Monday, August 20, 2012

We Are Not All Julian, and Julian is Not Pussy Riot

Like most libertarians, I was vaguely impressed with WikiLeaks and its figurehead Julian Assange when they first entered my consciousness. As time has gone by, however, I find Assange more and more distasteful, with his megalomania, his promotion of a (para)politics of paranoia, and of course his disgraceful response to the credible allegations against him of sexual assault.

The miasma of misogyny that floats around him and his supporters is one thing that puts me off him even more. Today, unbelievably, George Galloway claimed that "even if the allegations made by these two women were 100 per cent true. . . they don't constitute rape." A bit like the "not rape-rape" claims by Polanski's supporters. It follows Terry Jones on Twitter claiming that “Not wearing a condom is not a crime in this country”,. As Naomi McAuliffe writes, "If you find yourself needing to do intellectual somersaults to justify a rape or semantic back-flips to refine rape, then you might want to consider whether all your principles are so flexible."

But Assange himself and his supporters regularly come out with this sexism, that if it came from conservatives would have liberals denouncing them soundly. His associate Israel Shamir: "It is no coincidence that the enemies of Empire are all masculine males, be they Gaddafi, Castro, Chávez, Lukashenko, Putin – or Julian Assange. It appears the men have been targeted for elimination; the working ants need no sex." Assange himself:    "Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane." And: "The reporters on the Guardian disappointed me. They failed my masculinity test." Loads more examples here. Mind-boggling.

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And Assange's speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy yesterday put him one notch down in my estimation.

It was good that he drew attention to one of the world's less well known acts of repression of free expression, near the end of his speech, when he said "On Thursday, my friend, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced to three years for a tweet." Rajab was found guilty by a court in Bahrain of instigating and participating in several illegal gatherings and sentenced to three years in jail. Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, is already serving a three-month sentence for posting anti-government comments on Twitter. Rajab is a real hero, and it is good that in an uncharacteristic act of sharing the limelight, Assange has put some of the public's attention on him.

Or is it rather that Assange suspects that sympathy for him is flagging outside of his zombie cult, and seeks to bolster his glamour by association with genuine heroes of free expression?

After mentioning Rajab, he continued: "On Friday, a Russian band was sentenced to two years in jail for a political performance. There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response." The band in question, which he was oddly too prim to name, was of course Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot's "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin earned them  two years in a prison colony for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred". Again, they are genuine heroes of free expression, imprisoned for purely political reasons by an authoritarian regime.

But why should there be "absolute unity" between their cause and that of Assange. Assange's personal cause, when it comes down to it, is not about WikiLeaks but about whether or not he should answer serious sexual assault charges. By comparing himself to Pussy Riot, he demeans their cause.

And by offering solidarity to them, he is guilty of gross hypocrisy. As the Guardian reportedEvgeny Morozov, the author of the Net Delusion, tweeted: "Great that Assange supports Pussy Riot. Perhaps, he can have them on his TV show. Oh wait...."  Morozov later tweeted: "Another idea for a great Assange show on RT: interview the Belarusian whistleblower Alexander Barankov about to be extradited from Ecuador."

