A Peace Prize for Julian Assange?

by Scott London

In late January, a few days before the nomination deadline for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, I was contacted by an AFP reporter asking if I had any idea who might be nominated this year. I told him I’d heard a few rumors and seen some buzz online about a few potential nominees. But none of them seemed especially noteworthy, I said. By way of speculation, I added that a nomination for Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, seemed likely.

When the story appeared a few days later I was quoted in it, saying that if Assange were to get the prize, it wouldn’t be the first time a whistleblower had been honored. Even so, I said, “the notion that his actions have in some way promoted ‘fraternity among nations’ (to invoke the famous line in Alfred Nobel’s will) would be far-fetched, if not altogether inaccurate. It might be truer to say that he has undermined that fraternity by creating a culture of anxiety and suspicion in international affairs, especially between countries in volatile regions like the Middle East.”

The story appeared in a few places here and there. (See “Nobel Peace Prize nomination for WikiLeaks founder?”) Then, some days later, news broke that Snorre Valen, a young member of the Norwegian parliament, had officially nominated Assange for the 2011 award. Suddenly news outlets the world over jumped on the story, saying that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were now officially in the running for the world’s most prestigious prize.

My line in the AFP story about WikiLeaks “undermining” fraternity among nations by stirring up anxiety and suspicion suddenly generated lots of attention. I must confess that it was more than a little strange to see my name cited in newspapers like the Financial Times and journals like Foreign Policy appearing to come out against Julian Assange, someone I happen to respect and admire.

What was perhaps most unsettling was how quickly WikiLeaks supporters tracked me down and unleashed verbal assaults via e-mail. I was taken to task for being in favor of censorship and state secrets, for failing to support freedom of information, and for being on the side of those who wish to attack and silence Julian Assange. Of course, none of those things are true, but never mind. It seems you can’t be too careful about what you say in the press or online, because not only is it on the record for the rest of time, but people may quote it whenever they wish, in or out of context.