Open Source Campaigning is what Robert Sharp calls the drive to offer asylum to Iraqi employees. On comment is free today I have an article on this issue and how it came together, pointing out that this collaborative and decentralised way of pushing issues may be a sign of the future.
It may not register widely as a momentous day but sometimes the significance of an event is not immediately obvious. On October 9, a meeting room has been booked at the House of Commons to raise awareness of the campaign to grant asylum to Iraqi employees of British armed forces. There are two reasons why this is an important day.
The campaign advocates that our government has a moral obligation to provide asylum to those who have helped British forces negotiate their way through the country. It does not negate the need to find the most humane path of action in the country; neither does it absolve the American or British governments of their lies and incompetence in this whole sorry episode.
But it saves lives and gives some Iraqis the opportunity of a better life here while we try and rebuild after the American military has done its best to “shock and awe” Iraq into submission. In itself, it is a worthwhile goal and should be supported on that basis, whatever your view on the war.
The cross-party event is being supported by Amnesty International, the Refugee Council and Human Rights Watch. The main speaker will be a British soldier who hired a number of Iraqis and is in contact with many of them now, including many who have fled Iraq ahead of death threats. A recent report in the Times detailed how death squads were particularly targeting these employees and their families. The situation is urgent and yet our government continues to drag its feet.
The problem is that Labour MPs have so far been surprisingly reluctant to support this campaign. If you haven’t already gotten involved in this campaign, please do! Letters make an impact. You can:
â€¢ Look up your MP;
â€¢ Write to them (here’s a draft letter);
â€¢ Tell us about about your MP’s response.
With enough pressure, we can hopefully force the government to make a decision sooner rather than later. Put it this way, the death squads aren’t waiting for ministerial reviews to finish.
The event on October 9 is significant for another reason: it will be the first time a campaign by British bloggers has grown out of this nascent medium into something wider. And its decentralised and collaborative nature is worth noting because it provides a glimpse of the future.
The plight of Iraqi employees was first discussed on Jamie’s blog. That inspired Dan Hardie to pick up the ball and run with it. He emailed more established bloggers to spread the word and the noise making kicked off.
In addition to those who blogged about it, Justin started collating MP’s responses, Tim made a campaign video, Davide started the e-petition, Unity made banners, a Facebook group was started by someone else, and so on.
Two weeks after all this started, the story went front-page on the Times and coverage of the Iraqi employees’ plight followed in other media. The government was forced to notice. We may not have decisively influenced all this, but even Guido was forced to admit we had an impact.
On impromptu email lists, bloggers have exchanged ideas, shared information and discussed ways to move forward. While it needed someone like Dan Hardie to tirelessly promote the campaign, this collaborative model for running campaigns, essentially driven by concerned citizen bloggers rather than centralised organisations, is likely to have far-reaching impact on the future of politics.
I’ll give you another example. On Thursday evening Justin informed a group of us that two blogs, by Tim Ireland and Craig Murray, had been shut down by an ISP due to complaints from Schillings on behalf of the Uzbek businessman Alisher Usmanov. That also inadvertently brought down others such as Bob Piper and Boris Johnson because they are on the same server.
Within two days over 200 bloggers have written on the controversy and the news reached Channel 4, Media Guardian, the Times, Slate and Sunday Herald. Once again, blog buttons, cartoons and Facebook groups etc have been launched.
Some news journalists may be tempted to compare such campaigns to a baying mob, and they would be highly irresponsible for doing so. Both campaigns, though initially launched by those on the left, attracted support from a broad range of political opinion because they have been worth supporting. Bloggers, like most people, are broadly a responsible and sensible bunch.
Both campaigns illustrate how technology has enabled collaboration and the pooling of brainpower to an extent previously impossible. The event on October 9 may be small but it will be a significant indicator of things to come. Oh and don’t forget to tell your MP. Now we need them on side.
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