On Tuesday, December 7, a scrum of over 50 British and international journalists were crammed into court number one in the Westminster magistrates court, central London. There were TV crews from Japan and Algeria, print reporters from Russia, a radio team from Spain. Outside, the scene seemed straight out of a showbiz trial—Pete Doherty nabbed with drugs, Paris Hilton caught driving over the drinking limit, Tom Cruise suing someone. One passerby asked, “Who’s in there?” A photographer cleaning his lens answered, “WikiLeaks bloke.” The passerby sighed, “Aah.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is indeed a celebrity now, with a global footprint, his face recognised everywhere, his name giving the jitters to powerful world leaders and evoking a range of responses among common folk—from admiration to exultation to confusion and scorn. His fame spread far and wide from the time the United States deployed its formidable power to launch an international operation to prevent the WikiLeaks website from releasing some 2,50,000 diplomatic cables that American embassies worldwide had sent to their headquarters in Washington. Unable to sabotage Wikileaks or stem the release of cables shared with five media outlets—the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel—America and other western countries then sought to at least temporarily incarcerate him, to set him up as an example for audacious netizens daring to challenge powerful governments.
The hunt for Assange began soon after Interpol released an arrest warrant on November 20, based on the sexual assault charges two women, Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen, had filed in August in Sweden. Tired of shifting from one hideout to another to evade the police, Assange surrendered and was brought to the court on the same day for bail hearing. During the court proceedings, the following charges emerged against Assange—that he apparently continued to have sex with Anna even when his condom came off and she wanted him to stop; that he coerced her into sex on another occasion by “using the weight of his body to pin her down”; and that he allegedly had sex with Wilen while she was sleeping.
Is Assange a cyber-Osama then, using deadly firepower, albeit of the technical kind, to embarrass and hurt the mighty United States to achieve his ideological goal? And what is Assange’s goal? Is he an anarchist relishing the discomfort of the powerful? Or a poster-boy of post-modernists seeking a new, transparent way of governance? Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists project on government secrecy, feels the indiscriminate use of the word terrorism has drained much of its original meaning. “It’s possible,” says Aftergood, “to see WikiLeaks as an anarchist enterprise that stands outside of existing structures of power and authority, practising a form of coercive transparency that disregards the security and privacy interests of nations and individuals.”
US SOS Hillary Clinton warned of leaks affecting ties
Assange articulated his philosophy through the Apache video. It opens with a quote from George Orwell that Assange had selected—“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Weaned on Kafka, Koestler and Solzhenitsyn, Raffi says Assange defines human struggle “not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution”. An excerpt from an essay he wrote in 2006, the year in which WikiLeaks was founded, bears out his antipathy to regimes and gargantuan institutions. “To radically shift regime behaviour, we must think clearly and boldly, for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forbears could not.” In this remark you can well see the blueprint of what WikiLeaks was to become—a secret-busting, whistle-blowing website involved in exposing the dark side of governments, ruffling the world’s powerful and rich in America, Asia, Europe and Africa.
Assange’s supporters claim the legal sideshow in London is simply a crude method of gagging him. Jo Glanville, editor of the UK-based Index on Censorship, says the retaliation against WikiLeaks reeks of hypocrisy and selective targeting. After all, nobody has threatened to take action against those in the print media who are co-publishing the WikiLeaks cables. Adds Stephen Kohn, executive director of Washington’s National Whistleblowers Center, “They have declared WikiLeaks Public Enemy No. 1. There’s clearly no proportionality here.”
Others like Todd Gitlin of Columbia University, though, think WikiLeaks “has made it more difficult to conduct diplomacy, which is a necessary function of governments—all governments”. Diplomacy, as we all know, requires immense patience and time—governments talk to each other for years before reaching an agreement; there are harrowing negotiations and bargaining not immediately intelligible to people, and leaders often do reach secret understandings to bring to reality a larger vision they have in mind. Hence, the question: should every aspect of diplomacy, or governance, be shared with people?
Apropos of your cover story, Hark, The Neo World Order (Dec 20), the irony of Julian Assange’s spy machinery lies in the fact that it closely resembles espionage systems so far adopted by rulers and governments—from Chandragupta Maurya, Queen Elizabeth I to Adolf Hitler; from the world wars, the Cold War to the war on terror. What he is doing has been done earlier by a Francis Walsingham or a Fritz Joubert Duquesne. Even today, the US government uses elaborate systems to track the whereabouts of the American people, both officially and unofficially.
Padmini Raghvendra, Secunderabad
The netnapped WikiLeaks stuff defines diplomatese for what it is: the public language of deception artistes. A dictionary of ‘unvarnished diplomatese’ may well be in the offing so that we can all make sense of the gobbledygook wired out of US missions. It’s not the number of leaked cables that should shock us but the mediocre presumptions rife in those “secret” missives used so casually to describe people and elected leaders. These observations were supposed to be from the best and brightest of our time. Really? The simplistic and naive generalisations in the leaks must shock even the most dim-witted editorial writer in small-town US. I do have two suggestions. One to the US government: use the tax dollars you’re wasting now to chase Assange to retrain your diplomats in better report writing and usage. And two, to my buddy Assange. I, too along with the NYT, support your right to “publish and perish”. But I must ask you, ‘Why are you holding on to other missives?’ Come, let us fair to be all.
