Thursday, 17 October 2013

Julian Assange's Fifth Estate

By Haniya Khalid

‘There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.’

A quote by black rights activist and leader of 1960s African-American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, taken from his book, ‘’A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches’’

To a certain silver-haired, tall-framed gentleman confined for the past approximately 400 days in an embassy belonging to a small country in Latin America, the former which is located in London, next to Harrods, this quote may carry considerable weight in its appeal. Not only that, but it may also, perhaps, gives one a glimpse into the reasons and motivations for his own activism, similar to King’s in that he tackles and exposes the oppression by regimes who use, or rather-as Julian Paul Assange may likely say-twist their own laws to use as the tools of their tyranny.

However, there is a marked difference between Assange and King. While Martin Luther King stood up against the oppression of a certain people, that being black Americans and called for the recognition of their status as equal citizens of the USA who were entitled to enjoy the same privileges and rights as their white counterparts, Julian Assange, the 42 year old founder of the whistleblowing website, stands as the enigmatic head of an organisation that promises to reveal corruption, secrecy and abuse of power, all vices which inevitably leads to the violation of human rights- by governments and organisations  worldwide.

The slogan, ‘‘we open governments’’, adopted by the organisation on its inception-and so by Assange himself for Wikileaks exists wherever he happens to be- epitomises the struggle that the site has been engaged in for the past six and a half years it has existed. Founded in 2006, Wikileaks does not merely champion their cause of justice and governmental transparency for a specific race or group, but for everyone on earth.

This view, however, is not shared by his critics. Often, Assange has been accused of ‘‘aiding the enemy’’, mostly by right wingers and US government officials (most of the time the two being merged into one entity) despite the fact that even the most leftist of governments have suffered under the mass expose. The latter includes leaked documents outlining the procedures at Guantanamo Bay, Church of Scientology Handbooks, The Iraq War Logs, Afghan War Diaries, and perhaps most importantly, and for which he was forced, by potential threat of extradition from Sweden to the US, to go in exile in the embassy, the US embassy diplomatic cables detailing the inner workings of the world’s superpowers and revealing war crimes.  The ‘’aiding the enemy’' rhetoric is an allegation often thrown upon him and his equally mysterious staff and more vocal supporters by the United States government as well as the mainstream media worldwide.

And a new attack in the form of the DreamWorks film ‘‘The Fifth Estate’’ directed by Bill Condon has caused the founder to be surrounded by further negative energy. The film, starring Sherlock Holmes star Benedict Cumberbatch, who himself was approached via a ‘ten page email’ by the founder on why the latter thought it wrong in priniciple for the actor to take part in a film that was based on lies and bias, derived primarily from ‘divorce books’. The film is partly based on former, and fired, Wikileaks member Daniel Domscheit–Berg’s book, Inside Wikileaks: My time with Julian Assange at the world’s most dangerous website and journalist David Leigh's Inside Julian Assanges War On Secrecy.

Wikileaks also retaliated by leaking a mature version of the script, alongside an internal memo outlining the extent of the inaccuracies and fabrications present in the film, such as intense fabrications and conjuring of fictional events portrayed as fact, including the statement that ‘The star of ’The Fifth Estate’, Benedict Cumberbatch, stated that director Bill Condon wanted him to play Julian Assange as an antisocial megalomaniac.’

Having spent the past year under political asylum in the embassy, which consists of one floor in the building, Julian Assange’s activities may not sound like that of the average Oscar-winning, A-Lister, celebrity lifestyle which is churned out at such incessant speed by the mainstream media, but since the release of the classified US military cables, he has reached, in the eyes of a strong and growing support base, rock status. According to an interview by Yahoo Australia’s Who magazine earlier in 2013 that quizzed him, among other things, on his lifestyle in the embassy, everyday at 4 in the afternoon,  ‘’a small group including former refugees and soldiers hold a vigil for Assange outside the embassy and those who have visited him during his confinement ‘’have included Lady Gaga, actor John Cusack, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, members of Pussy Riot and Yoko Ono, who has visited “several times”.

But if human governments are so corruptible, as Assange may argue has been clearly demonstrated by the US cable leaks, why then is Assange running for a seat, through a virtual campaign, the first, apparently, to have ever taken place, in the Australian Senate? 

The man himself answers this pressing question in a 2013 interview by Nick Miller for The Sydney Morning Herald. Assange says that ‘‘to build properly sometimes it is necessary to sweep aside the old, corrupt foundations.’’

The question remains whether Assange can carry out such a daunting task, if he were indeed to gain a seat.

The lines between the two, organisation and man, are, in the media of today, blurred. But perhaps Julian Assange, the target of constant character assassination,  in his and his staffs consistent stance of running the site and revealing more information sure to embarrass and unveil the fa├žade that governments and corporations  have been carrying for too long to justify their actions, remains overall unhindered in the Wikileaks mission by such rhetoric. The evidence speaks for itself.  The site continues to publish new documents, the latest being the third installment of the Spy files published on 4th September 2013.

One thing is for sure. With his naturally white hair, (which is not dyed, according to the internal memo, contrary to what is depicted in ‘The Fifth Estate’), soft Australian twang and hardly perceptible brows he certainly physically resembles the walking billboard of the organisation’s key ideology: government transparency at the highest level.