Understandably, Interpol’s Red Notice for Julian Assange, and today’s extradition hearing has garnered a huge flurry of press and online attention. That a warrant for his arrest on charges unrelated to the publishing of masses of highly confidential US Cables seems massively convenient for politicians that have been baying for his blood.
What I don’t understand is the need many journalists, bloggers and public figures have felt to examine the charges and exonerate Assange of any guilt. I’ve read countless blog posts, and tweets, predominantly by men, explaining that the Assange faces aren’t rape but “sex by surprise”, and snide remarks about those quirky Swedes and their bizarre laws. Predictably, the Mail are leading with the idea that Assange was set up, that the women acted as “honeytraps” (it’s Adam and Eve all over again). The fact that one of the women was mentored by a “militant feminist” has been brought up, despite the fact it seems a non sequitur.
Firstly, I’m uncomfortable with so many people feeling that they can expressly define rape, and say unequivocally that what occurred in a bedroom between two people does, or does not constitute rape. I have no idea what happened between Assange and the two women he is accused of raping. I’d argue only the three people involved do. Equally, I know very little about Swedish law, and I’m uncomfortable with people who aren’t conversant in it making statements that the charges he faces are charges that shouldn’t exist in any legal system.
This case has parallels to Roman Polanski’s: both initially avoided international arrest warrants, when both were detained people were quick to dismiss the cases against them. Whenever I see another person come forward to dismiss the claims Assange is being detained for, I’m reminded of Whoopi Goldberg proclaiming that what Polanski did, and admitted he did, wasn’t “Rape-rape”.
I enjoy Polanski’s work. Repulsion is one of my favourite films. In my head I’m capable of appreciating his art, and condemning what he subjected a 13-year-old girl to. The case against Assange is yet to be proven. However, I’d like to see the left accepting that as humans, we don’t neatly fit into “good” and “bad” pigeonholes. Just as I can concurrently enjoy Rosemary’s Baby and think that Polanski as a child rapist is a deplorable individual, I can believe that Wikileaks is necessary and a worthy endeavour, and accept that Assange may be a rapist.
By all means, argue that the timing of Interpol’s warrant may be suspect, or that the charges may not have received such attention had the Embassy Cables not been leaked. But don’t try and define rape, or examine the tabloid fragments of the case and claim that there is no case to answer. Assange was aware that the charges would be brought, and has come forward knowing the press attention would make scapegoating him difficult.