Superiority born from class: Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove on Julian Assange

July 12, 2022
83 German MPs call on the British government not to extradite Julian Assange. Photo: Free Julian Assange/Facebook

Beware privileged people who have learned to speak with confidence yet appear blind to the benefits of social class. Beware powerful people who claim that democratic governments in the United States, Britain and Australia administer justice always according to some time-honoured principle about rules of law.

Beware a society in which men socialised by privileged education and employment remain socially distant from ordinary citizens with few resources. Beware assumptions derived from life in protected institutions, law, academia or government, which fosters hostility towards someone they do not understand, or who, heaven forbid, disputes the fairness of society’s customs and rules.

Those observations about privilege and confidence which cement the benefits of class, are made in response to inhuman comments about the conduct of a brave Australian citizen Julian Assange.

The comments were made by the Executive Director of the Lowy Institute Dr Michael Fullilove.

He advised Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to be careful about intervening on behalf of journalist whistle blower Julian Assange to prevent this brave, albeit unusual (what’s wrong with that) Australian citizen’s extradition to the United States.

Fullilove tweeted in 2019: “Poor Mr. Assange, no longer able to dodge the consequences of his actions. Finally having to live according to the rules that apply to everyone else”.

What rules and mores is he referring to? Not those which have bolstered his career, and mine for that matter. Only those which apply to people scapegoated as deviant and therefore easy targets for governments fascinated with punishment, intent on revenge.

In an earlier publication, Fullilove wrote that the rationale of Wikileaks was comparable to the revelations from Murdoch’s now abolished newspaper the News of the World.

How do lofty, seldom criticised commentators get away with such analogies?

Ponder the comparison. Wikileaks releases the 2010 Collateral Murder video which showed eleven innocent Iraqi citizens murdered by US marines flying above Baghdad streets in an Apache helicopter. The News of the World, known for crafting sex stories on Sunday as a diet for British readers, was eventually closed on account of journalists’ phone-hacking practices, their unethical, illegal conduct revealed after inquiries into the murder of 13-year-old schoolgirl Milly Dowler?

Significant public figures such as Fullilove usually receive an immediate, respectful audience. With benefits flowing from title and class, they are listened to and taken seriously. On this occasion, Fullilove should at least face a fraction of the scrutiny dished out for years to Assange.

In adulation of a country with the world’s largest prison population and the highest incarceration rates, which boasts a Supreme Court following the bidding of gun toting lobbies, where police shoot Afro-American citizens and do so mostly with impunity, Fullilove puts on his “I love America glasses”.

Instead of identifying a failed state, Fullilove tells us “The US is a proud democracy. They have prosecutors, they have the rule of law, they have prosecutors that look at the evidence ...”

What is this “rule of law” when several US politicians recommended that Assange should be killed. They encouraged almost anyone to take a gun and shoot him?

What is this phenomenon called evidence? People of influence in Washington weighed the political benefits of prosecuting someone who had revealed murder and mayhem committed by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well before these extradition proceedings, a secret grand jury in Virginia sat for years trying to concoct charges against Assange.

In dismissal of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech, a 1917 Espionage Act was resurrected and someone conjured the idea that 175 years in prison would be appropriate punishment for a citizen from another country who revealed US dirty secrets.

In response to cruelty to an Australian citizen convicted of nothing, politicians Scott Morrison and Marise Payne adopted the coward’s ploy. They could not interfere with the administration of justice in another country. They reassured themselves that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would provide consular assistance to Julian Assange. What does that mean?

Social distance from others’ experiences enables people in high places to assume they know best, that the public can be reassured. This robot-like claim applies as much to Australian governments’ repeated statements about consular assistance for Assange as it does to Fullilove’s assumptions.

After 1000 days in top security in the Belmarsh prison, Assange is reported to have been stripped naked and left in a bare cell.

In references to the Australian Consular Services Charter, which says that officers will try to ensure an Australian like Assange will be “treated no worse than local citizens detained for similar offences”’ Assange supporter James Ricketson has asked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong several questions. “Is it customary for local citizens in the UK who have broken no UK laws to be held in jail for three years and denied bail? Is it customary for UK citizens to be stripped naked and left alone in a bare cell?”

Unless such questions can be answered free of establishment platitudes about the law running its course, the picture persists that justice towards Assange requires brutal controls supported by people who use neither their humanity nor their brains to articulate alternatives to collusion with powerful others, and to call that collusion the rule of law.

All this in the name of democracy, free speech for the privileged and the interpretation of some laws by unaccountable politicians: British Home Secretary Priti Patel springs to mind.

Leverage by social class affects the perspective of those who may take the administration of justice for granted, or who sees fit to criticise defendants with whom they have nothing in common. Social class influence persists. The Executive Director of the Lowy Institute must be aware and should know better.

[Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney, a recipient of the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize and author of the recent Policy Press book Cruelty or Humanity. This article was first published at Pearls and Irritations.]

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