Posts from October 17, 2003

A most wonderful post… from Iraq

A most wonderful post… from Iraq

: This week, I got the best email I have received since … well, since there has been email. Some of you will remember that I’ve been pushing the idea that Iraq needs weblogs to free the voices of the Iraqi people in Iraq and in the world. I said we needed a thousand Salam Paxes.

Well, here is the first.

Zeyad, a 24-year-old dentist in Baghdad who learned impeccable English in Britain, just started a blog called Healing Iraq. I’ll quote it in a minute. But first, I want to show you the most gratifying and promising letter he sent me (my emphases):

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for the wonderful experience which has been your weblog. I stumbled across it following a link from Salam’s blog I guess, and it has been a great read, I consumed most of it in 3 days.

A little bit about myself: My name is Zeyad, I’m 24, male, a dentist, I live in Baghdad, Iraq, have also lived in London for 6 years as a child, English is actually my first language which I learned before Arabic.

The reason I’m writing is that you have convinced me of the importance of introducing weblogs to Iraqis. I’m sure most people here have never even heard of weblogs. I myself discovered them only a few days before the war. I mainly followed Salam, G, turningtables and Riverbend’s blogs, but I have been also discovering more and more of them. And I’ve been pointing them out to people here, and you will be surprised of the number of bright and intelligent young people in Iraq who are willing to start their own blogs and express their ideas and opinions freely, especially that they have nothing to fear from doing so any more.

I don’t expect America alone to do everything for us while we just sit and criticize. I want to be part of it, I want to participate, to contribute, to do anything for my country and the world. Some people may consider this as being a ‘collaborator with infidel zionist occupying forces’. If trying to build your country and helping others do so makes you that, then I can proudly say out loud ‘Yes, I am a collaborator!’.

Internet is still new to most Iraqis, very few people had it before the war, according to SCIS which was the state owned ISP the percentage of Iraqis using the Internet was 0.001 percent of the population, and they were intent on keeping it that way.

But now things are different, Internet cafes are all over Baghdad, there are nine of them in my block alone, and someone estimated them at 300 in Baghdad now, and there are more opening daily, but sadly only a few who still have the privilege of functioning telephone lines have Internet accounts at home….

Anyway, forgive me for digressing. Like I said I am willing to start my own blog now, I’m also planning to make one in Arabic as well, so Iraqi Arabic writers can do the same. And also for the Arab world, as you know tens of millions of Arabs are still living under totalitarian regimes similar to Saddam’s. And I was dissapointed to find very few weblogs by Arab people dealing with political and social issues in the Arab and Islamic world. I have always been concerned about our voice not reaching the rest of the world. Sadly a very large majority in the west still see us as people living in tents, dressed with turbans and robes, riding camels and cursing the ‘infidel’ west. This is a myth, and the reason Arab people aren’t building bridges with the west is because they are so hopeless about their future under their oppressing regimes and their Islamic mullahs who both wish to keep it that way, so they can go on plundering our money and laughing at our chins while warning us of the grave fate that Allah has prepared for us if we don’t do it their way. I’m sick of all of that.

Despite what you see in the Arab world from people bashing the American

‘occupation’ of Iraq, the truth is that they all desire the same in their hearts and minds, because deep inside they all know that they have all been occupied for years by their own regimes. And they are yearning for their freedom. Most of what you see is really Arab regimes speaking, not the people. They know their time has come and that their days are numbered. THEY are the real terrorists. I wish you would also focus on these issues in your blog.

I digress again. But what you are reading is a glimpse of what I’m intending

to write about in my future blog…. What do western readers need to know? What should I focus on? You talked me into this so you are obligated in helping me!

I assure you that many will follow my steps because that is why I’m doing

this. Our voice will be heard at last.

Goosebumps. I got damned goosebumps.

The power and freedom of this medium that we’ve all talked about from the comfort of our couches is very real for someone in Iraq (or Iran) and Zeyad is on the frontline more than any of us. This is the true weblog revolution.

: Only a day later, he put up his blog on Blogspot. Go read it! You’ll find reporting of a witness and a citizen that is beyond anything an outside reporter can possibly give you.

His first two posts are about the release of the new Iraqi dinars and the crisis that did not erupt around that. And here is how he ends his first post, writing about Saddam:

But he has been mysteriously silent for a while. Maybe the Americans are really closing in on him as they say. I want to live long enough to see him caught ALIVE. the possibilities would be endless. I’m sure it would be a great day for some real celebration in Iraq. I just hope the Americans won’t make the stupid mistake of killing him like they did with his sons. Some might ask ‘but wouldn’t you like to see him killed?’. Believe me I would. But I would rather see him alive and humiliated for all he has done to this country and to humanity. I’m not even sure a trial would satisfy me. I want him to be put in a large glass cage at Fardus square where his statue once stood. It should be bulletproof so that no idiot would simply come and shoot him. He would sit in rags and be fed garbage once a day. People from all over Iraq and the world would come to watch him until he rots. It would be our national zoo, our primary tourists attraction. I would give 20 years of my life just to see that. And I’m sure 30 million Iraqis would do the same. I just hope someone from the Pentagon is listening.

First one. Then two. Then a thousand. Then ten thousand.

