Type
Polemic
Category
Culture
Politics

Supporting Assange ≠ condoning rape.

assange-rape-google

Let me begin with my position: I have no opinion on the allegations regarding Julian Assange. I do believe rape is unconditionally wrong. But what we are talking about in the Assange case are allegations, with the associated presumption of innocence. This is further complicated, however, as rape allegations are so rarely taken seriously by the state.

It has been disconcerting of late, since the allegations against Julian Assange surfaced, to read the internet, listen to the radio, watch Democracy Now!.

In one corner of the ring we have people – often men – taking the iniquitous approach of publishing intimate details of these sexual misconduct allegations and attempting to dismantle them one by one through their own, unflawed, privileged logic: champions for the new poster boy of the Left. Evidently, this is not only reserved for men; Naomi Wolf has taken a similar, equally presumptive stance, as well as implying that she knows the intimate life of Julian Assange.

In the other corner are those baying for blood, clambering for some sense of justice for the billions of times women have been sexually violated. But here’s the thing I don’t get about this corner of the ring: what happens when Assange is extradited – for questioning, which is unheard of – what then? A victory for abused women, neatly delivered by the Swedish state, who has recently become a defender of women everywhere?

Since when has the state – any state – had the interests and protection of women at its capitalist heart? Why would any feminist continue to put their trust in the state and its current legal system after the way it neglects at best, abuses at worst, women?

It’s as though people no longer understand the role of the state. The state’s interest lies in perpetuating a system that is racist, sexist and homophobic; that breeds inequity, hostility, division and war; and though there are those who try to reform it – through campaigns for same-sex marriage or equal pay, for example – it’s ultimately a system that’s malevolent and mendacious, because it does not want or need equality for all.

Rape and sexual violence is a sensitive issue, understandably so. Rape conviction rates here in Australia, or in Sweden, the US, or somewhere like the Congo, with perhaps the highest rate of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, are for all intents and purposes, negligible, bordering on nonexistent. Anyone who is familiar with sexual violence knows that first you have to endure the act(s), then the aftermath. If you do turn to the law, you face multiple, endless interrogations, examinations and humiliations, all compounded by the ordeal of a trial. If you make it that far.

‘Let me say that again: nine out of ten times, when women report they have been raped,’ wrote the now notorious Michael Moore to the Swedish government, ‘you never even bother to start legal proceedings. No wonder that, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, it is now statistically more likely that someone in Sweden will be sexually assaulted than that they will be robbed.’

People are afraid of rape. People have been hurt by rape. But these charges against Assange are not about rape.

We should be focussing on the real issue here: the fact that an individual who hasn’t even been charged – but has humiliated and exposed world leaders, intelligence operatives and imperial misadventures across the globe – is going to be forcibly removed and flown to another country for questioning. You don’t need to be questioned or conferred with in order to be charged. (Lawyers, help me out here.)

If Sweden is really serious about justice for these women, surely they should just charge Assange. Extraditing someone to have a conversation is nothing short of bizarre. Why require a statement at all? It’s an individual’s right not to talk to police; that’s what the court is for, to determine whether allegations are true.

Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer is suspicious too. When interviewed on Al Jazeera he claimed:

We have heard from the Swedish authorities there has been a secretly empaneled grand jury in Alexandria [Virgina]… just over the river from Washington, DC, next to the Pentagon. They are currently investigating this, and indeed the Swedes we understand have said that if he [Assange] comes to Sweden, they will defer their interest in him to the Americans. Now that shows some level of collusion and embarrassment, so it does seem to me what we have here is nothing more than holding charges…so ultimately, they can get their mitts on him.

Even those who feel that Assange’s sentencing will be a win for women everywhere and change the tide of rape convictions forever must realise that Sweden intends to hold Assange until the US determines what they can charge him with.

The problem, as I see it, can be summarised like so:

1. Rape is a crime of capitalism. It’s about power and dominance, and capitalism takes people’s power away. It is systemic.

2. The state will do anything to hide its secrets – even using women as a political tool.

3. WikiLeaks has done outstanding work; this is separate to the individual behaviours of Julian Assange.

4. Just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t make you a feminist.

5. The state currently has no interest in protecting women’s rights.

6. We want a justice system that works for the people.

7. Women are being used, as usual, for political purposes.

About a fortnight ago, Katrin Axelsson, an activist for the UK’s Women Against Rape, wrote a response to the Assange allegations in the Guardian:

Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations (Report, 8 December). Women in Sweden don’t fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape. Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On 23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that “up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported”. They endorsed Amnesty International’s call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.

Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.

There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don’t take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.

The following day the Guardian published an opinion piece by a feminist dismissing Axelsson’s words as anti-women propaganda.

But this is ostensibly how the argument continues to be resolved: you’re either for feminism, and, as such, want Assange uncomplicatedly extradited, a win for women everywhere, or you’re pro-rape.

We need to refocus on the cables and what they contain. We must defend WikiLeaks and support their publishing of materials the state thinks are too dangerous for our eyes. Because even calls for Assange’s assassination pale in comparison to deeds these governments performed on our behalves, but on which we never got a vote.

Jacinda Woodhead is Overland’s deputy editor. She is in the midst of a PhD project about abortion in Australia and nonfiction as political intervention.

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Comments

  1. My position on Assange and Wikileaks is pretty straightforward. I support fully the wikileaks disclosures, as I think they’re great. I have no commitment to Assange personally. I think he should be subject to the same rule of law, and possess the same human rights as anyone else. I therefore oppose his extradition to the US, because I think it unlikely he could face a fair legal process there. As to the rape charges – it is not up to me to decide if he is innocent or guilty. Equally, as in any case of alleged rape or sexual misconduct, we should oppose any and all villification of the accusers. This is why I’m very critical of Naomi Wolf, John Pilger, Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann etc, who have dismissed the accusations. I don’t think this is how the left (or anyone) should relate to rape allegations.

  2. Actually, I’ll say it sharper. I don’t think anyone should support Assange. I think our view on him should be about the same as David Hicks – he may or may not be a bad person, the important thing is to defend his human rights.

    • I agree with that pretty strongly.

      I was always a bit confused when some people on the left continued to try and get David Hicks freed once he was actually convicted, or that the right seems to believe it’s a defeat for the left that he was. No, the issue was that he wasn’t tried. Once he was tried, I had no further beef.

    • I don’t think it’s comparable to David Hicks. The Left should not remain agnostic about the US campaign against Assange and Wikileaks, which is, quite obviously, motivated by Wikileaks’ release of the empire’s dirty secrets. The Left — indeed, anyone who supports democracy — needs to say that revealing the deeds done our name (but behind our backs) is a good thing and thus we stand with Wikileaks (and Assange as its representative) against those who would silence them. That’s quite a different position to that taken in the campaign around Hicks.
      A far better analogy is the invasion in Afghanistan. There, too, the state invoked women’s rights as a justification for its actions; there, too, a section of the Left abstained from the anti-war movement, on the basis that the Taliban were misogynists and so a US invasion was objectively about women’s rights.
      Well, we all know how that worked out!
      Actually, the argument during the Afghan invasion was far harder than the argument over Assange, since the Taliban were demonstrably repressive, whereas Assange has neither been found guilty nor charged, merely accused.
      There’s two points here: one strategic and the other theoretical.
      On the first, you need to have some sense of the political dynamic. When, on the cusp of the Afghan war, Laura Bush started making teary speeches about the importance of women’s rights in Afghanistan (even though the Republicans were doing everything possible to roll back all the gains of the women’s movement in the US), you didn’t have to be a genius to suspect that the real agenda was facilitating war rather than liberating women. Likewise, it’s patently obvious that Robert Gates and the vast majority of politicians and media types earnestly denouncing Assange have no interest whatsoever in combating sexual violence, and have an extraordinarily keen interest in getting Assange into custody, both to shut him up and to serve as an example to others. That’s why it was quite right to call for Assange’s release: if he’s behind bars, it’s almost certain that the US will find some way to get him into a US jurisdiction, from which he will never return.
      That’s also why the Left needs to very careful as to who it allies with. Laura Bush was no friend of women and nor are many of those now taking a keen interest in the intricacies of the case against Assange.
      In terms of theory, the Left needs to stress (as Jac does in the piece above) that the state is not an ally in the struggle for women’s right: it is, rather, a source of oppression (this, BTW, should be ABC to an anarchist, of all people).
      That’s why the US was never going to liberate women in Afghanistan. It’s why burqa bans in the name of feminism are so wrong. And it’s why the solution to fighting rape and sexual violence is not acting as if Interpol and the swedish state were somehow neutral in the US campaign against Wikileaks.
      This is not about a choice between fighting sexism and fighting the US empire. It’s not about privileging one struggle over another. It’s about how you do both.
      Concretely, the Left needs to build a campaign to defend Assange and Wikileaks, since if Wikileaks is smashed the implications will be horrendous for everyone, especially women, for it will send a message that anyone who fights back will be destroyed. That will make grass roots campaigning on women’s isssues much, much more difficult, just as it will make campaigning civil liberties much, much more difficult.
      Quite obviously, the campaign for Wikileaks should not tolerate sexism, and if Michael Moore has made sexist remarks (I haven’t read his piece) then he should be held to account for it. That goes without saying. Nor should Assange be given a free pass. Yes, he should answer the accusations against him — but only in circumstances that won’t facilitate extraordinary rendition or other US skullduggery.
      The point is, though, that the best way to combat sexism is to rebuild a grassroots movement. And that’s far more likely to happen if we successfully fight back against the attempts to destroy Wikileaks than if we abstain from that struggle.

