Wednesday, October 10, 2007

 

Wikimania 2008

The announcement went out Tuesday: Wikimania 2008 will held at Alexandria, Egypt. But, instead of the possibility of meeting at the site of perhaps the most famous library in the world -- or at least the possibility of taking a tour amongst the ruins of the ancient civilization best known in the West -- the most excitement appears to be over the fact that the state of Egypt is oppressive towards Gays, Lesbians and Transgendered people.

I could make an acerbic comment about how this relates to the reality outside of the hothouse of Europe, and North America, but outside of generating a lot of hate email I'm not sure what it would accomplish.

Jimbo said the right thing: he planned to make this into an opportunity into confronting the problem, to point out not everyone has the same rights as in the West. This is along the lines of the most positive possibilities of Wikipedia. And there is more than simply a lot of pleasant words and good intentions here: there are some opportunites that could make a positive difference in the world.

For one thing, a convention in Egypt does offer a meeting place between the West and the less developed parts of the world, those parts wherein the future lies. I've written a little here about AboutUs.org, who have been developing Wiki technology; they happen to have a branch in Lahore, Pakistan. Let's say that management decides to fly a some of their Pakistani employees to Wikimania next year; this is not an unreasonable idea, seeing how they are hired from one of Pakistan's finest technical universities. A quick query on Expedia shows that (with one exception) it costs half as much for them to travel to Alexandria than to Frankfurt-am-Main Germany; it is twice as likely for them to attend a conference in Alexandria as it would be for them to attend one in Frankfurt (where the first Wikimania was held). We have a chance to engage not only Egyptians, but these intelligent and motivated people as well. Then there is India, with its growing numbers of technology-savvy people, is only a little further away; Israel, with another large technology-savvy population, is much closer.

We have a choice of being politically correct, and refusing to have anything with a country that is repressive -- although far from being as repressive as many -- or being pragmatic and reaching out to not only to the people in this country, but to other non-Western countries, and encouraging them to work towards a less repressive society.

Geoff

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Comments:
I can't speak for the others complaining about Egypt as a venue, but I would like once again to make it clear that my objection has nothing to do with the politics of human rights. My objection is that I would not feel safe traveling to Egypt. Wikimania isn't interesting enough for me to want to go to a country that is well-known to be a "high risk" destination for people like me.

For me, at least, this isn't about high-minded idealism. It's entirely based on self-interest. If you choose to hold a conference in a locale that does not do an adequate job of protecting the safety of your likely participants, or even which is merely widely perceived as such, you will lose at least some of those participants.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
First, I deleted a comment that used uncalled-for language. Let's try to be civil here -- especialy if we disagree with one another.

Second, I do disagree with Kelly's point. "Safe" is a subjective judgement, and there are a wide number of places in the United States I don't consider safe, although I'm a man. If Egypt were as unsafe as you believe, they would have no tourism industry; this is a major source of income for Egypt. The locals know this, and this is one reason they do as much as they can to keep tourists safe. Another reason is that, if my memory is correct, Arab culture has a proud tradition of hospitality to strangers and with a conference like this it is to their advantage to embrace that tradition.

I could be wrong. At this moment, my chief barrier to attending is money -- but unless Wikimania were held someplace west of the Mississippi in the US, money would still be a problem for me. So I may never learn the truth. But if offered the opportunity, I would attend a Wikimania in Alexandria.

Geoff
 
"I could make an acerbic comment about how this relates to the reality outside of the hothouse of Europe, and North America"

Actually, I think the opposite is true: Egypt's treatment of its own people doesn't directly impact the experience of European and North American tourists (by most accounts, it's perfectly safe even for LGBT travelers) -- but it deeply affects the lives of Egypt's own LGBT population. That, really, is the biggest point.

I agree with most of what you said, but it's reasonable (though probably misguided) for LGBT people not to want to have anything to do with countries where their local counterparts are persecuted by the law. Hell, I get a little nervous in the rural U.S. -- it's oversensitive, but one bad experience makes you cautious for a long time.
 
(Er. To clarify, that experience involved being stared down by an scary-looking guy who was muttering "I hate fags" and who I later found out had recently gotten out of prison -- no physical violence was involved, but getting beaten up is something people still have to deal with in some locales.)
 
Ben wrote: "I agree with most of what you said, but it's reasonable (though probably misguided) for LGBT people not to want to have anything to do with countries where their local counterparts are persecuted by the law."

I understand your point. But as Jimbo has pointed out, we can make this into an opportunity to do something about this. Unlike shrugging and saying "it's too far away for me to have an impact; what can I do?" (Something I find myself doing whenever I start to read about current events in Ethiopia.)

Further, I don't think this is quixotic, either; I remember an interview on Slashdot years ago where questions were posted to one of the leaders of a Linux Users Group in Egypt, and one of the questions was about "Honor killings." I don't remember his exact words, but he clearly was opposed to this horrible practice, comparing it to racial lynchings that happened in the American South up until a generation ago. (And due to the events around the Jena 6, may rear its ugly head once again.)

"Hell, I get a little nervous in the rural U.S. -- it's oversensitive, but one bad experience makes you cautious for a long time."

You and me both, bro. But violence caused by ignorance is all around us. The summer a few years after I bought my current house, there was a drive-by shooting two doors down and across the street from me. (This is the typical method drug dealers handle competition -- instead of lowering their prices.)

Geoff
 
Well put, Geoff.
 
Note: Hani is a a resident of Egypt whose blog post on Wikimania 2008 has not been picked up by the usual Wikipe[pm]ia aggregators.

Geoff
 
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