Friday, September 17, 2004


By William Fisher

In Iraq, one of the more under-reported sub-cultures is the blog. From the time of the US invasion, dozens of Iraqis – and many US and Coalition service personnel – have caught on to this 21st century way of reporting the news and expressing views that don’t usually make it into the news. Web logs, available free to almost anyone with a computer and an internet connection, have become both a powerful alternative to and a rich source for the mainstream press, both Iraqi and international.

With Prime Minister Allawi’s government now showing disturbing signs of censoring the media in the way that all Middle East Arab governments do, the blog – or web log – has taken on even more importance. The medium provides unique glimpses into how life really is in Iraq, on a highly personal – and often painful – level.

One of my favorite Iraqi blogs is called Baghdad Burning, the work of an Iraqi female computer scientist who calls herself River. River lost her job because her employer felt he could no longer protect her from the random violence that plagues women throughout the country.

On this day, River laments the recent attacks on Christian churches. “It makes me miserable”, she writes, “to think that Christians no longer feel safe. I know we're all feeling insecure right now, but there was always that sense of security between differing religions. Many Iraqis have been inside churches to attend weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Christians have been suffering since the end of the war. Some of them are being driven out of their homes in the south and even in some areas in Baghdad and the north. Others are being pressured to dress a certain way or not attend church, etc. So many of them are thinking of leaving abroad and it's such a huge loss. We have famous Christian surgeons, professors, artists, and musicians. It has always been an Iraqi quality in the region -- we're famous for the fact that we all get along so well.”

She writes that many Iraqi Christians have “left to Syria, Jordan, Canada... with broken hearts and bitterness.”

River lays the responsibility for these acts of bigotry directly at the feet of Iraqi extremists. She writes: “I'm convinced the people who set up these explosions are people who are trying to give Islam the worst possible image. It has nothing to do with Islam -- just as this war and occupation has nothing to do with Christianity and Jesus -- no matter how much Bush tries to pretend it does.”

“That's a part of the problem,” she continues. “Many people feel this war and the current situation is a crusade of sorts. 'Islam' is the new communism. It's the new Cold War to frighten Americans into arming themselves to the teeth and attacking other nations in 'self-defense'. It's the best way to set up 'Terror Alerts' and frighten people into discrimination against Arabs, in general, and Muslims specifically... just as this war is helping to breed anger and hate towards westerners in general, and Americans specifically.”

We need to think about people like River next time we hear one of Donald Rumsfeld’s absurdly optimistic press briefings. How, Mr. Secretary, are we ever going to win back River’s heart?

About the writer: William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development, and served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration.