martyr noun, a person who suffers very much or is killed because of their political or religious beliefs, and is often admired because of it.
megalomania noun, an unnaturally strong wish for power and control, or the belief that you are very much more important and powerful than you really are.
The controversy over Wikileaks and the subsequent treatment of Julian Assange, the curiously charismatic founder and face of Wikileaks, has created headlines around the world. Much has been written about the rights and wrongs of leaking to the world of classified and highly sensitive diplomatic cables. A great deal has also be written about Assange himself.
The complex arguments and counter arguments about Wikileaks seem to have come down, for the time being, to a basic public relations exercise, a battle for the hearts and minds of the average person in the street in the court of public opinion.
To millions around the world Assange has become a cult figure, a leader of resistance against all that is wrong with the world’s pre-eminent super power. Those close to Assange have described his battle against the US and extradition proceedings brought against him by Swedish authorities as a “David and Goliath” battle.
Regardless, there can be no doubt as to where the United States stands on Assange’s actions, Secretary of State has been damming, “The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”
Some right wing commentators in the US have called for Assange’s execution on the grounds of treason, of course forgetting Assange is an Australian citizen. Vice President Joe Biden has called the Wikileaks CEO a “high tech terrorist” and vowed to explore all legal avenues to bring prosecution proceedings against the 39 year old Australian. Leaders around the world have condemned Wikileaks.
The pressure being mounted by the US and the allegations of rape brought by Swedish authorities play very much to the idea of Assange being a martyr. A notion that Assange has done very little to down play. Assange has had high profile support from within the legal, journalism and celebrity communities, it is clear that Assange and his supporters are keen to paint him as a freedom fighter, a purveyor of truth.
According to several opinion polls, opinion is very much divided on Assange and his actions. Naturally there are wild variation in results depending on the publication and web site, yet what a brief analysis does show is that there is a PR battle to be won. It’s a battle that in all probability should be won by the under dog.
However is Assange at risk and bringing down he’s own comparative advantage. Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the former Wikileaks spokesman who left the website after a bitter dispute with Assange has described him as behaving like and emperor or a slave trader.
In an interview for Australian television’s Four Corners, Domscheit-Berg said of Assange and his motives, “I think he was aiming at taking up the biggest fight possible, and that fight was by taking up a fight against the United States maybe in that case, as the biggest political player in the, in the sphere. And that has some megalomaniac tendencies.”
Can these “tendencies” be seen on display in recent weeks as he fights extradition proceedings? Assange has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, there was speculation that he would be Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. One can’t help but think that Assange is lapping up the notoriety and the attention. The issue is no longer about the leaks, it is now about Assange.
Is Julian Assange a martyr or a megalomanic? As with all of the complexities involved with Wikileaks and its associated media frenzy, the truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between.