Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: June 2010 (page 1 of 2)

The BOBs!

I would be remiss not to post about the experience of winning the BOBs.  Talk Morocco, from its inception last summer, has been an incredible experience, and has grown beyond what Hisham and I originally envisioned; I am so proud of this little project, and of its amazing contributors.

We were notified of winning in April, during the re:publica conference.  Since then, we awaited patiently the opportunity to travel to Bonn for our award.  We were particularly lucky; though Deutsche Welle could only pay for one of us to attend, Hisham lives only a few hours away in France and was able to come as well, along with Mahdi, one of our most active contributors (who lives in Berlin).

Winning was certainly a humbling experience; over 300 blogs were nominated for the English award; the 12 jurors from around the world then narrowed them down into 7 official nominees.  A public vote was then held, as well as a private jury vote: and Talk Morocco won both!

We’ve got exciting things coming up in the future…we’ve just applied for funding to launch the site in Arabic, as well as to hold a workshop for bloggers in Morocco.  And we will continue to keep the platform as open as inclusive as possible while still providing excellent content to our readers.

Ich bin in Bonn

I stumble onto the escalator heading toward the train tracks.  I feel ill; perhaps it’s from not eating, and then eating too much, but in any case, I feel as though I’m about to faint.  I shouldn’t even be here right now,* I think to myself as I collapse onto a bench, grateful for the ten minute wait for my train.

Frankfurt, or at least Frankfurt’s airport, feels strikingly similar to the last time I was in Germany, in Munich.  That time, I was also alone, though with more of a breaking heart than imploding insides.  And it was cold, freezing actually, as I made my way from the airport to my hostel.  As I wait for the bus to my hotel, I watch a young Moroccan with a large suitcase from the corner of my eye.  It’s clear that he’s new here.  I feel I have more in common with him than everyone else, for more reasons than one.

This time I’m a little older, a little wiser, but still can’t read German and find the simplest things–like trying to buy a U-Bahn ticket–difficult.  Germany in general has always struck me as kind of odd, at least to an American: lots of things look, and are, very similar, but then you’ll find something totally out of the ordinary, like a cigarette machine or on-time trains, or the fact that though nearly everyone speaks some English, all of the signage is in German, and you’re confounded.

This time I’m in Bonn, for just two days, to accept an award at the Deutsche Welle Forum for Talk Morocco, a project I co-founded last summer with my friend Hisham.  We never expected to win, so this was a lovely surprise, made even more lovely by the fact that Hisham (who lives in Rouen, France) was able to get here easily as well.  We’re joined by one of our contributors as well, Mahdi, who lives in Berlin.

Bonn has a strangely gothic feel to it; perhaps it’s the chill in the midnight air, or the leaves strewn about fallen from trees, but the city feels perpetually autumnal.  I took the afternoon to myself to wander the city on foot and clear my head, deciding for myself that it’s a form of recovery.  The afternoon sun (which I was forced to protect myself from with 100 SPF thanks to the medications I’m taking) felt just right on my face as I strolled through Bonn’s many pedestrian streets, savoring the various aromas.  I stopped for awhile to sniff spices in an open-air market, and noticed the seller staring at what I thought was my breasts.  I looked up at him, then down, only to realize he was trying to decipher my necklace. Finally, he asked, “do you know what your necklace says?”

“Of course I do,” I replied.  “It’s my name in Arabic.”

“Ahh,” he said.  “I was struggling to read it.  Are you Arab?”

“No, but I had this made in Damascus when I was there last year.”

“Damascus?!  I’m from Damascus!  Marhaba!”

How small the world eventually becomes, eh?

* I had a minor but emergency surgical procedure last Friday and was warned against travel (though the doctors do know that I ended up going).  I’m actually feeling quite well, but nevertheless should be resting, not lugging a suitcase all over Europe.

#NetFreedom in Syria, Between Sanctions and Censorship

This post is directly re-published from Anas Qtiesh’s blog, but I agree with it 100%.

