Salam Pax redux
I will confess to being a bit coy about what I think of the articles about Salam Pax and about Salam Pax himself now. I didn’t want to get caught up in the detective game of who-knows-what-when-where-how-why. But because there’s now a discussion on the issues in my comments, I need to say what I think:
David Warren and Bryan Preston have used the evidence at hand to paint a convincing picture of Salam Pax’s life that is probably accurate. He clearly is a child of privilege — and in Saddam’s Iraq, privilege and its source present an imposing moral problem. His grandfather, father, and other relatives are apparently connected with Saddam and the Ba’athists. Salam lived with more resources and less fear than other Iraqis. He is cheeky now and was even before the war. He associates himself now with antiwar or anti-American groups and snipes at us on his weblog.
I don’t quibble with any of that. What I do quibble with in Warren’s and Preston’s pieces — but really more in all the weblog chatter about them — are the conclusions people are coming to about Salam Pax without knowing his full circumstances or his full views and certainly without knowing the man. And by that, I mean conclusions pro or con.
I still value Salam Pax’s weblog before — and after — the war. I view it in the context of the times and circumstances and now, the man. But I’m still glad to have it.
Put it this way: If, in World War II, you’d had the chance to read the contemporary diaries of a son of, say, Albert Speer — without knowing who he was — would you have read them? Of course. Would they likely have been fascinating and informative even in view of the time and circumstances and relations? Yes. Would he have had a viewpoint? Naturally. Would we have to take everything he says with a grain of salt the size of Utah? We’d be fools not to. But we would read it and even learn from it.
I do not discard the value of Salam Pax’s weblog because of his circumstances. I might discard them if I knew he were a war criminal and pathological liar but I certainly don’t know that. I do know he is a witness. Preston argues that he’s an unreliable witness. But some people in my comments point out, quite rightly, that a witness is not necessarily a journalist. This witness brings with him a viewpoint and baggage aplenty. But most any witness in that time and place would do the same. A weblog from a Shiite or a Kurd or an Iranian revolutionary would have just as much baggage. It’s a proper argument, I think, to say that now that the war is over, Salam Pax should reveal his circumstances so we better understand his viewpoint but because he is gay in a Muslim country, that would appear to give him cause for continued anonymity. Still, if I met him, I’d press him to come out in more than one way.
Nonetheless, we need to get used to the idea of getting information from contemporary witnesses who have a viewpoint. Thanks to weblogs (and moblogs and audblogs and vlogs and all our new tools for publishing and communication) we are likely to have more witnesses to big events — not just reporters — telling us what’s happening from the scene. And that is wonderful. All we have to do is know how to judge what they are saying in the context of their times and circumstances. I think that’s what Warren and Preston are really trying to say: Take this witness with a grain of salt and we still don’t know how big a grain because we don’t really know him.
I’ll take this one step further: This is precisely why I have been pushing to get more weblogs out of Iraq, so we get more witnesses with more points of view (and yes, more baggage). It is only through the airing of all this, at long last, that we will be able to get anywhere near the truth.