THE sight of the man being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy kicking and screaming was like something right out of George Orwell’s 1984.
For quite some time, Julian Assange–annoying and smug as he often appeared to be–seemed to be the only one capable of standing up against “the man,” daring the world’s most powerful nations to come and get him, in a high-stakes game of catch-me-if-you-can.
The founder of the infamous WikiLeaks widely divided popular opinion. While some thought that what they were doing was protecting everyone’s right to free speech and open access to information, there were also others who were of the opinion that he was a threat to national security, exposing state secrets that would be dangerous if they fell into the wrong hands.
Now, all this is already academic, of course. Arrested and soon to be deported to the US for trial, his one-man act of defiance is quite probably over. The state wins, as it almost always does, and very soon very few will remember his name, much less what he stood for.
It isn’t always easy to side with the powerful state, in a fight that seems as lopsided as David’s vs. Goliath’s. But WikiLeaks is not an everyday David, and in a world where security sometimes takes precedence over human rights–the picture becomes even more blurry. And this becomes even truer especially in today’s socio-political landscape.
The key assumption in the effort to get Assange to justice was that the state was acting in the best interests of its citizens. For instance, the US did not want its state secrets leaked to potential security threats, so as not to expose the country to any potential danger. A pretty admirable goal, if you ask me. And especially since it is assumed that the state is always transparent to its people, and would not hide anything from them that would place them in harm’s way, endanger their rights and curtail their freedoms.
But then, how do you reconcile this scenario of good state vs. bad individual, with the actions of a certain individual purporting to speak for the state?
The president of the US himself, no less, has been accused not only of revealing state secrets to an adversarial state, but of also actively colluding with its principals to influence the outcome of a democratic process in the US. We don’t know that this is true, of course, and we probably never will know anymore. The Mueller report, which was supposed to shed light on this, has been issued but none of its much awaited contents so far have been released publicly. So did he or didn’t he will remain the stuff of late-night comedy shows for some time to come still, it seems.
All of which makes the Assange saga even more farcical. The “state secrets” that WikiLeaks is accused of disclosing to the public are pretty trivial and inconsequential, compared to the import of what the very own president of the United States could have done. It’s kind of like the political equivalent of a murderer calling for a petty criminal to be jailed, while he goes free with his way more heinous crime.
Even at the best of times, ordinary people are always wary of government overreach. No one likes Big Brother, even if the brother is a good one. This is even worse when the elder sibling in the family is himself the wayward black sheep, like the Potus supposedly is. Because without moral authority on its side, he will appear to be nothing short of just a big, fat and ugly bully.