigued to know how long Assange will stay holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge. Frankly it seems an unsustainable situation, but while he has the support of President Correa (I want to write El Presidente but that seems a little unfair), there is no reason why he should be handed over to the authorities.
The case for Assange as champion of free speech is expressed far better than I could hope to do by those leviathans of Liberalism, film makers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone in this worthy article in the New York Times:
While the view of those who feel he should be handed over to the authorities asap is encapsulated in this recent statement by Foreign Secretary, William Hague’:
Although suggestions have been quashed that Hague will order the storming of the Ecuadorian Embassy and send in the SAS to grab Assange by the collar, it doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to speculate on how much the Government would enjoy doing this. Seizing Assange in a dramatic raid would make a desperate and directionless coalition look masterful and exciting; back in 1980, the hugely unpopular Thatcher Government got a boost when it sent in the SAS to remove some gunmen who had taken staff hostage in the Iranian Embassy in South Kensington.
Why is it that you never get an embassy in Neasden
or South Norwood?
I digress. The storming of the Iranian Embassy seemed incredibly dramatic – more like a movie than TV news – to my nine year old eyes:
Obviously it was all about oil – most things to do with the Middle East usually are – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Embassy_siege
– but as usual TV removed any complexity from the story and presented it as a kind of James Bond style narrative. Look! The SAS have saved the day and removed the evil foreigners from the embassy.
Fast forward to 2012 and the narrative surrounding Assange has been transformed into a simple battle of Assange versus the authorities – America, Britain, Sweden etc – rather than a narrative that looks at the actual work of WikiLeaks – exposing secrecy and anti democratic behaviour by Governments. Only this month, WikiLeaks revealed shocking information about the US Government’s use of facial recognition software – TrapWire.
This stuff is disturbing, but how many column inches have been written about it? Not as many as have reported on the ins and outs of The Julian Assange Show’, a reality TV smash that has more drama than an episode of say, The Only Way is Essex or Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
I guess this is my main issue with Assange. I totally understand why he is afraid that if he goes to Sweden to face trial over allegations of sexual misconduct (more of this in a minute) that he will be extradited to the U.S, where like fellow whistleblower Bradley Manning, he will be held without trial, sent to Guantanamo Bay or worse. I understand why he is hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy, just as I understand why Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is using him as a way of sticking two fingers up to Uncle Sam.
I understand it all but I still find the messiah persona – typified by the balcony speech – just a little bit grating.
And then there is the issue of Assange’s sexual behaviour. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not a prude – quite the opposite – but the fact is that Assange has been charged with two separate sexual offences and I can’t quite buy into the narrative that’s all made up. Largely because that in turn buys into the narrative that women are liars and cry RAPE if a man is nasty and doesn’t call the next day.
That’s just not true – only a fraction of sexual offences are ever reported as many women are embarrassed to talk to the police or even admit to themselves that something wrong has happened.
My feelings towards Assange are summed up perfectly by this excellent piece by Laurie Penny in The Independent:
I loved this piece because it managed to support Assange but not turn him into a superhero. Which is basically what I would like to do. I have no idea whether or not he is guilty of the offences he is accused of but it is only correct that he should be tried for them. He cannot hide in the Ecuadorian embassy for ever. Can he?