      • Well, I said I support Wikileaks fully, and as I’m sure you know, I’ve written about their leaks more than once. I’ve also written in support of the rule of law and Assange’s human rights, and signed your petition, as you know.

        Above, I wrote “I think he should be subject to the same rule of law, and possess the same human rights as anyone else. I therefore oppose his extradition to the US, because I think it unlikely he could face a fair legal process there.”

        This is not me defending any state, and I know perfectly well how abnormally this case is being pursued. My point seemed to me pretty simple – supporting Assange’s human rights does not mean he is innocent of rape, and it does not mean we should belittle the accusations of rape, nor should we tolerate such belittling, or the smearing of possible victims of rape. In my view, this is what Keith Olbermann, John Pilger, Michael Moore and Naomi Wolf have done. I agree it is important to defend the Wikileaks project. But I think it is no less important to object to rape apologetics. I have twice now listed four very prominent liberals to leftists who have taken the very position I have just described as unacceptable. Michael Moore changed his tune on Maddow’s show, Keith Olbermann apologised. Naomi Wolf still thinks even as the allegations stand they are a model of negotiated consent, and Pilger hasn’t written anything new.

        It seems to me I’m repeating myself. I didn’t say anything in favour of Sweden, or anything that betrayed any naivete in why this case is being pursued in the manner it is. I simply said we should demand that the accusers be treated with the dignity they deserve. smh publishes their names and pictures. I think that’s outrageous, and as important an issue as wikileaks.

        • Well, I hadn’t read the Tiger Beatdown blog when I wrote that comment. But now I have, and for the life of me, I don’t understand why you are promoting it.
          Not only does that post nowhere offer any solidarity to Wikileaks against the US, it entirely discounts the entire context in which the dispute is taking place. In that respect, it’s exactly analogous to the Laura Bush comments on Afghanistan. What Bush said about the Taliban was entirely true — they were repugnant sexists. But to simply say that without any acknowledgment of the political context (in the Afghanistan war, the looming invasion; with Wikileaks, the campaign to label Assange a terrorist), turns a truism into a right wing apologia.
          Why are people on the Left promoting it?
          As for the attacks on Moore for stumping up bail, I cannot believe we are even talking about this. Are you seriously suggesting that the Left should have allowed Assange to remain in custody, in the context of a determined campaign by the US to get him into a US jurisdiction? Maybe Moore has said or done something else. But to attack him for providing bail, gosh, I’m at a loss.

          • “As for the attacks on Moore for stumping up bail, I cannot believe we are even talking about this. Are you seriously suggesting that the Left should have allowed Assange to remain in custody, in the context of a determined campaign by the US to get him into a US jurisdiction?”

            Ok, I’ll ask you a few simple questions then. Find for me an attack on Moore for stumping up bail. Such as in the link you say you read and disapproved of. Find where I wrote anything vaguely similar.

            “Maybe Moore has said or done something else.”

            Do you think I implied that in what I wrote before? Or that maybe you can find something like that in the link you say you read? Or, I dunno, anything else among the many, many people who’ve been writing and campaigning about this issue?

          • Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, and I hope I have.
            But the #mooreandme campaign, which you seem to be enthusiastic about on Twitter, began with this post.
            As I said, not only does the post not even gesture in the direction of supporting Wikileaks against the US (in fact, as far as I can see, there’s no mention of the state’s ferocious campaign on Assange), the explicit basis for its attack on Moore is that he provided money for Assange’s bail. Here’s the argument:

            A man has been accused of rape by two separate women. He fled the country in which he was accused. He is fighting extradition, so that he won’t have to go back to that country and face charges — even though there are spectacularly low rates of conviction for accused rapists, he just doesn’t think that he should have to go through the system, for whatever reason. And you know who’s posting bail for him?

            Fucking progressives. That’s who. Including one man who has, for some years now, served as one of the most prominent and recognizable faces of the American left, filmmaker/rabble-rouser/all-around champion of the Truth and the Little Guy, Michael Moore. He’s put $20,000 hard, cashy dollars on the line, so that Julian Assange, white male left-wing darling, will be able to get out on bail despite posing a substantial and acknowledged flight risk, and despite the fact that he evidently is working to avoid facing the charges of his accusers. And why is that? Well, as per Michael Moore’s lengthy diatribe on the subject, which contains exactly one paragraph about the rape charges, his reasoning is as follows:

            For those of you who think it’s wrong to support Julian Assange because of the sexual assault allegations he’s being held for, all I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey. Please — never, ever believe the “official story.” And regardless of Assange’s guilt or innocence (see the strange nature of the allegations here), this man has the right to have bail posted and to defend himself.

            There’s nothing sexist about Moore’s argument here. Not only should we not believe the government, we have a responsibility to ensure that Assange does not end up in US custody. Which means, in the current context, keeping him out of prison.
            Now, maybe there’s more to the #mooreandme campaign than this. But, gosh, if this is the post that started it off, there’s pretty good reason to be suspicious about it. As I said, I can’t see any difference between the role played by this Tiger Beatdown blogger re Assange and Laura Bush re Afghanistan.
            Do you agree or not?

          • You only have a fraction of the story re the #mooreandme campaign.

            It is not based on Moore’s support of Wikileaks and contributing to bail. Its based on them laughing – literally laughing at the women who made the allegations and the denigration of all sexual assault victims. Moore tried to backtrack by writing an ‘open letter’ to the Swedish Government but he has never acknowledged the damage he has done by ridiculing the women in the first place.

            Its obvious that the treatment of Assange by Interpol is politically motivated but that does not mean the allegations are not true. If he had been detained and questioned about a speeding fine would we so vehemently deny that he is capable of speeding? Or is it only sexual assault that we trivialise and disbelieve?

            There has been much written about Moore and Olbermann but Jaclyn Friedman summarises it best here. I highly recommend reading it.

            http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=what_we_talk_about_when_we_talk_about_rape

            The women using #mooreandme have been subjected to credible assault and death threats, as have the swedish women who originally approached police. I think you underestimate the prevalence of violent misogyny out there.

          • Well, all I was going on was the Tigerdeatdown blog, which claims to have initiated the campaign.
            The post in which it does so makes no reference to the political context whatsoever, nor offers any support to Wikileaks against the US government. Instead, it denounces Moore, not for ridiculing the women, but for providing bail to Assange.
            I make no comment on anything else Moore might have said or done but he was entirely correct to offer Assange bail. As I said above, in the current climate, if Assange remains in custody, it’s eminently likely he will end up in the hands of the US.
            I don’t doubt there’s a lot of violent misogyny out there. But there was nothing misogynistic about Moore providing bail for Assange.

          • I completely agree with you the issue of bail. I have no problem with that at all. Of course, for all intents and purposes, the conditions of his release makes him no less available to the Americans than his continued imprisonment would have.

            However (and this is where you and Jacinda and I diverge), I am less comfortable with the assumption that this is simply a holding charge.

            Obviously I reject out of hand any definitive assertion that the allegations themselves are conspiratorial lies and, having not yet seen one rational argument which supports that theory, I think, for the reasons previously stated, it is harmful to speculate upon it. I also think the “truth” of this is unknowable, and it is not necessary for a critique of the political motivations of the prosecution anyway.

            As to the “irregularities” of that prosecution, I am watching them closely. In some commentary those irregularities have been overstated, or proven incorrect, or misrepresented. There is also the possibility that they have been mis-attributed, that they stem not from external pressure by the US, but from the ways in which our legal systems treat high profile cases. That isn’t even-handed justice of course, and notoriety can as easily lead to a wrongful conviction as deliberate political manipulation. (It can also lead to wrongful acquittal.)

            I remain suspicious, yet not convinced, of wrongdoing by the prosecution. And I am always aware that, while the legal machinations might be the workings of “the state”, it can be that, and yet the outcome might still – assuming a possible conviction solely on these allegations – be just. I make no assertion that it would be, of course. I remain agnostic in these cases (about both complainants and the accused)on principle. Even in the event of a verdict, or a recanting, or in the dropping of a case by the prosecution. Because the law is structurally incapable of determining truth in these matters.

            And this is why I find fault with the argument that, because this prosecution is something of an aberration, because the state does not care about sex crime (and I agree that it doesn’t)it therefore has nothing to do with sex crime, that “these charges against Assange are not about rape”. Well, these allegations actually are about rape, and I think it is wrong to ignore the complexity of that. We can’t simply wish it away.

            The logic of the argument that Assange is entitled to equally lax prosecution because prosecution is generally pathetic is not one about justice. It is an argument which buries its head in the sand.

