The Salam Pax litmus test

The Salam Pax litmus test

: I’m getting fed up with people ascribing their own opinions and world views to Salam Pax — or to what is being said about him on blogs or in print.

If you dare to criticize him, says one view, then you’re clearly a blind war-mongering rightie who won’t admit the trouble America is having postwar in Iraq.

If you dare to value him, says the other view, then you’re clearly a blind anti-American leftie who won’t admit to Saddam’s evils and America’s success.

I’ve been called all of the above in my comments and even in IM and I’m tired of it.

It’s all just camel poop.

Let’s remember that this is just one guy — one smart, articulate, brave, privileged, and haughty guy who happened to be the only witness to war in Iraq who could tell the world what he saw and what he thought online, taking advantage of this new and heavily gehypt thing called a weblog. Because of that, he became pseudonymously and deservedly famous.

But now, because of the way media works (and, yes, because of the way he’s working media) he is risking overexposure before we even know his name. But more to the point I’m making, he is becoming a symbol that takes on whatever shape the speaker wants. Without even knowing it, he’s being used.

I’ve tried to stay somewhat neutral and even-handed about Salam because that is, in fact, the way I look at him — I value and respect him and what he has done, but that doesn’t mean I also can’t criticize some of what he says (as I do with many of the bloggers to whom I link!). But people keep assuming what I really think — based, of course, on what they really think. So I end up having to give my Salam Creed every time I write about him, but apparently I have not done that well enough.

So, if you give a damn, here’s what I really think:

1. I have always believed that Salam Pax is real and in Baghdad.

2. I value his weblog and I’m glad he has been writing it and continues to. He has a helluva story to tell and he tells it well and we’re lucky to have had anybody there telling it. I would read his book. I would watch his movie.

3. I don’t know enough about his background to conclude where he fit into the bad old days. The online columns about him and his privileged position are convincing as far as that goes. But I still don’t know where he really stands and so I think trying to criticize him based on what he really thinks is impossible until you know what he really thinks.

4. I think he is getting a bit big for his britches now, which is both the fault of the media attention he has been getting and also his own fault for what he says and how he says it sometimes.. He has an attitude and it’s getting grating.

5. I think he should reveal his name and his family history and his positions and stop hiding behind his nom de blog. He no longer has to fear Saddam or fear his father’s wrath over his lifestyle (though, of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other forces to fear in Iraq). Still, revealing himself is the only way to stop people assuming who he is and what he thinks — and assuming the worst to fit this agenda or that.

6. I agree with those who say he is to glibly critical of the American effort. You can’t say that you’re against Saddam and want him out and then try to easily slough off the sacrifice and work of those who did it for you. Yes, I’d say he’s ungrateful.

7. On the other hand, I agree with those who agree with Salam that the American postwar effort has problems. The first problem, in my mind, is that the expectations were set too high. Of course, things can’t be all fixed up and democratized in two months! What a ridiculous presumption! But then again, we’d be in better shape if we showered the people of Iraq with the fruits of capitalism and democracy right now; it would only pay dividends in the region. So we’re not doing the best we can do. And that’s not an anti-American position.

8. Finally, as I’ve been saying again and again, what we need in Iraq now — what Iraq needs — is more voices, more viewpoints. We need Iraqi weblogs written by individuals who are now free to say what they think, individuals of all sides. That is how to plant and water a democracy.

The reason Salam Pax rose to fame is because he was the only one there doing what he was doing. The reason he is becoming such a matchstick now is that he is still the only one doing what he is doing.

I urge him to find others to join him online; that will show that he is generous with his knowledge and open to a free future and willing to contribute his expertise to help build it.

So that’s what I think, if you give a camel’s ass.

: UPDATE: I see that Glenn Reynolds left a wise comment on the topic at a post below. So you don’t have to go digging, here’s what he said:

I didn’t find Salam’s post especially over-the-top. And I think he’s very honest, and not at all over-the-top, in saying that things are better, but he doesn’t know how they’re going to turn out, and he’s angry about some stuff that’s going on.

