In need of a fresh coat of paint?
Boris Manenti

PARIS - “The melting Arctic is under threat...Let's take action!” Last July, Greenpeace launched a vast media campaign to “stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic”, as the oil giant was getting ready to open its second Arctic well off Alaska.

Greenpeace’s campaign garnered huge support from the general public, but it also reached the international hacker collective known as Anonymous. Quickly, an army of net-activists took on the cause – and began hacking websites from five oil companies (Shell, BP, Exxon, Gazprom and Rosneft), accused of destroying the Arctic.

“Hacktivists and NGOs coming together is a new trend,” says Nicolas Danet, co-author of Anonymous, Internet Hackers or Digital Alter-globalists?. “The hacktivist movement is evolving, and some of them are now joining forces with NGOs. This is the case of net activist group Telecomix, who launched #JHack with the Reporters Without Borders NGO.”

Anti-globalists are particularly interested in hacktivism. Major mobilizations like the Occupy movement have shown NGOs that the Internet was a great place to rally people to their cause. French NGO network Crid is so convinced that this is the way to go that they have put it on the agenda of the 2013 World Social Forum, which will be held in March, in Tunisia, a country known for a revolution driven on social media.

“NGOs have to find a way to absorb the large social movements that are created online,” says Nicolas Danet. “Hacktivism is evolving and could lead to a hybrid collaboration between organizations and hackers. This is only the beginning.”

Hacktivist Nicolas Diaz agrees. He is head of IT systems for the information systems for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH): “Hacktivism is coming out of anonymity to act as a bridge between hackers and NGOs. After all, hacktivism is just an expression to describe activists that use digital tools.”

How does Anonymous, who gave hacktivism its name, fit into his new configuration? “Anonymous has become a symbol,” says Nicolas Danet. “It is present in the protests and demonstrations, in the European Parliament… Anonymous will not stop anytime soon, even if some of its members will come out of anonymity to join the ranks of NGOs.”

Staying legal

According to Nicolas Diaz, “Anonymous is a great anonymous communications agency, but it can also be very juvenile, with many excesses. There is no degree of responsibility in Anonymous.” For him, “Hacktivists must respect an ethics code.” He regrets for example, the time Anonymous released incriminating personal data – that couldn’t be used as proof. “We cannot spend all our time denouncing things that aren’t legal, like drones, and then do the same thing. It’s counter-productive. We must respect the legal system,” he says.

Nicolas Diaz says that hacktivism is not piracy. “The hacktivism that I practice is defensive – I teach people about using secure networks and data encryption.” He adds, “we are accused of using the same weapons as cybercriminals, but that is not true. Hacking is prohibited and punishable by the law. We must respect the rule of law.”

DDoS though, is a sticky point. DDoS stands for Denial-of-service attack, overloading a website or network to the point of rendering it inaccessible to its users. Many consider it as the “the demonstration of the future” ‑ a digital version of strike or highway toll. But others say it is a violation of freedom of expression. “It is a real dilemma,” confesses Nicolas Diaz. “I’m not sure if putting a company in the spotlight by using DDoS is the best way of denouncing its actions, it’s difficult to say, really.”

The White House might be able to settle the issue. There is a petition on the White House website to legalize DDos attacks, which are still punishable by law.

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Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.
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