Thursday, January 4, 2007

The First Wave: 2003

Iraqi bloggers in 2003 that still blog (or important ones that discontinued blogging):
1. Salam Pax (Dec 2002)
2. Raed Jarrar (Dec 2002)
3. Emoul
4. Riverbend
5. ITM Brothers
6. Nabil
7. Hammurabi
8. Ays
9. Zeyad
10. Ihath
11. Fadhil Badran
12. Faiza Jarrar
13. Khalid Jarrar
14.Fayrouz Hancock
15. Ladybird
7 bloggers have also started out this year but their blogs have all been discontinued, the only one worthy of mention is Ghaith Abdul Wahid, the important Guardian photographer who blogged for three months starting June 2003.
This is what I would like to term the 'first wave' of Iraqi bloggers, it is the strongest wave yet because all of its bloggers are some of the most dedicated bloggers in the Iraqi blogosphere, it suffices to mention that it contains all the 'Big Five' Iraqi bloggers: Salam Pax, Riverbend, Iraq The Model, Zeyad, and Raed Jarrar - as well as many other well-known bloggers, including the introduction of the 2 most prominent families: the Fadhil and Jarrar families.
Which brings us to a question, why are the most famous bloggers introduced at the same year? Does the fact that they were all early to catch the train be the single most important factor in their come-uppance? I have read many latter-day blogs and a lot of them deserve a lot of the attention these holy ones got.
To answer that question, I felt that it would be quite fitting to have a look at some of the other blogs that showed this year which didn't get the same attention as them. And this has inspired me to select my first review (see previous post)


The Mesopotamian

The Mesopotamian has got a lot of the right ingredients for a successful Iraqi blog, since 99% of the audience of Iraqi blogs are American-readers, one would expect that The Mesopotamian's unhinged desire to please American readers with his friendly (and that's an understatement) portrayal of Iraqis as people who want to erect statues of George Bush would face little problems in raising Alaa, the creator of the blog, to the highest ranks of Iraqi blogodrome. Alas, that is not the case.

Alaa's first month of blogging, presents to you one of the defining aspects of this blog: Alaa spends most of his posts on thanking people over and over for reading his blog and being so kind and grateful and charming to liberate Iraq, even forgetting that he has to actually write something else ; He sounds so overexcited that I suspect he has lost many a clean underwear that month…Here's a sample that is more or less identifcal to five or more posts:
"My God, the other Iraqi bloggers must have experienced this too. The deluge has started already. But I am overjoyed, I try hard to read every comment. Most of them so full of Love. Yeah, it is about Love after all. Each comment deserves to be answered and discussed in depth. Forgive me everybody. The task is simply impossible. People ask questions; serious questions; questions that need to be answered. It makes you wonder; what for these multi-billion media empires if the most elementary information so badly required by the people are not available? "
While being friendly is always admirable, he does this too much that by the end of this month you feel like you want to punch him in the face to get him talking, Luckily, he does get to talking.

