With some of the infighting among the ranks of Wikileaks supporters–and I am a supporter–I need to allay some fears and put certain apprehensions to rest right away: my answer to the question above is “no,” and my secondary answer is that we should learn from mistakes. So, for now, hold your fire.
The real “problem” of the conflict involving Wikileaks is the problem posed by active, independent citizens standing up to the national security state, and winning. For all of the complaints, insults, and angry assertions issued from various branches of the U.S. government, stop and take note: the U.S. has yet to issue any kind of arrest warrant for Julian Assange or anyone else involved with Wikileaks. The U.S. government literally does not have a case, because it does not even have a law for prosecuting Wikileaks. That is how stymied that state finds itself. Needless to say, those who want Wikileaks to be stopped, have to stoop to much lower depths, using smears, personal insults, name calling, mad accusations, rumour, gossip, etc. The bizarre and highly questionable allegations of rape and sexual coercion play right into their hands. That is not the crux of the conflict involving Wikileaks: the crux remains that a national security state engaged in war cannot control what we know and what we think.
A secondary, though not unimportant problem, is how activists organize to confront that state, and its supportive media. Matching centralized power with centralized activism has always been a recipe for disaster, unless state power is in serious decline, suffers from a lack of legitimacy, loyalty and resources, and is up against rare figures like Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Ché” Guevara. Personalizing what ought to be a wide, diffuse, and anonymous network helps to activate the possibility of decapitation. While centralization and personalization are important enough problems, failing to heed critical advice is another. This is what Julian Assange told Al Jazeera, as reported by AFP:
Australian intelligence services had warned WikiLeaks of “dirty tricks” before Swedish authorities issued a short-lived arrest warrant for founder Julian Assange over a rape claim, he says.
“We were warned on the 11th (of August) by Australian intelligence that we should expect this sort of thing,” Assange said on Monday in a telephone interview with broadcaster Al-Jazeera from a secret location in Sweden.
“We were warned about dirty tricks and specifically that they would be of a type like this,” the 39-year-old Australian said.
Right, so you were warned of this on the 11th, and three days later you admit to getting into bed with someone you hardly knew, and then three days after that you did it again, with someone you knew even less and who clearly was eager to insinuate herself into your inner circle at any cost. So if you had this warning, why did you ignore it? Is one allowed to ask these questions without being accused of being a part of a smear campaign?
The point is not to get personal, but to take away some important lessons from this. Diffuse, decentralize, depersonalize. Be suspicious of “new friends.” When the world’s biggest military superpower, and a sinister organization like the CIA is likely on your tail, don’t put yourself in compromising situations. Honey traps? Fine. Suck on sour.
Likewise, if Wikileaks desperately needed a contact point for the media, all sorts of alternatives are available that do not risk this kind of damnable distraction, and this juvenile game of perverse smear and exhausting counter-smear, that we have engaged in for the last few weeks. Hire a public relations firm. Hire struggling actors, using false names, who can improvise. Have more than one representative speak. Having just one speaking can make that one look big (or vainglorious as some attackers assert), but it can also make an organization look smaller and weaker as a result. Supporters can become tarnished too, as I have been, labeled a member of the “cult” surrounding Assange. The key point is that you are not the state, so don’t mirror it: don’t be too bureaucratic, too devoted to leadership, too fixated on the media.
Why is this even being discussed here? Yesterday an article was published by The Daily Beast, that has really rattled Wikileaks supporters, or some of them anyway. The article by Philip Shenon, no mere hack, “Civil War at Wikileaks,” brings internal dissent out into public view. The person in focus here is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, member of parliament in Iceland, and reportedly one of the people who assisted in editing the Collateral Murder video. Some have chosen to dismiss this outright, as a fabrication, an interview that never happened. She is being asked by other Wikileaks supporters if it is a valid and accurate reflection of her views. I think the article makes some good points, and some really dreadful, stupid points.
I agree with Jónsdóttir if she indeed said: “These personal matters should have nothing to do with WikiLeaks. I have strongly urged him to focus on the legalities that he’s dealing with and let some other people carry the torch.” I also agree with the anonymous Wikileaks organizer quoted in the article, about the problems of centralized control, which he/she says resulted in internal upheaval and the site being shutdown as a way to send a message to Assange.
But clearly Jónsdóttir made an idiotic, totally reprehensible remark when she said (if she said) about Julian Assange: “And he’s a classic Aussie in the sense that he’s a bit of a male chauvinist.” It is an ignorant, stereotypical statement that maligns all Australian males, and she uses it to indict Assange as if the rape charges were beyond question. As a classic male Aussie, he must be a rapist. If anyone had countered with: “Scandinavian women are a bit sluttish” or “Swedish women are uptight, neurotic, manic depressives,” one can imagine the shrill responses. Misandry is a poor defense against misogyny.
For that alone Jónsdóttir should retract her awful remarks and issue an immediate apology. They further confuse the issues, and further help to advance the smears. We have seen this before on The Daily Beast, as when they published this petty piece of ad hominem hyperbole by one Tunku Varadarajan–of the Hoover Institution, no surprise, and document thieves in their own right–who in the most bigoted and stereotyping fashion wrote of Assange’s “languorous, very un-Australian limbs.” Jónsdóttir’s remarks place her in those ranks, they reinforce the very problem she claimed to be complaining about, and they further distract from what is at hand: how best to openly confront the national security state, and keep on winning. I don’t have all the answers, but I know what some of the wrong ones are.