I still remember when I was 8 years old and my parents bought me my first desktop computer. I was living in Baghdad and I was very excited and curious about this mysterious device. Computers were scarce back then and access to the internet was restricted by the Iraqi regime.
I would spend more than 12 hours a day in front of the screen testing new apps or reading and writing in broken English about my dreams and vision for the future. I used to tell my friends in elementary school about how great the computer is and how one day we will use computers to reach the stars.
Whenever someone needed help learning to use their computer, I ran or biked to their house and taught them all about it. In fact, my first job at age 12, was to fix computers and provide new computers to people in my district.
As I grew older, this vision expanded with the help of the Internet. I was suddenly able to access many of the world libraries to learn about Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and the great philosophers of the world.
The Internet has also allowed activists to access information as never before. I recently joined the Movements.org team, a part of the New York-based organization, Advancing Human Rights. This new platform allows activists from closed societies to connect directly with people around the world with skills to help them. In the first month of its launch, thousands of activists from 92 countries have come to Movements.org to defend human rights.
Movements.org is a promising example of how technology can be utilized by activists to change the world. Dissidents from some of the most repressive dictatorships -- Russia, Iran, Syria and China -- are connecting with individuals from around the globe who have unique skills to aid them.
Here are just a few of the recent success stories:
- A leading Saudi expert on combatting state-sponsored incitement in textbooks posted a request to speak with members of the German government due to their strict anti-hate-speech laws. A former foundation executive connected him with senior German officials.
- A secular Syrian group posted a request for PR aid to explain to Americans that the opposition is not comprised solely of radical elements. The founder of a strategic communication firm based in Los Angeles responded and offered help.
- A Yemeni dissident asked for help creating a radio station focused on youth empowerment. He was contacted by a Syrian dissident who set up Syrian radio programs to offer advice.
- Journalists from leading newspapers offered to tell human rights stories and connected with activists from dictatorships.
- A request was created for a song to commemorate the life of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russia tax lawyer who died in prisoner. A NYC-based song-writer created a beautiful song and activists from Russia (including a member of Pussy Riot) filmed a music video of it.
- North Korean defectors posted requests to get information in and out of their country and technologists posted offers to help with radio and satellite communication systems.
- A former Iranian political prisoner posted a request to help sustain his radio station which broadcasts into Iran and helps keep information flowing to Iranians.
There are more and more cases everyday.
If there is one thing that makes me feel lucky to be living in the 21st century is the beauty of the interconnected world. Whenever someone mentions the internet and social media, generally people think of pictures of cats, selfies, and food. But the Internet can do so much more. It has become a central tool in the struggle for human rights.
I have lost people who are close to me due to al-Qaeda attacks. Extremists often have the backing of states and networks of support. Who stands behind those who want to defend human rights? Platforms like Movements.org can tip the balance away from extremists to those who deserve support of the international community.
Anyone interested in defending basic freedoms can now go to Movements.org to connect with an activist in need.