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.

  • That is the most amazing thing I have read all week, and I read all the time. Jeff, nice work in getting the ball rolling with Zeyad.
    One question…do we really want to buy his ad on Blogspot? Would it not be better to get him hosted on a private host? A subdomain is easy and free and I’m sure there are many who would offer that. Or if someone wanted to donate the funds for a full blown site…
    Just thinking out loud here. I would offer a subdomain (if he could handle ‘healingiraq.king-of-fools.com’ – I know it ain’t that purdy) if that would help.
    The King

  • MattJ

    Buying up his ad…
    How does one do this? I clicked on ‘get rid of this ad’ but that took me to a page where it wants to know his blogspot address (no problem) and password (ummm?)

  • KMK

    This is wonderful Jeff. Congratulations to both of you.

  • Thanks for sharing this with us Jeff. A true testimonial to the power and importance of blogging.

  • button

    Jeff, congratulations on your success in this mission. And may God smile on it.

  • Don’t congratulate me, folks. I’m on my comfy couch. Support Zeyad. Spread the word and links to his blog and the others who follow. That will bring attention to their voices; that will encourage free speech in Iraq; that will encourage democracy and connections from this part of the world to that. Zeyad is the guy doing the hard work here.

  • button

    I just posted his link on my blog:
    You know, I should probably update my sidebar links, but the last few times I did that, it somehow expanded the ampersands on my template and stretched my template out of whack. I finally worked up the nerve and deleted what looked like a lot of extra ampersands. I wonder if they fixed this problem when they moved to the new blogger.

  • Wow, this is way cool! I agree about Blogspot. Perhaps some sort of a trust fund to help those in Iraq who can afford only to get a hour or so at the internet cafe so as to post on their blog? That would leave them with not much fund to get access to places like Typepad and such . . .

  • 2good2BTru?

    Are you sure it is for real? Remember all the stuff about whether or not Salam Pax was for real (he was)? I mean I hope so, but the language sounds quite similar to what the administration is desperately trying to put out. Have you checked his story out further than an email and a blogspot blog? I just hope you and your goosebumps aren’t being used….

  • I’m with 2good, and I’ll pass along something I learned as the recent war was unfolding: beware of news representing that which you desperately want to be true.

  • Update: Having seen all his posts and his way-too-long ramble about the new Dinar, I’m more inclined to think he’s a real blogger all right.

  • 2Good: Circumstances have changed entirely since Salam. He had to keep his identity hidden (then) because there was a tyrant in charge who would have come after him for what he was saying — and who he was. Now Iraq has free speech.
    I believe that Zeyad is Zeyad and have no reason to doubt it anymore than you should doubt that I am who I say I am. So let’s not get back into that old meme.
    Read Zeyad’s weblog and you’ll be convinced, as was the Tom Mangan, that this is a witness in Iraq.

  • Jeff,
    Congratulations on being Zeyad’s inspiration, and congratulations to Zeyad for actually following through on his thoughts.
    I’ll be posting a link to his blog on mine, and I look forward to the eyewitness accounts of life in post-Saddam Iraq.

  • “Now Iraq has free speech.”
    …and they all say the same – as long as we’re speaking of soldiers. ;-)

  • so sorry! here’s the missing link.

  • I’ll be perfectly happy to buy off Zeyad’s ad, if somebody will tell me how to go about it. Apparently the entrails of Blogger had changed since I last suffered, er, used it. When you click on the “get rid of this ad” link, it now takes you to an ad for various Blogger hosting plans.

  • Excuse me for my scepticism but Jonathan Swift?
    How do we know the guy’s for real? You all seem much more eager to believe it than you did with Salam Pax.
    I can’t for the life of me think why Jeff Jarvis would post it if he (Jarvis) wasn’t sincere. But again, how? He’s got a hotmail account. He’s shown no real insight from the posts I ‘ve seen and, again, he has a Jonathan Swift quote at the top of his page (I don’t care if he was educated in Britain.)
    If he learned English in England he’s mixed up. He spells neighbors with a “u” but a flashlight is not a torch? He’s a dentist who plays video games? Okaaaaay.
    Why no last name if he’s so safe? Lastly he seems pretty well versed in colloquialism but not on basic tenses of the language.
    Proof please. Then I can be smacked down for my silly scepticism.

  • Diana

    He sounds quite genuine to me. But aren’t you touting him because he is saying things you agree with? What about Riverbend?

