HotR: Bassel Khartabil
Today is rather a somber one here at GeoPolichinelle, as reports have now been confirmed that Syrian free speech advocate and all around super nice guy, Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian authorities two years ago.
Bassel was in many ways emblematic of the protest movement that arose in Syria during the Arab Spring of 2011. A successful software engineer and internet entrepreneur, he was young, intelligent, and part of a new generation of people that genuinely believed the world could change for the better. Aside from his leet skills in all things techie, Bassel also had the rare combination of desire and conviction – particularly when it came to advocating for a free and open internet, the development of open source software, and the basic human right to engage in the open exchange of ideas (that should be) central to the development of 21st century democratic governance. Add to that the fact that he had some dashing good looks (he always reminded me of an Arabic Ed Norton!) and you can see why the authorities were so threatened by him. In essence, Bassel represented the potential for a new Syria, and I guess that was just too much for them to allow.
If you want to read the (depressing) details of his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution then the WIKI page is a fine place to start. If you want to know what his fellow techies thought about him, both as a man, and as a tireless advocate for the creation of and access to knowledge, then the Creative Commons press release is here. If you would like to see some of his stunning work on preserving the heritage of Syria in digital format, then take a look at the New Palmyra project. If you want to truly understand just how much he meant to those that knew him, then watch the following video, but I warn you now – it’s emotional
Bassel stands out as a real life embodiment of all those things we are taught to cherish and emulate in our modern 21st century zeitgeist. He was kind, strong, intelligent, optimistic (at least, to begin with), and a fervent believer in the ability of technology to help create a better, stronger, more cohesive world, both domestically and internationally. He stood up for what he thought was right in the face of oppression, and was cut down for it. He was recognized by his peers as an example of what we should all hope to be, and as one of the most influential thinkers of his generation. He was a Hero of the Resistance.