Thoughts on absolutism and how it threatens rational discourse…

I’ve been having a week filled with thoughts like this:

“Must not kill!”

I wonder if you are all assuming that I have been having these thoughts about Akin and Galloway?

You would be right, I have been, but I have been having them about other people as well, less visible people who are in my not even remotely humble opinion doing more harm than good to the cause(s) they seem to be keen to champion.

I am talking about the people, regardless of their views, who are adopting blindly absolutist positions about a variety of issues, at the expense of rational discourse.

So, some ground rules before I become the target of all of this bile…

1. I have been in the past and am still very clear on this issue – rape is a despicable and heinous crime to commit in ANY case. There can be no justification for it, ever, and there can be no doubt on this matter.

2. All people, regardless of gender or sexuality, should feel free to allege that they have been raped, and that allegation should be treated with seriousness. Not only that, but all those who make allegations of rape should be offered the compassion and support of our society, rather than automatically become the target of blame and / or mistrust.

3. Any sexual act visited upon any other individual without consent is rape; the moral and ethical implications aside, it’s just hateful to suggest that some circumstances might ‘allow’ rape in some way.

4. Consent cannot be given when someone is asleep, intoxicated beyond being capable, under-age, mentally incompetent, or otherwise impeded from making an informed and actual decision to consent.

5. Consent is not implied if it has been given before.

6. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason.

Having said all of that, these standards should also hold true:

1. No one should ever be compelled to make an allegation of rape.

2. Notwithstanding that ad hominem attacks and unacceptable insinuations about the sexuality, sexual practices and / or sex-life of the individual making allegations are completely inappropriate and unforgivable, it should be possible for anyone to call into question those allegations in the face of any matter that is uncontested within the public domain without being immediately lambasted as a “rape denier” or “rape apologist”. That is to say, it must be possible to question an individual allegation of rape without being seen to mistrust or question all allegations of rape. (In a similar vein to the idea that being critical of Israel in one specific case, or even several, should not immediately open one to being accused of being anti-semitic.).

Okay, is all of that clear?

Right then, here’s my thoughts on two issues:

#1 Craig Murray and the naming of Anna Ardin

Craig Murray is a well credentialed man, clearly a thinker and unapologetic in his support of Julian Assange (much clearer and more in support of Mr. Assange than I, if truth be told).

Last night on Newsnight (20th August 2012) he used the name of one of the women who has made allegations of sexual misconduct against Julian Assange in Sweden, a woman called Anna Ardin. As a result the twitterverse and the blogosphere has erupted in an explosion of righteous anger that anyone, especially when appearing on the BBC, would have the temerity to reveal the name of someone who has made an allegation of rape and / or sexual misconduct.

The problem is that Anna Ardin’s name has been in the Public Domain for around two years! Her name was ‘revealed’ in the New York Times (the issue that was published on the 25th of August 2010), thus:

Anna Ardin, 31, has told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that the complaints were “not orchestrated by the Pentagon” but prompted by “a man who has a twisted attitude toward women and a problem taking no for an answer.”

I sense that there is a more pertinent reason for the outrage that has been flying around on the Internet than the stated one… Craig Murray is firmly in the camp of calling the allegations levelled at Julian Assange into question. Essentially he has repeatedly espoused a belief that the allegations are trumped up and that Assange is being set up in some way or another. I get the undeniable sense that he is being styled as a rape-denier / rape-apologist for asking reasonable questions about the case(s) at hand and stating his opinion to be that based on the issues he has raised he feels that there is adequate room to allege in return that Anna Ardin is not being completely honest. Whilst directing you, dear reader, to point #2 of my first list above, I would also point you to point #2 of my second list. Just because anyone calls into question the merits of a specific case, does not immediately mean that they are suggesting that all allegations of rape are unfounded, or that the behaviour alleged is somehow acceptable. Very few issues in life are as black and white as that, and as a keen exponent of the idea that specifics are important and that nuance is where truth can really be found I am alarmed by the way in which this issue is being discussed, and this otherwise (apparently) decent and reasonable man is being characterised as a hater of women and an enabler of rapists (please note the plural here).

