Monday, May 21, 2007

Iraqi Bloggers Central: Three-Year Anniversary!

Along with everyone else here, I had followed the leadup to the war in Iraq and then the invasion that began in March, 2003. Over the summer and into the fall of that year, I began to read, on a daily basis, the writing of a small group of bloggers from Iraq, the first two being architecture students, Salam Pax and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. By May of 2004, when I began blogging here, there were about fifteen Iraqi bloggers.

As it turned out, those who were in favor of the removal of Saddam enabled comments pages while the Jarrars (Faiza, Raed, Khalid, and Majid) and Riverbend did not. One enterprising blogger decided to start a blog where people could meet to discuss the blog entries written by the Quintet. He called his blog “Cry Me a River,” a risible dig at Riverbend’s constant whining.

For many of us it was a great place to respond to the Quintet. But it would not last. Later, when “Cry Me a River” was halted due to a series of threatening e-mails, I decided to launch a blog that would have the same function as the original blog. Almost at the same time as I started this blog, our own CMAR II started his blog, “Cry me a River II.”

The original name for this blog was “Jarrars up a River,” chosen as a play on words and the image of the Jarrar family and Riverbend herself stuck in a canoe without a paddle. A few days later, after a discussion with other commenters, I changed it to “Shako Mako News.” “Shako Mako,” I had learned, was a non-Arabic expression meaning something like “what’s up,” a phrase going back, I believe, to the Babylonians (I have now been informed by a Exile-Iraqi that it is indeed non-Arabic, but of unknown origins).

And then a month or so later, while being interviewed by journalist Marjorie Wylie, who had called me from California for a piece she was writing on bloggers in Iraq, I changed the title for the last time. Over the phone, remarking on the heated and detailed exchanges she had found on our comments page, she quipped, “It’s like Iraqi bloggers central there.” As soon as I heard her say those three words, I knew instantly what the true (and final) name of this blog would be. It was perfect: Iraqi Bloggers Central.

My stated goal at the beginning of this blog was to somehow get the two groups of Iraqi bloggers to talk to each other. I thought their dialogues with each other would be the best way for outsiders like myself to learn about the range of issues that concerned Iraqis and the spectrum of opinions and views that they held. This turned out to be much more difficult than I understood then, but for reasons that I do now, in fact, understand.

From the beginning, I tried to post on all the Iraqi bloggers, especially those whose views differed from my own. “My goal is reasonable discussion, not generating a flame-war,” I wrote to a commenter on that first day. “Humor will be accorded a place among the possible views on the matters at hand.” Sometimes the discussions pushed the boundaries of what is reasonable. And, as the rollercoaster ride at times hurtled quickly down, humor was often hard to either maintain or justify. Iraq has offered us all us moments of joy and days of deep tragedy.

Although I am a full-time teacher with a fast-paced life like everyone else, I nonetheless promised myself to blog every day, which I would do for a long time, even though I was often typing when I should have been sleeping. Just a week into my career as a blogger, I wrote on the comments page to Asher Abrams, a fellow blogger: “Man, I'm dead on my feet here. It's been a long week and each night before falling into bed I've had to put together the next day's blog. But I can't tell you how much I've learned. I have new respect for all bloggers.”

That respect is still there for all of you -- from Iraq, America, and so many other countries -- who either blog about Iraq or follow and engage others on the comments pages. Sometimes the exchanges are heated and acrimonious with flames licking around the edges, and other times the debates are very constructive with everyone contributing to the discussions. But the passion, above all, is clear to all who visit these blogs and comments pages.

After three years of blogging, I’m still often dead on my feet at the end of the day as I type. But, just as true, I’m also still learning something new almost every day -- and not just about Iraq or all the ways in which people debate each other, but about myself. Some of what I learned about myself is laudable, some of it not. Those lessons have to learned just like the others.

But the most surprising and wonderful aspect of the Iraqi blogosphere is to hear voices that one would never have heard in the past (or would hear today if Saddam Hussein had remained in power). For me, I’ll always remember Omar’s second entry on that first day of blogging at Iraq the Model:
You can not imagine how happy I was when I created this blog and published my first article, after years of being imprisoned inside the walls that Saddam's regime built around Iraq.

I am really grateful to my friends A.Y.S and Zeyad who gave me all help and support to start.

Thank you very much.
It was a voice calling to me from across the world.

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Besides my group of co-bloggers (CMAR II, Mister Ghost, Diane, and RhusLancia), I would like to thank all of the fantastic regular commenters who have been part of the IBC community over the last three years. One could not even count all the engaging, funny, and intelligent conversations we've had since May 21, 2004. Thanks to all of you:

Louise, Kat in Missouri, Lisa in New York, Dilnareen, Fayrouz, Alan, leap_frog, Bridget, Elie, Muhannad in Oregon, Michael Cosyns, Sam (our dear Sandmonkey), Kender, Tater, Kris from Seattle, Um Ayad, Craig, Scott from Oregon, BK, Connie, Christina from Montana, Max Lane, Andrea in Minnesota, Paul Edwards, Brian H, Whisper, Madtom, Ladybird, Dave, Rubin, Lynnette in Minnesota, Iraqi Mojo, and Exile-Iraqi.

I know I've missed some names. If so, just let me know and I'll add your name. The encouragement and your contributions to our multi-sided debates have made Iraqi Bloggers Central possible.

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Some tasty treats:

Make that "One Thousand and TWO Nights" -- "Today even myths are multinational," quipped the snake.

Mr. Peabody's Improbable History: Salam Pax, Raed Jarrar, and Ghaith "G." Ahad.
SHERMAN: Where are we going, Mr. Peabody?

MR. PEABODY: To a city along the Tigris River -- Baghdad, Iraq.
Raed Jarrar: Americans are Responsible for Beheadings -- Raed: Did anyone ever heard about beheading before the occupation of Iraq? Before the silly right-wing war of terror?

Speak, Wise Sandmonkey! Sam (Sandmonkey):
Which makes me wonder: which part of "Israel should be wiped out" did you not get exactly? That wasn't clear enough for you? Dude, it was said in a conference called "A world without Zionism". Ehh...Hello.....anybody home?

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