Free Bassel: Jon, how do you know Bassel?
Jon Phillips: I know Bassel through the power of Open Source projects and Open Clip Art Library. We needed help and he basically arrived out of thin air. The site wasn’t that good and he came and offered a technical software solution—Aiki. He helped make Open Clip Art Library good, and he did it all for free on his own.
FB: You guys are close friends. How did an American and Syrian become such good friends?
JP: I initially met Bassel through the internet, which led to a working relationship through Open Clip Art Library. Then, eventually, he invited me to Syria to launch Creative Commons Syria. We are both very similar, and since he shared so freely with me, I reciprocated with him. He is more a brother to me now.
FB: Didn’t you guys also launch Aiki Lab together? How did that happen?
JP: Yes. We decided to make a business out of the software to make Aiki Lab Singapore. Aiki Lab was also a community and cultural center based around teaching technology skills, holding photography workshops, and offering a place for young people to work together on community projects like Open Clip Art Library.
FB: Is that still running?
JP: No. It was shut down with the onslaught of Syria’s problems and turmoil in Damascus.
FB: When was the last time you saw or heard from Bassel?
JP: Last I heard from him was late February/early March before he was detained. Everything was so hectic there that he was having a hard time doing anything. We talked when it was possible, but the Internet connections were horrible in Syria. Last I heard he was spending all of his time helping his family and friends. He told me that friend X would need water brought to them, and friend Y’s mother would need bread; his days were spent helping the people around him. This was his full time job, helping people.
FB: How would you describe Bassel to others.
JP: He’s kind of a gentle, soft guy really, with a big heart. Very smart, mostly self-taught. Like myself he is part of the Internet generation in that he can learn most anything.
FB: What else should we know about Bassel?
JP: I think it’s important to underscore that he’s a good guy. He just happened to be in the wrong place with technical skills. My thought on it is that he’s there and he’s stuck and he can’t participate in any of the things that we’re doing. What would happen if one of us were in a stuck position? I mean, it could happen, it could definitely happen. It’s just a stalemate because no one has heard from him and doesn’t know what’s going on. We just have to believe that we’re going to see him out and that’s what keeps us going. I was recently watching a documentary about Steve Jobs…did you know he has Syrian blood?
FB: I had no idea.
JP: His dad was Syrian, so he was part Syrian. Bassel is also part Syrian—half Palestinian, half Syrian.
JP: Yeah, I think if Bassel were in another situation he would be operating a lot different. What if Bassel was not detained, had access to resources, and could build the next Apple? He is capable of this type of momentous undertaking. I look forward to seeing him again one day, and we will work together on something great for humanity, together.