Rest in power, Bassel

I’m going to let the Jimmy Wales Foundation drive here, reposting their blog item on the execution of Bassel Khartabil by the Syrian regime. It outlines the grave situation far better than I could, in what can only be described as a heart-rending injustice for his family, his wife Noura, and the wider Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) community who lost a valuable contributor, an esteemed colleague, and a unequivocal friend to the open Internet.

Bassel Khartabil, who was imprisoned by the Syrian regime in 2012, was found to have been executed shortly after he disappeared from custody in 2015.

It might be helpful to point out to the non-tech folks out there how the FOSS paradigm dovetails nicely into the cause of personal and political freedom in today’s technological world. For the Internet, for software programs, and for things like Artificial Intelligence and electronic voting, having the source code open to review and inspection – and therefore open to improvement – benefits everyone and removes the cloak of mystery and, more importantly, reduces the chances of malfeasance from being written into the software. The difference between code that is open and amendable is far and away superior to “closed source” software, like those from Apple or Microsoft. Closed source, or “proprietary software,” does not serve the public good in nearly the same fashion as the wide range of Linux distributions and FOSS programs like LibreOffice, everything in the Mozilla constellation of software (Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email client, etc.), and a vast array of others.

[I’d be glad to talk with anyone curious about FOSS replacements for proprietary software personally, if you want to email me. I have been a Linux/FOSS user for 11 years, and I can say that over the last decade, open-source replacements to proprietary software have come a long way.]

I never met Bassel. Our paths crossed briefly in an group email exchange on which we were both addressed regarding a Creative Commons issue that had long ago resolved itself. When he was imprisoned for what seemed to be no other reason than a government crackdown on those who would speak freely on the Internet – part and parcel of Bassel’s work as head of Creative Commons in Syria – it was an injustice that needed addressing on a worldwide basis. It falls under the “injury to one is an injury to all” doctrine (thanks, IWW!), and many picked up the ball and advocated for Bassel’s freedom.

This roster seeking Bassel’s freedom would include Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Amnesty International, Mitchell Baker at the Mozilla Foundation, Joi Ito at the MIT Media Lab, Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, and a long list of others. Even aides in Rep. Anna Eshoo’s office took an interest in Bassel’s plight (it should be noted that Rep. Eshoo is my congresswoman, and is usually on top of tech issues as one of Silicon Valley’s members of Congress).

Hoping against hope, I had my fingers crossed that this would go a different way. It didn’t, and my heart goes out to Bassel’s wife and family, as well as to the wider FOSS community who lost a trusted mentor and a valued contributor at the hands of an oppressive dictatorship in Syria.

Rest in power, Bassel.


Author: Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero is currently an organizer for the Democratic Socialists of America's Santa Cruz organizing committee, soon to be a full-fledged chapter. He is a long-time democratic socialist, a former news editor on two continents (North America and Asia), and a former Liaison to the Secretary of State's office for the Green Party of California. Larry's brush with fleeting fame came in 2006 when he was the Green Party's candidate for Insurance Commissioner in California (270,218 votes, 3.2 percent). He lives among the redwoods in Felton (Santa Cruz County), California.

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