Salam Pax redux

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.

  • http://rescogitans.net Steve Fettig

    Jeff, you make a series of great points. I think another point of critique of the critics is simply this: a weblog is usually not inteded to be objective. Even weblogs that say they intend to be objective rarely are. None of the personal weblogs I read are edited by “someone else” and thus are really a “point-of-view” commentary on the world through that person’s eyes. I am insulted when people are critical of weblogs like Pax’s because it assumes I am too stupid or ignorant to know that his writings are biased. To go a step further: even if he were a criminal, his writings would be useful to show his transgressions. If someone makes a blatantly false statement on a weblog, there it is, in black and white – something we can easily examine and expose those lies. I agree completely: we really need more Pax’s to write… then we can judge our [American] success or failure based upon a greater number of opinions.

  • http://aucurrant.pitas.com Jackie D

    I swear I don’t just pop in to post links to his pieces, but Jurjen has some choice words for David Warren. It makes for compelling reading.

  • http://www.needlenose.com Swopa

    Jackie, you don’t need to excuse yourself. That is indeed an outstanding piece.
    I appreciate what Jeff is trying to say in his careful non-endorsements of Warren’s (and Preston’s) article(s), but the plain fact is, Warren is so sloppy with the truth that his column isn’t a fit basis for discussing any issue — except, say, whether Jayson Blair could have done a better job.

  • http://so5minutesago.blogspot.com/ Eric

    Your ending the post with a call for more weblogs out of Iraq is exactly on target. The central issue here I think is that “Salam Pax” is now the only blogger out of Iraq and thereby has incredible influence over opinion about Iraq in the free world. He’s big media by default. David Warren and Brian Preston have performed an invaluable service by trying to tease out exactly who this person is and what his biases and agenda might be, just as bloggers have been vigilant about tracking media bias here in the US. I think there has been a tendency to lionize him unduly because of his uniqueness and “bravery” (though I question how brave he must be to have survived all the wars and purges and the brutality of the regime in a position of such privilege and relative ease. I imagine he must have displayed quite the opposite of bravery to simply still be alive and to live as he has) Nick Denton, for instance, has written a lot of gushing posts about him. Just because he’s a hip Iraqi who knows English slang and has a blog doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be looked at with a critical eye like any other political commentator.

  • http://site-essential.com MommaBear

    Once again, MB will repeat: Salam Pax is not, was not, nor did he ever intend to be a “Political Commentator”.
    What he gave us, with his two blogs, early, and later, was his own idiosyncratic take on living in Baghdad. He made no pretense, and said so at great length several times, to be anything but “one Iraqi with a blog”.
    How simple can that be to be so misunderstood.

  • http://www.needlenose.com Swopa

    As best I can tell, Salam Pax’s sin is that he’s a little too vocal about not liking Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress for some people’s comfort.
    And so, in these people’s view, he needs to be discredited.
    Anyway, I’ve just posted a critique of Preston’s article on my weblog. I’m happy to continue the discussion there, here, or on Preston’s site.

  • button

    Now that I have calmed down somewhat about this, I think that both these fellows, Warren and Preston, went beyond the boundaries of civility. I’ve composed another blog entry about it, but it’s like one of those letters you let sit over night and want to reread before you send it out. I intend to reread it yet again before I consider posting it.

  • http://godany.blogspot.com godany

    and once again the question that asked others before: was a son of a nazi always a nazi himself? isn’t it possible to go your own way? to have your own thoughts?

  • button

    Yes, Jaquelyn, you got it exactly. And they do not understand that. If a new tribunal is established for these Baathists, they will review the standards and these people will have to learn to be more specific. You can’t blame someone if his relative was a horse thief. Younger people today have never had to think about these issues carefully. But they will learn.