Andrew O’Hagan tells a fascinating story of what it was like to ghost write Julian Assange’s autobiography. He did this under contract with Canongate Books, a hip publisher based in Edinburgh.
O’Hagan has got hold of a character who could be one of fiction’s great monsters with a toddler’s grasp of other people’s motives and rights. Assange holed up talking without interruption for 3 hours at a time is strongly reminiscent of Hitler in his table talk and his lashings out at everyone as he sits in one of his bunkers (Ellingham Hall, the Ecuadorian Embassy) has been portrayed in Downfall. He has real enemies and he has imaginary ones as well. The many people who fall out with him do so because of envy or malice.
His paranoia has its comic side:-
He appeared to like the notion that he was being pursued and the tendency was only complicated by the fact that there were real pursuers. But the pursuit was never as grave as he wanted it to be. He stuck to his Cold War tropes, where one didn’t deliver a package, but made a ‘drop off’. One day, we were due to meet some of the WikiLeaks staff at a farmhouse out towards Lowestoft. We went in my car. Julian was especially edgy that afternoon, feeling perhaps that the walls were closing in, as we bumped down one of those flat roads covered in muck left by tractors’ tyres. ‘Quick, quick,’ he said, ‘go left. We’re being followed!’ I looked in the rear-view mirror and could see a white Mondeo with a wire sticking out the back.
‘Don’t be daft, Julian,’ I said. ‘That’s a taxi.’
‘No. Listen to me. It’s surveillance. We’re being followed. Quickly go left.’ Just by comical chance, as I was rocking a Sweeney-style handbrake turn, the car behind us suddenly stopped at a farmhouse gate and a little boy jumped out and ran up the path. I looked at the clock as we rolled off in a cloud of dust. It said 3.48.
‘That was a kid being delivered home from school,’ I said. ‘You’re mental.’
There are some good moments with Assange, the expert hacker and courageous activist:-
At the time of the Egyptian uprising, Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network, a service that came through Canada. Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process. The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.
That is why I didn’t walk out. The story was just too large. What Julian lacked in efficiency or professionalism he made up for in courage. What he lacked in carefulness he made up for in impact.
But on the whole the Wikileaks endeavour suffered from that symptom of the internet age, the short attention span, the hook, the click-bait and the Twitter storm of petty feuds:-
He’s not a details guy. None of them is. What they love is the big picture and the general fight. They love the noise and the glamour, the history, the spectacle, but not the fine print. That is why they released so many cables so quickly: for impact. And there’s a good argument to support that. But, even today, three years later, the cables have never had the dedicated attention they deserve. They made a splash and then were left languishing. I always hoped someone would do a serious editing job, ordering them country by country, contextualising each one, providing a proper introduction, detailing each injustice and each breach, but Julian wanted the next splash and, even more, he wanted to scrap with each critic he found on the internet. As for the book, he kept putting it off.
Assange makes a virtue of scientific journalism, where readers take the raw data and process it for themselves. But of course we can’t do that any more than we can make our laptops from oil, metals and silicon. We need context and background information to gauge whether a piece of information is significant or trivial.
I thought, if Julian was serious and strategic, that WikiLeaks should not only bale stuff out onto the web, but should then facilitate the editing and presenting of that work in a way that was of permanent historical value. Perry Anderson of Verso Books had the same thought, and I put it to Julian that the WikiLeaks Map of the World should be a series which provided for a proper academic study of what the biggest security leaks in history had revealed, with expert commentary, notes, essays and introductions. It would provide the organisation with a lasting, grown-up legacy, a powerful, orderly continuation of its initial work.
Julian came to lunch at my flat in Belsize Park. Tariq Ali came and so did Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review, as well as an American editor for Verso called Tom Mertes. Anderson’s idea was that Verso would publish a series of books, or one book in which each chapter showed how the US cables released by WikiLeaks had changed the political position of a particular country. A writer who knew, say, Italy, would introduce the chapter and the same would be done for every country and it would be very meticulous and well-made. Julian gave a big speech at the beginning, the middle and the end. He clearly liked Tariq but had no sense of him as someone who knew a lot more about the world than he did. Although the idea for the book had come from Verso, Julian preferred to give a lecture about how most academics were corrupted by their institutions.
…. . Anyone else would have jumped at the chance of the Verso project but as Julian drove off in a taxi I knew he would never call Tariq about this or lay any of the groundwork they’d agreed. Julian was already more concerned about claiming the idea for himself, an idea that he would never see to fruition. The meeting had called for responsible action, when what Julian loved was irresponsible reaction.