My general feeling, in fact, is that like almost everyone else in the World, Craig Murray would very much like Mr. Assange to face the allegations against him in order for the appropriate due process to follow. Such an outcome would pay proper respect to the rights of both the alleged victim(s) and Mr. Assange and would provide a framework from which a just outcome could emerge. The problem for Mr. Murray, and myself I should add, is that the whole thing stinks and while I in no way consider rape acceptable (see #1 in first list above), there are serious irregularities in the way that the allegations were brought, serious irregularities in the way that they have been pursued by the Swedish authorities and disturbing bias in the way that they have been reported. Adding those points to the fact that Sweden has “form” for circumventing the European Convention on Human Rights, and apparently (although I continue to be frustrated in my attempts to confirm this) has an entirely legal framework at its disposal that would allow Sweden to make a non-judiciary (i.e. government led) adjudication that Julian Assange should be surrendered to the United States and I think that anyone who wants to question the circumstances of these allegations should be allowed to, without immediately being branded a “rape-apologist”. In all things context matters, and no one is one thing and one thing alone based on their reaction to a specific case or story. Nuance and complexity are not bad things.

I, for one, am deeply troubled by the fact that the other woman, Sophia Wilen (who is named by other sources below) about whom the allegations against Assange relate, refused to give any further testimony or sign her statement when told that Assange was going to be pursued on charges of rape. She went to the Police to find out whether or not Assange could be compelled to submit to an STD test if he refused to have one voluntarily; how does anyone draw a line between that question and rape, especially when the woman asking the question refuses to put her name to the rape allegation?

Once again, to ensure that there is clarity, if both women are prepared to swear under oath that he raped them, and then the evidence shown to a jury persuades that jury that he is guilty of rape, then 1. he is a rapist and 2. he deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law, but until those things have happened no one gets to call him a rapist without the word “alleged” coming first. That does not make me a rape-apologist, rape-denier or rape-enabler; it makes me someone who demands that no matter the emotional impact of a crime, due process must be followed and that must have meaning.

Of course all allegations of rape should be taken seriously, but it’s not destructive to that goal to ensure that allegations have merit, or to question those making such allegations, within the boundaries of decency, to ensure that the mere fact of how abhorrent the offence is does not blind the authorities and the public to the possibility of false allegations.

In an effort to forward the cause of detached and reasoned consideration of the specifics of this situation I commend you, dear reader, to the following sources of information (as a starting point at least):

Craig Murray’s own thoughts on his lambasting, including an excerpt of the transcript of a recent documentary on the story from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary / investigative programme on Julian Assange and the allegations against him.

An interesting, though old, article on the broadly un-discussed possibilities with regard to how Sweden might circumvent “extradition” as a legal construct and thereby deliver Julian Assange to the US authorities.

Finally an article by Naomi Woolf, a staunch campaigner for the rights of rape victims (hardly a rape-apologist)

#2 George Galloway and the definition of rape…

George Galloway is not an affable buffoon.

George Galloway is a smart, sly politician who knows what he is doing.

George Galloway’s pronouncements about the definition of rape represent a wholly unacceptable perspective on the issue and boil down to the perpetuation of a gross lie about sex. That lie is “Men have a right to sex.”. No one has a right to sex, we earn the sex we get, and part of that process is respecting the people we have sex with, in particular respecting them enough to not assume that we can just “do” them whenever we feel like it, just because they were ok with it last time. Clearly everyone’s experience of this is a little different (for example there are people who willingly indulge in the kind of BDSM edge-play that ‘simulates’ non-consensual acts, usually by pre-negotiating the extent and form of those acts), but in the end it is every individual’s right to withdraw their consent to anything at any time, and anyone who does not respect that suspension of consent is a rapist, plain and simple.

I am unsurprised that George Galloway is being pilloried for his remarks. He deserves it; his remarks were completely indefensible, and utterly, utterly wrong.

Are we all clear about that?

#3 Todd Akin and “Legitimate Rape”

Todd Akin said some very, very stupid things about rape.

In the world that we live in, everyone has a duty to condemn the mindless spoutings of people that say things that are so utterly unacceptable, and so in that spirit:

Todd Akin, the things that you have said, which seem to suggest that you believe there are ‘kinds’ or ‘levels’ of rape are completely unacceptable. You should apologise to all people everywhere for the gross offence you have caused not only to all the people who have suffered rape, but also all of those people who care about those victims.

Ok, now that I’ve got all of that off my chest, it’s back to the Unit Tests…

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