Herhold: Taking life beyond the Google motto
By Scott Herhold
We are fond of proclaiming the protests in Tunisia and Egypt
as the Facebook or Twitter revolutions, as if technology
alone shaped the uprising.
Unquestionably, technology offered a means of revolt,
magnifying the way that a megaphone gathered crowds during
student uprisings of the 1960s.
What we forget, however, is that every uprising also demands
leaders willing to defy authority, to risk life and limb for
what they believe is right.
In that sense, the story of Wael Ghonim, the young Google
marketing executive who was released by Egyptian authorities
Monday, should inspire us all.
Ghonim was one of the first to use social networking tools to
fight the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Friends say he created a
Facebook page to protest the death of 28-year-old Khaled
Said, who was beaten to death in June by Egyptian police.
He also helped set up the Facebook page for Mohamed
ElBaradei, the Egyptian leader who has returned to lead the
opposition to Mubarak.
And on Jan. 25, as the revolt in Tahrir Square was gathering
steam, Ghonim sent out a Twitter message to his followers,
vowing that he would be there. He became a symbol of protest.
Three days later, he disappeared. And if you needed
verification for his importance to the current protests, it
was his detention by the police.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced that it had
gotten notice that Ghonim had been released. It ought to be a
moment for us Advertisement to reflect on what heroism is.
In my early 20s, my twin heroes were the singer Mick Jagger
and investigative reporter Seymour Hersh -- Jagger for his
finger-wagging insouciance, Hersh for his doggedness.
My icon worship said something about where I was in life --
defying law school or a staid career for journalism. (I've
learned that my heroes both have feet of clay, as do I.)
As I think about it now, it seems to me a real hero ought to
do three things: He or she should act at risk to themselves.
Their actions should benefit the common good. And they should
inspire the rest of us.
On all three counts, Ghonim fits. He knew Egypt was
dangerous: He had relocated to Dubai in early 2010 with wife
and children but continued to return often to his homeland.
It goes without saying that he did something for the common
good: For those who know history, there are parallels here
with the great Irish hero Wolfe Tone, who returned to his
native land and lost his life during Ireland's failed
uprising in 1798.
And inspiration, if you ever needed it, came from one of
Ghonim's last tweets: "Despite all the warnings I got from my
relatives and friends, I'll be there on #Jan 25," he wrote.
The Wall Street Journal asked Google whether Ghonim violated
the Mountain View-based company's policies. The Google
spokesman declined to comment, saying they'd have to talk to
It was the wrong answer. Here's what the Google person should
have said: "If Ghonim violated our policies, we'll deal with
it internally. We have an obligation to make money."
"But if you ask me whether he did something great, the answer
has to be yes. At Google, we stand in awe of his dedication
and courage in the cause of human dignity."
You see, the first rule in life isn't the famous Google
motto, "Don't be evil." It is to do something good. Ghonim,
who could have picked a safer way, understood that
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