Belfast Telegraph

When exposing evil deeds turns into fundamentalism

By Christina Patterson

The figure bathed in golden light says: "Now we face our greatest challenge. Join us in our struggle." Above him is a canopy of autumn leaves and a big sky, dotted with clouds, like the clouds in a Dutch painting.

You almost expect a heavenly choir, or at least some stirring music.

But there isn't a choir. Just a bloke in a brown sweater staring straight to a camera and telling us that "WikiLeaks needs you".

WikiLeaks needs you, or me, or whoever was filming Julian Assange for its appeal on its website, because it, like its founder, is in big financial trouble.

There are Assange's legal costs, of course, which are ticking away like a taxi meter, but there's also the collective action of Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and the Bank of America, which stopped processing donations to the site after the publication of the US embassy diplomatic cables at the end of last year. The result, apparently, is a 95% drop in income and possible bankruptcy.

Julian Assange seems, according to his autobiography, which was published in an unauthorised version last month, to have divided the world into crooks and non-crooks from an early age. He grew up, as the son of hippies, with protest in his blood. After his father left, his mother had a lover who'd been in a cult, a man whose 'obsessional nature derived from his egocentricity and his dark sense of control'.

When the relationship broke up, he wouldn't leave them alone. Assange, and his mother and half-brother, spent the rest of his childhood as 'fugitives'. They lived, he says, with "a degree of hysteria" and in constant fear.

We don't need Sigmund Freud to point out the paranoia that kicked in from an early age, or the sense that the world was a dark and dangerous place, or the distrust of any kind of control.

Assange himself suggests that "perhaps I was just bred to hate the system". The 'system', at that stage, was the school that wanted the infant Assange to tie his shoelaces, but it later seems to have been pretty much everyone in the world.

WikiLeaks did change the world, and not too many teenage rebels wanting to 'get the b******s' can say they've done that.

It has made sure that no organisation on the face of the planet - including the government of the most powerful country in the world - can be confident that information it wants to be secret will stay secret.

That will make some people doing bad things very uneasy. It will also make some people doing good things in difficult circumstances uneasy and might even make the good things more difficult to bring about.

But WikiLeaks doesn't care about people doing good things in difficult circumstances, unless the good thing is speaking what it would like to call truth to what it would like to call power.

"If material is suppressed, we must see it as a blockage," says Assange, "and alleviate the problem. That way, we get to justice."

For Julian Assange, and his disciples, and the people who bid at auction to touch the hem of his garment, or at least 'the sealed prison coffee' he 'smuggled out of HMS Wandsworth', or objects he has touched while under house arrest, the world is one giant toilet which Assange and his fellow plumbers-for-truth must, therefore, unblock.

"Information," he says, "wants us free. Disclosure is not merely an action; it is a way of life."

When he says things like this, he sounds the way fundamentalists, and particularly fundamentalists who have started a cult, always sound. He sounds, in fact, like an angry child.

Does 'information' want us 'free'? We don't know. We can't ask it.

But one thing I'm pretty sure the world doesn't want - or need - is any more unscrupulous, uncompromising and psychotically self-justifying fanatics.

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