Sunday, 19 December 2010

Julian Assange: a few thoughts

The Guardian - not so much biting the hand that feeds it as serving it up with fava beans and a nice Chianti - has obtained details of the allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In doing so, the paper has fuelled the already raging war between various sections of the Left as to which should have priority - supporting alleged rape victims or defending a key campaigner against government secrecy who has annoyed the big bad US of A. I wouldn't wish to intrude on such private grief (though the spectacle has its funny side) and too much has probably been written about this already. But here are a few thoughts.

1. Where women are concerned, Julian Assange is a bit of an arsehole.

2. Some of Assange's arsehole behaviour may come within the Swedish definitions of rape and sexual assault. It may also come within many feminists' broad interpretation of the term rape. The wish to see him held to account is therefore understandable.

3. In an ideal world, men would not be arseholes. We do not, however, live in an ideal world.

4. If all the arseholes in the world were prosecuted for rape, the jails would be filled to overflowing and criminal justice systems would collapse under the weight. And there would not be enough taxpayers left to support the detention of all the jailed arseholes.

5. In fact it is very rare for men to be prosecuted for behaving as arseholes. It is especially rare in Sweden, which has one of the lowest rape conviction rates of any developed country.

6. If Julian Assange were not famous and controversial, the charges against him would either never have been brought, or would have been dropped at an early stage.

7. If Julian Assange were famous and controversial for some other reason than WikiLeaks - if he were a footballer, for example - it is entirely possible that he would be subject of a similar police investigation. It is therefore unlikely that he is being pursued because the US government wants to punish him for publishing classified material. But it is very likely indeed that he is being pursued because he is in the public eye.

8. There is a perfectly tenable position between on the one hand demanding that Assange "face justice" and on the other downplaying the wrongness of his behaviour or belittling the women involved. It should be possible to denounce him as a probable arsehole while affirming that the criminal law is an inappropriate vehicle for tackling his offensive behaviour. The process is sluggish, demeaning to his accusers and - in this case - has turned Assange into a martyr. Public shame, it seems to me, would have provided a much more effective remedy.

9. Is there a connection between Assange's arsehole behaviour with women and his work for WikiLeaks, between refusing to put on a condom when asked to do so and refusing to abide by traditional rules about the use of classified documents, between an anarchic private life and an anarchistic political stance? It's tempting to think so.