Friday, 10 December 2010

Julian Assange: Hero or Villain?

I don't often comment on political matters here at the old manse, but I can no longer avoid commenting on the cause célèbre of the moment, a fellow Australian, indeed a fellow Queenslander, one Julian Assange. For many he is a hero, blowing the whistle on morally corrupt governments and forcing them, through embarassment, to reform their way of doing business. But I think Mr Assange is rather more ambitious than that - his goal is to subvert Western civilisation itself, at least as it is presently constituted with the US as the dominant power.

So far, only the US State Dept (*see below) and the Australian ABC journalist Jonathan Holmes (click on the post title to read his incisive commentary) seem to have cottoned on to this, although Mr. Assange has written as much (btw, I think Holmes's close, drawing an analogy between Assange's likely martyrdom and that of our Lord Jesus Christ is strained). The rest of the media, along with the chattering political classes, seem to think this is solely an issue of the freedom of speech, but I suggest you really need to consider the manifesto from Assange's own pen - or should that be keyboard? - that Jonathan Holmes has unearthed from the cyber-vaults of a Melbourne university before you make your mind up as to whether he is to be regarded as a hero or a villain. The success of Mr. Assange's endeavours - if they were achieved with the aid of his many wirelessly connected sympathisers - could have profound repercussions in your life.
I happen to think Western civilisation as presently constituted, with all its warts, is worth preserving - and for many reasons too, but not least because I have children.

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Having got that off my chest...whoever thought that the protagonist in some real life Ian Flemingesque drama of world proportions (if you've read Assange's manifesto and seen pics of Wikileaks's Swedish bunker you'll understand the comparison with the likes of Goldfinger) would be from Townsville, Queensland, Australia of all places!? Certainly not my cousins, who grew up there, and couldn't wait to get out of the place. They are astonished.

* "He is not a journalist. He is not a whistleblower. He is a political actor. He has a political agenda," State Department spokesman P J Crowley told reporters. "He is trying to undermine the international system that enables us to cooperate and collaborate with other governments and to work in multilateral settings and on a bilateral basis to help solve regional and international issues," Crowley said in response to a question. "What he is doing is damaging to our efforts and the efforts of other governments. They are putting at risk our national interest and the interests of other governments around the world. He is not an objective observer of anything."


Southern Cross said...

Hear, hear. It is very refreshing to have that sort of opinion laid out to us. There is nothing about China in WikiLeaks releases.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

No doubt, Southern Cross, because anyone employed by the Chinese state who leaked government cables would be summarily dealt with.

But would Julian Assange publish them if they came his way? Perhaps, since his political principles would seem to make him no more a friend of China than of the US, but for now his stated aims are clear: not just to end two wars, as he has said publicly, but to paralyse the American government and fundamentally weaken the security structures which protect us all.

joel in ga said...

While Assange's motive could be faulted, people need to know what their governments are up to. If anything Assange disclosed actually leads to someone's getting hurt, only then should he, along with the media outlets that publicized his disclosures, be held liable.

Curiously, Assange did not receive the current level of criticism and persecution when he divulged military secrets last summer--only now when he embarrassed diplomats and other "political actors". Sour grapes.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Joel,

I agree that there should be more government transparency in democracies, but a certain amount of diplomatic secrecy is necessary for governments to function. Assange is attacking at precisely this point.

Assange has also acknowledged that 1300 Kenyans were killed as a result of one of his leaks.
"Collateral damage", I guess.

By the way, I don't agree with calls for Assange to be assassinated! he should be treated according to the law.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Joel,

I thought you might appreciate the reference to Assange's admission that 1300 Kenyans were killed as a result of one of his leaks:

"When I try to question him about the morality of what he's done, if he worries about unleashing something that he can't control, that no one can control, he tells me the story of the Kenyan 2007 elections when a WikiLeak document "swung the election".

The leak exposed massive corruption by Daniel Arap Moi, and the Kenyan people sat up and took notice. In the ensuing elections, in which corruption became a major issue, violence swept the country. "1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak," says Assange. It's a chilling statistic, but then he states: "On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya. And many more die of money being pulled out of Kenya, and as a result of the Kenyan shilling being debased."

From the UK's Guardian newspaper (

Thts is the sort of chilling moral calculation those of us old enought to recall might associate with the Socialist-Fascist powers of the Cold War, beginning with Lenin and Stalin.

Will we ever know what has happened to those killed in Afghanistan as a result of his leaks?

As I mentioned, he seems to see these deaths as "collateral damage" that must be expected in the pursuit of his cause, but at what point does he actually become culpable for them?

Even if one were to take the stated aims of Wikileaks at face value, and believe that his sole goal is to embarrass Western governments into greater openness, is the price worth it? And, as several commentators have pointed out, the result is actually likely to be the opposite.

Further food for thought.

Thanks for your comment.

joel in ga said...

The example of the Kenyan case clarifies a lot. Assange was not responsible for the violence that ensued when a dictator was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The blame for those deaths rests solely with those who took up weapons in hand.

Divulging information about corruption and similar ills is an a priori morally justifiable act, according to the Biblical principle that the unfruitful works of darkness are to be exposed (Eph. 5:11).

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Sure, Joel, but...note how Assange himself claims responsibility for it, and then regards it as collatoral damage. The same cavalier attitude towards human life can be seen in the leaking of details of Afghan informants and collaborators. Yes, the blood is directly on the hands of the murderers, but at what point does Assange and his organisation become culpable as well? It seems to me he can't keep passing the buck on that forever when he is publishing illegally obtained documents which are classified precisely to protect innocent lives.

joel in ga said...

Where does culpability begin? That is the question. If one had time, it would be interesting to go through the Pentateuch and see what principles of civic justice might apply.

I am inclined to think there is guilt and then there is guilt. For example, David murdered Uriah, and God confronted him with his guilt through a prophet; however, a civil magistrate (if that's not too anachronistic to imagine) would have had a very hard time making a murder charge against David stick.

Mark said...

If you come up with anything, pass it on to me Joel.
In the meantime, Helmut Thielicke has some valuable things to say on politics and anarchy in his 'Ethics'.