Every geek is Charlie

Internet and technology professionals must speak up and play a key role in shaping the response to the murders in Paris

je suis charlie 700
Credit: Charlie Hebdo

The murderous attack on the journalists responsible for the French satirical publication "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris this week is entirely horrifying. Settling scores with violence, especially against the unarmed, is the recourse of barbarians -- lower than animals and without defense. To every person affected I extend my heartfelt sympathy.

This was without doubt intended as an act of terrorism. Some politicians act as if "terrorism" means a horrific crime committed by someone who doesn't fit the speaker's own racial and religious profile. But simply because a crime induces terror in people doesn't make it terrorism. To speak as if it does diminishes the concept and groups routine crime -- for which society has millennia of experience and solutions -- into the same bucket as a more subtle and serious phenomenon that preys on the meshed society.

Terrorism isn't only performing a terrifying act. It's provoking society's immune system into attacking itself, making its defense systems attack the values and people they are supposed to be defending. Terrorism is like an autoimmune disorder of democracy. When we focus on the violence instead of the subtlety of the infection, it is easy to succumb as it seeks to provoke us into destroying ourselves.

I refuse to be terrorized, decline the opportunity to hate, and will not succumb to the disease. What does that mean practically?

  • To respond with attempts to make society less open is to succumb
  • To respond with advocacy for or against religion is to succumb
  • To respond with hatred of anything except terrorism is to succumb
  • To respond by advocating racism or disrespect for anyone is to succumb
  • To blame the victims or diminish the crime by reference to their actions is to succumb

Responding to terrorism

The defense of openness is especially relevant to the technology community, as we benefit from and can be expected to understand its mechanisms. Acts of terror tend to provoke political responses that desire to ban certain speech, block certain websites, and impose blanket surveillance.

As technologists we understand that the Internet -- along with the technologies surrounding it, such as the Web, mobile devices, open source software, and peer-to-peer protocols -- are designed for resilience and robustness. We must speak out as the inevitable response to this brutal crime emerges.

When politicians ask us to block, ban, censor, and intrude, they demand we corrupt the very technologies that are delivering a foundation for freedom and innovation. That's because technical measures that unavoidably block, ban, and intrude have to break the technologies they parasitize. More than that, they have to be anchored on the demise of general-purpose computing and its replacement with devices that are closed to their users.

We should respond to this act of hate, which is as indefensible to anyone who embraces one of the world's religions as to those who reject them all, by ensuring we do not succumb to the self-destructive reactions that perpetrators of terrorism want to provoke. The best response is to strengthen the open, fair, and tolerant society that terrorism seeks to destroy.

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