I don’t know if Julian Assange raped anyone or not. If he did, or if there is a reasonable suspicion that he did, he should ideally be charged and face trial. But in the meantime the welter of facts, factoids and suppositions on this matter make it virtually impossible for anyone to surmise guilt or innocence with any confidence.
Yet my heart leapt up when he was granted political asylum by Ecuador. One hopes that the David Cameron government doesn’t shred the Vienna Convention; because there are many countries in the world, I’m certain, who would welcome the chance to enter sovereign UK territory, rifle through documents and maybe seize personnel, using the same crooked stratagem—declaring a building in which an embassy is housed to be no longer an embassy. No doubt Robert Mugabe is wondering why he didn’t think of it first.
Why was I pleased? Because far too much about this case is suspicious. The timing of the rape accusations. The refusal of Sweden to question Assange in Britain, or to give any guarantees that he won’t be whisked off the the US—where he could face the death penalty—when he sets foot on Swedish soil. And, most of all, the staggering resources expended to hunt the fellow down and render him to Sweden.
It would be wonderful, and I for one would applaud, if every suspected rapist on the run were to be paid such enormous, expensive attention. Like this person: a pedophile rapist whom the UK inconsistently declined to extradite to the US.
To put all of my cards on the table, I salute Wikileaks, which has caused untold embarrassment to the states, including the one surviving superpower, that like to operate in the dark. But that doesn’t mean that Julian Assange gets a pass for his personal behaviour, or has somehow achieved sainthood.
Some have already tried, judged and convicted him. Others, immensely grateful for the service he has done humankind, are sceptical of his accusers, to the point of suggesting he is the victim of a honey-trap. I have been, and remain, agnostic. If I could bring myself to believe in the good faith of any of the parties so determined to hunt him across several borders for sexual assault, I would unequivocally join those who stand with the women who accuse him, at least to the point of demanding extradition and trial.
But I don’t. And those so eager for that particular version of justice, who stand so glibly with his alleged victims, should be asking themselves some hard questions. Do they seriously believe that Julian Assange is being internationally hunted and hounded because of a couple of rape accusations? Is this really how states behave?
If so, it’s the first time in human history. Consider the women of the Congo, 48 raped every hour, some multiple times, some violated with tree branches. Their supporters scrounge for nickels to support women’s advocacy and maintain shelters in that country, where vicious, horrific sexual assault is a weapon of war. The Harper government cut funding for that, one might be tempted to say in the natural course of events.
Yet we are now asked to believe that states have suddenly become so assiduous about punishing sexual assault that they are spending fortunes to go after one man—a man who just happens to have profoundly threatened and embarrassed them.
Nothing in the drama still unfolding has anything to do with concern for women’s rights. It would certainly be a good thing if a way could be found for him to face the accusations against him in Sweden, on their own merits, without giving up his own rights—without literally risking his life. But only the terminally naive could imagine that those accusations are what all of this is about. Assange is being targeted because he not only spoke truth to power but stuck his finger in power’s eye. And for that reason, we should rejoice that he has, at least momentarily, escaped.