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omar khadr

Ephemeral immortality of two digital natives

written in 9th November 2011 for the digital natives workshop

it is 3am, I can't sleep. I've made the mistake of reading through a browser tab I had open but neglected for a while and suddenly all I feel is this all encompassing rage. my energy and enthusiasm for the digital natives workshop hits rock bottom.

Digital native Omar Khadr is all I can think about. a child soldier captured by the American invaders attacking an afghan village, he was subjected to torture and solitary confinement for 10 years, most of them without access to legal counsel and without trial. He has been tried under a special military court for war crimes. the layers of injustice are unbelievable, a child soldier is a victim regardless of his actions. but even if we disregard that the alleged war crime is fighting back invaders. and even if we ignore that how is it a war crime to fight soldiers? US wars now are not only unilateral but also one sided by law!? but none of this even scratches the surface of the whole story, the torture, the detention, the dehumanization... I can't go on just read the article

Omar is a digital native but there is more in common between us, he liked Tintin, batman and harry potter for instance. As proof of his danger to "civilized" people his resilient unbroken spirit was cited!!!

Now in a gathering of Africans with people who personally witnessed, lived through or lived in proximity if equally horrendous injustice why is the plight of this particular child soldier filling me with rage? is it because he is like me? a digital native? a Muslim? is it because his torturers are democratically elected and his torture chamber paid for by free tax payers many of them supportive of the abuse?

I frantically search my mind for inspiration for hope, the past two days I enjoyed telling my stories about fighting injustice from my context and experience. but today I realized my stories are all about defeats. none of them have a happy ending (though I usually ramble on until I run out of time and avoid offering an ending at all).

Today I told the story of another digital native, Khaled Said, a 28 years old Egyptian from Alexandria who was tortured to death by two policemen in the street in front of his neighbours. Egypt has a long dark history of torture and police brutality; a topic I'm unfortunately familiar with from family experiences, activism and just reading the news. For decades there was very little resistance to torture, only a handful of very dedicated activists tried to tackle the issue, most victims where silent. recently things have changed with more and more people confronting the issue (police brutality is also increasing), the shift has a variety of reasons but among them is the rise in the use of online social media for activism.

The details of the story are gory and irrelevant what is relevant is that Khaled changed everything. while we where slowly building momentum for an anti torture movement the story of Khaled for some reason filled many many many digital natives with rage and all of a sudden a facebook group and some viral messages (and a graphic post mortem photo) meant to inform people about what happened turned into spontaneous protest and action by thousands of young men and women (boys and girls really) in multiple cities across the country (and big critical mass in khaled's home town Alexandria).

why did Khaled of all the victims resonate? why did their rage instead of being frustrated and impotent like my rage today become a positive force? beats me, but turn into a force it did, with all the foolishness of a very young very inexperienced mob, with little leadership and through extremely messy processes the campaign continued for months. justice for khaled!

now this story did not end yet, the two officers who killed Khaled are standing in trial, but it is already a story of a defeat, for the prosecutor wouldn't charge them with murder or torture but with lesser charges of involuntary killing, the police is already intimidating the young activists and khaled's family. the best possible outcome is waaaay less than justice for khaled.

but I cling to the notion that something bigger than justice was already achieved. every potential victim who chose to take the risk of inviting torture by putting her body on the line despite never having any past experience protesting, organizing, or engaging in any form of political action (and probably even no prior interest in anything political) has liberated herself. she has confronted the worst they can throw at her and by her own choice and with the consent and support of the community. she has created with a mix of bits and blood a new reality even if just for herself and the few thousands that chose to get involved. she is free from the fear and free from the rage, not a bad deal when you are defeated eh?

but more importantly while the young activist cannot offer justice to khaled's family they offered what the elders call solidarity. solidarity like the keywords we discussed yesterday is one of those words that should mean something very profound but we've abused it so badly it hardly means anything at all. so let me share with you what solidarity they offered.

imagine yourself the mother of a no longer young handsome boy. he is 28 now in your eyes still a boy but to the world an adult, you look forward to seeing him build a life a family, you look forward to having grand children. and then he is taken away from you by two human avatars of pure evil, by the conscious actions of others, your son is murdered, tortured to death. and they won't even allow you a proper funeral or the truth let alone justice.

what can anyone offer this mother? what words do you console her with? how do you even muster the courage to look her in the eye?

well here is how, you bring a couple of thousands of your friends and you chant

افرحي يا أم الشهيد ... كلنا خالد سعيد

rejoice mother of the martyr for we are all your sons and daughters, we are all khaled said.

whenever any injustice happens we use this banal slogan "we are all ", how cheeky can these digital natives be? not only do they offer a cliche they even tell her rejoice? but that's why we need fools, they don't know how to behave appropriately, they offer themselves to her as siblings of her martyred son, they offer her son to her as a martyr and not a victim.

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