// archives


This tag is associated with 5 posts

Julian Assange, Political Martyr?

22 August 2012

Julian Assange, Political Martyr?

By Gwynne Dyer

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is not well served by some of his supporters. When he appeared on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up for the past two months to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about allegations of sexual assault, he wisely said nothing about those claims – but some of his friends did.

George Galloway, the British member of parliament who founded the Respect Party, shares Assange’s suspicion that the whole affair was a “set-up” to get him to Sweden, from which he would be extradited to the United States to face trial for “espionage” for placing a quarter-million US diplomatic cables on the internet. That was what Assange talked about on the balcony last Sunday – but Galloway could not resist the opportunity to talk about sex.

Galloway never misses a chance to put himself in the public eye, so he released a podcast on Monday saying that Assange was only guilty of “bad sexual etiquette.” Thanks, George. The last thing Assange needed was for public attention to be distracted from his claim that the US was plotting to seize and jail him and diverted instead to the details of the alleged sexual assaults.

Some of those details are indeed peculiar. The two Swedish women each said that she had consensual sex with Assange, but was asleep or “half-asleep” when he initiated sex again. The real issue in both cases was apparently his failure to use a condom on the second occasion, but neither woman claimed rape. Indeed, one of them threw a party in Assange’s honour the following evening, and asked him to stay in her room again afterwards.

Worried about the condom issue, they subsequently asked him to take an STD test, and went to the police when he refused. The Swedish police issued an arrest warrant for him on 20 August, 2010, but one of Stockholm’s Chief Prosecutors, Eva Finne, cancelled it the following day, telling the press: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”

Ten days passed before her decision was overturned by another Chief Prosecutor, who issued a European Arrest Warrant for Assange (who was in London by then) demanding that he be sent to Sweden for questioning. The British police arrested him in February, 2011, and he spent the next sixteen months on bail, fighting extradition. When his last appeal was denied in June, he jumped bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.

But why doesn’t he just answer the Swedish police’s questions? They haven’t even charged him with anything at this point. His answer is that he’d be happy to talk to them in London, but that if he goes to Sweden the United States will lay charges against him (it hasn’t done so yet) and demand his extradition. Even if he is never charged with rape or some lesser offence by Sweden, he would then face decades in an American prison.

Again, there is something peculiar about how the British and Swedish governments are playing this. Sweden has sent prosecutors abroad to interview people suspected of serious crimes before, precisely to determine whether it should lay official charges against them. This time, it won’t do that. And neither government will state that it will not let Assange be passed on to the Americans, although he says he would go to Stockholm if they did.

So is there really an American plot to whisk Assange away and lock him up for good?

There’s no question that many senior American officials would like to do exactly that. Vice-President Joe Biden called him a “high-tech terrorist,” and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described his action as “an attack on the international community.” Great powers are always vindictive towards those who reveal their dirty secrets.

However, the official American outrage that prompted those comments was triggered by Assange’s big document dump in November, 2010. The incidents in Stockholm and the Swedish request for his extradition happened before that.

There is also the question of why it would be easier for the US government to extradite Assange from Sweden than from the United Kingdom, assuming that it eventually does indict him? There is a serious question as to whether US laws on treason, espionage, etc. can be applied to a foreign citizen who has never lived there.

More importantly, London and Stockholm would both be deeply reluctant to hand Assange over to the tender mercies of the American justice system. They would face a huge outcry from their own citizens, most of whom think that WikiLeaks is a useful check on the untrammelled exercise of American power in the world: the domestic political price would be too great.

Indeed, the remarkable absence of a US indictment and a subsequent demand for extradition after all this time suggests that Washington knows there would be no point. So there probably isn’t a US plot to grab Assange.

There probably wasn’t a rape either, but that’s for the Swedish courts to decide. Assange should allow them to get on with it.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 12. (“Again…did”; and “There…there”)



Clitoris Cake

20 April 2012

I’ll Have a Slice of Clitoris, Please

By Gwynne Dyer

Let’s suppose that you are an artist who knows you have to shock people if you really want to get on in the trade. And not being Damien Hirst yet, you should probably justify your shock tactics by claiming that they serve some good cause or other. So which cause will it be?

Children of war? Taken. AIDs victims? Even Benetton has done that. Well, then, how about female genital mutilation?

That’s more promising: FGM offer possibilities for really shocking images, if you want to go down that road. And our artist certainly does.

To work, then. Obviously, an anatomically correct sculpture of a woman about to undergo this ordeal would be ideal, but not a tedious conventional sculpture made of metal, wood or papier mache. This is high art, CONCEPTUAL art, so how about we do it as a cake? Then we could eat her afterwards. Nice symbolism.

Our aspiring artist (let’s call him Makode Linde) decides that his cake-woman should be black. And since he doesn’t want to be left out of the picture, he decides that the cake-woman should have a life-size body but no head.

Instead, Makode Linde will poke his own head up through a hole in the table that the cake lies on, just where the cake-woman’s head would be. He’ll be in cartoonish black-face, of course. And he invites the minister of culture to the event, in the confident knowledge that (this being Sweden) the poor fool will actually come.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth rolls up to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, accompanied by several of her ministerial entourage, and is invited to be the first to cut the cake. Not just anywhere, though: she is told to cut a slice from the cake’s “clitoris”. As she does so, Makode Linde screams loudly. Then, laughing at the surrealism of it all, Liljeroth feeds some of the “clitoris” to the blacked-up artist. He laughs, too.

You will have realised by now that I am not making this up. It happened in Stockholm last week, and you can see several videos of it on YouTube. And it didn’t make me any happier when I found out that the artist himself is black.

Well, not black, actually. Linde is mixed-race, with a Swedish mother and a West African father, and he has lived in Sweden all his life. But the fact that all the participants in the event knew he was “black” made it all right for them. Well, sort of all right: if you look closely at the crowd of white Swedes in the background of the video, they’re laughing, but it is distinctly nervous laughter. They know there’s something wrong here.

Indeed there was. This event has unleashed a torrent of self-criticism in Sweden, together with a great deal of abuse from foreigners about the “racist” Swedes. The smarter Swedes suspect that they have been tricked into looking worse than they are by Makode Linde, but they’re not sure quite how he did it. So let’s help them.

Linde claims to be an “Afromantic”, whatever that means. “I’m revamping the black-face into a new historical narrative,” he explains unhelpfully – and adds that he had made this cake because the Artists’ Association of Sweden had put out a call for artistic cakes to mark its 75th anniversary. But what he’s really doing is distorting FGM into a racial issue, because racial issues are his artistic stock-in-trade.

The sub-text of Makode’s little game is that black Africans are the victims of female genital mutilation, and that somehow it is the fault of white people. That’s why he appears in the sort of extreme, caricatured black-face that was used by white comedians about a century ago.

Except that the victims of FGM are not particularly black. The ones in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria are, but the last time I looked Egyptians were not black, and 97 percent of Egyptian women have suffered “female circumcision.” It is generally done by the mothers and grand-mothers of helpless little girls, so the perpetrators of this atrocity are almost always of the same ethnic group as the victims.

They are usually of the same religion, too. The great majority of FGM victims are Muslims, but the custom is clearly pre-Islamic. (It was already being done in Egypt under the pharaohs.) It is common all over the northern half of Africa, but its roots are in the north-eastern part of the continent, where the Christian majority in Ethiopia and the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt practice it as enthusiastically as their Muslim fellow-countrywomen.

FGM is an agonising procedure (usually done without anaesthetic) whose main purpose is to deprive women of the possibility for sexual pleasure so that they will not be tempted to stray from the beds of their husbands. No amount of cultural relativism can excuse it, but this is not the right context for that discussion. The question here is: why did Linde create this ugly and deeply misleading event?

The answer, alas, brings us full circle. He thought it would have shock value, and he wasn’t going to let a few facts get in the way. See above.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 11 and 14. (“Linde…trade”; and “They…countrywomen”)


The Meat of the Matter

4 February 2012

The Meat of the Matter

By Gwynne Dyer

Four decades ago Norman Borlaug, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on raising crop yields worldwide (the “green revolution”), said: “I have only bought you a forty-year breathing space to stabilise your population.”