It is clear that Alaa is the embodiment of all the things Americans want to hear from an Iraqi: Undying loyalty and gratitude, complete faith and featurless obedience. Early posts suggests that all of Alaa's being is focused on highlighting everything that is good and wonderful about the new stasis of creation that he has found himself in…When things start to feel wrong in Falluja, Alaa is quick to curse and defame and to insist on the fact that those are "barbaric scum that has little to do with the majority of Iraqi people". Since then, he adapts his cumbersome, heavy-handed style into explaining his theories about how to wage the war on terrorism, - This proved useful for Alla at first, but there is little clue as to what went wrong on the reality in his blog, as things progressively get worse and worse, Alaa keeps on trying to assure us of the brilliance of George Bush, who he has a huge crush on, and the stupidity of everyone else. Also, his blog is largely void of any personal experiences or the daily life of an Iraqi, a crucial ingredient to the success of blog and a backbone of blogging in the first place, he only posts once about something personal, in my opinion the only really worthwhile post, about his grandmother but other than that, Alaa could be in another country and it wouldn't make a difference, on top of that, it seems to that the initial surge of drunken happiness has elevated Alaa into the dangerous territory of self-importance – you could actually envisage Alaa lighting up whatever he smokes, inhaling deep puffs, thinking it over and then proceeding to write down his deep-seated wisdom online for all to see with all the grace and seriousness that is required for the ordeal. Alaa is basically an armchair philosopher, with a main objective to praise Americans and condemn all their enemies, over and over again, to make you sure that we're going to win, but one wonders what Alaa will do when even his idol will adopt a strategy change.
So who is this blog for? In its style and ideology, the mentality behind this blog is very much like Ahmed al-Chalabi...An extremely gloated, overconfident all American glorification but little actual explanation or objective commentary. It is clear why has Alaa failed to break through : He's nowhere as journalistically integral as Zeyad, a powerful story-teller as Riverbend or to be a little in his own league: as intelligent, informed or diplomatic as ITM, Mesopotamian falls in the same category as Hammurabi, shadowy 2nd-hand versions whose un-American traits shuns them of being the cuddled like their higher-grade counterpart ITM, who has much to share with Alaa, but ITM knows the knobs that turn on the true patriotic American and they work them very well, The Mesopotamian is the clueless Iraqi puppy-love who has little to show for it when things get tough, his exceeding gratitude makes him come out as a bit too unreal, and mighty unprofessional at that, another point where he misses and the Fadhil brothers strike bullseye is that ITM guys are agnostic/atheists – they have no religion bias to hinder them and they can survey everyone with a comfortable objective distance, save the Americans of course, who're the main catch all along – Alaa has the unfortunate coincidence of being a Shia who observes his religion more or less, he's a staunch upright believer of Shia being treated unjustly throughout the whole three years there's barely a mention of Muqtada al-Sadr or Badr's death squads, or even a precise detailed reporting of major incidents such as al-Aimma bridge massacre or the Askari shrine explosions, and this lack of objectivity brings him at a grave disadvantage for being the American citizen's justification fix.
Alaa's writing was prolific at 2004, it noticeably slowed down at 2005, it continued at the same uneven rate in 2006, there are possible hints of abandonment, but I wouldn't expect it. His excessive nicety sometimes makes you wonder if he's doing all this just to hint someone out there to 'rescue that genius', to quote a fellow blogger. I do not know whether The Mesopotamian buys his own goods or not, but in either cases; he's a losing horse – At this particular league, ITM is a far more professional choice and they even won their sellout ticket, whether they meant it or not.
BLOG NAME: The Mesopotamian
AUTHOR: Alaa DATE: November 2003 LOCATION: Baghdad, Iraq SECT: Shiite GENDER: MALE SIMILAR BLOGS: Iraq The Model, Hammurabi, Nibras Kazimi. IMPORTANT POSTS Bibi
KEYWORDS: Pro-American, Anti-Sunni Insurgency. Analytical, Cumbersome.
PROS: Friendly. Not really sectarian, but has potential to be one.
CONS: Too firendly sometimes, extremely unobjecitve, Very unrepresentative of Iraqis in general, too condescending to American viewpoints, very unprofessional, daunting, ultimately boring.
VERDICT: An extremely American-Starstruck Iraqi, inside his official tone: all emotion but little explanations. If you want a convincing American sellout, stick to Iraq The Model.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Iraqi Blogosphere Community: An Introduction

Bismallah al-Rahman al-Raheem

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate.

Ever Since Salam Pax decided to reach his dear friend Raed Jarrar under the watcheful eyes of Saddam, more and more Iraqis have been creating blogs, and today, in the fourth anniversary of that day, a fragile and incohesive Iraqi Blogosphere is alive and bustling. This blog will be for the sole purpose of analysing that community and reviewing the bloggers behind it.