Everyone has one rule for themselves and another for the rest of the world but Assange takes this to the nth degree:-
Julian was getting a lot of flak in the press for making Wiki-employees sign contracts threatening them with a £12 million lawsuit if they disclosed anything about the organisation. It was clear he didn’t see the problem. He has a notion that WikiLeaks floats above other organisations and their rules. He can’t understand why any public body should keep a secret but insists that his own organisation enforce its secrecy with lawsuits. Every time he mentioned legal action against the Guardian or the New York Times, and he did this a lot, I would roll my eyes, but he didn’t see the contradiction. He was increasingly lodged in a jungle of his own making and I told Jamie it was like trying to write a book with Mr Kurtz.
He was in a state of panic at all times that things might get out. But he manages people so poorly, and is such a slave to what he’s not good at, that he forgets he might be making bombs set to explode in his own face. I am sure this is what happens in many of his scrapes: he runs on a high-octane belief in his own rectitude and wisdom, only to find later that other people had their own views – of what is sound journalism or agreeable sex – and the idea that he might be complicit in his own mess baffles him.
He has the common tendency to fight far more bitterly with those who share his world view than those who outright reject it:-
the Guardian was an enemy because he’d ‘given’ them something and they hadn’t toed the line, whereas the Daily Mail was almost respected for finding him entirely abominable. The Guardian tried to soothe him – its editor, Alan Rusbridger, showed concern for his position, as did the then deputy, Ian Katz, and others – but he talked about its journalists in savage terms. The Guardian felt strongly that the secret material ought to be redacted to protect informants or bystanders named in it, and Julian was inconsistent about that. I never believed he wanted to endanger such people, but he chose to interpret the Guardian’s concern as ‘cowardice’.
He’s full of repugnant sexism and anti-Semitsm:-
They certainly had transcripts of our interviews, sittings in which he’d uttered, late at night, many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks, and where he spoke freely about every aspect of his life.
As well as wasting time to a heart-breaking degree, those who engage with Assange find themselves out of goodwill and out of pocket. Canongate tried to salvage the autobiography and published what they could.
Canongate Books, the Edinburgh-based publisher, has blamed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s “failure to deliver” the book he was contracted to produce for plunging into operating loss.
Accounts, which have just become available from Companies House, reveal Canongate tumbled to an operating loss of £368,467 in 2011, from a profit of £1.08 million at this level in 2010. Canongate acknowledged this was its worst performance “in many years”.
For Andrew O’Hagan it hasn’t all been a minus. He came out with a great story to tell, and that’s enough pay off for any writer.
(H/T – HJ)
European and UK policies towards land management increase the likelihood of flooding, according to George Monbiot:-
The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain’s longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.
So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.
One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.
One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.
David Rich has a very good, and very depressing article on Dieudonne and his kind:-
“Making common cause” between Holocaust deniers, neo-fascists, the pro-Palestinian left, and the revolutionary Islamists of Iran is precisely what Dieudonné has spent the past decade trying to achieve. Originally from the political left, he has moved via anti-Israel rhetoric and the fascist Front National (FN) to the establishment of his own Parti Anti Sioniste (PAS, or Anti-Zionist Party). Alongside him in the PAS is essayist and filmmaker Alain Soral, who underwent a similar journey from the Marxist left to the FN before finding a political home with Dieudonné.
There are not many political movements that can embrace the neo-fascist right, the anti-capitalist left, and Iranian revolutionary Islamism. Dieudonné is close to FN leaders—Jean Marie Le Pen is godfather to one of his children—while also attracting fans who consider themselves to be left-wing radicals. He was a guest in Tehran of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and received Iranian funding for a film project. Historically, movements that successfully pulled off this kind of balancing act have tended to rely on anti-Semitism as their glue, expressed through the lingua franca of conspiracist anti-Zionism, and PAS is no different.
Strikingly, for a party that calls itself anti-Zionist, PAS’s political program makes no direct mention of Israel or Palestine. This is parochial, patriotic anti-Zionism, in which Zionism is portrayed primarily as a subversive, corrupting presence in French society.
Radio 4′s The Report had the journalist Helen Grady interviewing Dieudonne’s friends and followers. Sometimes they said “Zionist” where they obviously meant “Jewish” and sometimes they said, “I’m not antisemitic but Jews run everything”. Also, Dieudonne gave them the thrill of saying, or just hinting at, the forbidden. – not just “you don’t say that” but “you can’t say that” because it’s illegal in a state with laws against Holocaust denial. This was interpreted as special treatment for Jews while other minorities are fair game.
