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Pause for the cause. A look at the media hysteria surrounding the Assange affair.
A nice lovely early autumn day. Temperature in the low twenties, gentle breeze, clear blue skies. Things couldn't be better. What about Jules Assange?
And where is he? Finné (drop the accent acute and the word means 'spot '/'pimple' in Swedish) said he could leave the country. Fly to the moon. But how about his legal status? He's a citizen of Australia. Can he stay as long as he wants in Sweden, in the EU?
He was warned several times. Not only about trusting in the protection of Swedish law (which seems flimsy at best) but especially about venturing into Sweden in the wake of the release of some 75,000 (and not 90,000 as the lame mainstream journalists write) documents on the US involvement in Afghanistan. He was warned by us - our apprehensions were posted online as well.
It's hard to imagine how Julian Assange could have been lured to Stockholm by the likes of Sweden's Brotherhood Movement and even more by the likes of Anna Ardin. Ardin is a name that's not been unknown in the Swedish media and blogosphere and the current epithet 'world's most hated woman' fits snugly. She's not exactly the glamour model either, even though she does her best with lipstick and by squeezing her boobs together in one shot. Most photos make her look instead like a lipstick lesbian without the lipstick.
The venue chosen wasn't exactly Konserthuset either. Seating for perhaps 100. With 'prio press' as Ardin tweeted at the time. It wasn't easy to get tickets to the 'seminar' (sold out in a day, more like a speech anyway) and the big question remains for Julian to answer - namely why?
Why come to Stockholm to address some of the flakiest people in the country? Was there another reason for coming? Did different events coincide?
It wasn't much earlier that media-hungry pundits began claiming WikiLeaks didn't have good enough protection. The WikiLeaks Twitter feed responded immediately by insisting they did too have good enough protection. And then all of a sudden the word got out Assange was to visit Stockholm.
To speak with 100 people? To 'sign' an agreement with Rick Falkvinge? The 'ceremony' at Glenfiddich Warehouse in Stockholm's old town was great publicity but was it necessary for Falkvinge's Pirate Party to begin running WikiLeaks servers? Hardly. So why did Assange come?
To set up a deal with Aftonbladet? To seal a deal to write a bimonthly column for one of the most despicable tabloids in the world? A tabloid that wasted no time hanging Assange out to dry when given the opportunity?
To get the purportedly coveted 'utgivningsbevis' from Aftonbladet when two other organisations in Sweden already offered to do it?
And then the speech and Q&A session are over and it's Saturday evening in scenic Stockholm, Venice of the North, an archipelago in its own right, built on fourteen islands. But it's summer and Stockholm is a ghost town with everyone out at their sommarstugor, having their dinner al fresco under the tranquil Scandinavian summer skies. Where to go?
Perhaps it was arranged beforehand. Assange could have stayed at any of the major high class hotels in town. Signed in as 'John Smith' or whatever. Traveled with any one of a number of passports for all one knows.
Or was he invited to stay here?
Tjurbergsgatan 36 - 'Bull Mountain Street 36': Anna Ardin's address on Södermalm.
Södermalm's the old Stockholm trash heap. That's where the good citizens of Stockholm used to dump their refuse in the old old days.
Then it was turned into (extremely) cheap working class accommodations. And lately has become the Rive Gauche of the city. A lot of very small flats with extremely thin walls (put your loudspeakers on books to dampen the sound) where renovation has taken over even as prices have gone ballistic. The son of Sweden's national bard Evert Taube had a flat here. Most of the artsy crowd either want to move here or are here already.
A kräftskiva - this is the official day. 15 August actually - but who's counting?
There isn't much food to eat at a kräftskiva. That's where a lot of visitors and tourists go wrong (and hungry). There's usually party hats, streamers hanging from the ceiling, a lot of crayfish, a toaster, lots of sliced bread, knäckebröd, big rounds of cheese with cheese slicers, boats of butter or margarine, lots of beer, vodka, lots more beer, lots more vodka.
Yet the sparse testimony about that unlucky weekend of Friday the 13th says no one at Tjurbergsgatan 36 was under the influence - at least at the time of the alleged transgressions.
And then we come to the event itself - or initially two of them. Where in both cases there was no fear, no threat of violence, no coercion - and yet there was supposedly rape.
Rape isn't a sexual crime. It's an act of violence. Anna Ardin and her friends want to believe there's a worldwide conspiracy amongst the 3,000,000,000 males of the planet to keep raping women systematically to preserve their patriarchal rule. But it's not sexual. As the implication is it's perpetrated -against- the wishes of the woman (who presumably doesn't like being taken by force) then it needs violence to succeed.
There is no violence in the scenarios presented to the police at the Klara police station in Stockholm city, so there can be no rape.
So what happened? Ah. Here's where the speculation mutates. One website posts a 'postulation', the next website sweeps it up as 'fact', and so it goes. The venerable Guardian published a highly suspect article identifying the second woman as 'W' - and immediately the pot at flashback.org began to swirl.