            The logic of the argument that we should absolve the state of any responsibility for prosecuting sex crime because the state is ultimately corrupt is more difficult, and to what extent we should participate in the state is a question that has been argued about for a long time. I don’t know that it can ever be fully resolved. I know I have not yet managed to resolve it for myself.

            As an anarchist, despite compulsory voting, I did not vote. Until the advent of Howard, when voting for his removal became the lesser of two evils. It is hard for me to see that /not/ prosecuting possible sexual offenders is an acceptable revolutionary act. Even though the system is corrupt. Even though the system gets it wrong. Even though the system doesn’t actually care.

            And if anyone thinks that Julian Assange should get a free pass on addressing these allegations because of who he is and what Wikileaks has done, I can only see that their priorities are no less suspect than those of the state.

            Yes, we can support Julian Assange without condoning rape. I hope that is what I do. It is what I am trying to do. But we cannot convert the legal concept of assumption of innocence into an assertion of innocence. We have no basis upon which to do so.

          • With all due respect, I’ve read Jaclyn Friedman, and watched her debate with Naomi Wolf. I found both their arguments deeply disturbing. Friedman appears to have no political framework for her feminism, and I had her in mind when I wrote this post.

            She has also not addressed what will happen when the extradition occurs – it’s like nothing exists beyond the act of imprisoning Julian Assange. And she continues to refer to the allegations as charges (as some people in this thread have).

          • I haven’t seen that debate, nor read Jaclyn Friedman on the issue so I can’t comment on that. I will just point out though, that you have yourself referred to the allegations as charges in this post.

            “But these charges against Assange are not about rape.”

            It is an error very easy to make and not really indicative of anything.

            As to extradition, this continued focus on extradition to Sweden as a step to extradition to the US is something I have not been able to unravel yet. As the State Department are actively trying to create a legal basis for extradition, what difference does it make if Assange is in Sweden, or the UK? Or is it just that his freedom of movement is restricted to nations with extradition treaties? And wouldn’t it be of as much concern if these allegations did not exist and he was somewhere else out of the public eye, in which case extra-judicial action against him, like assassination would be far easier?

            I ask sincerely. As I’ve said, I remain concerned. I’m just not prepared to consciously compromise my principles on the way I talk about alleged sex crimes.

          • This is primarily a response to LK, though, given the state of the comments mechanism at the moment, it will probably end up somewhere altogether different.
            I am explicitly not saying that fights against sexism should be delayed because other issues are more important. That’s not my position at all. It’s a different argument, an argument about how sexism can be fought.
            Firstly, the kind of contradictions raised the Wikileaks affair are not new (and I don’t just have in mind the rape allegations here: Assange has, IMO, quite problematic politics on other issues, and is associated with some rather dubious characters). But if politics were just about unambiguously good people fighting against unambiguously evil people, then there would no need for theory (in fact, there would be no need for politics, at least not in the way we understand it now). Again, think of the Afghan war. The Taliban were, and remain, a pretty awful bunch, and the anti-war movement had to deal with their awfulness.
            That being said, any real struggle involves moments of decision. In the abstract, it’s fine to say (as Michael does), well, down with both sides. Concretely, though, when the invasion is going to begin, you are presented with a decision: do you support it or not? Which doesn’t mean you must abandon criticism of the Taliban but it does mean you have to come out either for the war or against it — you can’t be both.
            The parallel here (though obviously on a much, much lesser scale) comes on the issue about providing bail to Assange. LK, you say, that you support Moore donating money — and I totally agree with you. Contrary to what the #mooreandme Tiger blogger would say, that doesn’t mean that we are indifferent to questions of rape or that we think arguments about sexual violence need to wait until more important issues are settled. Hopefully that’s not controversial.
            More generally, though, the reason I’ve stressed the Afghan war so much is that I think it shows how the struggles actually relate to each other. That is, those of us who opposed the war, were told again and again that we didn’t care about Afghan women, that we were saying that women’s rights were less important than anti-war activism, that we weren’t taking gender violence seriously.
            But it’s now pretty clear that, in fact, the war itself has massively exacerbated gender violence and sexism both in Afghanistan (where the US have achieved the unlikely feat of rehabilitating the once hated Taliban in the eyes of many Afghans) and in the West (where a culture of militarism fairly clearly correlates with militarism and sexism). In other words, it was never about privileging anti-war activism over anti-sexism, it was about a theory and practice that combated both.
            That was the point I was trying to make about the Assange stuff. As you and others have said, it’s very difficult to know what to say about the specific cases in Sweden, since the details are so unclear and most of what’s written about the incidents is speculation and gossip. But I think, especially in the wake of the Afghan experience, that we need to be clear that Robert Gates and his allies do not have the best interest of women at heart, and, to the extent that there are progressives who don’t make that clear (like Tigerbeatdown)we need to argue against them: not because we think those people should cease fighting sexism in order to fight for civil liberties but because the approach that they are taking actually hinders the struggle against sexism.
            That’s how it seems to me, anyway.

          • I won’t speak for Mike on this, but I have avoided the #mooreandme campaign to a certain extent because it has been very hotheaded and many less than rational things have been asserted. On both sides.

            The event that sparked it, however, was not what he wrote, but his misrepresentation of the nature of the allegations on Olbermann’s program. (Yes, that whole condom law thing.) While there was much confusion about the charges at the beginning of the month, by the time he made that statement more information was readily available and while I can not “know” what he was aware of, I do think he can be rightly criticised (though not with ad hominem) for repeating misinformation, whether he did that through ignorance or not caring to become informed (well, as informed as we are able to be) on the issue.

            These misrepresentations, and much (alleged) victim blaming, continue to be disseminated by media commentators even though further leaks have provided more information. And this pattern is not unique to this case. It is the same pattern we see in every case involving sex crime, both in high profile cases represented in the media and in social comment surrounding rape generally.

            Regardless of the who the accused is, or whether he is innocent or guilty, the “official story” – the cultural narrative – surrounding sex crime continues to be a serious problem and, in my opinion, it is not unreasonable to request a certain level of consciousness when people speak on the subject. There is no doubt that Assange is entitled to an assumption of innocence, but we can actually do that without compromising the alleged victims rights not to be assumed liars.

            There has been a phenomenal smear campaign against these women over the past month, to say nothing of the release of their names, addresses, phone numbers and photos. That many, many left-leaning commentators have dialled back on this is largely due to the push back (some) feminists have exerted. At some cost to themselves.

            The comparison you, and many others, have made to the abuse of feminist rhetoric for other purposes (and I shall leave aside the specifics of Sady’s campaign here because the comparison has been broader than that) to this push back makes absolutely no sense to me.

            To suggest that critical opinions on how we talk about rape is in any way useful for the political forces who seek to imprison Assange for Wikileaks is to seriously misrepresent, discredit and undermine those opinions. They don’t relate specifically to this case, and they have no relationship whatsoever to “guilt” or “innocence”. They feed into no agenda whatsoever, other than to try and encourage a more accurate societal understanding of rape, and, hopefully, to reduce the amount of backlash /all/ victims receive if/when the crime against them becomes public.

            I can pick fault in many of the expressions of opinion I have seen on my side of this issue as easily as the next person, but to dismiss the issue as entirely “suspicious” because (some) commentators make a misstep in their logic or rhetoric is as foolish as saying everyone who has repeated misinformation, or who misunderstands what rape is, is a misogynist.

            And I can’t help but notice that much of what has been said about this supposed “abuse” of feminism implies that those who are pushing back should be quiet lest they not “betray” the values of “the left”. And that to me sounds “suspiciously” like “the left” is not really interested in whether or not its own cognitive bias contributes to the pretty appalling way our societies treat sex crime.

            You said earlier, Jeff, that “The point is, though, that the best way to combat sexism is to rebuild a grassroots movement,” but the history of grassroots movements – left, or progressive or socialist or whatever – has its own poor record on feminist issues, or other areas of inequality such as race. I don’t think that it can be trusted, as a whole, to solve these problems. And it certainly can’t be trusted if criticisms from within are expected to be quiet.

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  4. I would like to see the discussion of rape charges against Assange abated as NO charges whatever have been laid against him. They have purely been concocted to distract his supporters and waste their valuable time and energy. We must start exposing the crimes perpetrated by governments NOT in our name.

    • This post exemplifies exactly why the left should be making an issue of the smearing of the possible sexual assault victims. I think this is particularly important for anti-imperialists, because otherwise I think it presents women, feminists and anyone who cares about justice for rape victims with seemingly having to choose between feminism and anti-imperialism.

  5. I have no real idea over whether Assange is guilty or not, but my gut is that he’s not, if only because it’s so convenient for authorities to have this to throw in his face. There was this article on 3quarks a couple days ago that contributes to that idea rather well – http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/a-bayesian-take-on-julian-assange/

    The argument is essentially that there is no separating the merits of the case from their political context. Whether or not he’s guilty, he’s being treated in a highly abnormal way. I think it’s pretty well demonstrated I consider myself a feminist; I don’t think that means I have to bay for his blood over allegations that appear to be of dubious legal merit, when he has not been tried or convicted.

    I must say that if he is guilty, I will be disappointed beyond words.

  6. I’m going to respond in full later, but I just wanted to quickly respond to the Bayesian article which i had read earlier, Georgia.