I was sorry the reporter didn’t ask them to explain who these Zionists are and what are these utterances that are so dammed by the laws – not that I agree with Holocaust denial laws or anti free speech and expression laws in general. In fact I would like to know how much these laws exacerbate the sense of resentment that is one of the emotional bases of Fascism. Certainly breaking them, or hinting that you were, gave the audience a lovely outsider frisson.
Some of these gagged folk came from immigrant communities – their parents from North Africa say – and they had good words to say of the Front National – at least they’re honest when the rest are hypocrites.
It was your worst gibbering blog thread taking flesh, with hideous whiffs of the 1930s, in all their bizarre irrationality.
Rich concludes with a warning for those who think It Can’t Happen Here:-
. .it would be complacent to assume that Dieudonné’s anti-establishment appeal, expressed through angry, transgressive satire and political stunts, could not find a British audience. The personal followings of Nigel Farage MEP and George Galloway MP demonstrate the appetite in the UK for charismatic, populist anti-politics. .. A Francophone comic with a taste for the surreal is likely to have trouble finding a mass audience in Britain; but his populist anti-politics, carrying a coded anti-Semitism and transmitted via social media, may have better luck in finding an audience..
The anti-establishment comedian who thinks all political institutions are a waste of time is Russell Brand, but to do him justice, he is nothing like as malevolent as Dieudonne, and I can’t see him doing Holocaust jokes or chumming up with David Irving. I can’t see him getting in bed with UKIP either, which is the closest thing here to the Front National. I don’t keep up with popular culture, and there may be obvious candidates for the Dieudonne role that I’ve missed.
Respect was a party that pulled in some of the political groups that are attracted to Dieudonne:- the pro-Palestinian Left and Islamists, and no doubt Holocaust deniers would pop up in such a crowd. Gilad Atzmon would be the obvious entertainer, but he’s not a man of any great charisma or the popular touch. However, it’s hard to think of the neo-Fascist right finding a home there, and Respect is now mostly a fantasy in Galloway’s head.
Christina Odone, former deputy editor of The New Statesman, in the course of arguing that religious believers are being pushed out of public life by a new intolerance, drew attention to the Law Society revoking permission for a conference on traditional marriage to be held on its premises.
Suppose it had been a conference on the need to reinstate traditional legal prohibitions on Jews. Or Catholics. Would it then have been unreasonable for the Law Society to say that you can not hold such a conference on our premises?
Suppose it was a conference on the need to revoke voting rights for women? Or re-impose coverture marriage? (Which was, after all, for centuries the “traditional” form of marriage under English law.) For what group does opposition to equal protection of the law become an acceptable conference subject matter for the Law Society to provide a venue for? Would Ms Odone care to specify?
Almost certainly, it does not occur to Ms Odone that there is any parallel with coverture marriage, or the controversy over Jewish emancipation, etc. But, of course, that is precisely what is going on. Indeed, the fight over queer emancipation is almost completely a re-run of the fight over Jewish emancipation, with exactly the same arguments being run — they are offensive to God, giving them legal equality goes against the authority of Scripture and Western tradition, they will corrupt any institution they are allowed into, they prey on minors, they are predatory recruiters, they spread disease — and almost exactly the same fault lines showing up in social debate.
Do read the whole thing.
Pace Jim, I like folk music. I also admire Pete Seeger, a vigorous campaigner on the behalf of many causes and a man with a strong sense of public duty.
So here’s a Youtube clip.
Excellent piece by Amiad Khan at Left Foot Forward on the Maajid Nawaz affair.
Read the whole thing, and wonder at some liberals’ definition of liberalism.
Compare this to a thin and feeble piece in the New Statesman Spectator. [Yikes - dumb mistake. The New Statesman is silent on this matter]. What a stable of writers they’ve got – gone in the wind, can’t run a furlong without falling over. [Still think that about the Staggers.]
Also a tweet from Maajid Nawaz, which strikes a Protestant dissenting note, and a dignified one:-
I am a free Muslim. My prophet left no heir. My faith was never ruled by pope nor clergy. For my sins I answer to God alone. You are not God.
Also – here’s a piece by Nawaz in, wonders of wonders, The Groan:-
My intention was to demonstrate that Muslims are able to see things we don’t like, yet remain calm and pluralist, and to demonstrate that there are Muslims who care more about the thousands of deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria than we do about what a student is wearing. My intention was to highlight that Muslims can engage in politics without insisting that our own religious values must trump all others’ concerns, and to stand before the mob so that other liberal Muslim voices that are seldom heard, women’s and men’s, could come to the fore. And many such Muslim voices have been heard this last week.
