Bassel. Who is Bassel? I ask myself as I pull out my text machine to get a snapshot of this.
This guy is wheatpasted on a utility box on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City. I don’t see a street artist’s signature – nothing that I recognize – nothing I can find, anyway. Was it, in fact, put up by an artist? or some political group? The image looks fresh, I think to myself. This is pretty recent. Later, as I walk back from where I had come from, I notice the same image on the other side; although, it looks a bit ragged. The eyes are scratched out. Who is this guy? I wonder again.
I’m back home now and the “who is Bassel?” is still weighing on me for some reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because my father’s name is Basil? It could be. Although, I don’t know. I’m not so sure it’s pronounced the same way.
So, I Google “Bassel.” Bassel Khartabil, aka Bassel Safadi. Bingo! I find him.
According to Wikipedia, Bassel Khartabil (aka Bassel Safadi) is a Palestinian Syrian Open Source Software Developer who is credited with opening up the internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people. He is a foremost advocate for the free internet. On March 15, 2012 he was detained by the Syrian government in Damascus at Adra Prison, where civil and political prisoners are held. Since then a human rights campaign, #FREEBASSEL, was started in an effort to bring more attention to his situation for his release. However, just recently, on October 3, 2015, he was moved from Adra prison to an undisclosed location. No one seems to know where he has been transferred.
Where have I been? Has my head been stuck in the sand? I Google for more information, but I just don’t find that much. Am I literally getting my info off the streets?
Since October 3rd, the #FREEBASSEL campaign has now morphed into the #MISSINGBASSEL campaign as family and friends are becoming more desperate to find him. And later I find out it’s getting pasted up all over Los Angeles by an L.A. street artist who goes by the name of Teachr.
I must admit, I’m kind of getting sucked into this Bassel guy’s plight. I find it ironic that I’m introduced to it on the streets of L.A., and, with minimal effort, I can get more information using the very same avenue for which he is an advocate – the free internet. I think for a minute. I can’t take this for granted. It seems to be my lifeline these days. I look through Teachr’s Instagram photos to see what else, if anything, he’s put out on the street. Why is he interested? Why does he care?
The next day I find this on another side of that same utility box. Freshly painted. I hadn’t seen it the first time I passed.
“#woodyguthrie would love free internet defender #basselsafadi…” I later see Teachr posted with a picture of this.
The next day I head out for a hike and up on Mulholland Drive I see another one.
I’m curious to know what’s going on here? What got Teachr interested in the Bassel Safadi story? What compelled him to bring the story to the streets? So I ask him. He has me hooked.
“Some very close friends of mine are friends with Bassel and they approached me with the story,” he responds. He goes on to tell me, “I try to have a balance of positive messages and political.”
“Positive messages?” I only know him for political, from what I know of him already. Nevertheless, while again reviewing the pictures he posted, something catches my eye. On the very bottom of one of the utility boxes I notice the very same words I saw on a billboard I used to drive by over a year ago.
“all you need is the right kind of love.” I ask him if he was the one who pasted those words up on that billboard along the 101 fwy close to Echo Park? He tells me, “Yes that was me who did that 101 billi.”
I can’t believe it. I remember one day, not more than a year and a half ago, driving by and seeing those words on that billboard. I can’t forget. Because those very words yanked me out of the depths of despair.
Now I know who saved me that day.
Update 11/21/2015: As of passing by the Laurel Canyon site on this date, Teachr’s art had been buffed.
For more information on Bassel Khartabil (aka Bassel Safadi) go to freebassel.org
You can follow Teachr on Instagram @Teachr1 or find him in the streets of L.A.
If you see this criss cross, you’ll know Teachr has been there. Walking is the best policy.
With an American accent, Bassel is prounced like Basil (short “a”, 1st syllable emphasis)