Do we have a say in who uses Free software?

Recently, Clem (the lead developer on Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu) posted a blog entry asking that supporters of the Israeli government actions against Palestine refrain from using and donating to Linux Mint. He has since removed the entry from his blog.

A couple of years ago, there was an uproar in the Ubuntu community over a user-modified version of Ubuntu called Ubuntu Christian Edition, and similar outrage expressed over a couple supposedly racist versions of Ubuntu.

These incidents all bring up the question “If software freedom means anyone can modify the source and redistribute the software, does that really mean anyone?”

I certainly have my strong political opinions, but I don’t think I would ever post a blog saying racist, antifeminist, anti-Christian, conservative, warmongering homophobes are not welcome to use my Psychocats tutorials in order to get Ubuntu up and running.

Maybe it’s the Christian in me, but I feel that I’m meant to love everyone, especially those I disagree with. I believe Clem has good intentions. He is also probably misguided, though, in his actions and may end up alienating people from Linux Mint rather than making for any real change in Israel and Palestine.

I actually look back fondly on arguments I’ve had with other Ubuntu Forums members. As a feminist who subscribes to more progressive race and gender theories, I definitely was not in the majority in most politically-oriented discussions. Nevertheless, I felt a certain camaraderie with these folks because we all use Ubuntu together. Some are more conservative. Some are more liberal. Some like guns. Some abhor guns. Some are men. Some are women. Some are straight. Some are gay. Some are in the US. Some are in Europe. Some are in Asia. We’re of different ages and economic backgrounds. And that’s a good thing, I think.

Economic sanctions do sometimes have their place, but I think that Linux Mint not being used in Israel will hardly stop the violence. You have to be a country or a multibillion-dollar corporation to make that kind of difference with sanctions.

Clem, I’m definitely not pro-Israel (and I’m sad that some people mistake being against Zionism or the Israeli government for being anti-Semitic). I’m an American, and I can definitely understand people being opposed to US governmental actions without being anti-American-citizen. Hell, even a lot of Americans disagree with the US government (that’s one of the freedoms we’re supposed to be proud of as Americans). Still, I wish you would just welcome everyone back to Linux Mint with open arms. I don’t use Mint personally, but I do recommend it to a lot of new users.


  1. Actually, by definition, free software is free for everybody. Freedom #0, per the FSF definition. You can ask people not to use your software (which is mostly pointless), but you can’t ban them. I think Debian has a similar provision in their DFSG. I very much agree: software (and pretty much anything else, really) isn’t really free if it’s not free for everyone.

  2. To your basic point, I thought the OSD was pretty clear that no one could be restricted from using any software that claims to be open source.

    To your deeper point – right on.

  3. Clement Lefebvre evidently views Linux Mint as his property. And no one else on the Linux Mint team has disavowed his statements. So it really does appear Lefebvre’s hostility to Israel is Linux Mint policy, and those who disagree with him are not welcome.

    I just removed Linux Mint from two computers (including the one I am using to write this), and replaced them with Ubuntu, a mercifully non-political Linux distro I don’t have to feel slimy about using.

  4. I was actually just thinking about this topic earlier this week. Interesting stuff.

  5. I think the issue is more serious then it seems. Despite of the post being removed from the Mint blog, it is now on Clem’s personal blog, and the stance remains.
    The question is, would Clem be able to separate his political views from Linux Mint on a personal level.
    The apology posted is acceptable, but it remains to be seen how the community and the distro are affected. Would Clem be reluctant to accept bug reports, patches or donations by Israel’s supporters? It’s amazing how a few words can poison the air.

  6. “I don’t think I would ever post a blog saying racist, antifeminist, anti-Christian, conservative, warmongering homophobes are not welcome”.

    Go on, post one, just for the fun of it. ;)

    However, I’m not any of those things, nor am I a Christian and nor do I love everybody, nor hate anyone – I am just me and as me I’m stopping by simply to say thanks for your tutorials, the one re. where to find and put the non-free repository url’s was exactly the info I was looking for.

    So, thanks. :)

    I will briefly add my €0.2c regarding the above discussion, just to contribute to the conversation; If something (in this case software) is ‘for everyoone’, then that’s who it is for. There can be no grey area, and no judgements can be made on the personalities using the software for whatever they want, no matter how odious others may think the use is.

    Any other way and that software is no longer for ‘everyone’, it’s just for who is ‘allowed’ it. Simple as that, IMHO.

    See ya, and thanks again for the tutorials!

  7. I agree with you. I’ve learned the hard way that people don’t always have the same opinion. This is what makes the world fun. It’s the reason so many different kinds of things exist. It’s the reason there are so many Linux distros. I think it’s really important that people are allowed to speak how they feel. Sure, I think it’s horrible, but I’ve never even told someone with neo-nazistic beliefs to ‘stfu’ (note: violence is something entirely different). And in this day and age, everyone should have the right to freely use a computer and the software that comes with it. Isn’t this the reason the FOSS-movement was created in the first place?

    @Mojo: don’t mean to be a dickhead, but € 0.2 is twenty cents.

  8. There is a distro called ‘Muslimubuntu’. Ditto for its Christian counterpart. I’m sure, whatever Mark Shuttleworth’s political opinions are, he doesn’t really give a hoot over who uses the *buntu branding (as opposed to the GPL GNU/Linux code).

    I’m appalled at things like suicide bombing, antisemitism, the brutal persecution of non-Muslims (Baha’is, &c.) and dhimmitude, gender apartheit, Islamic clothing, female genital mutillation, sexual violence against women and pederasty, Salafi support for terrorism (which lead to mass murders on 9/11 and 7/7), Islamic honour killings in Canada, the foiled terrorist plot in Toronto, the current events in Iran and Sudan, and so forth–all MUSLIM problems, whether the PC types care to admit it, or not. However, this won’t make me think that Muslims using an Ubuntu derivative somehow taints the Xubuntu installation on my computer.

    One reason, though, to avoid distros like Mint is that they’re really one-man jobs. Ditto for things like the Reiser filesystem…and we all know what happened THERE. Corporate-backed distros (I’m including Debian here–it’s still a not-for-profit corporate entity) offer a better level of stability. Of course, the Linux kernel is run as a dictatorship. Torvalds’ boneheaded endorsment of B.O. (no friend of Open Source software–Micturatingsloth funded his campaign AND inauguration, and got that juicy $20B porkbarrel medical records programme as a present)…

  9. Forgive me but how do you throw in conservative, which is a political opinion that does not imply ANY hate mongering into a group of words which denote hate mongers? Perhaps next you will
    suggest all socialists brutalize children? Sounds like you have some extreme biases there yourself against a term simply defined as being against unnecessary change in government.

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