Defend Assange, denounce sexism

January 20, 2011

JULIAN ASSANGE and the rape allegations against him must be addressed in a principled way that acknowledges sexism in our society and places the hypocrisy and blame on the U.S. government.

In that vein, I want to agree with the spirit of the article by Courtney Smith, "We should focus on WikiLeaks, not Assange", while disagreeing that we should shift the focus away from Assange to avoid a discussion of the charges of rape. Likewise, I want to disagree with the spirit of the response by Avery Wear, "Why it's right to defend Assange" as an example of how socialists should not be approaching the argument.

Smith's article was attempting to avoid the question of rape allegations because the author rightly saw how the discussion is dividing the left and mottling the discussion of Assange's role in Wikileaks. Smith's response is understandable, but must be challenged on the basis that avoiding a debate on rape allegations is allowing sexism to go unchallenged.

Smith's point about bringing the debate back to the U.S. government's intentions to silence WikiLeaks is right on. We should be talking about how to defend WikiLeaks from U.S. government attacks, but recognize that Assange could soon be in the same position as Bradley Manning--who is in solitary confinement in a U.S. brig. A defense of WikiLeaks should be done on a foundation of anti-sexism.

It is this foundation that was missed in the response by Wear, who called for a defense of Assange and alluded to the idea that the rape allegations could be a government conspiracy.

The aside made by Wear that the rape allegations are a U.S. government conspiracy theory set the tone of the entire article as a complete defense of Assange. The tone trivializes rape and lends to the idea that women make up rape charges to get back at men or, in this case, score political points.

I will let one of the one of the women who has accused Assange speak for herself from an interview in August: "The charges against Assange are, of course, not orchestrated by the Pentagon. The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who has a twisted attitude to women and a problem with taking 'no' for an answer."

Conspiracy theories abound within the antiwar movement and the left should not give U.S. imperialism the gift of foresight. Allegations of rape should not be dismissed as something contrived in a CIA office. A defense of Assange should remain within the realm of WikiLeaks.

Since August, Assange has made dismissive and sexist statements concerning the allegations. Even if the statements aren't an admission of guilt, they should elicit a sharp response against the sexism they display. These include an arrogant statement to the New York Times that his fame in Sweden "got me a lot of fans, and some of them ended up causing me a bit of trouble," to disgusting statements like "Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism" and "I fell into a hornets' nest of revolutionary feminism."

And never mind that his hired lawyer made a mockery of rape victims everywhere by introducing the statement "sex by surprise" to describe the allegations against Assange. All of these statements are disgusting and must be challenged by the left.

Sweden has a law protecting the right of sex partners to withdraw consent during sex as well as protecting a partner's right to have a condom used. These laws yield to the idea that consent should be seen as a continuous contract that can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason. Even still, "in 2006 there were 3,074 rapes and 227 convictions" in Sweden, reported by Katarina Bergehed of Amnesty International. The best laws in the world do not protect women from being raped.

Not wearing a condom, when the assumption is that a condom will be used, does constitute rape because it is in direct opposition to a woman's ability to have control over her own reproductive health (pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases included). Whether or not this act should be criminalized is of no debate, for only building a women's rights movement, in part, through discussions of how sexism in our society drips into interpersonal relationships, will liberate women and end this kind of abuse of women in the bedroom.

The women associated with the allegations against Assange are being used by the U.S. government as part of a political attack against Assange and WikiLeaks. A public smear campaign is waging in the mainstream media and within the left against these women as having falsified their allegations, instead of calling out the U.S. government for its opportunism.

It is the role of socialists to challenge this mess of misinformation and speculation. We must have a nuanced approach by challenging both sexism and the threat that Assange could be extradited to the U.S. from Sweden as a result of these charges.
Kate Losey, Amherst, Mass.

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