A delegation of US tech companies and policymakers are visiting Syria today and holding a meeting with President Bashar Al Assad and high-ranking officials. The tech delegation (#techdel on Twitter, and “techdel” hereafter) came after coordination on high diplomatic levels and as a part of the Obama administration’s policy of engaging with Syria, according to William Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

A tweet by Alec Ross, the techdel’s leader, summed up the United States’ attitude towards the visit:

This trip to #Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of #netfreedom

Of course Net freedom is craved by Syrian users; Censorship is strict and many popular websites are blocked by the Syrian government (Facebook and YouTube to name a couple), and perceived cyber-dissidents have many a time received prison sentences ranging between 3-5 years in most cases. What the techdel seems oblivious to is how much the U.S. sanctions on Syria are complicit in further limiting internet freedoms for Syrian users. Jared Cohen, Member of Secretary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and a member of the delegation, tweeted:

Big gap between older & younger Syrians on challenges to business. Youth blame lack of education, not sanctions

Just to show how misguided that statement is, I’ll draw up a few comparisons between Syrian governmental censorship and U.S. imposed IT sanctions:

Syrian Governmental Censorship U.S. Imposed Sanctions
Blocks (.blogspot), a major blogging platform. Denies access to blogging software such as Microsoft Live Writer.
Blocks Youtube, #1 video hosting website Denies access to video viewing and editing software (Real Player, Windows Movie Maker, etc.)
Blocks many popular online services and websites Blocks essential software needed to have a complete surfing experience (Chrome Browser, Java, Flash, etc.)
Heavily monitors and blocks websites, conducts surveillance Tools for monitoring and surveillance often provided by US corporations.
Has adopted a phobic attitude towards new technologies (e.g. broadband internet penetration is still negligible, GPS enabled devices are banned). Further hampers development by banning export of any U.S. developed technological solutions. This has affected the adoption of broadband Internet, and means that the all the benefits that come with mobile Internet access is delayed for years to come.

According to Jared Cohen, the techdel also addressed issues of intellectual property:

Strong words from US techdel to Syria on intellectual property & emphasis on enacting laws to address this in short & long-terms

Again, US policymakers are requesting that Syrian authorities help them enforce measures against software piracy, of software that’s originally banned from Syria under the US sanctions. I don’t know what message they are trying to send here, but again it shows that the techdel came with a pre-prepared speech that’s hardly based on the facts on the ground, and shows little desire to have a proactive discussion with Syrian counterparts. It’s ludicrous that Syrian officials are asked to help effectively enforce sanctions against their country; The fine people from techdel seem to disagree. The fact of the matter remains, pirated software is the only choice for Syrians now, and in the absence of the ability to purchase original copies; all U.S. demands for measures against piracy are painfully misguided.

I personally have little hope for any positive outcome to come out of this initiative. Both sides are hardly affected by the current situation and the real victim here is the Syrian youth and entrepreneurs who are having to spend their time and energy to come up with ways to go around limitations and hurdles from local and U.S. policies. Those wasted talents would have been better invested in an [infant], yet promising, Syrian IT sector.

I hereby start a campaign to call on policymakers from Syria and the US to end unjust policies and practices that are adversely affecting Syrian IT infrastructure, and users.

How you can help

Start by contacting US policymakers, especially if you’re based in the United States.  If you’re a Syrian blogger, blogging in Arabic is a good way to attract attention and garner support internally.

- Important contacts:

You can call or write to Sec. Clinton’s office:
Phone: +1 202-647-5291
Address:
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

You can also contact advisers and members of Sec. Clinton’s team:
Alec Ross (@AlecJRoss on Twitter), Adviser for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Jared Cohen (@JaredCohen on Twitter), Member of Secretary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff.

Use hash tag #freenetsy on Twitter to make it easier to organize and track tweets, and make sure to join the Facebook group page and invite your friends to join.

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