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The good news about the Syrian Harvard website hack

Posted by Rob Anderson  September 29, 2011 10:41 AM

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syria.JPGHarvard should consider itself lucky. The university’s website was hacked into Monday by ill-disguised agents of the regime run by Syrian President Bashar Assad. The hackers planted a picture of the Syrian dictator on the Harvard website along with their version of his pretense that the Syrian people’s uprising originates in a foreign conspiracy. The hackers also threatened revenge against the United States. Distasteful as this cyber intrusion may have been, it was little more than an ephemeral incident of virtual thuggishness. Syrians are suffering from the real thing.

After four decades of retail repression — of torturing and murdering dissidents one-by-one — Assad, his brother and brother-in-law are now trying to stamp out a hitherto peaceful uprising of the population with overwhelming, militarized, wholesale violence. The bravery and persistence of Syrians has astonished the rest of the world. Sophisticated observers are saying it is only a matter of time before the Assads’ police state goes the way of the overthrown ruling families in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

A more significant instance of cyber bravado than the Harvard diversion was the work of hackers who supplanted the regime’s homepages Monday with interactive maps pinpointing places where thousands of citizens have been killed by the Assads’ enforcers. These hacked pages offered tips on how to maintain online anonymity as well as videos documenting the regime’s crimes against humanity.
The otherwise pointless gesture of hacking into Harvard’s website may have been intended, however, as retaliation for the Syrian opposition’s success last month at posting its own message on the defense ministry’s homepage.

To the Syrian populace it said, “Know that time and history are on your side — tyrants use violence because they have nothing else, and the more violent they are, the more fragile they become. We salute your determination to be non-violent in the face of the regime’s brutality, and admire your willingness to pursue justice, not mere revenge. All tyrants will fall, and thanks to your bravery Bashar Assad is next.’’

Stirring as this message may be, it was no doubt an accompanying appeal to members of the military that struck fear into the capos of Damascus. “Anyone who orders you to kill women, children, and the elderly deserves to be tried for treason,’’ the resistance warned. “No outside enemy could do as much damage to Syria as Bashar Assad has done. Defend your country — rise up against the regime!"

Once the Assad mafia is removed, Harvard ought to invite the citizen hackers who posted that message for a tuition-free semester along the banks of the Charles.

Globe file photo: Syrians protest President Bashar al-Assad in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman earlier this year.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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