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The Largest Frontline Club Event: Julian Assange and Slavoj Žižek Talk Hosted by Amy Goodman

Submitted by on December 27, 2011 – 4:54 pmNo Comment

Frontline Club event hosted at The Troxy in London.

Wikileaks has lost its capital and possibly its founder, yet a few months ago at the Frontline club Assange seemed untouchable. The  talk was between Julian Assange and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and was hosted by Amy Goodman of  Democracy Now! on 2 July 2011  at the Troxy, a beautiful art deco theatre in Bounders Green, East London.Vaughn Smith, the founder of the Frontline Club (Click link to see video of event) and personal friend of Assange, coined it, “the largest Frontline event to date.”

About 2000 people turned up and at £25 a ticket it showed how dedicated they were. There was no doubt that they came to hear these critics analyse society and dispute the status quo or the concept that we live in a black and white world and that we, the West, are the good guys. At the time, it wasn’t really possible to appreciate that this might have been one of the last big talks Julien Assange would be taking part in as a free man and Head of Wikileaks. Assange was already accused of rape and was waiting to find out the outcome of his fight against extradition to Sweden.

On the way to the venue, my girlfriend and I shared most of the journey with a woman who turned out to be cycling to the same event. When we arrived, she asked if she could lock her bike to ours as she had forgotten her lock. We went inside and got a table together. She introduced herself as Ellen Otzen, a journalist for Amnesty International who previously worked for the BBC World Service. When she said this last part, my ears pricked up as I had worked at the World Service for a day once, made possible by a friend of mine, Thomas Fessy, a City University journalism graduate who was also one of the reasons that inspired me to study there. He was stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when the bullets started flying and blew open the story of Rwandans backing the DRC government, all that at 25 years old. An inspiration to me, and in the small tight-knit world of journalism, it turned out that Ellen had worked with him in Africa. Thomas is still floating around on the continent he always loved, and still working for the BBC. This was the first news I had heard about him in years.

The crowd settled down as the event got underway. The moderator Amy Goodman, with her grey long hair and kindly face showing years of journalism experience, started the discussion by saying that it would be streamed across the globe to make sure that everyone everywhere had access to it. She said: “It’s extremely important because information is power. Information is a matter of life and death, we’ve learnt that through these remarkable trove of documents that have been released in the last year.” Referring to US state departments documents, the Iraq and Afghanistan “War logs” published by Wikileaks, she added: “Why do they matter so much? Well, we will talk about that this afternoon.”

This was truly an event based on revolutionary heavyweight proportions. In the one corner, the outspoken Slavoj Žižek, with his longish grey hair, signature jeans and white t-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Lenin and the words “They dupe you”, and a permanent grin. Goodman, with a smile on her face, said: “The National Review calls Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek the most dangerous political philosopher in the West. New York Times says he is the Elvis of cultural theory.” She continued mentioning that he had written over 50 books on philosophy, psychoanalysis, theology, history and political theory and that he has published a new book called Living in the End Times. In the other corner was Julian Assange, the mirror opposite Australian “outlaw”. With his clean-cut look, perfectly parted white hair, smart shirt and black Chelsea boots he conveyed an air of someone who was taking himself very seriously. Goodman introduced him as: “The man who has, perhaps, published more than anyone else in the world…I would say Julian Assange is the most widely published person on earth…?”, to which Assange replied: “I suspect under that criteria perhaps Rupert Murdoch is the most published person on Earth.”

In the two hour long discussion that ensued, a lot of ground was covered and to transcribe it all would take pages – but certain comments stood out. One of the most potent remarks by Žižek was: “If anyone deserves a noble peace prize it is Bradley Manning.” The US soldier was the first whistleblower to speak to Wikileaks and was now sitting in prison for his efforts. The most honest and sincere statement by Assange was an observation about himself: “I am cynical and worldly now, but five years ago I was simply a very young and naïve fool.”

The conversation between the two men was intense and absorbing and often punctured with laughter from the audience when Žižek behaved like a naughty school boy with his analogies based on sex, films and the Marx Brothers, which certainly enlivened the discussion when he roped Goodman into his brilliantly funny scenarios. Assange, meanwhile, looked mostly serious – there was presumably a lot more on his mind.

Interestingly enough, this was the first big event that Assange joined after coming out of house arrest.  He mentioned that the next day would be his birthday and that he was waiting for the outcome of the extradition. On 2 November, his appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face rape charges was rejected by the High Court. He has subsequently gone to the Supreme Court and continues to fight it. There are similarities to George Orwell’s novel 1984, where the protagonist Winston Smith’s lover turns out to be a spy, showing that nobody can be trusted. Time will tell if this story will end differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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