“If journalism is good it is controversial by its nature… It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abuses, and when powerful abuses are taken on, there is always a back reaction…. So we see that controversy and we believe that is a good thing to engage in.”
– Julian Assange
Those of us who support the work of WikiLeaks know only too well that the importance of the organisation goes far beyond any individual document release and extends further than the dramatically increasing archive of information held on the WikiLeaks site. While our historical record is undoubtedly made much richer by the accumulation of this information, our indebtedness lies not so much in what they release but in why they are doing so. That we can see more clearly the terrain we are navigating, and that those with power know this, are two critical factors in our efforts to work towards a more just society. From this perspective it follows that the agitation against WikiLeaks becomes as important as the work of the organisation itself in revealing the true nature of the powerful structures that bind society and shows us more clearly that which we must rally against.
The reaction towards WikiLeaks provides us with two elements that will be key to our dissent. Firstly, it provides us with momentum within which challenges to the injustices of our society can be made; that the FoWL collective is driving itself to form a community is an important consequence not of the information that WikiLeaks has released but as a consequence of the continuing assault on the functioning of the project and its members. Secondly, importantly, every turn against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks reflects back to us the contradictions, injustice, and disconnect of a system we, in the West, claim to be democratic and free. It is a reading of this agitated reaction from those that govern us which provides us with the opportunity to make a clear analysis of this State we are in.
When exposure of wrong-doing becomes politicised as ‘Terrorism’
While western governments had found it necessary to keep a close eye on the work of WikiLeaks for some time (see for example “UK Ministry of Defence continually monitors WikiLeaks: eight reports into classified UK leaks, 29 Sep 2009″) it was with ‘Collateral murder’ and other urgent and involved releases concerning the US Government that saw WikiLeaks become the focus of continued and prolific political attacks that linked its work directly with acts of terrorism:
“The trope of an attack on the international community provided the backdrop for a series of comments aimed at delegitimizing Wikileaks and locating it in the same corner, in terms of threats to the U.S., as global terrorism”
A Free Irresponsible Press, Benkler
That such an organisation as WikiLeaks, and such an act as that of whistle-blowing, can be couched in terms of terrorism is both illuminating and frightening but hardly surprising. What this suggests is that US and the UK state apparatus is hinged upon the abilities of the State to engage in secrecy and the complicity of the media, whose business it is to document truth, in maintaining that secrecy.
“…the threat represented by WikiLeaks was not any single cable, but the fraying of the relatively loyal and safe relationship between the United States Government and its watchdog.”
A Free Irresponsible Press, Benkler
In reading WikiLeaks as a terrorist organisation, and in calling for the treatment of Julian Assange to reflect this we must acknowledge and understand the role secrecy plays in our society. WikiLeaks is the culmination of efforts to provide a mechanism through which we can understand and hold this style of governance to account.
When our legal process become a political tool
The agitation towards WikiLeaks shows how our judicial system- one with claims to integrity, honesty and objectivity- can be used as a political mechanism for the suppression of dissent. In following the WikiLeaks narrative we can learn much about our political system, its flaws and vulnerabilities. The controversies around the UK Supreme Court decision to uphold the European Arrest Warrant (based around a contentious understanding of the term ‘judicial authority’), the heavily criticised process through which the Swedish Authorities are attempting to extradite Julian Assange (despite not charging him with any crime), the positioning of the UK within European law that has revealed an insufficiency in the ability of the UK to protect its residents from wrongful extradition, the utilisation of the reactionary laws instituted in the wake of 9/11 and the power dynamics inherent in the UK-US relationship raise very important questions that we must not turn away from.
When our Government falls silent
A right to Due Process : No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
– Clause 39 of the Magnta Carta, 1215
That Julian Assange has been resident in the UK for over 560 days, that he has sought political asylum from a foreign embassy, and that our government has not issued a single statement on the subject is absurd. What our government does not say is as interesting, perhaps more so, than what it does. In this we are reminded that political rhetoric is disconnected from the lives and concerns of the majority of us. Yet that little has been made of the UK government’s silence regarding WikiLeaks, despite the fact that Julian Assange has been held under house arrest in the south of England for over one and a half years, is equally remarkable. The British mainstream media (and much of the alternative media in the UK) have offered little attention to this remiss of the Coalition Government despite obvious links to the reporting of current calls for the reform of extradition processes and a referendum concerning the UK relationship within the European Union.
We are therefore reminded that turning to the mainstream media as our sole source of information and looking to our government to lead democratic debate leaves our ability to make up our own minds diminished. If we are happy with this then we must also be content that, as many political positions are excluded from open dialogue within our society, what we have is not a democracy. If we are unhappy with this, then we must engage with our right to political engagement and express our discontent.
When sexual politics are subverted by political expediency
Julian Assange has the right to be presumed innocent unless found formally guilty of any charge brought against him- and we are a long way off from this. Julian Assange has not been charged with any crime and his attempts at answering questions about the alleged misconduct have been refused. It is possible that no charge will ever be brought against him. Despite this the media consistently misunderstand/ misrepresent the situation as one where he has been charged for rape.
The presentation by the media of a simple dichotomy where you are either a feminist or are in support of Julian Assange is a false one. The media cry for the welfare of the two female complainants to be upheld ignores simple questions such as why the Swedish Authority did not question Julian Assange in the 5 weeks he remained in Sweden following the alleged incidents. Had the welfare or the rights of the women who have made the allegations been at the fore of this case, then every effort should have been made to question Julian Assange when he presented himself for these purposes. The consequences of not doing so have led to the prolonging of the case- distressing for all parties involved and, in the context of political agitation against Julian Assange, have afforded the political stakeholders in his extradition time to consolidate their position.
We cannot divorce the current case against Julian Assange from the political work he is engaged with. This must lead us to question whether a politicking of the female gender has been utilized as part of a wider attack on what Julian Assange stands for. Undoubtedly, we should not forget the rights of the women involved in this case; we should be angry and demand justice on the back of centuries of demands for the rights of the collective female. The focus of concern, however, should be turned toward the legal processes that have unreasonably delayed the resolution of this case for nearly two years and the legal bodies that have made numerous mistakes in the handling of important protective legislation. Most importantly, we should be incensed that one of the complainants describes feeling “railroaded” by the Swedish Authorities into making a complaint. The two women involved and their complaints have become distanced and disconnected from the case; in this abstraction the Swedish Authorities risk diluting, abusing and corrupting the very processes that they claim to be upholding.
When an engaged citizenry is perceived as a threat
In ‘The US Army Counterintelligence special report into WikiLeaks’ it is repeatedly implied that the collaboration and openness encouraged by WikiLeaks represents a form of danger:
“Julian Assange and other Wikileaks.org authors continually encourage other persons with an interest in the information to comment on their work or conduct their own research and publish the results on Wikileaks.org.”
Wikileaks.org—An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?
The antagonism in the dialectic between the work of WikiLeaks and powerful state officials is a necessity. If the world was one where those in power who wronged did so unwittingly and who humbly accept and put right their wrong doing once it is shown to them, then the world would not need WikiLeaks. If WikiLeaks did not present itself amidst provocation and controversy then the information releases (and WikiLeaks staff) could quite easily be ignored, stamped out or eradicated. This is a necessary tension that will inspire the mobilization of an engaged citizenry; a just Government would promote, not fear this.
When whistle-blowing is presented by state authority as terrorism, when our legal processes become nothing more than political maneuvering, when sexual politics are subverted in an effort to suppress, when we as engaged citizens are perceived as a threat and when, amidst this, our Government has nothing to say- then it becomes time to voice our discontent.
It is important we demand that those who govern us position themselves to these important questions; it is imperative that we demand the same of ourselves. For this is the State we live in and it is ours to decide if we are happy with it. Should we find we are not we must remember that there are political structures that we can move both within and outside of in order to dissent.
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