I normally read only when on the road (or railway, or aircraft). This weekend, I went to Northamton for a training session with the Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians. Now, one would expect me to take a good Christian book, but I went for “The Baghdad Blog” by Salam Pax. I didn’t finish the book during my travels, but I’m not waiting till my next trip (on Saturday morning)>
Here’s a commercial: Everyone should read the book. It is a blog, kept by a 29 year old Iraqi starting from the days preceeding the US led invasion of Iraq. It’s better than any academic study, more real than any journalist’s account; it’s the story of an ordinary Iraqi, and it tells of the moods, fears, shortages, courage, and lifestyle of ordinary Iraqis. It had to be written under extreme secrecy; even his dad didn’t know he was blogging.
As we find out in the preface, his real name, Salam is ‘peace’ in Iraq, and his blog name, Salam Pax is a clever use of the same word in two languages. Pax is Latin for ‘peace’. When you read the blog, you’ll understand why he had to keep it secret; he was no fan of Saddam. But he wasn’t happy with an invasion of his country either. His account demonstrates that even before the war, most educated Iraqis could accurately predict the curse of events.
So, while everyone was preparing for a spiritually edifying weekend, (more on that later) I was transported to Salam’s world; his record collection, he boss who needed work done, but couldn’t afford to pay, the falling rate of the Iraqi dinar, his erratic access to the state controlled internet service, his family and friends, his favourite drinking places, anxious shoppers and shopkeepers,etc. And I learned his views on religion, (he doesn’t believe thate’s a God) the Saddam Hussein and his ministers, (how much time have we got?) The USA and UK, government, (same question) fellow bloggers (they don’t understand, they can’t,) his extended family, (well, you know, how do you feel about yours? Are they not a mixed bunch?) His friends, (I think he’d make a real good friend) his internet pals, etc.
So, what did I learn. First thing is that I can’t blog, while he’s a natural. How did he get there? He reads other blogs, he responds to comments, (I promise to start doing that now). You feel he’s not throwing his message at a vaguely defined blogsphere, but he’s interacting with friends he hasn’t even met. Maybe because he was the only blogger from Baghdad, and he was doing it at great danger to himself, maybe nobody else could have provided such a real account of what was happening or what people were feeling; whatever the reason, his blog attracted people from all over the world, and he responded to as many as possible as though he really knew them.
I learned that I knew nothing about Iraq. Forget the doctorate, forget everything I read in those books, heard on the radio, etc. This guy was telling me those things from a different perspective. Once, he’d heard a BBC reporter, who’d visited the market and interviewed people. The reporter concluded that Iraqis were going about their business, just before the war. Salam asked what was expected. Should Iraqis be screaming ‘war is coming, war is coming!’ They’ve lived through the Iran war, the Kuwait war and liberation, numerous air raids and sanctions, a brutal dictatorship (my words not his here). He also pointed out that if anyone had looked a little deeper, they’d have seen the stockpiling that was going on, the taping of windows, … everyone was preparing for it, but calmly. He also helped us sort out some fals news stories. When it was reported that the family of an important general was under house arrest, Salam reported seeing his son crusing the city in his fancy car.
There was such a broad range of perspectives on the war. Here’s one by someone called ‘Jack’. Who sent Salam an e-mail.
“Think about it, where are bomb shelters? Duh, in government or large buildings with a GPS co-ordinate on someone’s list. … Just stay in your home. You will be much safer. When someone knocks on your door and says ‘US army/marines’, then you can come out. Believe me, your welfare is at the top of our thoughts. Our goal is to help everyone be as free as us. … We have always come as liberators.
….” And it goes on and on. Read the book for Salam’s response.
Here’s what he wrote in a rant, just before the hostilities began:
“… How could “support democracy in Iraq” mean “bomb the hell out of Iraq” Why did it end up that democracy won’t happen unless we go thru war? Nobody minded an un-democratic Iraq for a long time. Now people have decided to bomb us to democracy? Well thank you! How thoughtful.”
And somewhere else, he says “now that Iraq has been thru a decade of these sanctions, I can only hope their effects are clear enough for them not to be tried upon another nation.” On the cost of humanitarian aid, he said, “Excuse me, but it would help much more if you stopped dropping those million dollar bombs on us – it is cheaper for us in the longrun.”
If you want to know how to wash dishes to the sound of explosions, … read on. I must say I was impressed by the efficiency of the Iraqi government. I’d read about it in those research papers a long time ago. Salam said that a year before the war, they’d have electricity for 10 hours out of every 12. It seemed the power cuts were planned. Now, after wars, sanctions and air attacks, I thought that was impressive. But then, I’m Nigerian. Nobody tells Nigerians when they’ll cut the electricity, or when they’ll get it back.
\Well, I should go, lots to do, and I have to start on my new promise of being a more interactive blogger. And, (big secret, because everyone thinks I’m so busy) I have a book to finish. Maybe one day, I’ll even learn to use blog language, and write ‘thru’ instead of ‘through’. Maybe I’ll write what I’m thinking, without the interruption of academic style analysis. I dream! Read the book, test me by sending comments and see if I don’t reply.