Home Business IT Open Source Garrett slams Ts'o as 'rape apologist'

Linux kernel developer Matthew Garrett has kicked off what could be a damaging episode in the free and open source software community by describing a fellow developer, senior Linux guru Ted Ts'o, as a "rape apologist" over comments the latter made in 2011.

Garrett posted his views on his blog on October 29 a few days after the executive director of The Ada Initiative, Valerie Aurora, wrote a piece on the organisation's website titled "Open source software: Open to all?"

In this piece, Aurora made mention of the comments on rape made recently by US Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock; he had described pregnancy, as a result of rape, as being intended by God.

But after just one paragraph about this incident and a couple of others, Aurora lashed out at Ts'o for his comments, made in February 2011, on the mailing list of that year's Australian national Linux conference.

The thread in which Ts'o made his comments was started after one of the keynote speakers at the conference, technologist Mark Pesce, was censured over the use of sexualised images in his talk after a complaint from some attendees. 

The archive of this list has disappeared off the web but Garrett has put up one of Ts'o's posts here and also linked to an email Ts'o sent him after he (Garrett) emailed Ts'o off-list about his views. (Update: Garrett has archived the thread here.)

Aurora claimed that Ts'o had commented that rape was impossible if both people involved were drunk, and that including several kinds of rape in rape statistics could be hyberbolic and misleading.

Garrett, who styles himself as a defender of women's rights, used Aurora's piece as a fuse. After mentioning the incident at LCA 2011 and Ts'o's comments, he wrote: "Ted Ts'o argues that only a small percentage of rape really counts as what people think of as rape. Ted Ts'o is a rape apologist."

He then went on to cite the scandal that is engulfing the BBC at the moment, where one of its former stars, Jimmy Savile, has been found to be an alleged serial paedophile, ending, "Nobody said anything, and he was allegedly free to continue his abuse".

Garrett then wrote: "Ted Ts'o is a significant figure in the Linux kernel community. He has expressed abhorrent beliefs that damage that community. Condemnation was limited to a mailing list with limited readership, meaning, effectively, that nobody said anything.

"Last week the Ada Initiative published a blog post pointing out the damage that did, and I realised that my effective silence was not only helping to alienate 50% of the population from involving themselves with Linux, it was also implicitly supporting my community leadership. I was giving the impression that I was basically fine with our community leaders telling people that it wasn't really rape if you were both drunk enough. I was increasing the chances of members of our community being sexually assaulted. Silence is endorsement. Saying nothing is not ok.

"In the absence of an apology and explanation from Ted, I'll be interacting with him to the bare minimum that I'm compelled to as a result of my job. I won't be attending any Linux Foundation events he's involved in organising. If I'm running any events, I won't be inviting him. At a time when we're finally making progress in making our community more open and supportive, we don't need leaders who undermine that work. Support organisations who encourage that progress, not the people who help drag us back."

Comment has been sought from Ts'o. His response is here.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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