In no time the woman known as 'W' had been identified, and two posts pointed to pictures of her (two different women) at the actual 'seminar'. Now everybody's certain they know who she is. But there's no journalism here. Identifying someone at the seminar is not the same as identifying the anonymous person filing a police complaint. Yet the hysteria only continued.
The foreign press is at a disadvantage not only by their self-serving agendas but by gross inaccuracies borne out of combing the Swedish mainstream media (and Flashback) with the help of Google Translate. It's easy to get things wrong, it's impossible to get the whole picture, and then you have to factor in the now legendary laziness with today's 'accredited' journalists. Simply witness how many major media outlets still quote the number of leaked Afghan war documents as ~90,000. They don't do the research, they don't care much about it either.
It's often said the Assange affair will hurt WikiLeaks. They promised to release the remaining 15,000 documents within a fortnight. They said this over a fortnight ago. But not many people are thinking about the Afghan war right now, are they?
Some say the Assange affair can't hurt WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks is bigger than Assange or any other single member of the organisation. But WikiLeaks is Assange's baby. He's the one who's built it up. He's worked all his life towards something like this. He's been a 'hacktivist' since an early age. And if it's true that he's the character 'Mendax' in the thriller 'Underground' that he cowrote with Suelette Dreyfus fourteen years ago, then he's quite the social engineer as well.
Assange attended 37 schools in his childhood. This because his family were involved in show business and at one time pursued by a cult known for abducting children. Assange learned how to survive and keep cover.
Assange started raising his own son at the age of 18. He grew up fast. He moved to the Melbourne area and began studying at the university.
Assange is an extraordinarily intelligent human being. He has a capability to be abstract and to live in that world of the abstract as few others.
He's smart - extraordinarily so. He's long ago learned how to survive when being stalked. He learned his chops as a hacker over twenty years ago. He knows the powers that be can be (and probably are) watching his every move.
He mostly lives undercover. His preparations for the release of the Collateral Murder video are the stuff thriller movies are made of.
Assange is up against the most powerful and most insidious organisations in the world. And yet he shows no outward sign of fear or intimidation. He's remarkably cool and collected.
Why then would he accept a questionable offer from an ostensibly flaky individual belonging to a flaky fringe group to give a speech for perhaps one hundred people?
The girl herself isn't the answer. It's really difficult to envision any chemistry there. The need for an utgivningsbevis right then - and through the people used - when WikiLeaks have already received other (most likely more reputable) offers: that's not the answer either. The need to hang out at what seems to be one of Rick Falkvinge's new watering holes in the capital to sign an agreement about hosting doesn't seem necessary either. When did Falkvinge last use paper for anything?
Could Julian have so misjudged the situation? Could he have so misjudged the sexual signals, the innuendos, the body language?
Didn't he check out Anna Ardin before accepting her offer? And if so: how could he possibly think he wasn't the proverbial fly to Ardin's spider?
Did he ask Rick Falkvinge about it? Or anyone from the Swedish Pirate Party? It's not as if Ardin was an unknown card. Her CV was all over the net as was her seven-step programme for exacting revenge on enemies. She'd written masters degree essays on the Cuban resistance and lesbian/queer feminism, she's been backing pro-arab anti-semitic causes - Julian Assange saw none of this?
She opened the first lesbian nightclub on her home island of Gotland?
She'd been complaining the name of her cult group was misogynistic as it was called a 'brotherhood'. She'd cited a colleague for harassment for simply paging through his notes in the audience when a feminist was on stage talking?
This same Ardin described already before the Assange affair as pretty toxic at any number of Swedish websites - that subsequently crowned her 'the most hated woman in the world'? This 'Satmaran the Black'? Assange and his friends knew none of this? Got no whiff of it? Their warning lights did not go off?
It's so easy in retrospect. As Sweden's beloved comedian and humanist Tage Danielsson would have put it: 'det är lätt att vara efterklok före'. That's what Julian Assange and his family have had to do throughout their lives, just to stay alive.
So what let him down this time?
He spent the evening at Ardin's flat. In town. Tjurbergsgatan 36. She had a crayfish party. She was the initiator. (In Sweden women usually are.) She beat the drum, set the key, set the tempo. Assange might be formidable outside Sweden, but it's another story inside. And yet somehow this amenable individual, winner of 2009's Amnesty International Media Award and 2010's Sam Adams Award, placing his personal safety in the hands of one of Sweden's most neurotic women, suddenly gained the edge and began telling her what to do?
The Assange affair has made WikiLeaks famous even inside Sweden where it wasn't beforehand. People stopped Assange on the street to say hello, to express their support, to tell him they think he should get the Nobel Peace Prize. Assange and WikiLeaks stock is only rising in Sweden.
On the other hand, the world around's finally seen the underbelly of the perfect Swedish society, those currents deep down that threaten to sweep innocents out to sea. The world around's not particularly happy (rather more like shocked) about the revelations.
The most hated woman in the world will continue to be hated, will continue to wage her ongoing online propaganda campaign against the WikiLeaks founder, will likely grow to be only more hated, as will her organisation, as will the sinister trends in Swedish society that make things like this possible in the first place.
The New Yorker: No Secrets: Julian Assange's Mission for Total Transparency