27 March 2006

Compelling Reading from Iraq

I just had a conversation with a journalist from the Ottawa Citizen about blogging, and how it changes life, the universe and everything (yeah, yeah...). She reminded me of Baghdad Burning, a compelling first-person blog written by "river," a woman in the heart, and heat, of the ongoing war.
The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace. For the average educated Iraqi in Baghdad, there is still scorn for all the Sunni/Shia talk. Sadly though, people are being pushed into claiming to be this or that because political parties are promoting it with every speech and every newspaper- the whole ‘us’ / ‘them’. We read constantly about how ‘We Sunnis should unite with our Shia brothers…’ or how ‘We Shia should forgive our Sunni brothers…’ (note how us Sunni and Shia sisters don’t really fit into either equation at this point). Politicians and religious figures seem to forget at the end of the day that we’re all simply Iraqis.

And what role are the occupiers playing in all of this? It’s very convenient for them, I believe. It’s all very good if Iraqis are abducting and killing each other- then they can be the neutral foreign party trying to promote peace and understanding between people who, up until the occupation, were very peaceful and understanding.

... Three years later and the nightmares of bombings and of shock and awe have evolved into another sort of nightmare. The difference between now and then was that three years ago, we were still worrying about material things- possessions, houses, cars, electricity, water, fuel… It’s difficult to define what worries us most now. Even the most cynical war critics couldn't imagine the country being this bad three years after the war... Allah yistur min il rab3a (God protect us from the fourth year).
There is a wonderful satire of the Oscars that gives an overview of the political players as she perceives them. But most of all, it is the compelling nature of her voice as she weaves her stories that draws in the visitor to her site. I was asked how we know that she is real, that she is telling the truth about who she is and what she's describing. Of course, we should be moved to ask the same about the conventional mass media. But even if "river" is an adopted persona of a fiction writer safely sitting somewhere in Europe - and I have no reason to think so - the writing describes a perception of Baghdad that is an important addition to the story- and meaning-making that is Iraq today.
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