Julian Assange is a man whose name is inescapable. From within the confines of the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange’s appearance in the news still stretches far and wide. Dominating film releases, talk shows and media coverage, Assange has managed to maintain a global presence which grips.
Hailed as a hero who initiated a freedom of information war against government-led surveillance, secrecy and the subversion of classified documents, Assange has accumulated a huge following. Benedict Cumberbatch recently described him as a man with “integrity and self-sacrifice” when discussing the release of ‘The Fifth Estate’ in which Cumberbatch plays Assange. This image of Assange as a self-sacrificing martyr has stuck. He has become somewhat of a modern-day God, accompanied by a devout group of followers. This flock, including prominent high-profile and celebrity figures, felt compelled enough to raise a substantial sum of £240,000 for his bail in 2010 when he was arrested for rape charges.
Since 2010 however, the clearest message Assange emits is one of self-promotion and attention seeking. Amongst rape claims, the whirl of extradition threats, the Ecuadorian embassy’s diplomatic quarreling with the British government, the film releases and documentaries, the so-called motive for Assange’s actions lie silent. Hidden. The impact of Wikileaks when it was launched seven years ago was huge, reported as the beginnings of a new epoch; an explosion of classified information which neither global populations nor governments were meant to see. It has since been historicised as a door opener for consequent whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden.
…without such understanding no human being can meaningfully choose to support anything…
Speaking to the New Scientist back in 2008, Assange stated “the first ingredient of civil society is the people’s right to know, because without such understanding no human being can meaningfully choose to support anything. Knowledge is the driver of every political process, every constitution, every law and every regulation. The communication of knowledge is without salient analogue. It is living, unique and demands its rightful place at the summit of society”.
A Foucault-inspired mission to try to understand and then undo the networks of power, perhaps? Great philosophy. Yet what emerges from the murky depths of Wikileaks, the wealth of information on it as well as it’s infinite potential, is Assange. The figure of Assange time, and time, again. He persistently absorbs attention and no longer makes an effort to divert it elsewhere, to the specificities of leaked documents or to the mission of his as stated above. He has managed however, to divert the ‘people’s right to know’. These words struck a chord with me: ‘the people’s right to know, because without such understanding no human being can meaningfully choose to support anything.’
…‘the people’ should resist supporting him…
This is why I cannot meaningfully choose to support Assange, and which is why I believe Assange should not be granted refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. He should come forward and face trial to determine whether he is an innocent or guilty man after two women have accused him with charges of sexual assault and rape. ‘The people’ have a right to know and without adequate understanding, ‘the people’ should resist supporting him. Until a proper trial is conducted and a clear verdict is reached as to whether Assange is guilty of rape, I choose not to support him. Neither should ‘the people’.
Whether you agree with Wikileaks as morally right or wrong in a world where the internet and reality is constantly colliding, and the virtual begins to converge with the material, Assange has been selectively pursuing justice, freedom, openess and change. Many may view his long holiday in London’s Ecuador as battling the modern-day super powers, as David versus Goliath, but I see him as a megalomaniac disguised as a modern-day martyr. In reality, he exists today as a 42 year old man trapped in a central London building waiting to be tried for two counts of rape before being extradited to America. Who is the sacrifice truly for?