Assange's TV show was on Russia Today, the state-funded media outlet that is the main global mouthpiece of the Putin regime which locked up Pussy Riot. Russia Today (or RT) has been described by the Columbia Journalism Review as a "soft-power tool to improve Russia’s image abroad, to counter the anti-Russian bias the Kremlin saw in the Western media. Since its founding in 2005, however, the broadcast outlet has become better known as an extension of former President Vladimir Putin’s confrontational foreign policy." During Russia's Ossetian war in 2008, "Reporters who tried to broadcast anything outside the boundaries that Moscow had carefully delineated were punished." Shaun Walker, Independent’s Moscow correspondent, claims that.
“It is untrue that the channel’s journalists are able to report on what they want to without editorial influence; while as time has gone on there have been more features on “negative” aspects of Russia, there is still a total absence of any voices criticising Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev,” he says. “The channel’s coverage of Russia’s war with Georgia was particularly obscene. With Western TV networks hooked on a “New Cold War” headline and often not too well versed in the nuances of the region, there was a gap in the market for a balanced view of the conflict that explained Russia’s position. Instead, RT blasted “GENOCIDE” across its screens for most of the war’s duration, produced a number of extraordinarily biased packages, and instructed reporters not to report from Georgian villages within South Ossetia that had been ethnically cleansed.”
Another criticism often levelled at RT is that
  in striving to bring the West an alternate point of view, it is forced to talk to marginal, offensive, and often irrelevant figures who can take positions bordering on the absurd. In March, for instance, RT dedicated a twelve-minute interview to Hank Albarelli, a self-described American “historian” who claims that the CIA is testing dangerous drugs on unwitting civilians. After an earthquake ravaged Haiti earlier this year, RT turned for commentary to Carl Dix, a representative of the American Revolutionary Communist Party, who appeared on air wearing a Mao cap. On a recent episode of Peter Lavelle’s CrossTalk, the guests themselves berated Lavelle for saying that the 9/11 terrorists were not fundamentalists.
They also promote rapid 9/11 truth culter Alex Jones and "reported with boosterish zeal on conspiracy theories popular in the resurgent "Patriot" movement."

Meanwhile, despite tough talk to Ecuador, how have Cameroon and Hague stood up to Putin? As Denis MacShane notes, this week, in the wake of the Pussy Riot verdict, "British Conservatives will be at the Russian Embassy in London to launch a “Conservative Friends of Russia” group and William Hague has made clear that under his foreign policy trade trumps human rights."

And who is Alexander Barankov? Another genuine hero, whose fate contrasts sharply with Assange's. He got asylum in Ecuador three years ago, after whistle-blowing against corruption in the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. However, responding to pressure from Lukashenko during a trade visit to Quito last month, Barankov has been detained and looks likely to be deported to Belarus, to face trumped up treason charges.

The WikiLeaks outfit, while claiming to speak truth to power, is oddly economical with the truth when it comes to Lukashenko's power in Belarus. Belarus has one of the worst records for press freedom in the world, is widely regarded as "Europe's last dictatorship". Yet WikiLeaks have co-operated closely with its regime.

WikiLeaks links with Belarus are mainly through their associate and apparently “accredited” journalist Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier, inveterate self-reinventor and antisemite. It was Shamir, in the odious CounterPunch, who publicised the identities of Assange's alleged rape victims, in deeply misogynistic articles making ridiculous claims that they were CIA operatives. Shamir has also published pro-Lukashenko propoganda in CounterPunch, claiming "the people were happy, fully employed, and satisfied with their government".

In early 2011, it was reported that Shamir met with Uladzimri Makei, the Head of the Presidential administration in Belarus. Subsequently, it was reported in the Belarus Telegraf that a state newspaper would be publishing documents about the Belarusian opposition. What has Assange's response been to allegations about Shamir? In  Kapil Komoreddi's words:
he upbraided Ian Hislop for publishing an article in the Private Eye that exposed Shamir as a Holocaust denier and white supremacist. There was, he claimed, a "conspiracy" against him by "Jewish" journalists at the Guardian. Addicted to obedience from others and submerged in a swamp of conspiracy theories, Assange's reflexive reaction to the first hint of disagreement by his erstwhile friends was to hold malign Jews responsible.
(Read more from WW4Report on that story.)

So, all in all, I concur with Jim's assessment of Assange: bleating fantasist, groveller, hypocrite and charlatan.

*** 

In The Commentator, a mildly amusing spoof Assange embassy diary. It turns on a lame and tedious gag idea about Ecaudorians eating guinea pig. Ha ha. I spent a month in Ecaudor a while back. Guinea pig is sercved, but mainly only in the mountains and not exactly ubiquitous even there. I don't recall seeing it much in Quito or in Ecuador's real metropolis, the wonderful coastal Guayacil. I refrained from eating it, but in general I can report that Ecuadorian cuisine is excellent. Lots of coriander. Lovely fresh fruit juices. Fanesca and other great soups. For the carnivores, tasty chorizos and roast pig. Loads of seafood on the coast, most notably great ceviche.