In 1970, when Borlaug got his prize for postponing the onset of famine for forty years, the world’s population was 3.7 billion. Today, it is 7 billion. The US Census Bureau expects only two billion more in the next 34 years, and we might actually stabilise the population by the end of the century – but we will have to feed almost three times as many people as there were in 1970. How on earth can we do that?

Actually, you don’t need to panic right away. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recently estimated that the extra people can be fed, at least until we hit 9 billion, if crop yields rise by one percent a year and the world’s farmland expands by 13 percent.

There is enough potentially arable land for that, although it would involve cutting down the forests over an area the size of South Africa. Grain yields probably can go on rising at one percent a year if we manage irrigation and fertiliser use much better than we do now. And if the grain production expands, so does the meat production.

This takes no account of the ecological damage done by removing even more land from the natural cycles, and it omits details like the looming collapse of most of the world’s big fisheries. Given the frequent forecasts of doom by over-population, however, it is a surprisingly reassuring assessment.

But this is a forecast that ignores the probable impacts of global warming on food production, and those will be dire. In some places a hotter climate will actually increases food production, but in far more places crop yields will fall.

The rule of thumb is that we will lose 10 percent of global food production with every rise in average global temperature of 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F). Since we are virtually bound to see an increase of 2 degrees C before global average temperature stops rising (if it does), that’s one-fifth of world food production gone.

It will be considerably worse in some places. In India, for example, a rise of 2 degrees C means a 25 percent loss of food production. In China, it will probably be worse than that. And a crash in food production doesn’t just bring hunger. It brings chaos: collapsing governments, waves of starving climate refugees crossing borders, even wars between countries that depend on the same river for irrigation water.

Military planners in many countries think that this may be the dominant factor in world politics in 25 years’ time. That will make it even harder to get global agreement on measures to stop further warming, so they are making contingency plans for really ugly outcomes. But what if you could make food production independent of climate?

Specifically, what if you could make meat production independent of climate? Don’t use 70 percent of the world’s agricultural land to grow grain that feeds the animals we then kill and eat. Just grow the meat itself, taking stem cells from a cow, a sheep or a chicken and encouraging them to grow in a nutrient solution.

It’s already being done in labs, but the quantities are small and the meat is still a long way from having the taste and texture that would make it a real candidate to replace meat from live animals. But those are details that can be sorted out with more research and more money. The point is that this could allow people to go on eating meat without trashing the climate in the process.

People are not going to stop eating meat: demand is going up, not down. But if “cultured” meat can be made identical in taste and texture to “real” meat from animals, and if it can be grown in large quantities at a competitive cost, the ecological benefits would be immense. The political benefits might be even greater.

If half of the meat people eat was “cultured”, greenhouse gas emissions would drop sharply (about one-fifth of global emissions from human sources come from meat production). About half the land that has been converted to grain-growing in the past century could be returned to natural forest cover. The famines and wars that would come with global food shortages could be postponed for decades, and even the warming itself might be stopped.

“Cultured” food may be commercially available in only a few years if the research is pushed hard. Indeed, the animal welfare group Peta has offered a million-dollar prize for anybody who can demonstrate lab-made meat in commercial quantities by June 30th this year, and they think that one of the research teams now working on the problem may claim the award.

But it isn’t being pushed fast enough. “There is very little funding,” Professor Julie Gold, a biological physicist at Chalmers Technological University in Gothenburg, Sweden, told the “Observer” newspaper recently. “What it needs is a crazy rich person.”


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“There is…production”; and “It will…water”)

The Accusations Against Assange

10 December 2010

The Accusations Against Assange

By Gwynne Dyer

The US government is doing all it can to silence the Wikileaks organisation, including starving it of funds by getting PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard to freeze its accounts. But has it also persuaded the Swedes to accuse Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder and chief whistle-blower, of raping two women, in order to shut him up?

Or more subtly, as some of Assange’s supporters allege, is Washington using the rape charges to get Assange extradited from Britain to Sweden, from where it hopes to extradite him to the United States to face espionage charges?