However, in the final analysis, my intentions are irrelevant. What matters is this simple truth: I am free not to be offended by a cartoon I did not draw. If my prospective constituents do not like me not being offended, they are free not to vote for me. Other Muslims are free to be offended, and the rest of the country is free to ignore them. I will choose my policies based on my conscience. As such, I will continue to defend my prophet from those on the far right and Muslim extremes who present only a rigid, angry and irrational interpretation of my faith. I will stand for fairness, as Amnesty International once stood for me when I was a prisoner in Hosni Mubarak‘s Egypt. Because I believe that the difference between fairness and tribalism is the difference between choosing principles and choosing sides.
Channel 4 showed the cartoon like this:-
Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers has died at the age of 74. . .
Everly’s high, close-harmony singing with his older brother, Don, made the Everly Brothers one of the biggest rock and country acts of the 1950s and early 1960s.
. . .
The Everly Brothers profoundly influenced 1960s-era artists ranging from Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who early in their careers called themselves the Foreverly Brothers, to Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, the Hollies and the Beach Boys.
“Perhaps even more powerfully than Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers melded country with the emerging sound of 50s rock & roll,” Rolling Stone magazine said in placing the duo at No 33 on its list of the 100 greatest artists.”
Just found this which I once copied from a comments thread. To save you reading Brendan O’Neill and the rest of the Spiked gang:-
1. [Subject] reveals a contempt for the working classes.
2. [Subject] is thinly disguised misanthropy.
3. [Subject] is merely an exercise in liberal self-congratulation.
4. [Subject] encourages a culture of victimhood.
5. [Subject] shows we’re governed by alarmist scaremongers.
6. [Subject] is an attempt to censor dissent.
Covers all the bases.
Happy New Year!
On the gender segregation issue here’s an interview with Marieme Helie Lucas, an Algerian feminist and sociologist:-
Maryam Namazie: What is the nature of the recent sex segregation scandal at Universities UK where the representative body issued guidance saying side by side sex segregation was permissible? Why does it occur and by whom is it imposed? Also, it’s more than just a question of physical separation isn’t it?
Marieme Helie Lucas: Just like with the niqab, it’s an extreme-Right political organisation working under the cover of religion to promote sex segregation as a pawn in the political landscape and using all possible means to make itself visible and impose its mores and laws. The idea is to permanently demonstrate that the law of god (as interpreted by them) supersedes the law of the people. It is a blatant attack on the very principle of democracy and one woman/man, one vote, particularly relevant in the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death.
So please don’t think that those demanding gender segregation are for harmless religious and/or cultural sensibilities be accommodated. Think of it as a political demand from a particularly repellent ideology- and then you will less squeamish about opposing it.
The whole interview is excellent.
Also from Maryam Namazie, a principal organiser of the campaign against the UUK’s guidelines:-
“Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand to increase power and influence by asserting medieval rules on women and the society at large. The groups lined up to defend UUK’s indefensible position are all hard-core Islamists who hide behind ‘Muslim’ and religion to push forward their regressive and misogynist far-Right politics: Hizb Ut-Tahrir, FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), and Islamic Human Rights Commission…”
Loonwatch wrote an article about the campaign being simple Islamophobia dressed up. The author of it, in the comments, said Maryam Namazie took part in this exchange:-
Commenter:- “Maryam Namazie is an old fashioned whore….
To protest against the niqab, her higher intellect made her take all her clothes off…just brilliant…”
I don’t think we should call Maryam Namazie a “whore.” It distracts us from her revolting ideas. And it’s an insult to whores.”
(My old fashioned ways would be to sternly slap down someone who called a female opponent a whore, however noxious I found them.)
Other women called a whore are Muslim women of a questioning and liberal turn:-
I am the latest in a bunch of women, specifically Muslim women, who have come under attack from a group of misogynist men. Their aim is supposedly to combat Islamophobia yet ironically their appalling behaviour is unIslamic and actually fuels anti-Muslim sentiment.
It’s rather funny how our ‘Muslimness’ is questioned to destroy our credibility. Accuse a Muslim person of drinking alcohol or eating pork and you have instantly ruined their reputation. And if you’re a woman, well, that’s ten times worse. The combination of being an ex-Muslim (which I am not by the way) and a ‘whore’ is lethal.
Update:- Commenters pointed out that I had quoted the “whore” comment in Loonwatch incorrectly and I’d suggested Maryam Namazie is a Muslim. I’ve amended accordingly.
My partner and I were once travelling on the eastern side of Turkey. That is noticeably more conservative than the western side, and we followed the Lonely Planet’s advice. He changed his shorts for trousers and I put on a long skirt. On mini-buses if there was a spare seat next to me and a man got on he would not sit next to me, so my partner and I would swap seats If a woman came on, it was vice versa. We were trying our best to be culturally sensitive, and though we found this particular custom absurd, there’s plenty to admire about the people in eastern Turkey.
Note, though, how inconvenient it was. The bloke who got on looked tired, and had probably been working all day in the fields. But a cultural practice prevented him from taking a little ease for half an hour. Also, countries where women are segregated usually mean the women stay at home. These are not just Muslim countries. When a woman friend and I travelled around Greece in about 1979 it looked like a virus had wiped out the female population. The corollary of the local women being kept apart is that we visiting women were harassed constantly. It was a relief to get back to Britain and be treated as a normal human being.
This is working up to segregation at universities which has made big news recently.
Over at Loonwatch, an Islamophobia watch site, they are puzzled that people should get so upset about men and women being segregated at meetings at universities that they, the complainers, are very unlikely to attend. They also think it’s hypocritical, given the amount of gender segregation there is in our society.
Of course our society has a fair amount of informal segregation. Hen parties (which are yukky from other points of view) and stag parties for instance. However, the woman who goes on a girls’ night out or to a women’s networking event would be appalled to be segregated at a public meeting. It was the formal connivance of the UUK to segregation that made everyone so angry.
There are times when a woman is a female body. In a changing room, in a toilet, in a hospital ward, giving birth, flirting at a party wearing a low-cut dress and having sex. But that at a meeting she should be regarded as a female body rather than another citizen, another listener, questioner, point-putter or heckler is insulting to every suffragette and every feminist who fought for women’s equal rights in the public sphere.
Here are some of the arguments set out by Tehmina Kazi, the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. The full piece is here.
Aspects of the gender segregation debate that have annoyed and perplexed me
Denial that gender segregation even exists in universities.
Downplaying of the discrimination and shoddy treatment faced by women who have experienced it, which goes back many years.
Those who are unable to see why it is problematic for a public body like Universities UK to prioritise the whims of external speakers over university public sector equality duties, and THE SPIRIT of equalities law.
No-one has given me a GOOD reason as to WHY gender segregation it is practiced in the first place, in either civic or theological terms. “Because we’ve done it for years…” does NOT count.
. . .
Women who turn around and say, “But I’ve never had a problem with being segregated.” Fair enough, but where is the empathy for people who HAVE suffered as a result?
[An old feminist recognises "I've always got on very well with men. as an argument for anti-feminism.]
The endless comparisons with toilets. Since when did the privacy issues of taking a dump compare to those of engaging one’s brain and listening to a speaker as part of an audience?
The endless comparisons with single-sex educational establishments, which people actively CHOOSE to attend. Even if the choice was made for them by their parents, you’d think they would be able to enjoy such freedom of choice themselves at the age of 18, SHOULD they decide to attend university. What people effectively have NO choice over is attending a public event at a MIXED university – either as a guest or student – where the arrangements inhibit them from sitting or entering alongside the opposite gender.
(As for the single-sex colleges at Cambridge University, they were originally set up to help redress the gender imbalance in higher education. As I understand it, at least one of the Cambridge colleges in question intends to become co-educational when the proportion of women at Cambridge reaches 50%).
Confusion over the distinction between discretionary segregation (where people randomly sit where they wish, perhaps in same-sex clusters) and organised segregation (which is either enforced by the event organisers, or requested by the student societies in question). [See above for my point on the informal and formal.]
Complaints that the issue is receiving disproportionate public attention NOW. Where were these complainants when women’s rights activists were raising these issues within the community for YEARS? Keeping schtum and not upsetting the apple cart, yes?
Complaints that those who raise this issue MUST have an Islamophobic agenda, when many of them are actually Muslims whose concerns have been brushed aside for years. (As an aside, many of these same Muslim activists have ALSO done a lot to challenge GENUINE anti-Muslim sentiment).
Assumptions that those who campaign against gender segregation in university events MUST also automatically oppose it in congregational prayers. This is not about acts of worship, as Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Mark Hammond made clear: “Universities can also provide facilities for religious meetings and associations based on faith, as in the rest of society. Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it. However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the Commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”
This issue will come up again in another guise, and again will have to be slapped down. It is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.