‘Too many lives have been lost, and we are far from the world we want to live in’, Interview with Furhan Hussain, former staff member of Bytes For All, Pakistan
8 November 2017 8:49 pm

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For this month’s e-newsletter, we interviewed Furhan Hussain. He worked with FORUM-ASIA member Bytes for All, Pakistan for a couple of years and now is a consultant focusing on digital security, rights and advocacy.

In this interview we talk to him about his background, his ideas about human rights, his experiences and much more.

How did you get involved with human rights?

​Human rights or activism for me was never an intentional path, rather, growing up, what I understand now as human rights and activism was only a logical way of going about being an active citizen. Of course, I have come a long way, and I was exposed to all kinds of structures of injustices while growing up. I did always see symbols of strength and resistance all around me, including members of my own family.

During my school and university days, I would not shy away from voicing the unpopular opinion and protesting against what I did not feel was just. Fast forward into my professional career, I had discovered Twitter by then, and had already taken my unpopular opinions online.

One day, a member of Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A) sent me a message and suggested that I might want to consider learning more about digital security and offered to help. I accepted the invitation and ended up attending Pakistan’s first ever digital security training collaboratively organizsd by B4A and Tactical Technology Collective. I grew very interested and continued engaging in the field until I became a part-time staff of B4A. Then there was no looking back.

Over the last seven years, under the B4A umbrella, I conducted numerous digital and holistic security trainings for human rights defendrs and journalists across Pakistan and Asia. Contributed to many studies relating to digital rights, and led online and offline campaigns. Simultaneously, at the time of becoming part of the digital rights movement, I also joined PeaceNiche, the brainchild of assassinated activist Sabeen Mahmud. Working with Sabeen taught me the value of the often overlooked assets of human society, such as art and technology, which massively contribute towards opening up peoples’ minds towards a diverse range of ideas and becoming tolerant to dissenting views.

While I currently do not associate with any organisation as an employee, I continue to independently collaborate with like minded activists and groups hoping to play my minuscule part in strengthening the movements of social justice, peace and civil liberties in online and offline spaces.

What motivated you to become involved? And has that motivation changed over the years?

​My initial motivation has perhaps become clearer over the years, as I recognise more and more value in human rights work and even more in those who take it up. I have learnt that while a certain cause may be extremely important, nothing is worth losing one’s sense of safety and well-being over it.

For many activists, poor physical and mental health and frequent burn-outs are common. In pursuit of a passion, we often forget the importance of maintaining enough energy to keep struggling another day. Too many lives have been lost, and we are far from the world we want to live in. These thoughts drive my motivation more than ever.

I feel that we must also fight exploitation of activists within what has unfortunately become a donor driven competitive and almost corporate human rights ‘industry’. We must never forget why we do what we do, and for whom. While working on the issues that are important to me, I want its flag-bearers to remain safe.

What have been inspiring moments for you in your work in the past? And what has been challenging?

​The mere fact that there are people out there who care about their freedoms and are willing to do something about it without stepping back is super inspirational for me.

If you could give a message to the new generation of people working on human rights or development, what would it be?

​As cliched as it may sound, there really is strength in numbers. Dissenting opinions add value to the process only if they are heard and welcomed. When there is noise, it is important to stop for a moment and listen.