Back in 2017, the world-known hip-hop artist M.I.A. curated the Meltdown Festival and sat down with the Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek, the young Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat, and her controversial friend Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks—who joined the conversation via live satellite link-up from his hideout at the Ecuadorian embassy in London (at the time, at least).
Ostensibly about art and activism, the conversation ranged broadly. M.I.A. spoke about how weird it is that tech leaders adopt the practices of yoga and zen buddhism to enhance their brand of modern capitalism (the ‘misuse’ didn’t surprise Žižek, who noted Japanese writer Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki’s related feeling that, “buddhist meditation is the best way to train killing machine soldiers”). They also discussed the remarkable calm of Jeremy Corbyn during the recent election, before moving on to a discussion of Wikileaks founder and fellow panellist Julian Assange.
M.I.A. acknowledged the “pushback on social media” following the announcement that Assange would be on the panel, but asked the speakers and audience to consider, “Why do they want him so bad?”. ‘They‘ being the authorities—Assange was them still living in a political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he was accused of rape in a legal case that has been since discontinued. His supporters predicted at the time that he would eventually be extradited from Sweden to America, where he is wanted for publishing secret war logs and other documents provided by whistleblower Chelsea Manning that presented evidence of US complicity in torture, and involvement in the killing of civilians.
“For me, it’s really important to have something like Wikileaks,” M.I.A. says. “Because you know that they’ve already proved that they don’t do stuff for money, and they can’t be bought,” she explains, concluding, “I think more figures like that in society are important”.