I have been a quiet watcher of the blogosphere since its early days, and while I have not decided to create my own blog for personal reasons - i was a regular, even obsessive, fan of Iraqi bloggers. As an Iraqi, I am naturally paranoid, so I have made few friendships during those years with the bloggers, and even those who do know me, do not know about this identity of
mine, I have only decided to write this blog at the behest of a blogger-friend of mine, who has started this project but is too occupied currently to follow it through.

In order not to bore you, I will try to vary my posts, I will begin a history of Iraqi blogs at one post, review a blogger at a the next, talk in general about the nature and relationship of Iraqi bloggers at the next. This sort of non-linear posting can lead to confusion, so I will rely on the new Blogger Labels feature to sort this one out, in the future, I may build my own website and catgeorize them as they should fit.

As a first post, let me review all the things that has happened in the Iraqi Blogosphere in terms of interaction between Iraqi bloggers:

It is important to note that there is hardly anything that remotely resembles an Iraqi blogs community. While several attempts have been made at various intervals to create a spark, none of them has quite achieved the jumpstart required to surge an active gathering of bloggers that continued for a considerable amount of time. There are a number of reasons behind
this, which I shall devote a post to in the future.
In a nuthsell, the major incidents which could be considered as relevant to an Iraqi blogger community are as follows:


1. Emigre & Iraqi Blog Count
By far the most successful attempt to create a website that has an interest in Iraqi bloggers themselves is still the oldest one, Iraqi Blog Count, its success lies in both its simplicity and critical nature - it is merely a directory for Iraqi blogs, it was a project that was started by non-Iraqi blogger Emigre in Late 2003. Emigre started out on her crusade to count all Iraqi blogs by her lonesome, but as time progressed more and more Iraqi bloggers contributed to that ongoing count. By late 2005 however, in an angry and tired post, Emigre put herself on strike that prolonged into relinquishing her control to the other Iraqi bloggers, today, it is run by a variety of Iraqi bloggers who contribute actively to it.Iraqi Blog Count is an essential blog in every sense of the word. But it still leaves much to be desired, sometimes it reminds of me of a post-apocalytpic wasteland, many Iraqi bloggers listed there simply does not exist anymore, while there has been a recent attempt at cleaning the clutter, it is still overwhelmed with unneccessary links. Nevertheless, if you ignore the many unecessary links and focus on the directory, it serves its purpose quite efficiently.Quite evidently, much much more could be established than just an ongoing count. Which gave space for these next attempts.

2.Lukey Skinner & Olive Branch Optimism:

An Austarlian 19-year-old who has an obsession with Iraqi blogs, not something u'd find everyday. Lukey Skinner is a very well-known person in the Iraqi blogosphere behind-the-scenes. Luke has provided a website entitled the Olive Branch Optimism network, which takes selected posts from the Iraqi blogosphere and publishes them, the blog features several Iraqi contributors but there is hardly any original material, the site is well designed however and deserves a look at if you need to know the latest scoop without surfing through the Iraqi Blog Count's index.
A less popular portal is Streamtime, edited by dutch people Jo and Cecile, which serves a similar purpose to Olive Branch but it is much larger in scope. It suffers from the same problem of IBC: The blog does not focus on Iraq alone, and even if u take only Iraq, it does not focus on Iraqi bloggers alone, the website is poorly designed and sometimes it'd be hard to find your way around it.

A similar effort is done by Salam Adil, an Iraqi blogger who collests notable posts every week and posts them on International Blog Summary site GlobalVoices. His summaries are often the most useful of the two haphazard ones metnioned above, but he doesn't post regularly, and often misses some bloggers.

