When the Left apologises for Assange
When the whole scandal recently flared up again, I said I wasn’t going to talk about Assange. After numerous Facebook arguments with people on all sides, I said I wasn’t going to talk about Assange. After being screamed at for daring not to flock down to the Ecuador embassy in uncritical support of an alleged rapist, I said I wasn’t going to talk about Assange. And yet, here I find myself talking about Asssange, because it matters.
Before I was comfortable with calling myself a revolutionary socialist feminist, I self identified as ‘apathetic’. I had convinced myself that nothing mattered anyway, so there was no point in demonstrations, slogans and arguments, because the world moved on at the same pace whether or not you were ok with benefit cuts, £9k tuition fees and political sentencing.
Being a part of the student movement showed me how we can work together and win together. Sometimes I hear people saying we lost the tuition fees vote, the movement is dead, we never achieved anything, and I don’t know how to tell them they’re wrong. I know we owe so many victories to the links we formed at Millbank while working together in revolutionary organizations or outside of them. But above all, the radical left taught me about feminism, and how to stand up in the face of growing inequality.
I was shocked to see parts of the very Left which regularly slams patriarchy, and condemns sexism and misogyny, unconditionally defending a man who has been accused of rape. I was shocked seeing parts of the Left defending a man who had unprotected sex with a woman who had specifically not consented to having unprotected sex. A man who initiated sex with a woman who was asleep. A man who admits these things, and does not call them rape! And this Left was not even mentioning the word rape – as if it’s not important, as if the wrongs and rights of this man canceled each other out.
I was shocked to see this Left coming up with every excuse in the book for this man. That sometimes people admit to things they haven’t actually done, that the women were CIA agents, that one of them even had the audacity to look happy and throw a party in the days after allegedly being sexually assaulted.
The arguments have been made time and again, in articles and subsequent Facebook, Twitter and blog threads. Semantics have been debated, party lines have been established. Some have managed to see that there is no dichotomy between supporting Wikileaks, being against political maneuvering and imperialism, and taking rape accusations seriously. Others huddle outside the Ecuador embassy building with signs of support, to see Assange on a balcony, smiling like some kind of cross between Mussolini and Eva Peron.
The uncritical support of Assange from parts of the Left has left a very sour taste in my mouth. It comes from a culture of silence and fear. It has made me think twice, like when I have to think twice about getting a bus alone at night. It has shown me who is willing to silence my voice, and it has shown me how much work we still have ahead of us as feminists.