There's also the predictable panpipe gag, which will bring a smile to those of the Fast Show generation. But actually Ecuadorian music, especially out of the mountains, is pretty good. On the coast most people listen to salsa. Their national music is the pasillo not the panpipes, and I've embedded a good example below.



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All the links you need and more from The Soupy One.

12 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...

According to Prof. AbuKhalil, now professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley:

"Do you have doubts that the campaigns against Assange is wholly orchestrated by the US? The notion that the US government is so keen on prosecuting someone for sexual crimes (assuming he is guilty) is what exposes the lies and deception of the US government. When the US government becomes keen on prosecuting sexual crimes--especially by the rich and powerful--we then can believe its motives. The British government merely follows order of its US master on such foreign policy matters--on all foreign policy matters."


As proof for the extraordinary accusation that Britain is a lackey of the US, he provides the following exhibit:

"Review the youtube clip of Tony Blair asking George W. Bush whether he liked the sweater that he had sent him."

__________

Assange, Galloway, Shamir, and now this provider of "News" - such a gang of bleedinghearts and humanitarians, a "wretched hive of scum and villainy."

Uberschmukitude galore.

bob said...

Extra link- http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/19/nick-cohen-pussy-riot-putin Nick Cohen on Pussy Riot

CC re the Professor-
Indeed. Especially because if AbuKhalil was right there'd be no need to extradict Assange to Sweden.

Sarah AB said...

Good to be reminded of those examples of arrogant sexism. I know Soupy One won't agree, but I can at least see where Peter Tatchell is coming from in his concern about what might happen to Assange - but there are some - Galloway being the most egregious example - whose attitude towards rape is just appalling.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Like most libertarians, I was vaguely impressed with WikiLeaks and its figurehead Julian Assange when they first entered my consciousness.

Really? Most people I knew (which I accept isn't a proper sample group) agreed with my early oft-stated assessment that Wikileaks was useful and a net positive for our work, but that the people behind it were mostly radical liberals as opposed to being committed to any kind of class politics. And that Assange, specifically, seemed to be "more than a bit of a cock" (to quote myself). That's pretty much still my assessment.

It does raise an interesting point though. Do you think there's an element of feeling personally betrayed for people like you who trusted Assange/Wikileaks as opposed to seeing it in pragmatic terms.

What I don't think is mutually exclusive is believing that Assange should face his accusers and believing that the US state would like to fuck him over for unrelated reasons. I think the latter is self-evident. Wikileaks did massively embarrass the US state, that's pretty inarguable.

One bitter irony of the Assange dog and pony show is that the (far more important) Bradley Manning case is being overshadowed. I doubt Assange gives a fuck. Whether these specific allegations are true or not, he's still undoubtedly a narcissistic egomanic.

Bradley Manning is also a useful litmus test for dividing those of us that think that Assange should face his accusers because rape should be taken seriously and those that have other political motives. Anyone that doesn't call for the release of Manning can safely be put in the latter category.

On Pussy Riot, I don't know if you have any other northwestern readers. But if so, there's a Free Pussy Riot demonstration tomorrow (Wednesday) in Huddersfield. Meet at noon in Market Cross. Bring Pussy Riot style balaclavas and noisemakers if you can.

Benjamin said...

Has Assange said anything about Bradley Manning as of late? You know the person who gave him the cables that made WikiLeaks incredibly famous? And who's trial/detention/treatment can legitimately be called into question with something besides circumstantial evidence?

bob said...

Benjamin, well yes he has. In his speech on Sunday, Assange said ""On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day in detention without trial. The legal maximum is 120 days." Manning of course, at the is state, is allleged to have handed over the cables; he is awaiting trial, likely in September.

By any measure, Manning's punishment so far, pre-trial, has been cruel and unusual, whether you think what he was alleged to have done was right or wrong. And he faces the possibility of execution, although his prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty.

It is probably correct that Manning is a litmus test for Assange's critics. Whereas Jim, in the post I linked to, was clear that Manning is a real hero like Pussy Riot, I have been guilty of not really expressing solidarity with his terrible predicament.

Those who condemn Assange and ignore Manning (e.g. Harry's Place, me) can be suspected of condemning Assange out of "other political motives", principally anti-anti-americanism, I suppose.

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My initial "vaguely impressed" was tepid. I never thought WikiLeaks was other than radical liberalism. I have always been dubious about free speech crusaders. And I certainly didn't think WikiLeaks had anything to do with class struggle or beating capitalism. So, my turn against him wasn't any kind of disillusion or crushed expectations, just a gradually mounting distaste.

Possibly, there are those out there whose bile towards him is that of the betrayed disciples. Index on Censorship and the Guardian were both early supporters who are very negative now. But largely, his supporters and detractors on the "left" (broadly defined) are increasingly falling along more predictable lines: his supporters those for whom the evil of the American empire is the main concern; his detractors are feminists and those engaged with dissidents in places like Belarus.

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What I don't think is mutually exclusive is believing that Assange should face his accusers and believing that the US state would like to fuck him over for unrelated reasons. I think the latter is self-evident. Wikileaks did massively embarrass the US state, that's pretty inarguable.

This is true, and the space for saying that has perhaps become squeezed in all the hysteria. Richard Seymour (Lenin's Tomb) made a strong case, for instance, for Assange having legitimate fears of American rough justice - a case more well-founded than most other Assange-ite stuff I've read, which seems to rest wholly on paranoid assertions and non-sequiturs. Seymour also takes the rape allegations seriously, and argues that the priority should be the concrete demand "for the Swedish prosecutors to facilitate justice - which will not be served by Assange's extradition to the US - by arranging a safe way for him to answer police questions." However, the Soupy One (here: http://soupyone.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/why-not-interview-assange-in-london-the-answer/ ) shows why one of the ways proposed won't fit too well with Swedish law.

bob said...

Oh, and Sweden has, by the way, been quite clear on the limits to their co-operation with the US, which is one of the criteria sensible Assange supporters might demand before accepting he should be questioned about the rape allegations:
http://www.businessinsider.com/sweden-says-it-will-not-extradite-assange-to-us-if-he-faces-death-penalty-2012-8
“In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, the deputy director of the Service for Criminal Cases and International Cooperation of Sweden’s Justice Ministry Cecilia Riddselius has specifically said Sweden “will never surrender a person to the death penalty”.
[...]
Riddselius also says that they would demand strict assurances from the US that “the prisoner will not be executed in any case” and added that Sweden has not received an extradition request at present. She admitted that it was impossible to tell without the request whether Assange would be extradited without the request. “
(via http://soupyone.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/assanges-non-extradition-galloway-and-julie-bindel/ )

Rob Marchant said...

Quite right about the US link, Bob, it's just rubbish that the US will extradite and give him the death penalty, as David Allen Green points out. Plus the Swedes don't co-operate much with the Americans anyway, if they can help it, a point I make in my own post, which, incidentally, links to your excellent one above:

http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2012/08/22/thank-you-julian-assange-you-have-shown-not-only-yourself-for-what-you-are-but-george-galloway-for-what-he-is/

Waterloo Sunset said...

It is probably correct that Manning is a litmus test for Assange's critics. Whereas Jim, in the post I linked to, was clear that Manning is a real hero like Pussy Riot, I have been guilty of not really expressing solidarity with his terrible predicament.

Those who condemn Assange and ignore Manning (e.g. Harry's Place, me) can be suspected of condemning Assange out of "other political motives", principally anti-anti-americanism, I suppose.


I wouldn't go as far as to say that anybody (like yourself) who hasn't prioritised mentioning Manning in the context of this fails the litmus test. It's a matter of arguably taking a step back and see the wider picture, not much else. My criticism specifically applies to those that aren't against the jailing of Manning, when asked.

At best, the rape allegations are irrelevant to those people; if you think that Manning deserves to be jailed, you're obvious going to think the same of Assange, irrespective of recent developments. (So, for those people it is "all about Wikileaks", which is near the opposite of my position). At worst, I do believe that there are some people who are glad these allegations have happened and hope they're true. Because rape is politically useful to their wider agenda. Yeah, that's not very nice. But the kind of people I'm talking about aren't very nice people in my book.

All that said, I do think "anti anti-Americanism" is politically bankrupt in this case. We're not talking about America as a people or even as a nation. We're talking about the actions of the US state. That's one of the primary reasons I reject the "anti anti" formulation; it generally leads to a position indistinguishable from actively "pro". There is a tentative Pussy Riot link in this case. The arguments of the anti anti-Russianism people like Peter Hitchens have led to a de facto critical alliance with the Russian state. Same applies here.

But largely, his supporters and detractors on the "left" (broadly defined) are increasingly falling along more predictable lines: his supporters those for whom the evil of the American empire is the main concern; his detractors are feminists and those engaged with dissidents in places like Belarus.

It's broader than that (although I get the feeling it's a bit more polarised in places like London), as the Richard Seymour example shows. Most of the support from Assange on this seems to be coming from two main camps. Tankies and some of the vaguely anti-authoritarian radical liberal types you find in Occupy/Anonymous. The former know what they're doing, the latter are incredibly politically naive, although that's a justification not an excuse.

This is true, and the space for saying that has perhaps become squeezed in all the hysteria. Richard Seymour (Lenin's Tomb) made a strong case, for instance, for Assange having legitimate fears of American rough justice - a case more well-founded than most other Assange-ite stuff I've read, which seems to rest wholly on paranoid assertions and non-sequiturs.

I don't think the space is squeezed unless we allow it to be. This is an issue where "third campism" is necessary. And there's a lot of support for the suggestion that the issue of the rape allegations are entirely separate from being against the persecution of Wikileaks. The only people arguing otherwise are the dogmatic pro Assangeites (Assheads, to nick Hadley Freeman's splendid turn of phrase) and those who think that the deaths of Iraqi civilians aren't something that should be discussed in public.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Against those two groups, in terms of people that are broadly pro Wikileaks while still believing the rape allegations should be taken seriously, you have Richard Seymour. (From what I've seen elsewhere, his position on this seems to be the SWP line generally). Sunny Hundal has taken a similar position in lots of articles, far too many to link to. You have Julie Bindel. (I'm slightly startled to find myself on the same side of an argument as Julie, who I generally disagree with on lots of things. I'm sure she'll cope). Then there's Owen Jones and Laurie Penny, both of whom are explicitly anti the US state, without acting as apologists for Assange.

On a personal level, you can use the (entirely unscientific) method of looking at my Facebook friends. The socialist and/or radical feminists, as you might expect, broadly have the same view as I do on this. So do most of the anarchists. So do the liberal lefty types, most of whom aren't really "activists" as such. It even finds support among the crowd who generally don't get animated about any legal issue that doesn't involve the decriminalisation of marijuana.

In other words, not only do I not think that space has been squeezed, I think I may actually be in the (rare for me) position of being in a significant majority on the left.

Oh, and Sweden has, by the way, been quite clear on the limits to their co-operation with the US, which is one of the criteria sensible Assange supporters might demand before accepting he should be questioned about the rape allegations

Oh, yeah, that one doesn't add up at all. Some are arguing it in good faith I think, but Assange isn't. Apart from anything else, if you don't want to be extradited to the US, you're far better off in Sweden then the UK. Because we actually do have an uneven extradition treaty and a verifiable history of extraditing people on a simple request from the state department.

bob said...

Lots of good points WS. Similar perspective from Phil D:
http://libcom.org/blog/enemy-my-enemy-notes-not-having-really-shit-politics-22082012

More to follow

Objectivisor said...

Hi Bob,

I have left twitter and so cannot send this message via the usual channels.

From scanning the history of Twitter today, I believe that your RT of our new article is what eventually led it being picked up by David Allen Green (via Nick Cohen).

My thanks.