    Using this model of analysis, we can as easily support the idea that ignoring the social context as opposed to the political one (ie; the high prevalence of sex crime and the rarity of false allegations) is ignoring the forest for the trees.

    This is not to suggest Assange is guilty. I simply point it out to illustrate that probability models are vulnerable to cognitive bias and I think in is evident in that piece as it excluded obviously relevant data sets from it’s calculations. I also point it out to say that we can not and should not use probability models in the assessment of individual cases. To make broad social/political comment? Sure. But to judge the likelihood of any individual’s guilt or innocence this way is to compromise our standards of \knowing\.

    I’m on my phone at the moment, so can’t link but there is a piece at Zungu Zungu called If You’ll Pardon the Presumption where he makes this point very clearly using a comparison to racial profiling. It’s worth a read.

    • Lami – I don’t see the case being argued as one suggesting that Assange is or isn’t guilty. I have no idea. My place is I’m agnostic on whether or not he’s guilty, but I do think it’s very likely the treatment he’s receiving is due to his political stance.

      I’m interested in what you said about the social context, I’ll have a look at that article (but not right now as my laptop battery is thisclose to death).

      • Oh, and now I’ve read the articles, I think I get the subtleties I missed in your earlier response. I think I’m just stuck on how incredibly convenient it is for Assange’s enemies to be able to paint him with that brush. Sigh. Everything is complicated.

        I guess the other thing that needs to be said is that even if the allegations are true, doesn’t mean Wikileaks is bad or wrong or will go away. Sigh. I wish more attention was paid to that.

  7. Thanks for this piece. I’ve been tempted to write one myself several times over the past week, but every time I thought about it, it just seemed to be a statement of the bleeding obvious, ie: one can support Assange and not condone sexual violence. It doesn’t require doublethink or any moral or political acrobatics.
    Having said that, the fact that various state authorities are suddenly taking rape allegations incredibly seriously begs a very huge question. Sexual violence contains all the political discourses of inequity, structural and systemic violence that the modern state can conjure up, all packed into one brutal event. The various judicial and police apparatus of the state have historically shown little interest in thinking about sexual violence, or listening to those who experience it. The sudden feverish international pursuit of an alleged rapist merely for questioning just beggars belief.
    Assange can still be guilty of sexual assault and the Swedish attempts to extradite him can also be wrong. Both those things can be true at the same time. I can’t see how it changes the political picture of his extradition, and so forth if, even if Assange is extradited, found guilty and thrown in the can. I don’t have any investment in Assange as a person. He’s neither a demon or a saint. There is a much bigger picture here that needs to be looked at regardless of whether he is guilty as charged or not. But the commentary around Assange’s alleged assaults certainly bring out the demons and plaster saints in a lot of others, and provide further proof, if proof were needed, of how very far we still have to go in even being able to think about sexualised violence coherently.

  8. And further to this, should there need to be a ‘further’, the continued somewhat salacious focus on Assange’s personal life, the furore over the publishing of the name of his accusers etc etc, is media content that the mainstream media empires can easily assimilate, promote and be scandalised over. It obscures the bigger picture of what Wikileaks is doing in revealing a whole landscape of sinister political hegemonies, and uses violence against women – violence that the state is usually very happy to tolerate – as a screen of piety, so we can all be encouraged to move along to the next consumer fun-fest. The revealing of the identities of Assange’s accusers is not as “important an issue as Wikileaks.” It’s part of the weird and politically suspect circus that always erupts around the issue of sexual violence, and is being used by the media, by the political coteries that Wikileaks is revealing, to obscure the bigger and infinitely more criminal issues of how structural violence is used to exploit every facet of life for the sake of the welfare and power of a few elites. It attempts to turn the fundamental issue of sexual violence into talk-show material, into sleazy reality TV, and by association tries to turn the biggest political disclosures one could hope to see, an attack on the very premises on which neo-liberal capitalism is based into something of the same ilk. The attacks on Assange are just the beginning. It’s going to be a long, long haul and it’s going to get very nasty and the legislations now being dreamed up by our lords and masters to crush Wikileaks and any who dare to emulate them, are going to make the post-9/11 assaults on democratic processes seem like the good old days.

  9. Jack, thanks for the post.

    You said this:
    “Rape is a crime of capitalism. It’s about power and dominance, and capitalism takes people’s power away. It is systemic.”

    I disagree with the contention that rape can be politicised quite so neatly. Rape has been used throughout history as an instrument of coercion in a wide range of social, economic and political contexts. So I think it is a long bow to suggest that capitalism is the sole systemic exponent of rape.

    Secondly, I think there is a problem with the way the debate on the Left decries the ‘the state’ as a unified, coherent entity to be opposed, and yet one of the pillars of the democratic state, the judiciary (the ‘rule of law’), is held up, correctly, as the first line of defence against the two categories of allegations levelled at Assange and Wikileaks. The rule of law is an integral part of the state and, quite rightly, it should be defended and those who manage it held to rigorous account. Once the rule of law is corrupted we are at the point of no return, so it must be defended and that, ironically, means the state as a monolithic political entity cannot be so easily dismissed. (That said, the Bush regime was a deft exponent of manipulating the rule of law to suit its political agenda so perhaps the horse has bolted in the US.)

    Clearly, the mechanism of state power of most concern is what Assange has referred to as the ‘invisible government’, the collusion between corporations and democratically elected governments. This nexus should be, must be, the fulcrum of moves to expose corruption, criminality and inequity.

    Clearly, the presumption of innocence is being at best corrupted and at worst ignored in the case of not only Assange (in both the rape allegations and the matter of free speech) and Wikileaks (on First Amendment grounds, again a cornerstone of the state) but also Bradley Martin. the young soldier accused of leaking the cables and currently held in conditions that constitute physical and psychological torture.

    In the matter of the rape allegations, the Swedes should either charge Assange or not. Failure to charge him merely prolongs the hopelessly transparent and, as this post and comments points out, cynically hypocritical charade currently in play as Karl Rove is reportedly working on the Swedish and I presume the British governments to assist in having Assange twice extradited. As for the women involved in the rape matter, again we must refrain from making hasty judgements with very limited information and, most importantly, of invoking reflexive moral and political agendas. At this point, the facts are opaque which means moral speculation is hypothetical and inappropriate.

    • Hey Boris, nice to hear from you.

      I stand by the comment that I think the uneven power relations that cause rape are a result of the capitalist system. There have however been other class societies, with similar inequities, and we know that rape existed there as well. I suppose my context for this is that we live in a capitalist society and rape is a product of the inequalities in the system. Capitalism is a terrible system, but so was feudalism, etc.

      My point is that rape can be politicised and it is systemic; this does not, however, rule out individual culpability.

      This leads on to the idea of ‘the state’ within capitalism. In this sense, even the most democratically elected government does not exist as some good against some corporate evil. The state is necessary to the interests of capitalism. While Blackwater may have a lot of operatives, it’s the US-led Nato forces invading and occupying. Like Lenin wrote: ‘What does this power [of the state] mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men.’

      The state is led by the ruling class and acts in the interests of the rich and powerful. So, like a machine, we have to change the way it works rather than just pretending the gears will go in the other direction.

  10. I had a look at twitter. I can’t find myself linking to that, so I think we’ve just misunderstood what we meant when you said that tigetbeat blog thing. I thought you meant what I linked to, you meant this. Ok, looking at it, yes, she attacked Moore for putting up bail money. That’s stupid, and I don’t agree with that at all.

    With that said, saying “never, ever believe the “official story” effectively means – don’t believe the accusations. Why not? Maybe they are true. She goes on to note Olbermann leaked the names of the accusers.

    What did I post on twitter? http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/12/08/naomi-wolf-assange-captured-by-the-dating-police/

    A response to Naomi Wolf that acknowledges the context. Jessica Valenti. http://jessicavalenti.com/2010/12/10/aol-news-at-the-center-of-%E2%80%9Csex-by-surprise%E2%80%9D-lie-in-assanges-rape-case/ Just clearing up the facts. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/10/AR2010121002571.html Valenti again, noting the poiltical basis for the unusual pursuit of Assange.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/julian-assange-has-made-u_b_793504.html Johann Hari, who makes the obvious point “Of course, it is possible Julian Assange did this good, noble thing, and is also a rapist. I do not believe in reflexively dismissing rape claims by any woman, in any circumstances.”

    Why does this matter? I firmly believe we should oppose the US role in shutting down Wikileaks. I also firmly believe that we should oppose a culture in which accusations of rape result in the accusers being attacked and smeared. This isn’t happening in Afghanistan – it’s happening here, in Australia, in the UK, in the US. The women have had their names and faces published in the mainstream media, and people on the left have contributed to the smearing of them (Michael Moore at first was openly dismissive of the charges.) Naomi Wolf says even in the victim’s version it’s not rape. That is, one of the most prominent alleged feminists in the US, and maybe the world, didn’t think a man having sex with a sleeping woman would be rape.

