What is the Cost of Free Speech?
Freedom of speech and expression is a right that tend to be taken for granted. Until it no longer is a reality.
I just learned that Mozilla and others have instituted a fellowship to honor Bassel Khartabil - The Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship. But what came as a shock to me is that Bassel who was “a prolific open source contributor, from Firefox to Wikipedia; the cofounder of Syria’s first hackerspace, Aiki Lab; Creative Commons’ Syrian project lead; building free and open 3D models of the ancient city of Palmyra” was executed in 2015 shortly after he disappeared from public view.
His crime? Being involved in activities that encourage freedom, free expression, and openness.
In Mark Surman’s words:
I met Bassel twice through Joi Ito, and only briefly. Mitchell knew him better – traveling to Syria to see the community and energy that Bassel had built. Through those brief meetings and stories from Mitchell and others, I saw Bassel not only as a Mozillian, a Wikipedian. He was all these things: Bassel rolled up his sleeves, committed code and organized communities. But I also saw him as a quiet champion of the idea that the open internet and free culture is about something bigger. It is about building cultures and societies that are rich and diverse. It’s about the higher ideals of humanity. Let’s remember Bassel today – and carry on that spirit.
To carry on that spirit is not an easy task. It would mean growing some balls and standing up in a society where dissent is opposed by force, (illegal) laws, and straightforward intimidation. It would mean shifting away from comfort zones and moving fingers against wrong things. Meek assent will have to give way to strong participatory democracy.
Writing is a great start. The Internet has made cost of publishing zero. Write your minds out. Have an opinion. Be not afraid to speak against authorities. Don’t be a silent observer.
It costs you nothing to speak free. But it might cost your life, if you keep shut.