Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Young on ... that other blogger
Here is Chuck raising the standards of this website by displaying his habitual erudition, even when it comes to--of all the forlorn topics--Abdel Karim Qassim. And all I have as a backhand is a comment on the person many Westerners regard (perhaps to their peril) as the true face of Iraq: Salam Pax.

Tomorrow, Salam will begin a bi-weekly stint at the Guardian newspaper. No doubt some of his immediacy will be lost as he shifts from an unmediated blog to the combat zone of a daily newspaper, with its archipelagoes of interests to navigate through. However, wistfulness aside, Salam will also become more relevant, since it means a person widely recognized as an Arab liberal (regardless of whether he really is one) is being given a pulpit in a major international newspaper.

I must confess the Salam Pax craze left me cold for a long time. I read many a Dear_Raed entry over several weeks and I really wouldn’t be displaying sour grapes if I said that there was something about the blog that initially disturbed me, aside from its bumpy style. What bothered me was the sheer oddity of reading what sounded like a precocious American teenager writing on the very antithesis of such an archetype: Saddam and his system.

Then the fog lifted and it occurred to me that that was precisely what made Salam pertinent. In the end, one does not go to him to have insights into how the poorer Iraqi Shiites felt when they recently converged on Najaf to commemorate Ashoura. Nor would I necessarily ask him to tell me how the Sunni tribes around central Iraq are faring, as they see the country's sectarian balance shift. What Westerners do see in Salam is (a) a new Arab pop icon who speaks a language they can understand; and (b) someone who bucked a stifling and murderous Ba’athist system thanks to a simple form of information technology they use daily.

In effect, they see someone who has sought (along the lines of what Chuck was proposing a few weeks ago) to impose his individuality in a region that discourages this. Is Salam Pax the hope of Iraq? Probably not since he’s unknown in his own country (and has had to maintain anonymity, largely, it seems, because he’s gay). However, he is valuable because he has no qualms about addressing his Western readers on their own terms, mainly to better affirm the fact that that he’s an Iraqi.

No comments: