The news coming from Syria, including those about the daily killing in a civil war that may spillover to neighboring countries, receives daily and round-the-clock coverage in the international media. But as I followed up the most important news of last week, I noticed that two other stories were competing with the coverage of the Syrian developments: The fact that the government of Ecuador granted Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, political asylum after he took refuge in its embassy in London; and the jail sentence against three young women from a Russian punk rock band called Pussy Riot - whom I identify by their first names for the readers: Yekaterina, 30, Maria, 24, and Nadezhda, 22.
The general impression is that Assange's problem is apparently with Sweden, where two young women accused him of sexually assaulting them. But I believe that his real problem is with the U.S. administration and Congress, first and foremost.
WikiLeaks uncovered official corruption scandals in Kenya, toxic waste in West Africa, documents belonging to the Church of Scientology, and two million Syrian e-mail messages. But no one is prosecuting WikiLeaks for any of these or other issues.
Instead, WikiLeaks' entire problem is that in April, 2010, it published 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables from one hundred countries it had received from Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst in the U.S. army who has been detained for 800 days and who faces up to 52 years in prison if convicted.
Sweden has not charged Assange with anything yet, and only wants to question him in relation to the charges pressed by the two young women. But I noticed that these charges were not publicized until near the end of 2010, after WikiLeaks' rise to fame, and not when the alleged assault occurred.
More importantly, U.S. officials have described Assange as a "Techno-Terrorist". The U.S. Senate wants him tried under espionage laws, and the U.S. government is urging Sweden every day to demand his extradition, and will most probably ask Sweden to hand him over to the U.S. if he gets there. Furthermore, Assange has agreed to being questioned by Sweden in Britain, or at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, but the Swedish authorities have refused.
Assange knows that his main problem is with the United States, which wants to punish him after he exposed the administration's conspiracies, and after WikiLeaks posted video footage of a U.S. attack helicopter firing at and killing Iraqi civilians in a street in Baghdad. For this reason, I noticed that when Assange addressed the world from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy, he directed his statement primarily to the United States, even when Sweden is requesting his extradition and Britain is threatening to arrest him if he steps out of the embassy.
The successive U.S. administrations talk about the absence of democracy in our countries, which is true. They call for freedoms to be enhanced, including the freedom of speech, and specifically the freedom of the press. Yet, the United States does not want the press to be free to expose the secrets of its wars and aggression against Arabs and Muslims.
The case of Assange and WikiLeaks is important in many ways. By contrast, the Pussy Riot debacle seems to be a kind of a social news story, except that the Western media has chosen to push it to compete with other news, including the news on Syria.
What happened was that the three band members sang against President Vladimir Putin and danced inside the most important cathedral in Moscow.
Personally, I support them in criticizing Putin, but I do not understand the choice of an Orthodox cathedral for singing and dancing, unless the girls were seeking fame; but their attempt has backfired. Indeed, the Russian Orthodox Church is immensely popular, and all priests and many people deplored what the three singers did. Ultimately, the band members ended up in court, which sentenced each one of them respectively to two years in jail.
The sentence was not handed out because they criticized Putin, but because they sang and danced in a cathedral. One can only imagine the magnitude of reactions if a similar group had violated the sanctity of a mosque, synagogue or a Buddhist temple.
The Western press ignored the cathedral, to focus instead on Putin's dictatorship, and published political opinions by the singers about an upcoming revolution. There were several demonstrations in front of Russian embassies around the world, and conferences and events were held in solidarity with the three singers, amid a deliberate omission of the obscene act they perpetrated in violation of the sanctity of a cathedral, which offended millions of Russians.
There is a news story about Assange and Pussy Riot every day, when Syrians are being killed while the 'civilized' Western world turns a blind eye to their ongoing tragedy, doing nothing to help them more than statements and rubbing its hands.
(Jihad al-Khazen is a writer for Dar al-Hayat where this article was published on August 30, 2012)