One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Guilt and Innocence....of what?

All the right thinking (by which I mean Left thinking) folk have been lining up in support of Julian Assange. All well and good. But do they have their causes confused?

On last Thursday's (16th Dec) 's R4 'World at One', Josefin Brink from Sweden's Vänsterpartiet ('Left Party')1 made the good point that a) The exposure of government lies, double-dealing and general shadiness and b) the alleged rapes of two women are separate issues.

She reminded us that there have been numerous cases of famous men being accuesed of rape, and everyone says "Oh, how could it have been him? He's such a nice guy!" Often, though, our hero has turned out to be a rapist, and people find this concept difficult to accept. She stressed that she's not saying Assange is guilty - but there's one proper place to decide the issue: the court.

The general assumption appears to be that the rape allegations have been trumped up by Dark Forces. One of the victims has been 'linked' (whatever that means) to the CIA. All this might be more than conspiracy theory - after all, remember back to when Anti-Apartheid Activist Peter Hain was fitted up for bank robbery by the South African BOSS, with the compliance of the Met?

Now I accept that the Scandiwegian nations aren't as squeaky lean as they like to believe.: a browse through a Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell novel suggests an underbelly. But I wonder...if you wanted to bang up a troublemaker for political reasons, which jurisdiction might you find most amenable? Britain? Australia? Sweden? Myself, if I were looking for a fair trial (and a clean, non-Dickensian cell), I know where I'd be headed.

There's also a feminist angle missing here. (I note, with mild surprise, the involvement of Helena Kennedy QC. a leading advocate for justice for women, in this case). From the pro-Assange camp, there have been complaints that the Swedish definition of rape is somewhat more liberal than in other countries. I'm struggling to see their point here. Sweden is also - at least, theoretically - more robust than many in prosecuting rape1. If this is the case, the proof or innocence of a case may turn on complicated matters than whether the man can be proved to have held the woman down at knifepoint. There seem from the allegations here to be prima facie grounds. Granted, there appears in Swedes to uncertainty over whether evidence supports rape or lesser molestation charges, but again...this reflects the complexity of the issues and its why the allegations need to be examined in a court. Surely?

Isn't it somewhat disturbing that some of Assange's supporters have been so ready to dismiss the allegations a priori?

1. But note my 'dark underbelly' comments: below the surface, Swedish men are no more reconstructed than any. Stieg Larsson was making a point with the original, Swedish title of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo' ('Män som hatar kvinnor'): Men who hate women.

1 comment:

Dan | thesamovar said...

Finally! An opportunity to disagree with you. I'm currently working on a blog entry somewhat related to this. For the moment, take a look at my comment on Cath Elliot's Liberal Conspiracy post.

I'll put it another way here: think about the consequences of different ways we could react to news like this. The intellectually consistent, prima facie reasonable way to respond is the way you and others have done so, which is to say that we don't know, that it is possible, and let's wait for the court judgement. The other is to say: this is exactly the sort of smear attempt that you'd expect, so let's assume that it is. So what are the consequences of these? The consequence of the first is that whenever a government wants to smear someone, it can. Of course, if he's innocent he'll eventually be cleared, but that doesn't matter because by then the smear will have had its effect. What about the consequences of the latter approach? In this case, we don't allow ourselves to be taken in by a smear, but we might later find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having supported a rapist. Neither option seems palatable, but here's why the latter option is better: it doesn't matter if we get it wrong and accidentally support a rapist. Our assumption that he didn't do it makes no difference to the court proceedings. If he did it and the evidence is good enough he'll be convicted of it, regardless of our reaction to the news story. So we choose between: allowing governments (and companies) to smear people at will; and sometimes making mistakes that have no effect but might feel uncomfortable. Seems clear to me that the latter is better.

I think that there is a real danger in taking a sort of intellectually purist attitude of refusing to take a position on something where we don't have enough evidence to be sure. That is, of course, the situation, but the reaction is not good enough. There is no neutral position, to not take a position is just to take a position in favour of smears.