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Friday, 21 May, 2010

In Memory of Fathi Eljahmi

By : Patrick Short

The mark of a true suffocation of human rights lies not in simply denying basic freedoms, but in going one step further making it impossible to ever have one voice heard or to fight for change. In the most dire cases, a dogma of degradation and denial is so thoroughly entrenched, it becomes immutable to the point of despondence. But still, the bravest of fighters dedicate their lives to a glimmer of hope in a sea of dark despair. Such is the story of Fathi El-Jahmi.

Sentenced to jail for five years in 2002 for openly criticizing the Libyan Government, Fathi El-Jahmi spent the remainder of his life in and out of jail, continuing his crusade. International pressure made sure El-Jahmi’s cause did not go unnoticed. Senator Joe Biden urged Gaddafi to release El-Jahmi, and was successful. Condoleezza Rice pleaded for his case. More often than not, however, the aid stopped there. The tangled web of international politics often makes it impossible for high profile politicians to make a real difference. The true victory lies in the grassroots efforts of Libyans and Americans working together.

El-Jahmi was fully dedicated to nonviolent protest he hoped to achieve victory in a different way than his adversaries. This peaceful approach is one he adhered to throughout his entire life and is one we must place foremost in our minds as we continue his fight. Even though Fathi El-Jahmi’s life has ended, his vision continues in the hearts and minds of free-thinking Libyans and human rights groups across the globe. As we band together for a new decade, we must use his struggle and his ideals to spur forward to greater heights.

El-Jahmi criticized the educational policy that prohibited Libyan students from learning English. While English is, for many developing countries, a way out of poverty and into opportunity, it is often viewed by governments as dangerous and, in many cases, indicative of terrorism or treason. In reality, a Libyan who can speak English is a Libyan with an international voice. A tyrannical despot’s biggest fear is those whom he commands. When those people begin to rise up and tell the world of their great injustices the tyrant will fall.

Human rights violations in Libya run the gamut from internet and press censorship to imprisonment without cause or warrant to oppression of women and denial of basic sexual equality. We have a responsibility in the international community to assist this struggle. While we are closer than ever across the globe thanks to a rise in technology and creation of a global village we continue to turn a blind eye to the Middle East. We distract ourselves with armed conflicts across Iran and Afghanistan from the true reality: people, just like ourselves, are being punished, oppressed, and deprecated on the very land they call home. We cannot allow Fathi El-Jahmi to die without cause. We must galvanize a grassroots campaign from the inside out that allows the people to liberate themselves to free themselves from the shackles that bind them.

Students and teachers must encourage the open collaboration between American and Libyan students. Students are the impetus for change, as they are the future. As a college student, I can utilize social networking technology for a greater good to reach out to students just like me in Libya and act as a source of hope and aid from the outside. But the partnership cannot be restricted to cyberspace. We must establish programs that allow American and Libyan students of all ages to meet together on peaceful ground. We will soon realize that, no matter our ethnic, cultural, or geographic diversity, we all deserve certain basic human rights. A coalition Libyans and Americans working together will be the guiding force behind a new Libya. I envision students, just like myself, dedicating summers, spring breaks, and fundraisers to our brothers and sisters in Libya. Each and every person will use their talents to their finest. Some will open schools, orphanages, and women centers funded by the efforts of students in the U.S. Some will hold benefit concerts that support grassroots leaders in Libya. Others will go themselves, meet and interact with Libyans and bring their experience back home to the attention of their friends and families. Just as Fathi El-Jahmi never lifted an armed hand against his oppressors, we must build our revolution on the power of ideas, the power of education, and the power of enlightenment. We must proliferate the ideas of freedom—to women, to men, to all ethnic and religious groups. We must ingrain the importance of a sound education, and allow the teaching of English to provide an avenue to the global economy, guaranteed to all regardless of status. We must believe in the power of enlightenment of mind, of body, and of spirit such that the world will know and understand the indomitable spirit of the Libyan people.

The widest, most abundant, and most powerful source of power on Earth has always been the human spirit. In the heart of darkness that is Libya this power lies dormant, untapped, and repressed. We must unite across the world, people of all races, religions, and creeds to cast away the fog of oppression and, as was undoubtedly Fathi El-Jahmi's dying hope, usher a united Libya into a new age of freedom.

pjshort42@gmail.com


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