This post continues my examination of the general wrongness that is some of the arguments being made by Assange supporters wishing to dismiss the rape allegations against him. Before commenting here, you should read the rest of these:
Part 6: Those feminists are just distracting from the real issues!
I really wanted to be done with this, but there’s a new narrative emerging in this situation that I think needs to be dealt with quickly. Feminists, you see, in focusing on the issue of rape, are distracting from the real issue:
It is important that the left continues to defend Assange’s right to a fair trial. It is not up to the media, politicians, or water-cooler conversations to condemn Assange or decide his fate, or that of Wikileaks. As Glenn Greenwald told CNN on Monday 27 December 2010: “People should go to jail when they are charged with a crime, and they are convicted of that crime, in a court of law.”
It is up to us to ensure the process involved in prosecuting any charges brought against Assange in this case be fair and just, and that a sexual misconduct case does not instead become a case to stifle freedom of information or publishing rights.
If you’d like a more virulent version of the same argument, laced with pretty much the full set of rape myths and mischaracterizations of the allegations against Assange, you can find it here.
The basic idea is that by telling the world that rape allegations are to be taken seriously, those of us engaged in the process have been keeping people from talking about Wikileaks, its work, and the very serious threats it’s under from various governments. By focusing on this narrow issue (then more broadly construed as identity politics), we’re missing the big picture.
While I’m sympathetic to the frustration that the rape allegations have gotten far more press recently than the appalling lengths to which politicians and governments have gone or advocated going in the attempt to shut down Wikileaks, this particular argument isn’t going to fly. Why? Because we were there first. It’s telling that both of the articles I linked above are set up as arguments against a post that concludes thus:
WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know – it’s a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?
It is feminist bloggers and columnists who have been pointing out that the existence of rape allegations against Assange are separate from how any charges are handled by the international legal community are separate from the worth of Wikileaks. We are the ones who have been calling for an open legal process, with investigation of the charges and a trial if/as appropriate. And we have been doing it in the face of millions of words and thousands of sneers worth of hateful, hurtful irrelevancy.
Assange’s lawyers did not need to lie about Swedish law and the charges against their client or repeat rape myths in order to state their confidence that the charges would be found to be baseless. Naomi Wolf did not need to say that prosecuting a rape was a travesty in order to make the case that Assange has been treated differently by the legal establishment. Michael Moore didn’t need to smear the accusers and unilaterally declare the charges baseless in order to make the case that Assange should be allowed out on bail. Nobody has needed to declare feminism invalid in order to declare their support for Wikileaks.
Yet all those things were done, and all those things have consequences. In order to support Assange, some people on the left chose to hurt others needlessly. They are the ones who added caustic distractions to this situation. Those of us who have reacted are simply insisting that if others are going to make rape the topic, as they did, they talk about it accurately.
So, while I’m happy to see that more people are starting to tell people to get their priorities in shape and focus, perhaps they should be saying it to someone else.