Dear Bassel,

In considering everything I’ve heard from Oussama about the role the open community and programming played in making you who you are, I wanted to learn more about specific projects. So I talked to y/our friend Jon about what you did for Openclipart, a widely used community/collection of free content vector clip art. 

As I learned - your contribution as a programmer was quite significant. Not only that, but learning about it at this time also creates a useful analogy for approaching the larger political drama in which we are currently embedded. I’m referring to the fact that the software you wrote is still running now, despite the fact that you, its creator, has not been able to update it in the 2+ years that you’ve been either in prison or in the midst of a war zone. Can you imagine what our world would be like if governments pursued a variation of this as their goal in “controlling” civilian populations? It would be more like facilitating populations than controlling them. Think about it: a content management system that allows anyone to edit a site easily - sharing, contributing, altering - that is robust enough to facilitate an ever-growing number of users and material without needing to be fixed for a long period of time —- what if the content being managed was political consciousness and cultural and civic engagement? And what if the goals of major political leaders were to build systems that could run on their own, rather than creating more complex surveillance apparatuses, more efficient killing machines, and more deterrents to creative and empowered participation in culture - essentially engineering self-destructive systems that necessitate their own existence?

What if…

What if…the power of the Internet and digital technologies, and the affect they have on the human mind, could actually steer us toward a peaceful resolution to the war in your country, to the ongoing conflicts in your region. What if the Internet could be put to good use such that my country will stop trying to police the world, and put its resources to good use to help citizens of other countries establish their own freedoms. Or focus on the problems in its own borders. I don’t think that military action, in order to “teach a lesson” or “make an example,” before even knowing with certainty what actually happened (as my country is currently discussing doing to your country in light of recent use of chemical weapons against civilian populations), is appropriate, wise, or just. But then again I dream of a world in which military action is not needed. And also know that pacifism is sometimes a luxury. A world in which people laugh about how primitive our culture is, insofar as so many really do believe that “war is inevitable.” A world that is hard to imagine and would take lifetimes to develop..   

And this is a dream shared by many, because this “inevitable” system clearly is not working. With every war and every strike, someone is forced to reinvent the wheel, for their lives, their family, their ideology, their business, their psychological well-being… With all this push back, how are we ever going to legitimately progress as people - individually, nationally, globally… it’s like something Jon wrote regarding Openclipart — think about it in terms of compositions of society and not just images:

“Graphic designers and artists use these art fragments to make compositions rapidly rather than having to build images tediously from scratch. As with software development, why reinvent the wheel? While the roots of clip art are established in more traditional media -glue, paper and scissors - the metaphors of the modern computer now expand “clip art” to be more contextually-rich with data embedded inside which describe an image’s content. Thus, clip art becomes bite sized media useful for composing rapidly, traditionally, and/or algorithmically.”

Let us freely use the fragments we have, and share new and remixed ones, rather than blowing them out of our hands and then claiming its only through your protection that we may ever grasp them, even if only momentarily.

[…]

So it goes without saying, Bassel, that I think if either of our countries were actually concerned with long-term stability, not only in your region but also globally, you would not be in prison. Because the picture I have of you is that you are not only an agent of peace in terms of your conscience, but are an agent of peace with the technical and social skills to make this peace knowable and shareable - and therefore: achievable.

I hope you are safe and am thinking of you.

nk

3 Sept 2013