The Wikileaks ongoing affair is taking an interesting turn. This is not a blog about how Julian Assange is currently being hunted down under some quite opportunistic sex offender’s charge. I would like to discuss why I believe that the man and site -hunt that’s going on around the world and around the Internet is a defining moment of our century and the ability of the western world to overcome both its contradictions and the limits of its own system.
Simon Phipps wrote a much welcome post this week-end and quoted Voltaire “I may not agree with your opinion but I will do everything I can to make sure you can express it”; the Wikileaks “cablegate” is about that, as well as about two other issues.
But first, I would like to clarify my opinion on the “cablegate” in the form of a cautious caveat emptor. Contrary to Mr Assange, I do not believe that transparency solves or will solve every problem out there. I believe transparency is good, in general, but transparency can sometimes become a deforming mirror, pun intended: Total transparency is an utopia. We all need and have secrets, and so have human societies. While crime and murky business of all kinds do require opacity to progress, it has often been shown that transparency is also a well made-up reality, whether hiding those criminal or morally reprehensible practices, or hiding conversations or more delicate but legitimate dealings under the veil. Our societies could not exist with total transparency. We could not be humans with total transparency: Or else one would have to explain that Comedy, Drama, and human subconscious are inherently bad and useless. What the “Cablegate” reveals so far is quite embarrassing for the United States of America. I read the newspapers, like Le Monde in French and the Guardian in English, two newspapers that had been working with Wikileaks on the cables. I also went straight to one of the Wikileaks mirrors and watched that specific section. My gut feeling? It’s unfortunately the world we live in. If you think this will make me become anti-American then you’re wrong. The US are failing in bringing Pakistan to become a sincere ally in the war against terrorism? I’m yawning. The US ambassador in Paris describes the French President as being nervous and extremely egotic? Guess what, watch french national television for two hours and you’d get that instantly. For the rest -and there’s more embarrassing material- killing two Reuters journalists and children from an Apache helicopter is an absolute tragedy that bears a name: War. Not that I support what the videos are showing: I hope there will be DoD investigations for this. But war is war, and if anyone thought Iraq, Vietnam, World War 2 or the War of US Independence were about pooh-bears throwing honeypots at each other, then there’s a word for it that goes beyond naivety: stupidity.
Other leaks tend to be somewhat more interesting: it shows how private companies and special interest groups are framing entire legal frameworks in Europe, how the US put spies in political parties and hosts them in their embassies worldwide. It’s obviously embarrassing, but please let’s ask ourselves: Is this all new? I don’t think it is.
In fact there’s two ways to understand what the Wikileaks cables’disclosure reveal. One is the factual disclosure of actions, affairs, skeletons in the closet, various projects and information that enlightens the perception of the US Government on worldwide topics. You can feed anti-Western sentiment or anti-american feelings with this material, but frankly it’s not like these two memes would be fading away anytime soon without the leaks. Another one is the notion that all of a sudden transparency will fix the state of the world, starting with America. Transparency helps, but some things have to remain buried for a long time, some things are not meant to be disclosed. And talking about transparency, we should not be anymore naive and demand that the same kind of information be disclosed from countries like Iran or North Korea: I’m sure it would highlight another well-known reality: that US or democratic countries are not just no worse, but are in fact much better than these countries (some people are ready to absolve them from their wrongdoings on various grounds).
So why did I call this post “Discernment”? For various reasons; the first one is that the US Government in general is behaving in such a way that few will believe that they have a legitimate defense to present. Mafious-like pressures, persecution of one man, denial of reality, outrage do not serve them. The world we live in isn’t the Sopranos’ BadaBing strip club; and if I may write so, even if “shit does happen” one should try to think about not being seen as the culprit. I must indeed say that I find it extremely concerning that a man like Eric Holden is behaving the way he does, using expressions alluding to underground actions used to fight Julian Assange. A government does not fight one man; it discredits him, or it reuses his ideas to gain an advantage, otherwise that government is weak. It only leads to one result in the end: Assange is seen as the victim, the US Government and Barack Obama as the black knights (excuse the pun).
The second reason why I titled this post “Discernment” is that to the best of my knowledge, and interestingly enough many US lawyers seem to think that way, Julian Assange has not violated any US Federal or State Law. This means something quite terrible for the United States: There is simply no due process of law in this affair, only angry politicians. But angry politicians do not constitute a law themselves; you need a legislative and transparent process for this, otherwise you’re no better than in a dictatorship. This law has so far failed to materialize. Meanwhile, Wikileaks is being hunted down around the Internet, large companies withdrawing essential tools for its infrastructure. Julian Assange just went to the London Police and will remain there in custody until the 14th of December under the alleged charge of sex crime. Let’s stop the hypocrisy and speak out the truth: making up a lace of lies will only reinforce Assange’s position: Otherwise, Facebook’s Fan page of wikileaks now has over a million “terrorists”, the Internet should be censored and Wikileaks banned, (China-style) while the KKK, anti-semitic and djihadist groups are free to graze and prosper. And I forgot to add to the list: Pigs can now fly. Unfortunately, that seems to be the situation we are in. But there’s more.
As one may see I’m not exactly a fan of disclosing diplomatic cables, from the US embassies or elsewhere -while in some cases such as private corporations wrongdoings the disclosure helps and is important- but it’s not so much about what Assange did or did not do. Let’s consider this: the whole affair should never have been about Assange in the first place: Wikileaks has not stolen the cables, a whistleblower uploaded them, but nobody really cares. No, the whole point of the scandal is that we now have a great democracy whose government is incompetent in addressing a massive disclosure of confidential material, and its incompetence is now setting a precedent on free speech and free press. What Wikileaks did -and dare I add the newspapers that collaborated with the site to the culprits- was disclosing an information from an “unknown source”. That’s what newspapers in the free world do all the time. Does this mean that under the quite specious argument of the fight against terror we should now ban this? By the way, who will be able to “ban the ones who are banning free speech”?
Therefore, unless we specifically have a due process of law following a public and opend debate on whether initiatives of Wikileaks could be condemned on specific grounds, unless it’s clear for everyone that Free Speech is safeguarded and is actually enacted and thoroughly protected, Assange and every anti-American will have won.
Again, let’s have a public debate about this: It’s well worth the effort, and it’s well worth using our sense of discernment.