And you will hear the fresh voice of freedom from Iraq.

Thank you, Zeyad.

: How can you help? Well one of you can go buy off Zeyad’s ad. Another can buy up his plan so he can post photos. I plan to get him a digital camera so we can also see his life and his neighborhood, so Iraq becomes a less alien place for all of us, so we become neighbors ourselves.

: Here are my earlier posts urging that we help Iraqis create weblogs: a, b.

Proud brother

Proud brother
: Go here and you’ll see a picture of and quotes from my sister, the Rev. Cynthia Jarvis, in a story about a good fight she’s waging against fringe Presbyterian efforts to proselytize Jews in a fake synagogue. Says my sister:

Best of

Best of
: The Guardian launches its best of British blog contest.

Why just British?

By that standard, their own Salam Pax would not win.

And, by the way, half the judges are even in Britain.

So why just British?

Free news here!

Free news here!
: I’ve been reading our new, free newspaper, am New York.

So has Aaron Bailey. He went on a starvation media diet of reading only am New York for a week. It’s a brilliant send-up of a silly product that, I fear, doesn’t deserve the attention. But enjoy Aaron’s ink deprivation anyway.

Some of the free newspapers around the world are good. Metro, in various cities, is OK and they’re coming to town next [update: now it’s on hold]. When I was last in Sweden, people were reading the free papers everywhere (and I acted like I could). Concept OK.

But this effort from Tribune Company [no “the,” never a “the,” I learned that when I worked there — no “the” before Tribune Company; no comma between Time and Inc.; these are the things that matter in big media] is liter than lite; it’s liter than air.

It’s badly executed. Its lead stories for two days were nonnews put there only because one of the rag’s two staff reporters wrote them: “Bank heists surge” and “Cyber cafe caper.” No sense of impact. No sense of news. Yawn.

The inside is filled with hacked-up wire copy, limp efforts at entertainment news, editorials quoted from other papers (why do they think New Yorkers — that is, New York Cityers — care what Buffalo thinks?), and an ad enticing you to get a job giving away am New York for $135 a week guaranteed: “get PAID to have FUN and MEET PEOPLE!” … who will all think you are a homeless loser.

So the execution is bad but that’s not the real problem. No, the problem is that the hapless demi-editors at am New York are executing a paper without a vision.

As Aaron lampoons it, they seem to think that this is a paper aimed at young people: “In the 15 minutes from Bleeker to 33rd Street, I’ve become an informed and intelligent 20-something ready to go tackle the world’s problems.”

Well, the first problem is that this venture is essentially insulting. As a wise friend used to say, if you start with the demographic instead of the product (as in, “let’s make a paper for these kids today, who don’t seem to read papers”), you’ll fail, for you will end up pandering or condescending or insulting. If, instead, you start with an exciting vision for a product that happens to attract a demographic, once known as an audience, then you will succeed.

am New York doesn’t try to do anything new. It only tries to do it short. And I like short; I hate long for wasting my time; short is my friend. But short is not enough.

: I tried to suggest that a post-Internet newspaper could look like here.

Or I’ll make another suggestion: am New York should take The Week and turn it into The Day.

New York has too much great media. I’d welcome a paper that acknowledges that news is a commodity — so it gets through that quickly and efficiently — and then goes through all of the best and worst of New York media for me to find the smartest and the dumbest reporting… find the wettest gossip… save me the aggravation and summarize what Maureen Dowd is trying to say in a sentence… print just the last graph of the lead editorial from the NY Times each day (that’s what I read)… quote the great weblogs….

In fact, that’s what I want: a New York media weblog on paper. But where are the links, you ask? They’re online. I return from my subway-ride read and go to am New York on the web (which doesn’t seem to exist now) and click away. That would be new and I’ll just bet it would attrack the demographic, audience, young people readers they want.

The morning after the morning after the night before

The morning after the morning after the night before
: If Choire Sicha is going to call me a nerd then I’m going to tell on him: Before he shook my hand at the Gizmodo/Wired Denton do, he wiped in on his sock…. which, of course, I quite appreciated. Mini-quiche crumbs make for such a slippery handshake.

: It being a Gizmodo/Wired party, I showed off my Treo 600 phone. When among geeks, I felt safe.

Elizabeth Spiers arrived with her always-attractive posse and when the posse wanted to know the score of the Yankees game, I whipped out my Treo and looked it up on the Web. Was she impressed? No. She was depressed. That was the game the Yankees lost.

: Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson told me a funny little story about James Truman. But I’m not going to tell it. because (a) I want to make Elizabeth and Choire terribly jealous and (b) I’m no fool.

: I would report fascinating things said by all the above, plus Anil Dash, Aaron Bailey, Rick Bruner, Steven Weiss, blog-savvy book agent Kate Lee, and others BUT I COULDN’T HEAR THEM BECAUSE THE MUSIC WAS TOO DAMNED LOUD.

I said to Spiers, “Either the music’s loud or I’m old.”

She said, “You’re not old.”

I thought that was the nicest thing anybody had said to me in a decade.

But then I realized that she was just agreeing: THE MUSIC WAS LOUD.

: By the way, read a fine piece of Spiers snark-art here.

: Nick Denton just scolded me for not mentioning that David Byrne as there.

Does he blog?