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this is progress?

there's a story circulating in the media that you might have heard, but if not, i'll get you caught up on the details. basically, there is a certain gentleman, not an elected official himself, but well known within political circles and a big backer of the tea party movement. he's what you'd call an eligible bachelor- 40ish, good-looking, unmarried- and apparently in the run-up to the november mid-terms last year, he had a little romantic encounter with a female tea party activist while on a campaign run. she alleges that, while she was initially open to his advances, she later told him she did not want to have sex and that he then forced himself on her. in fact, he's been charged with sexual assault.

his friends and associates are up in arms, alleging a politically motivated smear campaign run by an assistant district attorney they say has an anti-male bias and a district attorney with a leftist agenda. they have made all sorts of claims about the man's accuser, claiming that she made up the story about refusing consent after the fact and that she may have been an "undercover agent" in a seamy political plot, bent on entrapping this man. they've even gone so far as to strip her of the anonymity normally accorded women who bring sexual assault charges, releasing her name and other details about her to the media.

let's for the moment set aside the question of the man's guilt or innocence. that is for a court to decide and the information is too vague and incomplete to allow us to render a decision. what i'd like you to think about is the behaviour of his friends and supporters. is circulating dubious stories about the accuser and publishing her identity a reasonable reaction? or does it seem like the same sort of vicious political attack they accuse his prosecutors of making? you should consider this question carefully, because a lot of liberal-minded, progressive, intelligent, articulate people seem to be having a problem with it.

ok, i fibbed a bit. the man isn't a tea party supporter. his name is julian assange and you've probably heard a lot about him in the last few months.

as i said, what concerns me is not his guilt or innocence. what does concern me, and what should concern a lot of people, is the ugly underbelly that is betrayed by the words and behaviour of his supporters. here are a couple of examples:

"The “charges” against Assange, made by two women – a “feminist” harridan who works as the “gender equity” officer at Uppsala University, and a sometime photographer and former Assange groupie with stalkerish tendencies – are quite murky."
-full article here

"Julian Assange is being harassed for slighting the feelings of two groupies who worshipped him before and after the alleged rapes and he's being hunted for something that's definitely not rape and not even a crime yet.
Something that probably didn't even happen as the girls are known to have made the whole thing up."
-full article here 

"Ms A appears at this stage to be a woman blinded by a burning desire for revenge on her cheating boyfriend"
-full article here

others have accused the accusers of doing a disservice to all rape victims by bringing what they term frivolous charges. and these aren't your tea-party dames- no less an authority than author naomi wolf  has condemned the women. (i'll even admit that i thought the whole interpol spectacle was pretty ridiculous on the surface, considering what else the agency is supposed to be dealing with.)

when the hell did the proponents of free thought get this vicious? did i miss a meeting? feminist harridan? groupie stalker? having comparatively recently laid the groundwork to overcome the prevailing belief that women can be raped only if they were virgins, it now seems that women are going to have to overcome a new belief that women can be raped only if the perpetrators are white, wealthy and republican.

none of this discourse has any bearing on assange's guilt. nor does it have particular bearing on the question of whether or not the prosecution was primarily politically motivated. it may well be that there is a conspiracy to silence julian assange (and, by extent, to bring about the downfall of wikileaks). the point is that there are other ways to discuss this without resorting to the sort of name-calling and smear tactics we claim to deplore.

these attacks don't say much of substance about the case or the conspiracy, but they do reveal something that supposedly progressive people would like to keep a secret: a lot of those who support democratisation, public empowerment and strict government accountability are still very much believers in powers they try to fight. as audre lourde said, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house". abusive, derogatory, demeaning language has always been one of the master's greatest tools.

let julian assange's legal team attend to his woes with the swedish prosecutor's office and beyond. it's evident that the rest of us have bigger issues to deal with.

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