    Now I think that the difference in the two issues is this: in one, colonial feminism was used by privileged white women to support the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, overwhelmingly by people who had no track record of feminist involvement. In this case, one can find people with long track records of feminist involvement – and also anti-imperialism, for example, if you follow As’ad AbuKhalil’s blog – holding the two very simple positions that we should oppose the US campaign against wikileaks – and we should also oppose naming, shaming, smearing, attacking and publicising possible rape victims. I think the latter concern is at least of equal importance to the campaign to support wikileaks. Rape apologetics is extremely pervasive, well, probably everywhere, but certainly here in the West, and it is particularly important to demand better from the left on this issue.

    I also don’t think people should have to choose. I think the best position is to be an anti-imperialist and a feminist, but for someone who simply is an activist on rape, I don’t think they should apologise if they simply oppose (say) Naomi Wolf saying it’s a model negotiation of consent when in my view, the accuser of Assange recounted what seems to me to have been rape (if the allegation is true).

      • Michael, I assume that if you are uncritically reposting many of these articles, you agree with their content, which is different to the argument you’re putting forth here. So where do you agree/disagree with Tiger Beatdown’s analysis?

        • I have very idiosyncratic views, I wouldn’t suggest anyone believe that I agree with what I post unless I actually say that I do.

          I outlined my views at the top. I support wikileaks, I support the rights of Assange, I support the campaign by feminists and anti-rape activists against the publicisation, smearing and villification of women who say they have been raped. My problem isn’t with Moore (or anyone else) posting bail – and when I saw so many people offered bail, I was very heartened by it. If it’s worth saying, what I’ve seen of what they write, I’ve tended to appreciate anything by Jessica Valenti, and very firmly sided with Friedman in her debate with Wolf.

  11. In 2005, Sweden passed a range of new sex crime laws, introducing a more complex gradation of sex crimes (3 grades of rape or ‘valdtakt’), sexual coercion, misconduct/ofredande, and some fairly obscure categories of sexual assault. This makes it about the most complex sex crime jurisdiction in the world, and also the one with the greatest scope for prosecution in cases without witnesses or forensic evidence. The new laws were designed to make it more likely that judges would convict in situations of date/spouse/acquantaince rape, non-penetretive sexual assault etc, knowing that they had a more graded series of crimes and punishments available.
    The effort has been an utter failure. Report and conviction of violent aggravated rape have remained the same, conviction rates for other grades have fallen.
    Crucial to understanding these new laws is the fact that they do not require consent to be absent to charge someone with a crime (none of the four accusations against assange allege non-consent or withdrawal of consent). The law was introduced by the social democrats and had been upheld by the centre-right. The SD people who pioneered it were both true believers and numbers appratchiks who wanted the support of the femininst party, and the greens in any coalition (they lost too badly to form one). The right don’t want the fight of dismantling it – though if the prosecution of assange collapses they may. The law was controversial when it came in and furiously debated. It remains so. It was supported by the centre-right and centre-left, opposed by conservatives, neoliberals, libertarians and many marxists, who argued that it was an unworkable extension of the state into private life.

    In this repect it it hard to see how jacinda’s fairly old-skool marxist argument about the state is of any use in describing the situation. The idea that rape is a product of capitalism is transparently absurd. No-one got raped before the factory and the joint stock company? No one would get raped in a socialist one? The idea that the state is simply an expression of capitalism is equaally useless. The state – espeically scandinavain states – are contested territory. The swedes like the germans, began their long march through the institutions in the 60s, and they got further than most. The idea that the swedish state expresses sexism isnt really an accurate picture, as the serial extension of sex crime laws appears to demonstrate. The 2005 laws were effectively drafted in the gender studies department of uppsala university, and then plugged into the state apparatus (i mean that descriptively, not sarcastically). If that’s a patriachal, capitalist process it’s a very cunning one. I think a more complex reading of the interaxtion between the state and post-60s social movements is needed here

    • Dear Guy Rundle, thanks for stopping by.

      I don’t know why I have to keep reiterating this but just as rape is a product of capitalism, rape is not unique to capitalism.

      While it’s a simple Marxist position I’ve taken, I think it’s the way to navigate the argument, and I hardly think it’s reductive to suggest that these allegations are not just subject to the complications of Swedish law.

      Yes, the northern European societies are the pinnacle of social democratic reforms that are completely separate from corporate interests – unless you look at their records.

      The political context seems to me much more important than sifting through all of Swedish SD history before arriving at a conclusion. These allegations could have occurred in any other country, and we may still have seen a similar situation unfold.

      While I appreciate that someone devoting a fair chunk of their reporting life to Assange and his dealings might get prickly, the issue for me is not that complicated.

  12. I’m surprised that no one has linked to this Independent report by its diplomatic correspondent, which claims that “Informal discussions have already taken place between US and Swedish officials over the possibility of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being delivered into American custody, according to diplomatic sources.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/assange-could-face-espionage-trial-in-us-2154107.html. Of course Assange deserves the presumption of innocence (although isn’t that only true of British-based law? I’m not sure it holds through Europe). And he has the right to defend himself. That’s a no-brainer. But I would wager a large amount that there would not have been an Interpol alert and those bail conditions if he were not the public face of Wikileaks.

    Jacinda’s statement that “rape is a crime of capitalism” could be finessed a little. Rape, like murder, is a crime that well pre-dates the modern state and modern capitalism. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the legal definition and prosecution of rape is conditioned by capitalism/the state. Rape was once a crime against (male) property, and is still, however much a woman’s consent enters the legal equation, codified in that way; which is why a raped woman can still be referred to as “damaged goods” (as I saw in a newspaper report about something else a few days ago), and why there is so much emphasis on the moral probity of a woman alleging rape, and all that slut shaming.

    • Excellent points, thank you.

      My point could have been done with more finesse, but I felt like rape under capitalism is a [lengthy] blog post in and of its self.

    • Not only is the thread posting randomly but also not posting things I tell it too. And what, he asked naively, is an “old school Marxist?”
      I took JW’s original argument to mean that sexual violence is a crime conditioned by capitalism, but not only by capitalism. Capitalism, in its various forms, conditions property in all sorts of ways as I am sure it doesn’t need me to explain: who owns what kind of property and so on.
      Anyway, the elites response to the Wikileaks cables seems to show how disunited the Left is. An allegation of rape against Assange and suddenly everyone’s at hammer and tongs with each other across the blogo-twitter-sphere and accounts of sexual violence becomes the arena where everyone gets to act out their own weird understandings of justice and violence and power and so on and struggle to shout J’accuse! first. Assange’s guilt or innocence is beside the point. Whether he is found guilty or innocent, if it ever gets that far, doesn’t mean anything resembling justice has occurred. The cables have shown us once and for all how deeply interconnected elite power structures are with each other, both at a material and psychological level. The response of the Left doesn’t give a great deal of grounds for hope however. There seems to be as much chance of a grassroots movement happening as there is of Amazon standing up to Lieberman and Homeland Security.

  13. It is possible I haven’t communicated how much I agree with you and Jacinda, in principle.

    You said earlier that “He should answer the accusations against him — but only in circumstances that won’t facilitate extraordinary rendition or other US skullduggery.” The problem is that these “circumstances” simply don’t exist so, yes, we do have to make a choice.

    Despite the many statements of “blatantly obvious” we have only inference, not evidence, based on our understanding of the state and its players, that this case is wholly a political beast, just as we have only inference, not evidence, that this case might have some substance in spite of that. And inference is a reasonable measure when we talk about war. The choice there, to me, was “blatantly obvious.”

    But the “scale” here makes inference less accurate. The choice is essentially between a potential injustice against one man and a potential injustice against two women. Yes, preventing this injustice against Assange carries with it much broader implications than simply a violation of his rights. But so too does a decision to privilege that over the rights of two women.

    I’m not saying a decision to do that is wrong. Such a choice can be made consciously, without sexism, without misogyny, in full awareness that it might mean crimes against these particular two women will go unaddressed. That such crimes mostly go unaddressed does not reduce the severity of that.

    But at the very least, I believe this is a conversation that needed to be had. I don’t believe that we can simply assume it is okay to sacrifice one for the other, because it is very clear to me that kind of assumption is one where women virtually always lose, not because people make a difficult choice, but because they are part of a culture where doing so is far too easy.

    The dialogue on this now is very different from it was at the beginning of this month. It hasn’t been pleasant for anyone, but it has – despite the distraction of it, despite the imperfection of the arguments – had some useful effect. People are more conscious of the implications in the language they use, they are more conscious of the cost, instead of simply dismissing that cost as trivial or irrelevant and dismissing or attacking those who objected to that.

    Perhaps I am less “revolutionary” than you. My politics tend toward philosophical anarchism, and I don’t trust that resistance of the state necessarily entails support for women’s rights. (And there has been much evidence in this case, from the left, that it doesn’t.) I fully recognise that my hesitation on this decision might mean I’m “too late”. I really do.

    But the left does need its “angry feminists” if they don’t want to carry the injustices of this society with them while they try to build another.