From here it’s easy to say that of course there will be problems. And of course there will. But living with them is something else.

I’ve said all along that I didn’t think Salam was an agent of influence — though of course I couldn’t know — because he didn’t seem to do a very good job of pushing a useful ideological line for, well, anybody. His dad’s obviously an even bigger shot than we thought. Now he seems to be doing well in the occupation, and if Salam were a sellout, the obvious move for him would be to be singing the praises of America all the time now, and explaining his earlier negative posts as self-protection under Saddam. He’s not doing that. That suggests that — while he may be wrong about stuff, of course — he’s honest.

As for the intemperate response to email — hey, he’s just getting the loads of crap that we bloggers out in the non-war-struck world have had a chance to adjust to gradually. God knows what I would have said if I had suddenly opened my mailbox to find today’s typical collection of love- and hatemail by the hundreds, with no buildup.

My advice to Salam: put up a Paypal button. One person who sends you fifty bucks makes up for a lot of assholes who call you names.

  • Nice summary, Jeff; thank you.
    It pretty well coincides with MB’s view, right up to now. Remains to be seen what he does next. Methinks Salam needs to simmer down, and all the critics from both sides need to get a life! :-)

  • British paper signs Iraqi blogger as columnist:
    A British newspaper said Friday it has signed as a columnist an Iraqi architect whose Internet diary of daily life in Baghdad captivated thousands around the world.
    The Guardian said the “Baghdad blogger,” known as Salam Pax, would write a biweekly column for the newspaper beginning Wednesday.
    as reported by Salon

  • AnGeL

    bites tongue off and swallows it.. after reading further in your blog…oooooops. Sorry, just pretend you didn’t read the above comment. Goes to corner and hides fearing the large hand that is sure to come out of the sky and smite me gone.

  • phil

    Salam Pax is significant because he was one of a kind when that was extremely dangerous.
    But now he gets to experience the reality of the free society: opinions are like a***oles, everybody’s got one.
    The question is whether he can attract our attention with his wit, insight or literary talent…we’ll see.
    By the way, instead of dissing the nation that just liberated himself and 24 million other Iraqis, maybe he should devote his talents and energy to helping to establish the institutions that will be needed to found a free Iraq.

  • Quite early on in his blog Salam Pax wrote about a business meeting to which he was invited as one of the representatives from his company. It was to be held at the Ministry of Health! So it was quite obvious that he was well connected, and informed enough to suspect that at that point Saddam and Co. had other things to worry about than identifying a blogger.
    He knows what he is doing and why, but that does not make him Saddam’s closest ally.
    Later, when Diana reported more details about him to the New Yorker than what most people would have reported, he read the article on March 24, yet later he used Diana to continue to communicate with the world for him. Now he accepted this invitation from the Guardian – the Guardian of all choices … you should not feel responsible for Salam’s contradictions.

  • I used to wonder, but the more I read of his blog, the more I think he’s bona fide, and the more I like him… I don’t *agree* with him all the time, but I like him, especially when he gets angry.
    The idea that he was, not just well-connected, but actually a paid Baathist propagandist was always silly. You could argue that his frequent criticisms of Saddam were just there to throw you off the trail, but we have no evidence that Iraqi propaganda was ever that clever– quite the opposite; it had the subtlety of a clown with a sledgehammer.
    The idea that he was actually some kid in New York faking posts based on media reports was more plausible. But there now seems to be enough corroboration to nix that.

  • T. Hartin

    Bang on target, Jeff, although I think that the downside of his being a privileged Baathist scion, if that is the case, is being seriously underestimated by many. The Baathists were a cross between Nazis and Stalinists, and if Salam enjoyed his privileges because of Baathist connections, it is no small thing that those privileges were bought with the blood of a million innocents.
    Frankly, I think many in the blogosphere give him a pass on his background because he is fashionably gay and writes a blog. If he were a straight, middle-aged man with a probable Baathist background writing for the Guardian, the reaction would be very different, and for no good reason.