As a long-time supporter of Wikileaks, since its inception in 2006, its importance is often overlooked by the personal issues surrounding its founder Julian Assange. It’s a complex legal and ethical battle and his fear of US arrest and imprisonment is real and justified. Trusting any authorities is unwise considering the record of governments and courts over the last years. It’s certainly sad reading Jemima Khan, former Wikileaks supporter, in the New Statesman this week claiming a cult has developed around Assange and he should go to Sweden to answer the sexual assault charges. A friend recently met Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and said that he seemed relaxed and determined. His future may be unclear but standing up to the most powerful forces in the world takes extreme bravery. For that he should be supported, though never uncritically.
Julian Assange, like everyone else with public influence, is fair game for criticism. There is absolutely nothing wrong per se with voicing criticisms of him. I’ve done it myself on several occasions. Everyone with a public platform should be subjected to critical scrutiny, including him.
But the notion that there’s anything “brave” about criticizing Assange – easily one of the most hated people by western governments and establishment media outlets – is an embarrassing joke.
Attacking Assange is about the most conventional and power-pleasing acts in which one can engage. Virtually no act guarantees instant, automatic and widespread praise in elite circles the way that attacking Assange does.
That doesn’t mean the criticisms are invalid or wrong. It doesn’t mean they’re illegitimate to express. But it’s a ludicrous conceit to pretend that attacking him takes “courage”.
Yes, some WikiLeaks supporters will go on Twitter and criticize those who attack Assange. That, too, is fair game. But being criticized on Twitter isn’t indicative of bravery. It’s inherent to expressing any political views of any kind. Defending Assange also subjects one to intense attacks. So what?
Whatever else is true, Julian Assange is one of the planet’s most scorned and marginalized figures among western power factions. Criticizing him may be many things – including, at times, perfectly valid.
But one thing it is not is brave.