Henry Oh

Henry Oh
Entrepreneur, technologist, thinker
San Francisco, CA

“Bassel and I shared a vision of a world where technology is used for the service of the public good. An open source, open-stacked, Creative Common-ed future of remixing, creativity and freedom of expression embracing world that would benefit not only the West but the Middle East.”

“… and wondered with tears in his throat
why we lack so much peace and fight so hard”

~ excerpt from The Visionary

882 days of darkness and uncertainty. Days with visions of images and scenes both imagined and remembered. Of a darkness and uncertainty shackling the prisoner and also those outside the seemingly insurmountable walls of both prison and country.
But oh how bright the light was on those mornings of conversation, coffee, cigarettes and code.  Remembering still bright images juxtaposed in mind against the images of war, darkness and silly crazy inhumanity that is filling the tub of the world with bright red blood.  
The same silly crazy inhumanity that imprisons people with vision and consciousness for daring to speak up, could be so much more. Bassel Safadi Khartabil knew this and believed in it despite his hard-earned pragmatism. He chose to stay in Syria when he could have left. He chose to stay and was soon whisked away to a dark, whispered-of place so common in totalitarian regimes.
We know Bassel is still alive. 882 days and the sun continues to rise and set. The toll of blood is being paid not in ritual sacrifice but in costly coin nonetheless. And I do not understand a world in which two people whose lives had so much in common just four years ago can exist in such different realities today.
What have I done in those 882 days? I ask myself this a lot. Bassel and I shared a vision of a world where technology is used for the service of the public good. An open source, open-stacked, Creative Common-ed future of remixing, creativity and freedom of expression embracing world that would benefit not only the West but the Middle East. While I live peacefully in a place celebrated for its collective vision, Bassel remains in prison waiting to be released—from building open source frameworks to a collective collapse in a span of a few years.
It seems the entire world is collapsing. Our hearts are being torn from us and we are turning to technology and medicine and science for help and understanding and yet the answers we get feel empty. The answers seem contrived; placeholder text for when real answers arrive. And no one seems to know when that will be. So wars rage. People fight over resources. What was once assured is now questioned as roads crumble, bridges collapse, and those of us in the United States have to deal with the reality that we will meet the other countries somewhere in the middle. While the immediate present seems hostile and dangerous, the future seems equally uncertain and fraught with peril as we ponder the future of a crowded planet enduring climate change with dwindling resources.  
While there are those who will wait by the fire, others will venture out for answers. Bassel used to be one of those people. He could still be one if not for those walls of iron bars and GPS borders. For now though, he serves as inspiration for those who can venture beyond borders of prejudice and ignorance.  
He inspires me. Every day. Some days I cannot deal with the weight of so much inspiration. Every day is another brick added. 882 days. 882 bricks. But other days, he inspires and I embrace it because I know that is what he wants. Bassel has the perspective of the stateless. I should be so lucky. The country where I was born, South Korea, has simply been in a ceasefire for over 50 years. The neighbors play with missiles to keep themselves safe against their own terror. We shared a vision of the future but also shared a past rooted in political absurdity.  
Those mornings were as much about the past as the future. Bassel and I spoke about CIA plots in Iran. The British in Palestine. He assured me that everyone in Syria loved the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. He told me this in the same way he told me that he didn’t expect to live to see 50. I assured him that neither was true... and would receive a soft chuckle in response.  
I wonder how much Bassel chuckles these days. 882 days may be 882 bricks to me but they must feel like pyramid stones to him. But I think it would make him chuckle if I told him I was trying to save monkeys in the rainforest. Better yet, doing it with old smartphones running open source Android OS and using solar energy to power the devices. He would probably ask if the monkeys could copyright their calls under Creative Commons. And then he would ask how he could help.
But he cannot. So I did. And so did over 2,000 others as supporters on Kickstarter. We helped the Rainforest Connection project because we all shared a vision of a world where the rainforests have not all been cut down and the world was not on a fast track to massive climate change and human extinction. We helped because we held a collective vision for a world where inertia does not triumph over the mass of our belief that a better future is possible.
And I helped because of those 882 days, Bassel. For a future where you can step into the light, free and feel the sun and feel the السلام عليكم hello good morning buenos días on your face.
~ Henry Oh
Editor’s note: This story was written on August 14, 2014, the 882nd day of Bassel Safadi Khartabil’s incarceration in Syria. Please visit http://freebassel.org for updates on Mr. Khartabil’s situation.

Henry Oh is passionate about using technology to promote social good—his focus at UCLA, LSE & Stanford Law School.  A former Creative Commons volunteer for license localization, Henry is currently an advisor and member of the Application Developer's Alliance's Emerging Technology Working Group and its Media & Entertainment Working Group.  

He is also an advisor to Rainforest Connection, a start-up using “upcycled” smartphones to detect and stop illegal logging in the rainforest, and to Quickcoin, a technology and service that allows people to send Bitcoins easily through Facebook.

Learn more about Henry and his work at http://sfmoca.com.