Wednesday 22 December 2010

Sing Choirs of Angels (For Julian Assange)

Guardian Angels: Julian Assange, like the prophets of the Old Testament, has called the powerful to account. It is to be hoped that he is afforded the same divine protection.

"HE’S NOT at all like him. How can you even think that?" Gabriel’s pinions flutter with indignation, casting off tiny splinters of golden light into the frigid evening air.

"Oh, I don’t know," replies Raphael, brushing Gabriel’s still glowing sparks from his robes. "If you cast your mind back, you’ll recall that He wasn’t everybody’s favourite activist either. In fact, didn’t just about everyone in high places call him a trouble-maker? A terrorist even?"

"Not the same thing at all – He was a prophet."

"Oh, come on, Gabriel. You know as well as I do that ‘prophet’ is just another name for troublemaker. How do you think the kings of Israel responded to being called to account by the likes of Isaiah and Amos? Do you think they liked having their misdeeds discussed openly in the marketplace? Do you think they appreciated those bearded vagabonds striding into their palaces, pointing their fingers, laying bare their sins? I don’t think so!"

"They were speaking for God, Raphael – that’s what makes the difference. They were His mouthpieces. Their mission was divine."

Gabriel spreads his wings, and with an upward beat brings himself to a position just above a pair of forbidding wrought-iron gates. Gathered in a noisy semicircle around the gateway are the outside-broadcast vehicles and satellite dishes of the world’s media. He counts at least a hundred journalists stamping their frozen feet in the snow-shrouded Suffolk countryside.

"Do they look like God’s mouthpieces to you, Raphael?"

"As individuals? No, not really. But then they are mortals, Gabriel. Sinners, every one. Just like Isaiah. Just like Amos. Just like all the human bearers of God’s word. He fashioned them, Gabriel. Endowing them with the wit and skill to subdue the whole earth: root and branch; fish and fowl. This is how they speak to one another nowadays – twittering and tweeting. Voices in the air, Gabriel. Hasn’t God always spoken thus?"

"And the man they seek, Raphael? He’s no stranger to the sins of the flesh. Does it seem likely that God would place his word in so flawed a vessel?"

Now it was Raphael’s turn to send indignant sparks into the wintry air.

"But isn’t that the point!" With a mighty beat of his wings he propels himself several thousand feet higher into the darkening sky. "Look about you! Look at what they have done to the garden we made for them to dwell in! They are fallen, Gabriel! Fallen! They should be left to freeze – or to burn. And yet here we are – just as we were that night on the hillside above Bethlehem, when we spoke to the shepherds, and just for a moment let them see the splendour of our wings. Because he loves them Gabriel – he loves them. Flawed though they be. Sinners though they are. He would not have them fall."

"But where were the signs? The wonders? Where was the gold, the frankincense, the myrrh? Where were we thirty-nine years ago when this fellow came into the world? I have no memory of a maternity ward in Townsville."

"I don’t think it works like that any more, Gabriel. That first time, remember, they called him Emanuel – "God is with us". And I don’t think he ever left. He remains with them, don’t you see? To be born again in every generation. The same story, Gabriel, told over and over and over again. What was it that Paul said: ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’."

"That certainly sounds like our friends in Washington", chuckled Gabriel, as the two archangels descended slowly towards the English country house.

I think I understand you now, Raphael", Gabriel smiles, "We’re here to bear witness. From the first betrayal to the final crucifixion. To the whole tragic passion play which, for twenty centuries, these doomed mortals have prepared for anyone who dares bid them be free."

"But we’re not the only witnesses," Raphael replies, spreading his wings protectively around half the house. "For each time the drama is played out there are always more who grasp its meaning. Who hear, as if for the first time, the words we heard Him speak to Pontius Pilate all those centuries ago: "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."

"And is set free!", Gabriel laughs, wrapping his own wings around the other half.

A great rush of air sends snow flurries whirling among the waiting journalists.

"Christ!", mutters a reporter from The Sun. "Freezing me effing bollocks off for Julian bloody Assange. What a way to spend Christmas!"

This short story was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 December 2010.


Anonymous said...

Very well done, Chris. God bless and have a merry Christmas

Madison said...

I'll respect him that much more if he opens his own secrets to the world. He's doing very good work, but his own shroud must be lifted as well.

Nick said...

Madison, it may be a case of he who is without sin may cast the first stone. I have never heard Assange claim to be anything than what he is, he is but a messanger bringing news of the deeds that others want untold.

I listened to Naomi Wolf debating the "rape" allegations against Assange. She made the teling point that neither of the women had lodged a rape complaint, AND more importantly raised the issue that Sweden allows the USA extremely easy extradition. Which means Assange if he goes to Sweden becomes available for the USA to lay their hands on and hold in an extrajudicial sense for as long as they please under their draconian anti terrorist legislation that includes "rendition" and torture. That is what this is all about.

Victor said...


I can't see that Assange is doing anything of importance whatsoever, apart from severely embarrassing the US and the Obama administration.

I'm reminded of the scene in 'Faulty Towers' where Sybil makes a quintessentially trite statement that launches Basil into a paroxysm of sarcasm, starting with the memorable line:
"That's my wife, Mastermind Special Subject, the bl..ding obvious"!

Who didn't know that Sako was thin-skinned and arrogant, that Sylvio parties too much for the good of government, that Angie is risk-averse (never heard of Deutshe Angst?), that Gaddafi is nutty as a fruitcake, Mugabe a nasty old man, Russia a mafia-run Kleptocracy and the Brits absurdly obsessed with their alleged Special Relationship with Washington?

I didn't know for sure , prior to Wikileaks, that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was on medication and I still don't know it for sure. Conversely, it would never have occurred to me that NATO didn't have contingency plans for coming to the aid of the Baltic republics in the event of Russian pressure. So nothing strikingly new here,either.

And every bazaar trader from Tangiers to Karachi knows that the Gulf sheiks would like nothing better than for the Israelis to flatten large parts of Iran before it goes nuclear. Yes, that's just their opinion. So, what else is new?

The leaks certainly show that, by and large, US diplomats are sober, well-informed, professional and perceptive observers of the countries in which they're stationed. Again, we knew this already. It explains why the State Department is recurrently ignored and sidelined by the White House,the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom.

In fact, the only truly revelatory tit-bits seem to come from our own Lilliputian res publica. It could be,however, that these are the most speculative of the lot.

After all, State's guys in Wellington are unlikely to be amongst its best and brightest.

On the other hand, they're probably smart enough to have figured out the advantages of a comfortable posting in a (thus far)terrorism-free environment, replete with ski-fields, vineyards and largely friendly natives....and just a few hours flight from the Sydney Opera House. Dammit, it must be heaps better than Conakry or Quito!

If you were one of their number, the last thing you'd want is for this comfortable and mildly diverting posting to be curtailed by some cost-cutting killjoy back home.

So, as in the 'The Tailor of Panama', it makes sense to sex up your reports, stress your insider's special knowledge and allude to levels of significance and complexity that aren't actually there.

A nice post though, Chris.

Merry Christmas and thanks both for your stimulating articles and for providing this excellent forum.

Mark Hubbard said...

An anarchist trying to bring the body of the State down seems to be a strange bedfellow for you Chris?

Don Franks said...

Jill and I looked after a couple of wee neighbourhood kids the other day. Seeing the old red man in the Porirua mall and all the hyper capitalist seasonal drama. On the way home I said did you guys know how all this Christmas stuff began?


"No, Jesus' birthday."

Blank looks.

"Ok, I'd better tell you. It was a long long time ago, in a foreign country. There was this young builder called Joe who'd been made redundant and was walking along the road looking for work. He had his girlfriend with him, because she was pregnant she got to ride on a donkey."

"What was the donkey's name?"

"Um - Jeffery. Anyway, along they went until they came to this town called Bethleham where there'd been a bit of recent earthquake damage, so Joe was hopeful he'd score some work fixing up houses. Because it was Christmas eve all the cheap hotels were booked out. It got later and later and Mary was getting pretty pissed off with Joe's bad planning. Finally they found a farmer on the outskirts of town who let them stay the night in his cowshed on condition Joe fixed a couple of loose weatherboards next morning.
Well, they'd only just got settle in and hello, Mary had her baby Jesus right there, no doctor or anything. When Jesus was born there was a big explosion in the sky and a huge big star appeared.

"Like when the council do the fireworks on Guy Fawkes?"

"Yeah, just like that but heaps bigger. The humungus star was a sign that Jesus was the son of God"

"Can we get some more chippies?"

"Maybe later. Getting back to the story, three wise men who'd been wandering round town for a Christmas do to go to saw the star above the cowshed and headed over to it, because it looked like a happening place. When they got there an angel came down and said Jesus was the son of God, so the wise men apparently left all their Christmas presents with Jesus instead of taking them home. I don't know if that bits true, because it doesn't sound a very wise thing to do with your Christmas shopping.
But anyway, Jesus grew up into a big boy and did all sorts of cool stuff. If you like I'll tell you about that another time.

"What happened to Jeffery?"

"Oh. Um, well, ok, it was actually a bit sad about Jeffery. It was ages before Joe got any building work in Bethleham and because he and Mary had no money to buy food they killed Jeffery and ate him.


"Um, yeah."

"Yuck! How cruel!"

" Well, I spose it was a bit, but they didn't have a lot of options. Anyway, that's basically the story of how Jesus was born and Christmas started off. Interesting eh. Its supposed to be one of the greatest stories ever, what do yous reckon?"

"It was sad about Jeffery.

Madison said...

To Nick:

I don't believe the rape allegations, where you got that idea is beyond me. But. . . until very recently Assange made a serious habit of trying to keep everything about himself secret. He spoke of open communication and then worked very hard to severely limit any communication he had to ensure that all anyone saw or heard of him was his carefully crafted image. This would have made him another case of 'do as I say, not as I do.'