  • Andrew: You’re using an out-of-date kneejerk reaction that may have been valid during and before the war but isn’t now.
    Note the Salam Pax — who turned out to be quite real, eh? — just linked to and quotes Zeyad.
    Diana: I have linked to Riverbend but I found her shrill posts to be hard to take in any dose larger than a teaspoonful and I don’t try as often now. Both Zeyad and Salam are more balanced and thus, to me, more credible. Also, frankly, just as you had a personal and thus special relationship with Salam via email I’ve had the same quickly with Zeyad. It is precisely what it seems to be.
    Bill: Well, I don’t know how to buy out the Blogspot ad and upgrade him, now that you mention it. Can anybody help explain how to do this? Hello Evan?

  • MattJ

    Jeff and Bill:
    You’ll notice that I asked how to do this in comment #2, and when nobody answered me, I sent a message to the folks at blogspot. I’ve got an automated “thank you” and promise to review my question sitting in my inbox right now. If I get an answer I’ll post it here.
    [ update from jeff… see my new post…. ]

  • Diana

    I find Riverbend hard to take too. But, perhaps because of that, I think she is essential reading. She deservest to be read just as much as Salam and Zayed. I wish Ghaith would blog more.
    I prefer to call her ‘passionate’ rather than ‘shrill.’

  • O’McSomething

    More credible shrillness from Riverbend:
    ‘More and more females are being made to quit work or school or college. I spent last month trying to talk a neighbor’s mother into letting her 19-year-old daughter take her retests in a leading pharmaceutical college. Her mother was adamant and demanded to know what she was supposed to do with her daughter’s college degree if anything happened to her daughter, “Hang it on her tombstone with the consolation that my daughter died for a pharmaceutical degree??? She can sit this year out.
    The worst part of the whole show was when they showed a mortician in Baghdad claiming he hardly ever saw any rape victims! What rape victim is going to go, in our current situation, file a complaint? Who do you complain to? Besides that, women are too ashamed to make rape public, and why bother when you just *know* the person will never be caught- when no one is going to bother to look for the aggressor?
    They showed a girl who was around 15 talking about how she was abducted. She went out one morning to buy groceries with a brother who looked around 5 or 6. Suddenly, a red Volkswagen screeched to a stop in front of her. She was pulled inside of the car and the headscarf on her head was used to tie up her mouth. They took her and her little brother to a mud hut far away from A’adhamiya (the area she lives in). She was kept in the hut for 4 days and systematically beaten and questioned- how much money do your parents have? Do you have any valuables in your home? She wasn’t allowed to sleep

  • Diana

    Zayed & Salam are both unusual people and both spent much of their youth out of Iraq. (As did Riverbend.) Methinks Arab Street Bum is much more representative of ‘toods in the Middle East. I do not like saying this, but I think it’s true.

  • >>Note the Salam Pax — who turned out to be quite real, eh? — just linked to and quotes Zeyad.
    I know, I read Salam. So – have they met or does Salam just read what he writes. My point was that Zeyad has no information I haven’t read in many places. It’s not knee jerk (though I admit it may be slightly paranoid), it comes in light of the fake letters from soldiers that appeared in newspapers.
    Thanks for the proof. Oh wait …

  • Rachel, a Brit in London

    About Riverbend, I am with Diana on this. If the occupation of your country by the US/UK had caused (a) you to lose the job you loved (and the economic independence that income brings) because it is not safe to employ women anymore, (b) you to lose all your freedoms to wear what you want and go out where/when you want, and (c) several of your friends to get killed – hey, I think that you would be more than “shrill”. Salam and Zeyad can still go out and about; Riverbend, merely because she is a woman, can’t; and neither can her fellow countrywomen (whereas before the war, they could). Riverbend also asks some pretty trenchant questions about US policy which must make very, very uncomfortable reading for Americans. “Shrill”, no; “compelling”, yes.
    I welcome hearing the voice of another Iraqi; I’ll wait to see how Americans react when he has to criticise the US administration’s lack of planning for the peace, extreme cultural insensitivity, indiscipline among the troops or – God forbid – a raid by US soldiers on his house. (Zeyad, hide the whisky.)

  • Diana

    Thanks Rachel. The problem with the “dialogue”* in the blogosphere is that it is so unreal: totally polarized between extremes. The reality is that most of us are deeply ambivalent about this war: happy that Saddam is gone but apprehensive about the consequences. What I am not ambivalent about is the disgraceful way the Bush Admin lied us INTO the war. I am disgusted at being taken in and I will never forgive them, or myself. For those of you who always knew it was a lie, good. But I took that WMD stuff quite seriously.
    And who ever said that Salam supported the invasion? He supports Iraqi democracy, he supported regime change, he never supported the war. He always said that. People read into what he wrote according to their own agendas.
    *actually screaming across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.