The latter accusation is clearly nonsense, because it would be far easier for the United States to extradite Assange from Britain than from Sweden. Under a 2003 US-UK agreement, the United States no longer has to provide prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed – usually in the form of witness statements – when requesting the extradition of an accused person from Britain.

It would be harder for the United States to extradite Assange from Sweden, and in any case the Swedes would have to get British permission to hand him over. Whatever the US government is up to, that is not its strategy. But are the rape accusations in Sweden genuine, or the result of American manipulation or entrapment?

The fact that they were first made after Assange released documents about the American war in Afghanistan last summer, and were then revived after he began releasing a quarter-million State Department confidential messages last month, is certainly a striking coincidence, but coincidences really do happen.

It is possible that a man might be a dedicated campaigner for truth and justice (or whatever) by day, and a serial rapist by night. So what are the odds that the accusations that have been made against Julian Assange in Sweden were brought in good faith and without American influence?

There are no actual charges against Assange. The accusations against him were first made last summer, and Assange voluntarily remained in Sweden until the investigation was closed. He claims that the file has now been re-opened (by a different prosecutor) for political reasons, and refuses to go back to Sweden for further questions, though he offered to be interviewed at the Swedish embassy in London. So he has been sent to jail in Britain.

This came as a surprise to him, since people who are resisting extradition normally get bail in Britain. Unless an appeal succeeds, he will be in jail for at least three weeks, and perhaps for months, while his case makes its way through the courts. Yet the allegations against him, even if true, would not normally lead to a rape charge in Britain or most other jurisdictions.

The definition of rape in Sweden is no longer restricted to coercion, but includes any infringement of another person’s “sexual integrity.” Accusations of rape have consequently increased fourfold in the past twenty years, and Sweden now has the highest per capita rate of reported rapes in Europe. But does anybody really believe that there are more rapists in Sweden than anywhere else?

Swedish courts are clearly unhappy about the politicians’ meddling with the law: they are only delivering about as many convictions for rape as they did twenty years ago. If Assange ever faced a Swedish court, he would almost certainly be found not guilty.

According to a Swedish police leak and an interview given by one of the two Swedish women who brought the accusations, Assange was the house-guest last August of Anna Ardin, an academic and an official with the Social Democratic Party who had organised various lectures for him around the country. They had consensual sex on the day they met in person, and at some point in the proceedings a condom split.

On the following day, she hosted a party for Assange at her home, and still seemed quite happy about his presence in Sweden. “Sitting outside nearly freezing with the world’s coolest people,” she tweeted. “It’s pretty amazing.”

At lunch that same day, however, Assange met another woman, Sofia Wilen. A few days later they travelled to her home in Enkoping, where they too had consensual sex. The following morning, she claims, he had sex with her again while she was still asleep, and this time he did not use a condom. Only after the two women (who did not previously know each other) discovered that he had slept with both of them did they go to the police.

Assange enjoys his rock-star status and the access to women that it brings, and it has made him arrogant. However, although a file was opened after the two women’s complaints, Sweden’s chief prosecutor refused to lay charges against him. He then left Sweden.

So far, no hidden American hand. But another, more junior Swedish prosecutor re-opened the file on Assange last month and demanded his extradition for further questioning. The man who asked the prosecutor to do that is Claes Borgstrom, the two women’s new lawyer.

Bergstrom denies any US ties, and you can probably believe him: he was Gender Equality Minister in the former Social Democratic-led government of Sweden until he returned to the law in 2008. Neither are Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen likely to lend themselves to an American sting operation. Indeed, both women say that they still admire Assange’s actions in bringing so many secrets to light.

What we have here, therefore, is a man who assumes too much, and two wronged women, but probably not enough evidence for the law in most countries to treat his actions as rape. Even in Sweden it probably wouldn’t, and it’s unlikely that Assange would be in jail now if he had just gone back to Sweden and answered more questions. Not that the British judge’s decision to imprison him was sensible, or even defensible.
This article, at 1050 words, is longer than usual. To shorten it to 850 words, omit paragraphs 2-4. (“Or…entrapment”)

To shorten it further to 750 words, omit also paragraphs 5 and 10. (“The fact…happen”; and “Swedish…guilty”)