3. Real Life Meetings:

Most blogger communities arrange blog-meets, like this for example, there have been several attempts to create a group-gathering for the Iraqis but considering the turbulent conditions in Baghdad this was difficult to achieve, Zeyad, one of the Big Five gives us a nice summary of the history of failed blog-gathering when he was present at a Jordanian bloggers meet-up in June 2006:

They [Jordanian bloggers] seemed a tad surprised that there were no attempts back in Baghdad to arrange an Iraqi bloggers get-together at any point, a fact that I have lamented in some earlier posts. Salam Pax did once suggest a small meeting back in 2003, which never took place, and I tried the same last year during my blog hiatus when I collaborated with about 30 other Iraqi bloggers to create an Iraqi group blog, a listserv, and a portal (the site is dormant now). We learned at the time that about a dozen of us lived in the very same neigbourhood, but other than small meetings with 2 or 3 bloggers, there was no group meet up.

How surprising for Zeyad then, to find himself in a blog-gathering like the one he lamented only a month later, the gathering was hugely discussed and overblown in a lot of Iraqi blogs, mostly the ones who actually met. It looks like there were several meetings, It is reported that the all the bloggers participated in these meetings at any time are 11:
Anarki13, Zeyad, Nabil, Hala_S, Konfused Kid, Morbid Smile, Micho, Attawie, 24, Baghdad Treasure and I Was There.
All the meetings reportedly assumed an unofficial friendly tone and were not the nucleus of any consistent collaboration or community of any sorts. These bloggers share diverging interests from politics, culture, art, music and day-to-day literary. So it could hardly take any direction other than simple offhand socialization.

You can also read this related post about the state of Iraqi blogosphere by its original patron saint, Emigre.

4. Konfused Kid, Salam Adil & The Google Group: A Hope Squandered

Perhaps the largest collaborative effort done in the Iraqi blogosphere was the mass-rant initaitated by Konfused Kid, in response to a statement posted by Iraq The Model, the 2nd most successful blog of the Big Five, regarding the Lancet Study. In a very determined note, Konfused Kid sent emails to all the bloggers he could find asking for their reactions regarding the post, it was a smart move considering that many bloggers have a negative view of the infamous ITM, and the surprising results, in which 37 bloggers participated, is impressive indeed. I for one have long given up on Iraqi bloggers actively enganging in topics, this suggested there still might be hope to one day create a fledging, bustling community.The birthchild of this discussion was the creation of a Google group by Salam Adil, who harped on the gathering interest and created the group, many bloggers who were involved in the discussion joined, but little happened after that, most of the subscribed members have lost interest in posting, and currently it is only kept alive by a handful of bloggers who exchange trivial jokes and topics between themselves like any other cluttered mailing group, hope for a focused, structured discussion has been sidelined for the moment. The Google group, like previous attempts before it, has failed so far.I believe the reason for its failure was that the bloggers have a short-attention span and would rather join only if the topics discussed touches them directly, as it perhaps did with the ITM-rant, which dissected another blogger.It deserves commendation however, for not being left out, it is still being kept alive thanks to the dedication of several members, but one wonders whether it is worth keeping.

Salam Adil also had the previous

5. El Delilah:

Very few new bloggers catch the spotlight as El Delilah did, a female blogger who managed to attract attention by giving especially unforgiving reviews of Iraqi blogs, this is not the first time an Iraqi reviews site has popped up, this was tackled briefly by Truth About Iraqis, who flirted with the idea for 2 or 3 posts before he left that route into a more political direction. Her reviews are hardly realistic, often ending up as comic exaggerations that is based on prejudice more than anything else. However, she is an intersting anomaly that deserves further analysis, something that I intend to do in the future when I begin reviewing Iraqi blogs.

Another blog which offers opinions on Iraqi blogs is the Iraqi Bloggers Central, it is created by a team of Americans, while it's generally focused on Iraqi bloggers, it sometimes posts about different stuff, it judges all Iraqi blogs by its extremely pro-American bias and is quite unpopular with the Iraqi blogosphere in general.

p.s. I am not an established observer and may have missed a few things, all Iraqi bloggers are welcome to inform me of anything I left out or reported inaccurately.