WikiLeaks is an example of how the internet has truly empowered the people. One man could dare to defy the might of the most powerful government in the world. The masses were privy to information meant for a very small group of very powerful individuals. Not that it surprised the world at large, it was only confirmation of what was suspected all along: that few governments practise what they preach. Democracy, liberty, human rights—all sound fine from the pulpit, but when it comes to making decisions, only self-interest matters.
D.L. Narayan, Visakhapatnam
WikiLeaks, which has rattled Washington, shows how even the most classified information is no longer safe. Julian Assange might have been instrumental in launching the first internet war in cyberspace and has shown that in a fast-changing technological world, wars can be started even by unarmed non-state players. While one cannot but appreciate his audacity, the wisdom of putting so much confidential information in the public domain is questionable. Since democratic and liberal governments are faced with so many threats, such leaks can only be to the benefit of totalitarian governments. They will most likely lead to increased curbs on individual freedoms in democratic countries too.
G. Vijayaraghavan, Chennai
A strange name to most of us till some time ago, Julian Assange is now in the headlines! Whatever may be the motives behind this, the reactions of the ‘victims’ affirm the veracity of the leaked cables. One thing one can glean from the leaks is that no conflict ends with the reporting and analyses. The leaks should also educate other countries about the importance of retaining sensitive information and its safekeeping.
Ramachandran Nair, Oman
A man charged with murder is released on bail within hours of his arrest. One charged with rape is, at least initially, refused bail. held in solitary confinement and denied access to his lawyers. Is this the British idea of fair play and justice?
I have huge respect for your magazine, I also admire the values and ethics you uphold. But you definitely mislead the general public by equating Assange with Osama. How could a man who believes in exposing the truth to the public be compared to someone who is just his opposite?
Afsal Khan, on e-mail
It’s quite a shock to find the number of people without values and ethics in this world. Given Assange’s quest for truth, perhaps your headline should have read Cyber Gandhi instead of Cyber Obama. The only difference is that Gandhi fought for truth and Assange is fighting for a more transparent system. Of course diplomacy is important, but not to the extent that it becomes manipulation.
Sumit Shah, Pune
Is Outlook joking by comparing Assange with Osama? Assange has revealed US state secrets but not done any harm to the world at large. Osama, on the other hand, wants to destroy secular democracies and impose his Wahabi Islamic order. He hates countries like India and targets them.
The developed world has committed immeasurable atrocities and countless murders all over the world. The West has, in fact, spearheaded, justified these and created a model for other countries to follow without shame or guilt. So even as it rages on Assange’s leaks, the US is answerable on leaks which have been employed to bring down non-cooperative governments/individuals in its old scheme to plunder developing nations. For example, the exposure of Natwar Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar by CIA-maintained websites is well-known, though Natwar was exonerated by the courts. Now that nemesis has caught up with them , the US government cannot tolerate it. Assange must be supported for bringing them down to their knees.
Nasar Ahmed, Karikkudi
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The very fact that the people voted Assange "Person of the year" and Time chose the Facebook man for the honour, smacks of established institutions wilting under relentless pressure from the Power. Alvin Toffler was right in telling us that Information is the real power! Lay people (self included) do feel empowered by these leaks - be it Wikileaks or radia tapes. It just proves that the icons of the world do possess feet of clay.
If the poor students have been stymied in their research, as the UK gentleman wrote (and as this commenter understood it) maybe they need to worlk afresh at their attempts to factor in these inputs to maybe hypothesise differently.
In the name of nationalism and security nations have committed immeasurable atrocities and countless murders all over the world.West has spearheaded justified and modeled which is being followed by other countries without any shame or guilt.While US and its cohorts enrage on the leaks they are answerable to the selective leaks that has brought down the non cooperative Govts in their schemes to plunder the developing nations.In recent times the exposure of Natwar Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer by CIA maintained websites are well known albeit Natwar exonerated in courts.The nemesis catches up and the west cannot tolerate.They want absolute obedience.Assange must be supported for bringing them to their knees though he would be hounded till he is finished or contained.
>>> The International court should try him in a Neutral Country
Why?? What laws did he break ,that other newspapers that published the same information have not broken? If that is case why not try the people made public the information on Iranian nuclear enrichment facility on the same charges, after all they did endanger the security of Iran.
WikiLeaks and Assange's criminal charges have to be treated differently.The International court should try him in a Neutral Country.
Wikileaks should continue restrained exposure of Scams
Is OUTLOOK joking by comparing Assange with Osama? Assange has revealed US state secrets but not done any harm to the world at large. While OSma wants to destroy secular democracies and impose his Talobani Islamic order. He hates countries like India and targets them.
So how dare you compare the evil unlimited with Assange?
Just when OUTLOOK won my heart by leaking the Radia tapes to reveal dirty sectets to all of us, this stupid comparison stinks of shallow reporting....
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