Thursday, 9 December 2010

Political crying rape?

Ok, something that's bugging me (and my friend Captain Bitchface) today is the whole Julian Assange case.
Now, many other bloggers have already covered this issue, and I'm reading through them, but one thing strikes me that hasn't come up yet.

Most of the stuff I'd read before today was suggesting, hinting, if not downright accusing the USA government of trumping up these charges in order to slam the prominent whistle-blower. Now that's disturbing.

Let me just say, for the record, that I have no idea if this guy is a rapist or not. I do not know if these charges are true or not, and for the purposes of this article, I don't care: either way, we lose.

If he's guilty, then the amount of liberal support that he's been getting is... frankly concerning. It's as if we're happy to sweep the whole sex-crimes issue under the carpet for people we like... Look at how different, and yet how similar, this is to the Polanski case.
How fucked up are we as a society that we immediately jump to the defence of sexual offenders (sorry, those accused of sexual offences) based on whether we admire their politics or art? That we believe "oh, he's a nice person, he can't possibly be a rapist"... NEWS FLASH: Criminals do not always look like criminals. They are not required to carry neon signs stating as much. Rape does not become irrelevant just because you are otherwise a good person. You don't get a free pass.

If he's innocent, on the other hand, that still is not a win. Because that means that the US government has just equated rape with the non payment of income tax. It means that sex crimes in the US are treated with such blase disdain, that they are happy to throw around false accusations of it - adding to the growing pile of "evidence" that keeps getting trotted out to suggest that women always lie about rape, especially for revenge, or when they have something to gain by it. Thank you US government! For doing exactly what women all over the world keep getting disproportionately accused of! This blogger has it right on two points (though the rest of the article... hmm... no.); when he says:

The tabloid press creates an impression, by sensationalising the trials of those few women who make proveably-false fake rape claims, that lying about rape is a common thing. It isn’t, and the impression that lying about rape is common hurts rape victims and poisons the discourse about the whole subject.


It utterly demeans the ordeal of women who are actually the victims of sex crime. And it’s a cold and cynical way of exploiting the horror that sex crime understandably provokes in the eyes of bystanders to silence someone...

Even if it's just, as a friend of mine put it, "suspicious timing", it's still enough to muddy the waters over questions of consent, ideas surrounding rape, and it's horrendously insulting and disingenuous to women everywhere that consideration of their rights to bodily autonomy have been dismissed and ignored as not-as-important as consideration of the sacred right to Freedom of Speech. Let's not fool ourselves that this would have played out exactly the same were this not so high-profile a defendant. The case would not be pursued with the vigour it has been - which suggests that rape is not enough to bother with in and of itself, but when it's someone that the US government wants silenced it provides a convenient excuse. The experience of these women has been co-opted in order to serve someone else's political ends.

The US government is behaving despicably. They've been caught with their pants around their ankles and now they're crying rape, and pushing women everywhere under a bus because of it. Charming.

I hope that this wont cause problems for the two women specifically involved. I hope that the trial doesn't get polluted by all the politics, and these women, and Assange, actually get the justice that they all deserve. God knows the USG won't.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

With Apologies to Percy Shelley

An old, mad, blind, despised, new government,--
Leaders, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,--mud from a muddy spring,--
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,--
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,--
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,--
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless--a book sealed;
A Senate,--Time's worst statute unrepealed,--
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestous day.

It is said that those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it.
I wonder, just how many of the current cabinet are History graduates? Because history is most certainly repeating itself.
Labour campaigns warned us that Cameron would be taking us back to the 1980's... and that backfired horribly, thanks to the success of Gene Hunt and the BBC's Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes series.* But on the surface of it, labour do seem to have been uncharacteristically prescient. A conservative government, police brutality, awful fashion, worse music, recession, unemployment, "greed is good" fat-cat city-types... Where oh where have I seen that before?

Actually, do you know where I've seen this before? Way back at the beginning of the 19th Century, when the above poem was written**. It's called England in 1819. And in a lot of ways, things aren't that different now from what they were then.
England had just been engaged in an expensive war. Unemployment was massively high, and poverty among vulnerable sections of society was being exacerbated by governmental policy, which at the same time benefited the already rich. Parliament was rotten to the core and in desperate need of electoral reform. The poor stayed poor and the rich just got richer, and the system was in place to keep it that way.

Today we see the predominantly peaceful student protests, where the police have been "kettling" protesters (God, we have a word for it now? We're dressing up torture - because that's what it would be called if these people were in custody, not out on the streets - in fancy words again, so people don't realise what it is...) Well that just makes me think of Peterloo.

But let's not forget what came next back in the 1800s
Reform acts.
Reform of parliament, of working conditions in factories and mines, social reform.
And how did that all happen?
Because some people worked bloody hard to change things, and didn't give up. Politicians like William Wilberforce, and Earl Grey, social reformers like Josephine Butler, writers like Dickens, and just good old public pressure, finally forced change through. It wasn't easy - far from it*** - but there were enough people pushing bills through parliament, campaigning for a cause, pushing back the boundaries in their own specialised areas (such as Florence Nightingale's contributions in the medical field) or just raising awareness and writing about it all, that change happened.

It's easy to look at the 19th century as a whole and see just how much was accomplished in that period... it's less easy to stand at the beginning of a century, looking at the state of things and how much there is still left to do, and stay optimistic. In an age where we've got used to instant gratification, it's hard to remember that change on this scale can take years to manifest, and you've got to be determined and keep at it.

The cynical part of me which enjoys conspiracy theories might wonder if this is why Arts and Humanities funding is being so drastically slashed right about now. So no-one will wonder, or point out, that this has all happened before, that we don't have to roll over and take it, and that if we work hard enough at it there is still hope of a change.
Because there is another lesson to be learned from history on this point - totalitarian governments always attack the intelligentsia first, so there is no-one to speak out against further injustices when they come.

Cheer on those students, support them however you can, because if history is right, and if we're persistent, we may see some change come of it. Or if not... you could well be next.

*In itself a bloody good example of how BBC TV is quite patently not going down hill, and should continue to be funded. Imagine spoiling that with adverts. Or the American version.... (shudders)...
** I've changed 3 words, and missed out one. That's how little I've altered it.
*** I'd recommend reading some of the links if you want to see just how hard people campaigned for things back then. Puts our current politicians to shame, it really does.