Saturday, February 12, 2011

An Unnecessary (And Untimely) Rant

which may well be offensive to one or two of the three or four who eventually read it, but I feel a need to vent.

The response of some of the more dedicated feminist elements of the American left to the Julian Assange rape case truly bothers me. Rape is bad, duh, and if any elements of the accusations against Assange are true he's a misogynist asshole who deserves no pity. If the worst is true, he is a rapist, full stop, and deserves to be punished for it. However, the horrendous nature of rape does not excuse us from approaching this case rationally. If anything, the emotions involved demand we be even more careful, as it is too easy for pre-rational bias to blind us to the nature of this individual case. And, to me, part of being a lefty is a belief in the necessity and value of the phrase "innocent until proven guilty", even if it may not have full legal weight in this particular instance, as I am not familiar with Swedish law.

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't want to try to pass my own judgment on his guilt or innocence. The details are murky, depending on whose reporting you read and trust, and there appears to be misinformation on both sides regarding the specific Swedish laws regarding the kind of rape(s) of which Assange is accused. Instead what I want to look at is how the case has been received by, in my opinion, too many feminists on my side of the Atlantic. The charge of rape seems to wipe away the hope of a rational response from many, which is not me saying "crazy bitches", but rather that we all have buttons which can be pushed which cause us to be less than our best selves. For many on the right that button is Islamic terrorism, and if someone is accused of being a terrorist the burden of proof is shifted to the accused to show their innocence, if there even remains the possibility of doing so. For me, the whiff of eliminationist violence can lead me to assign blame somewhat presumptively. Unfortunately, for some feminists the accusation of rape has a comparable effect. The opening argument of this post at a blog which I otherwise am unfamiliar with and recognize is not about or for me, is, unfortunately, a good example.

There can be no disputing the facts cited there regarding how rape in America is treated by our legal system, although their relevance to a case in Sweden is debatable, but their aggregate truth does not create a presumption of guilt in the individual case. I went to boarding school, and my loathing of the kind of prep jock asshole who plays lacrosse is second only to those women who genuinely have suffered at their hands, but the fact remains that the Duke LAX team was not guilty of the particular charges levied against them, and any black man accused of raping a white woman, particularly in a southern state in the previous century or earlier, likely has limited hope for a fair trial. That's not to deny that Assange is an asshole who likely treats women badly, and that he is the type of man who may well be capable of the acts he is accused of, but his being a dick doesn't mean he used his as a weapon.

What's lost in focusing on the horrid nature of rape in this case is any recognition of the particulars of the case. And these particulars should give any thinking person serious pause. The first prosecutor in the case declined to press charges, the investigation was only resumed after Wikileaks once again embarrassed and angered powerful interests, and for Interpol to issue an international warrant leading to the incarceration and isolation of a suspect based on the prosecutor's desire to interview him a second time, an interview the suspect expressed willingness to submit to freely, is, to my knowledge and opinion, unprecedented and highly disproportionate to the circumstances. The only way to ignore this context is to believe either that Assange deserves whatever he gets because of the acts of Wikileaks, or because, as seems to be the argument in the blog post I cited earlier, to be accused of rape means you probably did it, and thus, again, deserve whatever you get. I'm not presuming cause and effect, there may well be legitimate reasons why the second prosecutor resumed the investigation, and perhaps Assange's reputation as a shadowy figure who keeps in motion across the globe to make it hard to pinpoint his location justifies the extreme nature of his treatment, but considering the context and his expressed willingness to cooperate with the investigation to prove one or both of those is a high bar to reach.

To say again, because it's worth highlighting, none of this is to defend Assange as a person or deny the seriousness of what he's accused of. I'm not standing with Michael Moore and calling this a baseless witch hunt. Perhaps the best comparison I can think of is the classic case of the ACLU defending the American Nazi Party's right to march in Skokie. To extend your values even to those who you find odious is to show your true commitment to them. Were Assange a doctor accused of performing abortions in a nation where it's illegal to do so many of those preemptively standing against him would be championing his cause. If you let the nature of the charged crime determine your response I have to question your commitment to justice, and it saddens me that many who I fundamentally agree with would let the accusation outweigh any other considerations.

And I don't mean to create any straw-women and say all feminists are being irrational, I'm not saying this out of some underlying desire to discredit feminism as a cause, quite the opposite. I cherish the values feminism champions, and want it to succeed. I'm ranting because I think it does the cause a disservice when some, and by no means all, let passion overwhelm their reason. (And to say again, that's not a coded assault on women, but a recognition of a universal human flaw.) To me, feminism is a part of humanism, a valuing of all humans equally, and believing we all deserve equal rights and opportunity, even assholes, provided they don't harm others. In closing I'd like to point to this piece by a foundational Swedish feminist, pointing out some of the many problems in the Assange case, shared with me by a female Swedish friend. (Apologies for the clunky Google translation, but the gist remains clear.) This is not Naomi Wolf glibly speaking of the "rape police", but someone who knows Sweden and its laws, and who finds real flaws in the case. Rape is a poorly treated and largely unhealed wound in human society, but that does not excuse a lack of reason and rationality in response. If anything it demands the opposite, lest we let the wound fester. I know it is... impolite to mention, but the Duke case gave rape apologists ammunition, and shows, to me, the need to always keep justice as the first goal in response to any crime, even the worst.

And that's my first real post here, wow.


  1. I saw that post. I'm glad Anonymous is (mostly) on the side of good, or at least that it's mostly the wrong people who are dumb enough to antagonize them. It'll be interesting to see how BofA responds now when their docs get dumped.