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
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-Jahmiâ€™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 freedomâ€”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.