We should not allow the most violent nations in the world to divide anti-imperialists and women’s rights campaigners on this issue, argues Katherine Connelly
Recently George Galloway, a long-standing and forceful opponent of imperialism, has claimed that the women who leveled allegations of rape by Julian Assange were not raped, even if their accounts of what happened were ‘100% true’.
He is wrong. Sex without consent is rape. Furthermore, these comments are damaging in a society in which women struggle to have allegations of rape taken seriously. Rape is one of the most under-reported crimes and even when reported, the conviction rate is only around 15%. Sapphire, the police unit for investigating serious sexual assault, has recently been exposed as having a ‘canteen’ culture of sexism where the victims are insulted and disbelieved.
Like many people who applaud the role of Wikileaks in exposing the lies and war crimes of the powerful, Galloway does not want to see Assange extradited from Sweden to the US to face punishment at the hands of those same war criminals. But that does not give him the right to adopt the language of misogyny and to try to undermine the case for extradition by undermining the character or the experiences of the women who made the allegations.
Moreover, as well as being insulting, this does not help the anti-extradition argument. By insisting that Assange should not be extradited because rape did not take place, also suggests that, if he could be persuaded rape had taken place, he would accept Assange being extradited and likely facing a show-trial in the US over his exposure of war crimes.
On the other hand some of those who, rightly, want to see all allegations of rape tried are insisting that Assange returns to Sweden, regardless of what happens after that. They are ignoring the motives of imperialist states who want to have Assange locked up so they can continue to commit war crimes with impunity.
For those who counter this argument by claiming that making this a question of imperialism does a disservice to the women, I agree. But it is the US and British governments, not the anti-war movement who are making this about imperialism. It is the US and British governments who have bound up the legal process over the rape case to the war on Wikileaks by refusing to guarantee that Assange’s extradition to Sweden will not result in his re-extradition to the US.
It is the Swedish government, by refusing to start questioning Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, as the Ecuadorian government has offered, that is preventing the case from moving forward, not the free speech activists outside the Embassy.
By insisting this is just about rape some commentators have failed to untangle their arguments from the self-interested arguments of the British and American ruling class who have suddenly found a hitherto unsuspected reserve of sympathy for rape victims.
The Tory politicians who are saying this is only about rape are part of a government that is cold-bloodedly slashing rape crisis centres and services to help victims of domestic violence. Last year, their own Justice Secretary went on the radio and claimed that there is rape which happens ‘forcefully, with a bit of violence’ and rape that was somehow less ‘serious’. These people are not our allies.
Therefore, those campaigners who insist this is only about rape fail to see the defence of Assange as an important question of anti-imperialism. However, by failing to criticise the damaging intervention of imperialist interests in this case they are also unable to effectively defend women’s rights. No rape trial should be dependent upon the United States government getting revenge on whistleblowers.
Likewise, by denigrating the women Galloway not only harms women’s interests, he also fails to articulate an effective anti-imperialist objection to Assange’s extradition.
It is always important in these circumstances to look up and see who is framing the debate and why. Being only given two options should always make campaigners suspicious and that is what we’re being presented with here. In the false polarisation of this debate we are being invited either to say the only issue is a rape trial, or that the question of rape has to be discounted entirely and the only issue is anti-imperialism.
Our movement has faced these kinds of arguments before. In fact, we are only ever presented with two options by our ruling class. Over the war in Iraq we were told we could either support ‘another Hitler’ or support military intervention; over the question of defending civil liberties we were told we were either supporting ‘terrorists’ or the ‘reasonable’ safeguards that ‘had’ to be put in place. The two options are always pretty loaded.
The role of the mass movement has been to expose how false the options presented to us are. Questioning their ‘two options’ requires rejecting their view of the world and presenting our own.
We should therefore be very suspicious when some campaigners are arguing the same line as the government: it is just about rape. It is certainly not about rape for the British government, but by claiming it is they hope to get Assange out of the way so they can continue to warmonger in peace. We need to expose what they are doing, stop them from dishonestly adopting the cause of the two Swedish women, and demand that the powers who use overwhelming violence across the world get out of the court room.
Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.
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