Sunday, January 25, 2004

Long post alert, you will not be quizzed on it and there are no prizes for reading the whole thing. I just had to get all this off my chest

Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi

Don’t you just hate that title? To start with I would never use a word like clandestine, and what is wrong with [Salam Pax: The Baghdad Blog]? It gets worse, the German title is [Let’s Get Bombed; greetings from Baghdad]. We did have a talk about these things but being the novice I am and sitting so far away from where all that was happening left me with a title like [Let’s get bombed], dear oh dear.

So why does this come up? It is because Ihath found the latest costumer review on the Amazon site not fair [thanks Ihath, Raed showed me the email you wrote him. The Gibran quote really got to him]. What the reader/reviewer doesn’t like is the Ordinary Iraqi bit, he pins all the usual little flags people have always pinned on the little Salam Pax voodoo doll they have: “Salam Pax is not an ordinary Iraqi by any stretch of the imagination. He's gay, irreligious, western educated, and has spent half his life outside Iraq. This is an ordinary citizen of Iraq? I don’t think so.”

Since I don’t really have much to say today other than the weather is really horrible, we will have one of those flashback episodes TV shows always have when they run out of ideas.

Yes, let’s go back to the days when the blog really was, ahem, clandestine. Let’s dig deep into the archives and pull out part of a post dated 29th, October, 2002:
One more correction, neither I nor Raed are "regular joes". Actually most regular joes would look at us suspiciously. I have spent half of my life out of this country and had to be taught how to re-grow my roots by someone who isn't even Iraqi by nationality, he just loves the place (thank you Raed). We both have a distrust towards religion and have read the "Tao Te Ching" with more interest than the Quran. And we both have mouths which have gotten us into trouble. The regular joe would be more inclined to beat the shit out of us infidels, oh did I mention that I am a pervert as well?? The way I look at men makes them feel uncomfortable.
Just to prove that I have never said that I am your regular Joe.

The other little bit I would like to grab out of the archives is dated 21,December, 2002. It is from a longer letter written to Raed:
This mess I’m in really bothers me; with all my talk of anti-Americanism (is that a word?) I still reference their culture, their music, and their movies. I got whacked for saying “fuck you”. I should have said “inachat khawatkum” no one would have understood. Just as most Iraqis don’t understand most of what is being said by Americans. We would have smiled politely at each other and moved on. I feel like the embodiment of cultural betrayal. The total sell-out, and this is making me contradict myself all the time.
You remember the evening we spent at the Books@cafe in Amman when you laughed at me when I told you that I believe I am the product of a Muslim/Arabic culture. You reminded me that just two moments ago I was telling you how happy I was watching MTV Germany and shopping for English books at the Virgin Megastore in Beirut.
I am all the arguments we used to have about us being attachments to western culture rolled into one.
This is not the dialogue of equals we used to talk about; I keep referencing their everything because I am so swallowed up by it. Look; I have been sending you e-mails in English for the whole of last year, how sad is that.

Shame on me.

You used to anchor me down. All the magazines we used to read: Arabic horizons, Aqlam and the rest. Now I just browse thru them. I am back to Q, The Face and Wired: western trash. And don’t ask when was the last time I read a book in Arabic, I would be too ashamed to answer. Moreover I was getting all those scary questions from the people who read the blog. What do I think about the Kurdish situation? Open letters from Diane, which I was really at loss how to answer.
The whole [where are you standing] question did bother me a lot, hence the “shame on me”. Lately I have decided that there is no shame in this.
I’ve am reading Hanif Kuraeishi’s [The Black Album], there is a paragraph which rang all the bells
These days everyone was insisting on their identity, coming out as a man, woman, gay, black, Jew – brandishing whichever features they could claim, as if without a tag they wouldn’t be human. Shahid, too, wanted to belong to his people.
And Salam wanted that as well. When you get pushed into a corner because of a name and a place of birth you try to make the best out of the corner you have been pushed into. And believe me being pushed into the corner labeled [young male of Middle Eastern / Muslim origin] hasn’t been much fun lately. But since it is all you have you dig deeper into it and hold on to it. The current western world view has antagonized a huge number of people, the West wasn’t that interested in dialogue. We were simply labeled as Muslim terrorist.
One of the more amusing results of this has been my friend’s G arrest by American soldiers while he was on a job for an American Newspaper. He was given the head-sack and an angry soldier shouted at him “it was you [your type] who attacked the world trade center”. Now this is funny because G. is so pro-American it gets to me sometimes, he is Christian (but he hates it when you tell him that because he really is “agnostic”), so why did the soldier accuse him of attacking the World Trade Center? Because he had a Muslim looking beard and looked “of mid-eastern origin”.

That’s beside the point, what I want to say is that we seem to have lost the middle ground. When I met Ted Koppel the first time he said that he needed a cultural interpreter. And this is exactly what this blog and the rest of the blogs in the Iraqi Blogosphere, in all its variety, has been providing. The things the reviewer saw as negatives, “irreligious, western educated, and has spent half his life outside Iraq”, are really the basis for the common things between us. You and me, we have this dialogue because of them. In a world growing apart by the day it is absolutely wonderful to find that everybody can go on about the food they like on an Iraqi blog [check out the comments] and for a moment forget all the politics. This reminds us that we *do* have things in common and not everybody is out to cut the others throat.
I do not feel ashamed of standing in the middle anymore; actually I am proud of it. The Iraqi Bloggers show that we *can* talk. You think some of us are too ungrateful and critical? Habibi at least we are talking about it, you really have not met the people who are really truly unhappy with the whole situation here.

BUT… we are still playing the [dominant/subordinate culture] game. We write in English to communicate with you, we try to establish links and reference points very much relevant to you.
The respect I have for Persian Bloggers is immense; they were able to create a dialogue among themselves which they sometimes share with the rest of the world.
One of the aims of the whole war in Iraq thing was to create “a model democratic state in the area”, I tell you it will not be Iraq because it will only be skin deep, look towards Iran for a democracy that might not be exactly what the USA wants it to be but there will be a deeper understanding of it among the people.

OK, this post is way too long, would someone please wrap my hands in duct tape and burn the keyboard.

Just in case you are interested it took me the exact length of CD1 of the Deep Dish/Toronto mix to write this blog. They are Persian by the way; I told you they had potential.