If, as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover, then you certainly cannot assess a biography on its title. Melbourne University Press has just released an updated edition of Andrew Fowler’s The Most Dangerous Man in The World: The Inside Story on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. To suggest that Assange was, or is, the most dangerous man in the world might work for book sales. But it is far from reality.
On Sunday I walked by Ecuador’s embassy in London where the Australian computer hacker has sought, and obtained, diplomatic immunity. It was a cold morning and a solitary policeman stood at the embassy door. Across the street there was a police car and caravan which has been used as a base since Assange absconded while on bail last year.
Otherwise, all was quiet on the Hans Crescent, Kensington, front. There was not a supporter of the WikiLeaks founder in sight. No Geoffrey Robertson or John Pilger or Jennifer Robinson or such international Assange barrackers as film director Ken Loach, model Bianca Jagger and singer Lady Gaga.
Clearly, the pro-Assange luvvies were in bed or at breakfast, leaving the WikiLeaks founder alone in someone else’s home. He did not appear dangerous or even important. Rather, he seemed what he really is – someone who refuses to travel to Sweden to answer questions from Swedish authorities concerning the alleged sexual assault of two young women.
And this is where the unpleasant double standard becomes obvious. Assange is much admired within the media and by the left. The journalists’ trade union, the Media Alliance, awarded Assange a Walkley gong. He also received the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal. As Fowler points out, in Australian politics Assange’s support comes ”almost exclusively from the Greens”.
It is impossible to imagine that Assange would be regarded as such a hero if he were an anti-government right-wing blogger who had declined to be questioned in Sweden about sexual assault, following allegations by two left-wing feminists.
Fowler’s book is strongly recommended by Geoffrey Robertson and the American Daniel Ellsberg. The term ”the most dangerous man in the world” was coined to describe Ellsberg when he was the whistleblower of the Pentagon Papers and played a key role in deauthorising the US’s military commitment in Vietnam in the early 1970s. But Fowler acknowledges that Assange has had a long line of professional associations that have
turned acrimonious and that it could be said that he has ”more ruined relationships than the membership of a lonely-hearts club”.
Assange’s overwhelming narcissism represents a threat to himself. It is possible that Assange would not be in his current predicament if he had treated the Swedish women in a less arrogant manner. It’s much the same with his attitude to authority. No realistic person would expect to succeed by arrogantly confronting the Swedish and British governments and expecting both to surrender in the face of acrimonious attack.
Assange’s flamboyant and self-indulgent address from the balcony of Ecuador’s embassy in London last month underlined the hopelessness of his current predicament. Assange criticised President Barack Obama’s handling of Bradley Manning, who is accused of dumping US military and diplomatic secrets on WikiLeaks. He also proclaimed that ”our societies are intellectual shanty towns”. The only government praised was that of Ecuador which, under President Correa’s regime, persecutes dissenting journalists.
What was missing from Assange’s sermon on the balcony was any recognition that his discontents are caused by the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. They are not caused by the American, Australian or British governments. Assange may, or may not, be wanted in the US. If extradition is sought, then he is just as likely to be deported from Britain as from Sweden.
Many of the Assange fan club are equally deluded. During a soft interview on Late Night Live last month, Phillip Adams put it to the WikiLeaks founder that he was walking in the ”footsteps” of the Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty who spent 15 years in the American embassy in Budapest after fleeing his communist jailers during the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Mindszenty was a hero who was arrested by the fascist Iron Cross in 1944 and tortured by the communist dictatorship in 1948. As Anne Applebaum writes in Iron Curtain, Mindszenty is still admired today for ”his insistence upon the truth”.
Assange is no Mindszenty. Nor is he ”Australia’s first political refugee” as Fowler suggests in his final sentence of his book – still less a dangerous one. Assange is just a bail-jumper who creates attention by threatening to sue Julia Gillard for defamation and by suggesting that he might run for the Senate. The absence of a support group outside his current digs on Sunday morning suggests that his celebrity status is diminishing.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.