Strauss-Kahn v. Assange

Counterfire & rape apologism

18 May 2011


Counterfire have published an article by Lindsey German, questioning what it says about the French ‘left’ (or rather, Parti Socialiste) that a man with the reputation of Dominic Strauss-Kahn might be considered an acceptable Presidential candidate.

It takes the allegations made against him very seriously: the “truly shocking story”, with details of the accusations that Strauss-Kahn “physically and brutally” attacked a cleaner in his New York hotel room, is fully relayed.

The article doesn’t say he’s definitely guilty. Rightly: we don’t know yet. But it’s perfectly valid to discuss what the emerging picture of Strauss-Kahn’s behaviour tells us about the French political system and the sweeping under the carpet of vile sexist behaviour towards women in case it damages the cause.

Funny, then, that German is unable to apply the same analysis to the Julian Assange case. Of course, Wikileaks is of the left – German talks at great length on this video about the “great service they have done for us”, meaning the anti-war movement – unlike Parti Socialiste. She likes Wikileaks, thinks it needs defending, and so… participated in the exact same behaviour she’s accusing the French social democrats of here.

I’ve written about the Guardian letter calling for all charges to be dropped against Assange. You might have seen the set of Youtube videos of the Stop the War ‘Defend Wikileaks and Julian Assange’ meeting, particularly the one where Tony Benn makes light of rape, suggesting violence is a necessary component for a crime to have taken place. Lindsey German pops up on another, with a toe-curlingly embarrassing attempt to dismiss the rape accusations against Assange just seconds after reiterating her solid feminist credentials; the case, she says, is “not about what happened, and nobody knows what happened in this case, it’s about the politics of ensuring Julian Assange is discredited” (around 8:16).

Could there be any clearer statement of utter contempt for Assange’s alleged victims here? They’re not genuine complainants, they’re stooges of the CIA. We don’t know what happened, but really, we do: nothing. Unlike the Strauss-Kahn case, you won’t find the allegations against Assange on the Counterfire site. As Angus Johnston has pointed out repeatedly, failure to accurately report the allegations has become a central tactic of the Assange Defenders Club. Their followers/listeners/readers don’t need to know the ‘facts’, because the conspiracy is obvious.

Just like DSK’s chums in the French political system, German springs to the defence of someone she is politically invested in defending, regardless of the ongoing struggle for rape allegations to be taken seriously; if we like them, if we appreciate their politics, if they’re on our side, they’re innocent and their accusers are lying for political reasons. Is German’s dismissal of the Assange allegations any different from Jean-Marie Le Guen’s desperate assertion that a conspiracy to bring down Strauss-Kahn is behind his arrest? Not really. You couldn’t slide a cigarette paper between their responses. German is on the side of taking rape seriously here because Strauss-Kahn heads the IMF and PS are a centre-left party, not America-kicking, conspiracy-busting internet cowboys.

The hypocrisy here is just another sad indictment of the state of the British left when it comes to feminism. This article was a nice opportunity to look a bit radical, to say something about gender and sex to keep those feminist credentials updated, but it fails miserably. Quite aside from the Assange issue, the article goes on to a generally pathetic attempt at feminist analysis, displaying all the hallmarks of today’s popular feminism picked up and turned round into something ‘socialist’; the impulse to zeitgeist (“the present political culture has turned a new page in its attitudes to women and sex”, the “culture of the new rich”), the anti-capitalism of idiots (casually linking “conspicuous consumption”, the sale of sex, women as “sex objects” and sexual assault in a way that’d make an anti-porn rad fem proud), the portrayal of a Big Bad Patriarchy (Berlusconi, check. Sarkozy, check. “politicians, bankers, industrialists and media tycoons”, check) over sober analysis of power, class interest and political expediency – there’s nothing here that couldn’t be answered by calling for more women politicians and a nice social democratic government to rein in the excesses of consumer culture.

It’s just so insufficient, as if wheeling out a few tropes of popular feminism, chucking in a few anti-capitalist stock phrases and name-checking some bad guys makes up for failing to stick to socialist feminist principles when it actually matters. It matters when it’s difficult. On Assange, German and her group Counterfire fell at the first hurdle, headlong into the mire of conspiracy and denial. The same cesspit fuels the defence of Strauss-Kahn, of all these rich powerful men this article rails hard against – the conspiracy rumours, the denial, the victim-blaming allow them to get away with rape and sexual assault. Forgive me if I remain somewhat sceptical of the commitment to feminism of a group who appear perfectly happy to throw this mud around when it suits them.