  14. At the risk of diverting a bit from the main topic, I think that a lot of the problem with assessing how we deal with the rape allegations has to do with other problems people have with the character of Assange and with the way a lot of his supporters seem to be unable to even contemplate questioning his politics or his behaviour.
    One of the things that would-be critics of Assange like to focus their attention on (apart from imputations regarding his character – accusations of paranoia, narcissism etc) is to ridicule the way he had become a cult figure and to accuse his supporters of being conspiracy theorists. See, for instance, Sean Carney in today’s Age.
    There is no doubt that Assange has become a cult figure, but it’s equally unsurprising that he has. Seven years ago the world witnessed one of the biggest waves of political protest against any war as millions took to the streets to try and stop the illegal invasion of Iraq. Governments everywhere ignored the protests. Bipartisan war-mongering swept aside the anti-war majority with a breath-taking disregard for the myth of popular sovereignty. Meanwhile popular engagement in politics has continued to decline. Political parties have continued to shrink. The union movement has declined in influence and militancy. Neo-liberal “reform”, endless wars, the legitimisation of torture, the squalid brutality of public discourse and the lobotomisation of the MSM have met with little in the way of organised resistance. Is it any wonder then that a figure who suddenly seems, almost single-handedly, to upset the ruling empire should inspire people? This desire for a hero/saviour is an inevitable consequence of powerlessness.
    However, when judging the worth or otherwise of figures upon whom this desire for a saviour is fixed, it’s neither fair nor useful to dismiss them simply for that. They need to be judged on their merits. Just because someone isn’t the Messiah, it doesn’t follow that they’re just a naughty boy (or girl).
    History is littered with figures that have been the focus for such projection. Che and Ned Kelly are the two that have already been linked to Assange, but there are many more one could name. Dreyfus, Larkin, Pankhurst, Parnell and Lang all come to mind, as do Obama, Doriot, Poujade and a certain fish and chip shop proprietor from Ipswich. No-one could seriously argue that these figures are all the same. What then are the criteria which distinguish the good from the bad, the progressive from the reactionary?
    The easy thing to do of course is to make a straightforward distinction based on their politics. It’s easy to argue that Assange is a more admirable figure than Glenn Beck and we’d all rather have a Jim Larkin than a Pauline Hanson. Another distinction is between those who want to organise and agitate versus those who project themselves explicitly as saviours. Sometimes this distinction is clear. Bernadette Devlin, Jim Larkin, Percy Brookfield all attempted to mobilise the masses. Obama in 2008 was the exact opposite of this, quite apart from caveats about what he stood for. When he said: “Yes we can!” it was always clear that what he meant was: “Yes I can…if you vote for me”.
    This distinction is useful in understanding figures whose politics shift – sometimes a full 180%. Oswald Mosley, began as a Labour MP who broke with Labour in power over its commitment to austerity in the Depression. He formed the New Party as a left-wing split which rapidly evolved into the British Union of Fascists. What was consistent in Mosley’s otherwise bizarre trajectory was his elitism. It’s no surprise in this respect that most of the Fabians, whose elitist contempt for the masses was always a defining feature, flirted with fascism during the Depression, often simultaneously expressing their newfound admiration for the Stalin’s regime which was much more to their liking than the original Bolshevik experiment.
    In between are those who don’t hold the masses in contempt but still desire to substitute for them or (a more subtle distinction) want to inspire them by their deeds. I would put Che in the latter category.
    Finally, a useful way to look at all this is to understand the desire for charismatic leadership as always present but as being particularly powerful when a movement is immature, when the mass has yet to develop confidence in its ability to organise itself. So, for instance, for all that he himself was an admirable figure, the reliance of Irish labour on the charismatic leadership on Jim Larkin was revealed as a weakness when he burned out and fled the country.
    In 1908 the Broken Hill miners invited Tom Mann to lead a strike. Mann was a great leader in many ways. He was a committed socialist and a great orator. But he couldn’t win the strike. When the Broken Hill movement revived during the First World War its leaders, even where they were as powerful and charismatic a figure as Percy Brookfield, all emerged from within the ranks of the miners themselves. They no longer had a need to import a saviour; they could save themselves.
    There is a critique to be made of Assange then, and it runs along these lines, that he doesn’t seek to organise anyone or anything beyond his close circle of tech-savvy accomplices. This is a clear limitation and who knows what his political trajectory may be in the years to come as a consequence. However, it is equally plain that his politics now are oppositional to the state and empire, oppositional to the slaughter in the Middle East, and that he has blown a hole in the cloak of silence and complicity that has characterised the media in this age of reaction and war. He may not have any intention of organising anyone, but he has made it easier for those who do.
    Moreover, those who, like Carney, sneer at the hero-worshipping are profoundly wrong. Hero-worship of a genuine rebel, however flawed or limited their rebellion may be, is a step forward from complicity in war and deference to power, the preferred stance of journalists like Carney, the Associate Editor of a newspaper that has done almost nothing over the last decade to uncover the crimes of our rulers. I’d take a star-struck admirer of Assange over a bigoted follower of dog whistles any day. And I’d also taken a narcissistic rebel over an “emotionally mature” careerist hack.
    In the light of all of this, when looking at the reaction of people like Michael Moore to Assange’s case it’s important to understand that the motivation for dismissing the case has more to do with their mistrust of state power than misogyny. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be criticised for straying into misogynist territory, by trivialising the charges and speculating about the women’s connection to the CIA on the basis of the flimsiest of associations. But that criticism has to take account of what motivates people like Moore and needs to distinguish between him and the ugly voices that have emerged on the fringes of this debate talking about “harridans” and “harpies” and so on.
    This is where the arguments of some of the feminist critics of Assange’s supporters have overlapped with the arguments of people like Carney. Take the idea that this is all a “honeytrap”. I’ll begin by saying I agree that making such a suggestion is wrong and dangerous. It is so because there’s no evidence to support it and that in this case such an unsubstantiated allegation steers immediately into dangerous territory (blaming the victim, smearing the women etc). However, a lot of the arguments against this idea have gone further than this. They have ridiculed the idea as a product of conspiratorial fantasy. This goes too far. To suggest that the US state would go to any lengths to silence Assange and Wikileaks is surely reasonable. A state which has killed millions in the last decade, and institutionalised rendition and torture would surely have no scruples against using the full barrage of black ops to silence a critic who has done them as much harm as Assange.
    The problem with speculating about “honeytraps” and other conspiracies for which there is no evidence is not that their existence is implausible, but that :
    1: It’s unnecessary. It is just as plausible that the US state and its Swedish client have opportunistically pursued, and perhaps magnified (though this is unclear) a genuine complaint.
    2. There is, as I said above, no evidence and, therefore such speculation is a cul de sac with two unfortunate consequences (if a cul de sac can be said to have consequences). It involves a character smear of two women when there is no evidence that their complaint was not genuine and it provides ammunition to those like Carney who argue that any suspicion regarding the motives of the Swedes or the US in this prosecution is “conspiracy theory”.
    Nutty conspiracy theories abound on the internet. They are another symptom of the powerlessness people feel in this age of reaction. But they are also an expression of the reality that our rulers do lie and do conspire in a whole series of ways.
    In any case, unlike the “honeytrap” speculation, suspicion of the behaviour of the Swedish state in this case is by no means an unsustainable conspiracy theory, given the strange behaviour of the prosecution, the inconsistency between the way they have dealt with this case and the way they normally deal with rape cases, and, finally, the crucial intervention of a right-wing Social Democrat politician in the case’s re-opening.
    So what does that leave us with? It’s a tightrope that has to be walked. On the one hand there is the desire for the case to be given a fair trial (whatever that is) so that something like the truth can come up. Meanwhile, however, there’s profound suspicion of the possibility of such a thing as a fair trial either for Assange or the women. That’s why I was so delighted to read Jacinda’s post. At last someone has pointed out the contradiction that has always lain at the heart of the question of how we deal with the problem of rape. We rightly condemn the failure of the state to defend women, and yet implicit in that criticism is a suggestion that an institution that exists to defend exploitation and oppression (including, of course, the oppression of women) could conceivably defend them.

  15. “Rape is a crime of capitalism”

    anyone who says this and believes it is either ideologically blinded, totally ignorant and possibly a little ill.

    Go talk to a rape victim and then an offender and see how this crock of an assertion holds up

    I knew extreme leftists will go to any lengths to justify their position but this takes the cake

    PS Assange has no concern for anything except his own narcissistic desires whether it’s his hatred for the west or any other needs. Dead afghans, kenyans – who cares, he needs to be noticed, wanted – desperately

    Every now and then when i feel myself leaning left I read soemthing like this and realise how morally bankrupt the ideology really is.

