Siege Monday: send rations to Assange and Salmond

Scottish Policy, UK Policy, World Policy Aug 20, 2012 Add a comment

Salmond and Assange start the day under siege. But the besieger is very keen that we don’t think in too much detail about what happens if they are successful. When the destination is unpalatable, talk instead about the journey.

Suddenly sieges are right back in political fashion. In one picture you see Julian Assange holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy with William Hague outside threatening to boil him in oil. In another we have Alex Salmond locked in Bute House with Cardinal O’Brien outside mustering the Spanish Inquisition against him. It almost make you nostalgic for big catapults.

But what is important in both cases is that the subject of the dispute (today at least) is being emphasised almost as if the besiegers didn’t want us to think too much about the outcome if they win. Again, you might think that they are happy that we all focus on the perceived sleight to which they have been subjected and not on what will happen if we let down the drawbridge.

In the Assange case, William Hague is all about arrest warrants and the inarguable logic of justice. He was only doing his job, obeying the law and following protocol. Nothing political about this, nothing but justice being done. That the UK has a fine track record of obstructing justice when it suits the purposes of the State is not to be dwelt on – Pinochet is only the most egregious of examples. We should pretend that realpolitic does not exist, for the duration of this case at least.

What we are not to think about is that this might – just might – be geopolitics played out through the dishonesty of Justice-by-Diplomat. Britain is giving Sweden what it wants by expediting a dubious legal case. Sweden is giving the US what it wants by (probably) planning the swift hand-over of Assange as soon as they get their hands on him. And Australia is doing what everyone wants by not making any trouble. So don’t think about what this all means, just follow the dots and do the next thing. Since this is ‘justice’ that is all we have to do for an inarguably fair outcome.

And yet, as I have previously pointed out, US justice isn’t fit for a dog. For two years Bradley Manning has been treated in a manner that can only be called torture because he is accused of leaking documents. The US military has used the argument that he is suicidal to impose on him conditions of extreme deprivation. Yet a string of independent psychologists have denied he is suicidal. The US lies to the justice system for political ends. US justice is, in its way, just as subservient to the needs of the State as is justice in Putin’s Russia. You can’t pretend that justice is just justice – we already accept this to be true in all sorts of regimes where we don’t send prisoners. Europe should now be having serious discussions about putting the US on that list. In such a case I would then have little difficultly in feeling that Assange should be extradited. Until then, I consider ‘justice’ to be a cover for extrajudicial rendition to the US for purely political reasons.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal is spitting blood because it lost out to history (again). According to the spokesperson for the Catholic Church, the problem is simple: “It’s difficult to continue a dialogue with someone when they consistently ignore all the points you make. That’s definitely put a strain on the relationship.” I tend to agree. So what progress has the Catholic Church made on this issue in the face of a dialogue with modern Scotland? Has it shaken off its medieval homphobia and listened to the voices of the society in which it finds itself? Which points made by contemporary Scotland has the Church taken on board?

Actually, I can answer that question – only the ones where Scotland defeats the Catholic Church position and life goes on without hellfire pouring over us as predicted. As I have also pointed out before the Catholic Church always says that giving rights to gay and lesbians will result in the collapse of society and yet it never does. Again, this siege is predicated on the idea that listening to the Cardinal and doing what he says are the same thing. This siege is a simple one – do as this one narrow interest group demands or vanquish yourself from public life.

Again, there is a simple answer – it is time we start to ignore this petulant behaviour. Catholic Church homophobia has lost. Scotland has accepted every point the Church opposed and it has been integrated seamlessly into contemporary Scottish life. The Church lost, it was on the wrong side. So the media has to start doing what it would do in any similar occasion – note it for posterity while granting it no significance. Put in a News in Brief simply headlined “Cardinal in New Hissy Fit”. To give credit to the Church on its claim that unless a democratically elected government – supported by all the democratically elected opposition parties and the majority of the population – does what the Church tells it then it is acting in bad faith is such blatant nonsense that we should walk away in mild embarrassment.

What connects these two stories is the belief that power demands action and that we don’t deserve to have a proper exploration of what that action means. A Bishop must not be questioned on why he thinks he must be obeyed and a country mustn’t be questioned on what deal it has in place if a ‘suspect’ is handed over. If instead we think about the outcome of these two sieges if the besieger is victorious, the sleight felt by the besieger to prompt the siege is put in perspective.

Robin McAlpine

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