Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sometimes they really aren't out to get you

Sweden.  It is not a country you would normally associate with people taking refuge in embassies to avoid being deported to.  Iran?  Yes.  North Korea?  Certainly.  But Sweden?  The land of IKEA, Robyn and social democracy?  No.  It somehow doesn't sound quite right.  However, as I am sure you are only too well aware, escaping the clutches of the dastardly Swedes is precisely what Julian Assange is in the process of attempting to do.  This odd case has been one of those issues that produces very few neutrals.  Ever since the whole circus started back in late 2010 it seems as though everyone has a strongly held - and usually ill informed - opinion on the matter.  In recent days this tendency only seems to have become more absurd.

Take, for instance, George Galloway (yes, him again).  He has just weighed in with his preposterous view that even if the allegations made against Assange by the two Swedish women are true "they don't constitute rape."  No, I don't have a clue what he means either.  As if that wasn't enough, on Monday night Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, openly named one of the alleged rape victims on BBC Two's Newsnight programme.  Such insane blathering on this subject is far from rare.  A quick scan across Twitter and a few other forums and news sites and you soon discover that misogynistic rants play a surprisingly big part in the arguments of the pro-Assange community.  Throw in the man himself's declaration in an interview that he had fallen into a "hornet's nest of revolutionary feminism" and suddenly you find yourself wondering just why on earth so many people on the left appear to be rushing to the defence of such an obnoxious little cretin.

At the weekend I found myself discussing the case with a friend who chastised me for bringing WikiLeaks into the argument.  "It has nothing to do with WikiLeaks," he remarked, "the issue is about whether Assange is extradited or not."  That, of course, should be the core of the debate but unfortunately the fact remains that it was Julian that made this case about so much more than the mere matter of whether one man travels to Stockholm to answer questions from the old bill.  It was he that alleged his involvement in WikiLeaks would lead to him being sent to the United States were he ever to set foot in Sweden again.  Yet, as with so many things put forward by paranoid conspiracy theorists, there is simply no evidence for this.  Yesterday the State Department in Washington described Assange's claims of a witch-hunt against him and his website as nothing more than "wild assertions" and declared the situation a matter for Britain, Sweden and Ecuador.

It is impossible to speak of Assange and not mention WikiLeaks directly.  He once described himself as "the heart and soul of this organisation, its founder, philosopher spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all the rest."  So, what of his website?  To be honest I was originally quite enthusiastic about WikiLeaks when I first heard of it and one has to say it has certainly had its positive moments.  Blowing the whistle on the dodgy activities of Swiss banks in the Caribbean would probably be considered fair game to most.  Highlighting some of the strange and shadowy goings-on within the bizarre Church of Scientology cult in the US would drop into that category as well.  Exposing extra-judicial murder in Kenya was also to be applauded and was indeed recognised appropriately with the website's founder landing himself an award from Amnesty International for his involvement in outing the story.  If this was the sort of thing WikiLeaks stuck to then it probably could be considered one of the great developments of our time.  Sadly, it has gone far beyond such contributions and entered the realm of attention-seeking nihilism.  

Whereabouts, to take one example, was the element of good in publishing the names of members of the underground opposition to the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus?  I simply cannot find any positive element to such an action.  It is probably worth noting that Assange's representative in eastern Europe and known Holocaust denier Israel Shamir described the dissidents in Belarus as "America's agents" and claimed there was a conspiracy against him by "Jewish" journalists (I suppose you can't have a proper conspiracy without the good old Jews being involved).  Where too was the morality in exposing the identities of Afghans struggling against clerical fascism in their own country?  The folk at WikiLeaks didn't seem to care about the answer to that question.  Assange apparently told journalists at a meeting in London that people assisting NATO in the fight against the Taleban were "informants" and if they ended up dead then they simply had it "coming to them."  

In short, there is no real coherency to the activities of WikiLeaks.  Politically it is virtually impossible to pin down.  It is also difficult to see just what the organisation is attempting to achieve from a purely moral point of view.  Like some scandal-obsessed tabloid newspaper it seems ready to publish information on anything it can get it's hands on, regardless of who that information harms.  One moment it is highlighting corruption in international banking, the next it is more or less handing over pro-democracy activists to the KGB in Minsk.  You can almost imagine that had WikiLeaks been around in the 1940s it would have happily jumped at the chance to publish whatever info it could have picked up from Bletchley Park.  And, if we are to believe his own statement about him being everything from the financier to the philosopher spokesperson of the website, then Assange is WikiLeaks and therefore is all of the above: an apolitical, attention-seeking egomaniac.  Assange and his cultish followers adhere to the ideology of paranoia; not so much warriors for the truth as a 21st century version of The Lone Gunmen from the 1990s television series The X-Files.  The wild irrationality that characterises the activities of WikiLeaks are clearly visible in the extradition case with evidence-free assertions of a hidden Yankee hand operating behind the rape allegations.

The speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy on Sunday was a particularly stomach churning affair.  In it Assange drew parallels between his case and the Pussy Riot trial in Russia as well as the case of an anti-government activist jailed in Bahrain.  In truth, there is no common bond to link him to such martyrs for free speech.  Nabeel Rajab was jailed in Bahrain for his use of Twitter.  Three members of Pussy Riot were jailed in Moscow for staging a protest against the Putin regime.  Julian Assange, on the other hand, is living in a London embassy because he refuses to travel to the capital city of a free European democracy to answer questions relating to allegations of sexual assault.  There are many terms you could use to describe this but a genuine act of resistance to oppression is not one of them.  Assange should ditch the toxic mix of misogyny and paranoid anti-American conspiracy theories and go to Sweden.  As for the band of online activists supporting him, they need to find a new 'cause'.  If they are struggling to find one I suggest they look to Syria.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ulster says Yea

I do love the feeling you get when an album that you've been waiting a long time for suddenly appears.  Were 2012 to end right now it would already have delivered some splendid records: John Talabot's Fin, Visions by Grimes, In Our Heads from Hot Chip and Julia Holter's Ekstasis to name but four.  I'm also storing up a great deal of childlike enthusiasm for Animal Collective's next offering, Centipede Hz which is out on the first week of September.  Bridging the gap between now and the new release from the Baltimore boys is Fragrant World, the latest LP from Yeasayer which came out today (although according to people more technologically competent than my good self it has been floating around online for a few weeks now).  This has been on my list of albums to look forward to for quite some time now and not even a pretty naff review from the all-knowing hipster bible Pitchfork can dampen my enthusiasm for it.  Granted, I haven't actually heard the bloody thing yet but the first two tracks released from Fragrant World have - for me at least - been pretty damn good.  Check out the most recent single below and get your week off to a most marvellous start:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Now that I'm in Sweden I feel free and very happy"

You may know about a case going on at the present time in which a certain individual is refusing to travel to Sweden to answer questions relating to allegations of rape.  One would almost think that this person was being asked to travel to Burma or Cuba rather than a free and democratic member state of the European Union.  Just in case some people have forgotten in the course of the case concerned, Sweden is more likely to be a place people flee to in order to escape oppression and poverty.  The Guardian website on Thursday posted the second part of a fascinating little documentary following Omar, a Somali refugee from north Africa.  In fact, Omar was one of 186 refugees accepted into Sweden from the Choucha refugee camp on the border between Libya and Tunisia.

As yet there are no indications whether Omar will be thrown into an unmarked plane and jetted off to the United States for questioning.