    PS for now he is an alleged sex crime suspect in the most left wing nation on earth. Chew that over

    • How can I deconstruct this, let me count the ways.
      You think its absurd to argue that “rape is a crime of capitalism” thereby caricaturing the argument as a variant on the old Monty Python line: “It’s a fair cop, but society is to blame. That’s alright I’ll be arresting them later.”
      The point is not about absolving individual rapists from blame but of understanding why it happens and how we can prevent it from happening – how we can construct a world in which it doesn’t happen. If you don’t think such a project is possible then that’s really sad. If you think that it’spossible but that the nature of the society we live in is not relevant then I’m looking forward to your argument.
      If you don’t think that rape is a product of class division, alienation and the systematic oppression of women then say so. But the onus is for you to come up with your own explanation of why it happens, and the alleged “narcissistic desires” of someone you’ve never met are hardly a substitute.
      You may of course want to argue that women’s oppression is unconnected to capitalism or that men are just narcissistic creeps because, that’s what they are (or at least that computer geeks are or something).
      But instead we have the assertion that Assange has no concern for anything including dead Afghans. This insight is based on his lack of interest in dead Afghans which is amply demonstrated by his exposing their slaughter in a way that the mainstream media has not managed in the last decade. He may have done this at considerable risk to himself but apparently this is not because he is concerned for them but because he loves himself and wanted to get into someone’s pants. You know this because…
      Meanwhile millions have died in the open ended war that has put in power Karzai and the Northern League that lost out to the misogynist Taliban back in the ’90s because their own version of misogyny involved a systematic application of a little thing called rape.
      And the killer argument is of course that Assange is being charged by “the most left-wing government” on earth. All hail the workers’ paradise of Sweden. He must be a rapist if the comrades are charging him. Swedish socialism, after all, has such a good record of standing up to nasty imperial power, doesn’t it Adolf.
      So, next time you find yourself leaning left, take a good Bex and lie down. The illusion will pass, and you can rest in the comfort that your body is constitutionally incapable of inclining in that direction.

    • The sophistry of this response turns my stomach. Rape is a universal curse? Please!

      If you visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow, where the heart-breaking struggle of Soviet men and women against capitalist fascism is represented by an array of breath-taking exhibits, you will find ample evidence to docment the inspirational progress of Soviet troops into the heart of Germany.

      Rape? There was none of that, except in Yank propaganda. Rather, as the toxic tide of the Hitler/Henry Ford poison — concocted with the support of George W. Bush’s grandfather and his Wall street cabal — was rolled back, the former subjects of Nazi tyranny were elevated to the full rights and priveleges of what would soon be known as the Warsaw Pact.

      Compare and contrast American behaviour — and Australians need look no further than Melbourne, which was effectively under occupation by a vast army of Yank soldiers and airman. No woman in Melbourne would leave home after dark for fear of being raped and, worse, murdered.

      Google “Eddie Leonski” and learn the sickening story of an American soldier who raped and murdered at least four Melbourne women. He was hanged at Pentridge, but only after a labor prime minister threatened grave diplomatic consequences if the Yanks did not stop sweeping the carnival of rape under the carpet. They executed Leonski, but how many other American rapists escaped? Thousands, anecdotal evidence would suggest. Thousands!

      The American stormtroops moved on, but their legacy remained. It was no co-incidence that Australia’s economic rape at the hands of Washington began in earnest after that. Having seen so many women raped by Americans, the psychological will to resist was broken, the humiliating compliance complete.

      It was no accident of timing that saw General Motors and Ford take over our car industry, nor that children after that grew up pretending to be Davy Crocket, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and all the other imperialist expansionists who ground the heels of their cowboy boots into the faces of the American indigenous population as the proto-Nazi doctrine of Manifest Destiny was put into genocidal implementation.

      Capitalism is rape and rape is capitalism. It is that simple.

  16. Is this really so hard?
    Notwithstanding innocent until proven guilty precepts..
    It’s about trying to move beyond infantilised ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people.
    We’re all a bit of both.
    I appreciate and love the good things my children, and sometimes they ‘reap the rewards’ of the socially unacceptible things they do. Yet they are still whole people that I love.
    I’m very grateful for wikileaks.

  17. I’m extremely interested in the issues of Assange and public honesty, but I’m going off-topic to alert people that in today’s HuffPo, Al Franken has an alarming article on how the U.S. FCC is now making rulings that threaten net neutrality for getting sites like this one on mobile broadband devices. The FCC is also not banning the “paid prioritization” that could let corporate blogs buy the fast lane, putting our sites in the slow.

    The outcry from independent websites was crucial a few days ago in improving the FCC ruling. But we need to stay alert and inform each other as new threats come up. We need a community of Paul Revere web bloggers.

  18. I don’t really understand the logic of ‘rape is a product of capitalism, but is not unique to capitalism.’ As a blanket statement that makes no logical sense. You could say that ‘some rapes are a prodcut of capitalism’ – workplace sexual assault, sexual violence of alienated men etc – but why would that be of any use here?
    The record describe an alleged sexual assault among a countercultural political group. You could say that someone in such a circumstance had internalised possessive notions of women – but that too is hardly unique to capitalism.
    So in what sense does saying that rape originates from capitalism help us think about the issue in general or particular?
    At a level of reasoning, it’s offering a single cause for a complex phenomena that then has to be related back to that single cause by intermediary forms. It doesn’t begin to help us think about it. Quite the contrary. It has all the problems of base-superstucture notions that caused us to junk them decades ago.
    The most significant thing about the Assange case, at a political level, would appear to be the contradictions that occur when feminism does see state power as an avenue of action, and a very expansive sex crime law is created. The immediate result, as far as I can see, is that feminists themselves split quite actively over the issue – and make visible the different ideas about the state, action, extension of law into the private sphere and so on. None of that can be read off a base – superstucture model.

  19. “Rape is a crime of capitalism. It’s about power and dominance, and capitalism takes people’s power away. It is systemic.”

    I’m sorry, but this is laughable. Yes, rape is systemic – but not because of capitalism, but because of RAPE CULTURE, which flourishes unrelated to capitalism.

    Not only does rape happen, but it happens in a culture in which rapists are overwhelmingly NOT prosecuted whereas the victims are almost always vilified, harassed and accused of lying. This does not happen because of capitalism.

    The prevalence of rape has nothing to do with power that capitalism takes away from people, but with the power that rape culture GIVES to rapists and denies to rape victims.

    • First, in reply to Guy. It’s not sufficient to refute “old skool Marxism” either by a quaint mispelling, by the imputation that it’s somehow out of intellectual fashion or on the basis of logic. With regard to the latter, no-one’s arguing that rape originated with Capitalism or that it only happens in market places or factories or meetings of stockbrokers or something.
      The argument is that rape, war. violence, racism, national oppression, religious sectarianism etc are vile manifestations of class society. A society based on robbery that is justified by notions of hierarchy, of class, race, culture, religion and gender, where that robbery and the incumbant oppression of those at the bottom end of the hierarchy are buttressed by institutionalised violence and war and by the twisted ideological justifications of all this is a society where rape is endemic. This was clearly true of feudalism, of slave society and, though as always capitalism is more subtle and indirect than previous clas societies, it is also true of capitalism. Capitalism is the form of class society we have today and hence provides the systemic basis of women’s oppression and of rape, today.
      There are of course other ways of explaining the existence of rape such as patriarchy theory or a pessimistic view of “human nature”, the most reactionary of which are biological determinist “naked ape” arguments.
      I have no idea what Guy thinks is the cause apart from the clearly inadequate: “someone in such a circumstance had internalised possessive notions of women”.
      As for the argument that rape is caused by “rape culture”, what does that tell us? Is racism then caused by racist culture, and war and violence by war and violence culture? It ultimately boils down to saying that men rape because they have ideas in their heads that justify and encourage rape and that those ideas have a cultural/societal basis.
      This is true but it begs the obvious question of how and why such a culture came into existence and why it is resistant to the good intentions of feminists and others to educate men.
      Nice behaviour and nice culture cannot be successfully encouraged when our rulers, the people who have control of the ideological levers, the MSM, Hollywood, etc are engaging in a vicious imperial war, in which torture has become normalised and rape is merely one of the methods used to subdue resistance. Which leads back to arguments that Jeff has made elsewhere in these comments, so I won’t bore you all by repeating them.

  20. “1. Rape is a crime of capitalism. It’s about power and dominance, and capitalism takes people’s power away. It is systemic.”

    What kind of diabolical, cretinous, leftarded piece of jibber jabber is that?

  21. It seems to miss the point to say that rape is by-product of a class-based society (in the sense of hierarchies of gender, race, religion). Is it more specifically described as a product of inequalities between men and women, which have their basis in structural violence, and frequently play out in the same way?

    Re Tigerbeatdown stuff, Jeff does this mean the left also have a responsibility to defend the rights of his accusers against the misogynistic/dismissive treatment they have been subjected to by the media and even ostensible feminists. Eg. to dispel ideas that rape with a sleeping women is not rape, or that in Sweden you can get charged with rape for a broken condom? Perpetration of these ideas could be extremely damaging for rape victims who want to come forward. In other words, should the left view these two issues as of equal value in this instance?

  22. You’re an idiot, as are many of your readers and commenters on this page.

    How do you explain rape in tribal societies?

  23. I’m often struck by the naiveté of the left. All bad and evil in the world is laid at the feet of capitalism while the documented manifold repression and, in many cases the mass murder of communist regimes go ignored. (I would also point out that there seems to be an un-holy forming between the fundamental Islamists and the left. I find this astonishing. But that’s a topic for another day.)

    The article above state that \Rape is a crime of capitalism.\ That’s a pretty definitive declaration. Are you seriously suggesting that rape never happens in socialist/communist countries? I think the rape victims there would be pretty surprised to hear that. Or how about the horrifying rapes perpetrated by the Islamists in southern Sudan. I would not classify the Sudanese perpetrators as capitalists. So what explains the rapes? If you’re going to make such a universal declaration of cause and effect you should at least be able to defend it.

    The left wants to paint capitalism as somehow anti-women but I would suggest that it’s the leftists in power that exclude women from holding the reigns of power. How many powerful women do you see in China, Venezuela, Cuba, the old Soviet Union, etc. Not many if, there are any. I can’t think of any. Contrast that with the capitalist west with many, many powerful women in government and business. There’s no comparison about which system provides women more freedom and more opportunities yet the left insists its the capitalists that \oppress\ women. Capitalism certainly has its flaws but when compared to the soul-crushing effects of socialism/communism it’s down right utopia.

    As for Assange, he’s a coward. It’s easy to go after liberal (and I use the term in the classical sense) democracies where, despite his whining about his life being in danger, he’s in virtually no danger at all. On the contrary, this hero of the left has placed a great many peoples lives in danger. Assange himself noted that Wikileaks document disclosures of mass corruption in Kenya ahead of their elections directly resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Actions have consequences and for Assange there aren’t many consequences as long as he confines his attacks on the west. I’d like to see Assange and all those other brave leftists out there take on radical Islam like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Geert Wilders. They’ve put their lives on the line for warning of the very real dangers of radical Islam to women, gays, to freedom itself. Ali and Wilders and others brave enough to speak out against radical Islam now they have to have 24 hour a day security to protect from the fanatics. They’ve put their lives in very real danger. The oh so brave Assange? Comfortably ensconced in an English mansion with the likes of Michael Moore bowing to his courage. What a joke.

    The bottom line is that Assange is a coward, possibly a rapist (the courts will decide that) and his actions have already been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people (we don’t know yet what havoc this latest round of leaks will have) and, astonishingly, is still a hero of the left. The left has certainly set the bar for heroes very, very low indeed.

    • I don’t think Jacinda’s article is about making Assange out to be a hero. I think she has successfully argued that endorsing wikileaks is not about endorsing Assange or about endorsing rape. She has also mentioned that the accusations against Assange are different from accusations of rape.

      I also don’t understand what anything here in this article has to do with Islam and why you immediately assume that this writer would pardon rape in Islamic countries or in any other country. In fact, she has said she doesn’t endorse rape, at all. Ever. Unconditionally.

  24. Of course all progressives must be exonerated of such petty misdemeanors as rape! Only the cause exists! All else is metaphysics!

  25. You’re all missing a very crucial aspect to this non-case.

    It’s all about politics in Sweden. Ms. Ardin, one of the women accusers, is a rising star in the Social Democrat Party. Her lawyer is a leader in the Party. The SDP wrote the micro-managing sex laws that are now tripping up Mr. Assange. They have never been put to use because the opposition Party deems them to be unworkable. It is a political squabble in Sweden.

    The case was closed by the Police because they received other mitigating facts that killed the allegations. The case was then re-opened by Ms. Ardin, a feminist monitor during her days at Uppsala University, when she asked her mentor Mr.Borgström to represent her. Other allegations were then added. Borgström had another party member who worked in a higher court re-open the case. He looks like a sweet little old man, but he’s a major political player in Sweden.

    The whole thing stinks of small-time small-country politics. I only wonder about Mr. Assange’s naivité in trusting Ms. Ardin, given her politcal history, in the first place.

  26. 1. Rape is a crime of capitalism. It’s about power and dominance, and capitalism takes people’s power away. It is systemic.

    Please, as if women never got raped in the USSR… (rolls eyes)

    4. Just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t make you a feminist.

    And just because some women call themselves feminists, it certainly doesn’t give them any entitlement to speak on behalf of other women or women’s rights. Given how deformed the ideologies of so many current so-called “feminists” are, gone are the days when “feminists” had something to say that truly advanced the condition of women. Now it’s such a mix of narrow-minded, repugnant women with all kinds of mental and ethical problems joined by the few remaining intelligent ones, that the label has pretty much got a bad name from the former group.

    7. Women are being used, as usual, for political purposes.

    If so, then what’s the role of Borgstrom? Is he being used (oh naive little thing that he is)? Is the Chief Prosecutor Ny (a woman) being used as well? Clueless little girl, incapable of thinking for herself? Everyone in this story is a naive little victim, except the CIA? Hah… dream on…

    • I have a number of problems with this. Particularly the statement that most feminists are ‘narrow-minded, repugnant women with all kinds of mental and ethical problems’. This is a commonly used attack on feminists as ‘mad women in the attic’ and it is truly limiting and a hit underneath the belt.

      If you’re going to take up parts of Jacinda’s article in a bid to advance the debate, that’s one thing, but this attack on feminism and women who call themselves feminists is really not helpful at all.

      As I see it, feminism is about improving the plight of women, which is not just beneficial to women, but men also, who have daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and who care about the state of the world, in general.

      I think what Jacinda was writing about in her point about rape and capitalism was not that rape didn’t exist elsewhere, but that the debates surrounding assault and Assange’s case are to do with an unjust judicial system and are separate to the debates surrounding freedom of speech and wikileaks. I could be wrong (it sometimes happens) but that’s what I understood after reading and rereading Jacinda’s article (I also used the dictio-ma-nary).

      I was grateful Jacinda wrote this article because I had just signed the petition to keep WikiLeaks open when all of these blogs from the U.S.A started attacking Assange and anyone who supported him. I would not be able to rest easily if I thought that I had just endorsed rape or anything near to it. This is what I believe is at the heart of Jacinda’s article, which I think is praiseworthy.

  27. Can someone please explain to me what precisely Assange should be prosecuted for? If there’s no physical evidence these women were raped and no witnesses to the supposed crime, how is a jury supposed to convict anyone for wrongdoing? Bearing in mind that the responsibilities for both a juror and a judge include finding a guilty verdict only when there’s evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is culpable for the crime, why should anyone believe the two women’s claims against his own, and why should these form the basis for a successful prosecution?

  28. “Yes, we can support Julian Assange without condoning rape. I hope that is what I do. It is what I am trying to do. But we cannot convert the legal concept of assumption of innocence into an assertion of innocence. We have no basis upon which to do so.”

    Believe it or not, Giesen, that’s why we have a system of due process. If police believe the charges are sufficient to warrant prosecution (and the vast majority of rape allegations never are) the case is brought to trial. Until a court finds Assange guilty to beyond a reasonable doubt, he’s innocent.

  29. “1. Rape is a crime of capitalism. It’s about power and dominance, and capitalism takes people’s power away. It is systemic.”

    Nonsense, but these bogus accusations of rape are often a product of capitalism. What might have been at a stretch, a minor case of fraud in the past, are now a case of women being economically “victimized” when the sex that they provide doesn’t lead to a lucrative LTR.

    This apparently in the gist of the Assaunge case where two of his “victims” traded notes at a later date and realized that it was likely that neither would be profiting from their activities.

    It’s sad that the definition of rape has been so bastardized that the rare legitimate case is now looked on with deep suspicion.

  30. Like this is the first time the left has abandoned women to defend one of their heroes?

    Please.

    What about that rapist Roman Polanski?
    Why does someone get a pass on anally raping a 13 year old girl just because his politics have a certain slant?
    But Whoopi says, it’s rape, not rape rape.
    Whatever the hell that means.

    Why is the left is silent about the rape epidemic by muslim immigrants in much of Europe?
    Look it up, and be prepared to be appalled.
    Who IS Samira Bellil?

    From Teddy Kennedy to Bill Clinton it’s all the same.
    Some left wing heroes rape them, some kill them, either way they get a free pass.
    Who IS Juanita Broderick?
    Funny how the feminists weren’t banging the drum about her experience.

    It’s clear on the left’s multicultural pecking order women rate somewhere below liberal men.
    But we can achieve equality by treating different groups of people differently.

  31. A couple of points.

    A…. went straight to the media after the police station to launch a public witchhunt against Assange leaving the hapless W… holding the bag. For anyone to complain about them being subjected to scrutiny in the media is just disingenuous special pleading.

    The descent of feminism from a form of bourgeoise liberalism to a reactionary ideology of support to the bourgeoise state is not new. White feathers in WWI? Ban the demon Drink?

    The Soc-Dem party of Sweden has adopted feminism as a leftish sort of cover for what they are – the party of extrordinary renditions and the star chamber.

    New-left feminism long ago decided that the limits of the ‘struggle’ was for a piece of the action for themselves – lynch mob moralism backed up by police batons.

    Shield laws for rape accusers? Age-of-consent hysteria?

    And in Sweden, having failed to get a vote through parliament allowing the state to charge rape even when both parties say they consented, the ‘brotherhood’ (what exquisite irony in a name) faction (Borgstrom, Ny, A… et al) announce they’ll do it through the court system instead.

    The self-proclaimed ‘rape experts’ of the feminist cliques are gnashing their teeth in the face of this frame-up because it exposes just what a filthy bunch of puritanical guilt-tripping reactionaries they are.

  32. Pingback: Dissecting feminism’s dead end « Overland literary journal

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