‘Politicising’ and ‘weaponising’ are becoming rather convenient arguments

We live in a time of so much insecurity But is there anything we can expect from this increasingly ominous-looking winter with any certainty?
Joel, by email

Events may overtake us, but the cliches we use to describe them are frequently, one might even say reassuringly, predictable. I was thinking about this while reading an interview in the Sunday Times magazine this weekend with the lawyer Stella Moris, AKA Sara Gonzalez Devant , AKA the mother of Julian Assange’s two youngest children. (Like Boris Johnson, it is impossible to get a precise figure on how many children Assange has. Funny how a shared peccadillo can really highlight the similarities between two seemingly very different people.)

The interview largely took place, as far as I can gather, in the Japanese Kyoto garden in London’s Holland Park, and Moris described how romance blossomed for her and Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy (Japan, Holland, Ecuador; perhaps Assange is right and we truly live in a world without borders now.) Moris, 37, accompanied by her and Assange’s three-year-old and 19-month-old sons, talked with feeling about Assange’s possible extradition to the US (his extradition hearing began on Monday at the Old Bailey). “Even now I don’t know whether my children will ever be held in their father’s arms again.” To which one struggles not to reply: “Yes, that’s incredibly sad for your children. But it is also not an ENTIRELY unforeseen turn of events, given you conceived them with a man avoiding extradition to Sweden to face one allegation of sexual assault and another of rape.” The rape allegation has since been dropped due “to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question,” the Swedish Prosecution Authority said last year. The Swedish deputy director of public prosecution, Eva-Marie Persson, added: “I would like to emphasise that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events.”

Moris, unsurprisingly, has a different take on those events. “It was very clear to me that this case had very rapidly become politicised,” she said.

“Politicised”, like its trendier, more modern version, “weaponised”, is used by people as a means of discrediting an allegation or argument. When yet another school shooting happens in the US, Republicans dismiss anyone begging for more gun control by telling them they are “politicising a tragedy”. Antisemitism, Jews were repeatedly told over the past five years, was being “weaponised” against the Labour party purely to destroy Britain’s socialist future. And it is a flat-out certainty that this winter, when the effects of the coronavirus begin to bite again and people, shall we say, vent their displeasure at the government for not locking down cities sooner/failing to provide key workers with PPE/lying about the safety or otherwise of care homes, ministers will accuse them of “politicising” the virus. But just because it might be people who don’t like Assange, or guns, or the Labour party, or the Tory party who are making these points, it does not follow that the arguments are untrue. “‘Politicise” and “weaponise” does not mean an argument is invalid – it means someone else knows they can’t argue against it.

Disagreements are styled in such a black-and-white fashion these days: I am good, therefore anyone questioning me is bad. Are people really this absolutist, or are they just disingenuously pretending to be so in order to avoid awkward questions? Maybe both. But there does seem to be a general fear of ambiguity, or just a resistance to acknowledge grey areas. So with Assange, it is – on the one hand (you need many hands when discussing Assange) – absurd that he might get 175 years in a US prison for the charges that have been lobbed against him. On the other hand, he ducked two serious sexual assault allegations. And the US horror show does not cancel out the Swedish one.

As for the Tories and the coronavirus, like the Republicans and gun control, it is always amusing when politicians accuse people of “politicising” something when they literally – and apologies for spelling out the obvious here – work in politics. And why do they work in politics? Allegedly, to improve things. So you would think they would be happy when someone points out something they could improve. And yet, not so much. One could pretty easily argue that politicians dismissing criticisms is itself a political act, but they never see it that way, strangely.

When idiots online post photos of children who died in the Holocaust in the misguided belief this validates their arguments about face masks, or Black Lives Matter, that is exploitative and ahistorical because one, clearly, has nothing to do with the other. But holding people and especially politicians to account for a mess they could and should have avoided is not weaponising anything. That is asking people to be decent humans and to do their damn job.

  • Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com


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