As to Victor, exposing the absolute uselessness of so many government servants is exactly the thing I like him to do. As much as the wikileaks memos were hyped I think that what has come out of them is a very serious indication of what the ambassadors and high ranking staffers in most foreign actually do. And that would be nearly nothing. It may be somewhat anti-socialist to expose wastage that keeps far more people employed by the government, but I'd rather actually have them do something than keep paying these people tens of thousands of dollars to be nothing more than incompetent rumour junkies. I'm sure you would expect the same of your own government's people. You are happy to employ them but you would expect some sort of return through diplomacy work, engaging investors or even just publicity for tourism instead of having them play like school children passing notes.

On that note I'm off as I have to work Christmas, enjoy your time with your families all.

Victor said...


This just won't wash!

Reporting on trivia is an essential function of diplomacy. Sifting and analysing the trivia is what foreign ministry experts back home do!

Perhaps if the trivia had been taken more into account, the United States may have avoided both the Vietnam and Iraq imbroglios, along with a range of other disasters that have almost wiped out its 'soft power' over the last few decades.

So OK, the media may be telling foreign ministries exactly the same things as their own people on the spot. But do you really want governments to make up their minds about international events just on the basis of what they read in the newspapers or on the web?

Of course, every now and again, there will be something new or even revelatory, which it's worth sifting for.

And, as I write, it occurs to me that the only reason St Julian has failed to come up with anything truly original or interesting, is that such information might be conveyed by more sophisticated and secure techniques than the dross we've seen so far. I certainly hope this is the case.

One should be wary of too much confusing of cost with value, particularly, perhaps, at Christmastide.

Enjoy the festive season!


Nick said...

To Madison, I did not make the rape allegation comments in reply to your point, relax, you never suggested it. I did however make
the subsequent point as what Klein said made cogent sense, that the big bully nation cannot put the genie back into the bottle, so it wants to smash the bottle instead.

To Victor, yes the minutae relased is 99% dull as dishwater, and no great revelation. A little sifting sans any Assange spin reveals however the depth of the dirty deeds waged worldwide by the "champions of liberty". The helicopter gunship video was a classic case in point, it revealed a chilling lack of restraint, an indifference to homicidal US actions against innocents. I suspect the relatives of 50,000 dead Iraqi civilians might be applauding Assange revealing the truth of US occupation. Deadly deeds may be dreadfully dull but they still kill.

Anonymous said...

The real point of wikileaks is that the important revelations dicredit the US and British campaign in Afghanistan. The war is revealed as ugly, brutal and ineffective. In a way although the likes of Helen Clark would never see it that way, the American campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq have discredited the idea of peacekeeping and peacemaking as the basis of US, UK or NZ defence policy The real long term effects will have to be the opposite of what Hager and Assange intend, a return to conventional air and sea approach to control of the militant parts of the third and fourth world and more clinical and less visible and noticed means of destroying the likes of the Taliban and Saddams government in future.

Victor said...


Of course deadly deeds kill, even when known about. But how exactly is the publication of information that merely confirms existing knowledge going to prevent more deadly deeds?

I also agree with you that Wikileaks publication of evidence suggesting further Iraq war dead was a genuinely informative contribution to our knowledge on a vastly important and challenging topic. BTW I suspect that your figure of 50,000 is a gross underestimate

But that's as far as it goes. So far, at least, the rest has been mainly dross and not worth making a fuss about.

I would have more respect for Assange and his project had it kept focussed on the scale of brutality associated with the US-led onslaught on Iraq and forgot about the trivia and the self-inflation.

I'd have even more respect for it, if there was a similar focus on comparable recent 'hidden' massacres, such as that perpetrated by the Russian Federation's forces in Chechnya. That, however,would have involved courting a fate even more perilous than extradition to the US.

The Wikileaks phenomenon raises, meanwhile, an interesting broader issue as to whether governments (all governments and not just that of the USA) should have the same recourse to confidential information flows as individuals and businesses. I can't actually see how the world would work without such flows.

And, clearly, the upshot of all this will be to make the US as secretive as its rivals, in order to prevent a repetition of what, from Washington's perspective, is clearly a foreign policy debacle.

Madison said...

Sorry about that Nick, read on through the break without applying it in my brain. The total of why I like Wikileaks as an idea, and so far for what they have done is that they are mainly targeting corruption. Until the banal inanity of those thousands of documents in the last release they have focused on corruption and theft and destruction caused not just by Americans or their allies but by any and all governments and organisations.

If they focused on just the US or on those aligned fighting in Iraq there is always the chance it might devolve into something petty. By taking aim at any and all targets available they are working with anything they can verify to root out the disease in the beauracracy everywhere.

As for the current trial I'm quite sure it's petty and I think Assange meant to bring the attention but not this way. The diplomatic cables were mainly rubbish, but the sheer volume of them serves as a beacon to draw attention to the power wikileaks now has. I believe this was mainly working to push the boundaries and hopefully draw another court case regarding their rights to release the information but the US seems to take real ham-fisted aproach with this one.

In all I would go back to my first comment, I think he and wikileaks are doing good things.