Assange's Hezbollah Mistake


In GK Chesterton's excellent novel The Man Who Was Thursday, Syme, a secret "philosophical" policeman, is tasked with infiltrating the inner council of a shadowy anarchist organisation. Upon achieving this seemingly impossible feat, he is confronted with a cast of terrifying characters: a madman, a decrepit old professor, a menacing freak with dark glasses.

As Syme tries to unravel the anarchists' plot to assassinate the French President and Russian Tsar he discovers, one after another, that all the other members of the council are undercover secret policemen like himself. They had been waging war on behalf of the anarchists, trying to out-hate one another without knowing their true allegiances, all in preparation for the day when they could mount the inquisition once and for all.

Julian Assange, who has played the role of "most dangerous man in the world" from the publication of Collateral Murder to his current 500-day incarceration without trial, now has more than a whiff of Syme about him.

Having uncovered and publicised the secrets of the world's most powerful governments, and with promises of more, he is now assembling something like an anarchist council of his own; his new talk show, The World Tomorrow, will feature interviews with "key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world", which in the world of Assange means, according to Fairfax's Philip Dorling, interviews with Tunisian President Marcef Marzouki, Anwar Ibrahim and "a prominent figure in a major political group listed as a terrorist organisation", among others.

The first episode guest starring Hezbollah chief Sayyid Nasrallah broke little new ground and was significant mainly for the fact that it happened at all; Nasrallah hasn't been seen on Western screens since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war Hezbollah instigated in a feint attack on an Israeli humvee patrol.

The war claimed around 1200 lives, almost all Lebanese, and displaced a million and a half (mainly Lebanese but also some Israelis), but Assange is willing to entertain the notion of Nasrallah as a "freedom fighter" and serious political player, rather than a gangster and holocaust denier who came to power by assassinating his predecessor.

Assange spent most of his interview discussing the Syrian conflict with Nasrallah, who admitted that he'd been in communication with President Bashar al-Assad:

"We have spoken as friends, giving each other advice about the importance of carrying out reforms right from the beginning. I personally found that President Assad was very willing to carry out radical and important reforms and this used to reassure us…"

Assange proceeded to softball Nasrallah about his family history, his prowess as a military leader and whether he would be prepared to mediate between Assad and the Syrian opposition, as if he were in a sufficiently neutral position to credibly do so.

He preferred this to raising any of the arguments you would expect from a self-described crusader for truth: Hezbollah's reputation as a Syrian client ("Hezbollah is a friend of Syria"), Iran's influence in what looks to become a full blown civil war — if it isn't already — or Nasrallah's rejection of the Special Tribunal For Lebanon that indicted members of Hezbollah for the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri.

Commentary about the show has made hay from Assange's partnership with Russian State TV network RT, but he's already brushed off the criticism:

"There's Julian Assange, enemy combatant, traitor, getting into bed with the Kremlin and interviewing terrible radicals from around the world… I think it's a pretty trivial kind of attack on character… It is the clashing of these voices together that reveals the truth about the world as a whole," Assange said in a statement on RT.

I doubt Assange would have refused a similar offer to appear on Al Jazeera, MSNBC or Venezuelan State TV, had it been forthcoming. Likewise Assange's "editorial independence" predominantly stems from overweening ego, as anyone who has disagreed with him has discovered to their misfortune. The most important thing is his guest list, the "clashing of voices", which to return to Chesterton indicates something more than just a list of "radicals".

When Syme is first recruited as a secret policeman he is put through a brief interrogation of sorts:

"'The work of the philosophical policeman,' replied the man in blue, 'is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary detective. The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists… We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher.

"'Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession.'"

Whereas the outer ring of anarchists "…are merely anarchists; that is, men who believe that rules and formulas have destroyed human happiness," the inner circle "…are under no illusions; they are too intellectual to think that man upon this earth can ever be quite free of original sin and the struggle. And they mean death."

Hezbollah's flags — one a raised AK-47, the other a mushroom cloud — must among other factors indicate to us that Nasrallah is no mere talk-show guest, and should cause Wikileaks supporters concern. The same goes for some of Assange's other slated guests: Horowitz, the conservative American ideologue who has been waging a McCarthyite crusade against perceived left-wing bias in US universities, and Marzouki, whose reformist promises have been marred by stalling on judicial independence and continuing violent repression of protesters.

Considering Assange may be making a run for the Senate, we should mark Chesterton's lesson keenly: The inner circle of anarchists are also the greatest inquisitors. Assange's anti-Americanism is compatible with Nasrallah's because, as he has stated in the past, Assange is hostile to the very idea of government.

His leaks, especially in their unredacted form, are released for the same reason Hezbollah indiscriminately fires rockets and Chesterton's anarchists throw bombs: "The innocent rank and file are disappointed because the bomb has not killed the king; but the high-priesthood are happy because it has killed somebody." Assange is no journalist — his aim is to radically intervene in the workings of power, stymying its ability to function, whatever the cost to others. 

Enabling a thug like Nasrallah, whose politics are even more nihilistic than Assange's, is the opposite of being principled; as the show progresses we'll see whether Assange's supporters realise as much.

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