Much has been written about Julian Assange and about Wikileaks these last few weeks. Mainstream American political figures have called for him to be put to death on charges of treason. The full force of American economic, political and technological power has been brought to bear down upon one man, in a brutally ferocious manner of the kind not seen in recent memory. Assange has been condemned by influential voices in the US public space as an anti-American anarchist who has launched an unremitting war against the entire US system, using ironically infrastructure that they created (The Internet after all having originated from a DARPA project), setting into motion a bloodless but perhaps equally damaging 9/11. At the same time, he has also been made into a hero, beatified for using the greatest weapon of mass destruction otherwise known as the truth to bring to its knees the world’s greatest power, a power that invites revulsion and fascination in equal measure from the rest of the world—with the fervor of anti-Americanism being matched only by the desire to emigrate to it given half a chance.
Among the many things that has fascinated me about the whole issue has been the reason that lies at the core of the US administration’s obsession with Wikileaks. Why really is the US so angry? So far no troop positions or operational details of current projects have been revealed (whether it is because Assange is concerned about US troops or because he does not have “current” documents–I guess we do not know). Much of what Assange has let out has been reported previously in different media outlets over the past few years, which is why a lot of the information in the Wikileaks documents are not shocking. So in that respect, there is no “immediate” security driver that necessitates coming at Assange with the kind of brutality the US has displayed, it’s not that people are dying as we speak based on what has come out through Wikileaks.
However what Assange has done is blown away the US government’s credibility in the international community . While most people knew about US’s policies of rendition, its secret war through proxy in places like Yemen (a justified war I would add since Yemen is, like Pakistan, a hot-bed of Al Qaeda activities), the US always had the power of plausible deniability. Now that is totally gone. And the US, which really cares at how it is perceived at home, as “the greatest nation in the world” that “fights by the rules”, has been embarrassed. Roundly. And the forces of anti-Americanism, many of whom who stay in US and feed off its prosperity, cannot stop gloating over it.
What I find worth noting is that in the two sides arrayed against each other, the Americans are embarrassed by their truth while the forces of Islamic fascism are proud of theirs. While the US spends an endless amount of resources trying to make their adversaries “like” them, their opponents actually want the exact opposite—-as an example the Indian Mujahideen email with its invectives directed at Hindus, taken straight from Pakistani commentators from Youtube, is proud to announce the organization’s hatred of “non-believers” simply because the principals behind this act derive their support purely on the basis of the articulation of the truth behind their motivations. Which is why Wikileaks is a form of asymmetric warfare, its variety of truth will only harm those like the US who care to look “good” and who at least feel ashamed when their excesses are revealed. As opposed to their opponents whose popularity among their supporters is solely a monotonic function of the brutality they show their enemies. It is also asymmetric because Assange will never get hold of secret documents of the Al-Qaeda or of the ISI because they do not have “whistleblowers” (no Manning there) and they do not keep “records” of their missions. Which means the truth will only hurt one side in the battle and enable the other side. Ironic.
Another thing I find amusing is how when push comes to shove, the US administration has been as myopic and clueless in its response to technological adversaries as most other governments have been when they have found things they don’t like online. One would have expected the US to react in a way which was a bit more sophisticated than countries like Iran and Pakistan. But no. Since the US cannot put their whole country in an Internet lockdown like totalitarian regimes can, what they have done is try to take Wikileaks offline using every resource at its hand. It has been a PR disaster on multiple counts—-it has not only given Wikileaks more credibility as an opponent but also revealed how much importance the US attaches to the documents that Wikileaks has in its hand. And with its heavy-handed desperation, it has just dug itself a deeper hole, playing perfectly into the narrative of the bully who cannot tolerate any dissent but lectures others on freedom. Censoring the Net is impossible technologically and as Wikileaks is taken down, copies of Assange’s documents have sprung up on torrents seeding as fast as Kate Perry’s latest albums, with mirror websites carrying the documents all around the world. I had expected the US would have anticipated this and gone after Assange in a more clever, round-about way—–ignoring him in public but working furiously behind-the-scenes to get at him. That they haven’t done so has been surprising, one would have thought the US would have done damage-control much better than this.
The final thing that fascinates me is of course the old chestnut—-is absolute truth a good thing? Would revealing the fact that the Yemeni government is cooperating with the US government make the world a safer place? People like Naomi Klein (a Arundhati Roy clone, a Farheen to her Madhuri), apologists for Islamic terror, think so. Would revealing the fact that the US diplomats find a head of state an alpha-male make things better or worse for the world? And if truth be the highest ideal, why not bring it to a personal level? Would we really want everyone to know the truth as to what we think about them, do we want our children to know *everything* we did when we were their age? What after all is privacy but the protection of one’s ownership over one’s own truth?
Most sensible people would say—-truth needs to be revealed as long as it is in the public good. Like for instance, when people in the Armed force indulge in gratuitous atrocities or when leading industrialists through their lobbyists influence ministries or when politicians use their influence to get prime property or when individuals plan terrorist attacks, we would say the truth needs to be revealed
But the question is who decides which part of truth is for the public good and which isn’t ?
In Wikileaks, Mr. Assange makes that call, revealing only as much as he wants and when he wants it, in a strategic manner (He has a special “insurance” file, like a blackmailer, to be used as last resort). Does it not give one man too much power, considering we have no idea as to what his motives are?
On a more local level, we have seen how transparently our filters of truth work and how “open” they are when it comes to taking a judgment call on what is worth revealing—like that famous person who insists it was well within her journalistic prerogative to not mention the “truth” regarding one of the country’s premier industrial houses lobbying for a ministry in which they have business interests because she considered it as something too insignificant.
Which means the only truth that is the truth is the whole truth. Anything less than that is a subversion of its ideals. But can we,as a world, handle the truth, even when it ultimately puts nations and peoples at jeopardy? Or was Khulbhushan Kharbanda right when he said in Gupt “Kuch batein gupt raheni chahiye?” [Some things are better kept secret]