After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Landing at the Iraqi Blogodrome

And for your reading and commenting pleasure is my latest Global Voices column..

There is a new government and this historic event has raised more than a ripple in the Iraqi blogs, but, actually, not much more than that. And in this week snapshot of life in Iraq blogs I will show what has been diverting bloggers attention. From high jinks to the the absolute pits of despair, its all here.

If you read no other post this week read this

Meemo, the Baghdad beat blogger is back with a vengeance and his latest post is a stream of conscience which swings wildly..

from the heavy subject of death threats from 'holy worriers'(sic):
like over addorra there's only one rule which is follow the holy mother f***er worriers rules or you will get killed, you know cut your head, it’s awesome way to die, meet someone up there in hell or heaven, is that a way to make people religious, lead them to the GOD path, to the heavens door, to the prophet restaurant up in heaven, I guess that’s how they gonna push people out of the religion

to politics:
I guess [the "new leaders"] forgot something which is the united states invaded Iraq for freedom and democracy but right now I can't see any of these 2 things, I just can see death and more red lines we should not cross, you know about 75% of Iraqis saying what's going on now is all because of the Americans and British troops, I'm kind of agree with that 'cause they let bunch of stupid suckers to control Iraq

to the complexities of having long hair:
I really don’t know how girls can live with their hair, it’s a full time job, you know I use 2 different kinds of shampoos, hair conditioner, and something called Cosmal cure to make the hair I don't know what, that’s when I wash it, but when I want to go out it takes me about 30 minutes to make my hair looks like humans hair, use hair gel and wax, and after all this shit I wear a hat, if I don’t use anything for ma hair and don’t comb it ma head will be like a big black ball, believe me it’s the most horrible hair you will see in your life, the good thing is I use ma sister hair stuff

And if you need some advice... "I should give you the weekly advice but I didn’t find any advice for today, I think you can live for the whole week without my advice so I gutta go"

What you will not be seeing on TV

Baghdad is falling to insurgents and militias one neighborhood at a time yet little is being said in the media. It is these groups who are dictating the law on the streets. The punishment for disobeying is being beaten or worse.

It started last week when bloggers reported leaflets being thrown in the streets ordering people on how to behave in public. Now this has spread across several districts. Meemo, gives a full report. In Mansour it is a simple sign saying "my dear sister cover your hair 'cause that will protect you from the monsters" but as he says it varies by what force operates in each district:
"[In the districts of] al-ghzalya, al-3amrya, and 7ay al-jame3a, there are some new rules ... the rules are:
Women should not drive cars.
It's not allowed for girls to wear any kind of pants (jeans, baggy, short) and the penalty for the one who wear any kind of pants will be breaking her legs.
its not allowed for girls to walk in the street with uncovered hair or the penalty for the one who don’t wear scarf over hair will be cut her hair (bald head)".

Ishtar compares the present day to the lawless times just after the end of the war in 2003. "Now, after three years, and with all this pompous talk we hear by the Iraqi government and US administration about the increasing number of the Iraqi security forces... I found myself doing the same stories." She explains: "if you tour Baghdad’s neighborhoods, you will find 90% of them are blocked by trees trunks, barrels and big stones and men are guarding them with their private guns ... I found myself doing the same story about women who are threatened and killed just because they do not wear hijab or they drive cars."

She also reports who is behind some of these killings. Gunmen driving in a car shot eight kids for wearing short pants.. "By chance a patrol for keeping order forces were passing by and saw the massacre and chased the cars, one of the “Opel” car was captured and for the surprise of the forces, when they took off their kufyias, they found that they were all between 14-16 year."

Nibras Kazimi gives happy talking American officials a reality check: "Central Baghdad’s Dawoodi neighborhood is now part of an Islamist “regime” that issues fatwas banning salads, fatwas that frightened people are following to the letter. See, apparently cucumbers are males while tomatoes are females, and mixing them up leads to the Devil. Dawoodi is the doorstep to Mansour, and Mansour is the doorstep to Harithiya, which in turn is the doorstep to the Green Zone."

Oh, and by the way, there is a new government

It took them time and one blogger had almost given up hope, but the comments eventually came rolling in about the new Iraqi government.

Ishtar is encouraged by Maliki's emphsis on national reconciliation but "Mr.Malki killed it in its bed when he insisted on keeping former minister of Interior ”Jabbur Solagh” in the new government". She also says that Sunnis are already speaking of this as his fatal mistake.

Eye Raki gives a run-down of the cabinet and points to the fact that "there are of course some very pointless and stupid ministries that were set up for the sole purpose of satisfying a group or party that will have complained of being left out". And Iraq the Model gives an extensive review and ends by saying: "Yes, it does not meet our ambitions but also our ambitions have no limits." But later Mohammed sees some positive signs:
"apparently the competition among politicians to prove competence and win trust in addition to the lessons learned from the previous stage is pushing the new leaders to pick a new course with less emotional speech-making and more pragmatic thinking. Officials now realize that they did not inherit their seats from their fathers and that there are other people waiting for them to make the slightest mistake to expose them and discredit them."

The Iraqi oil minster will have his work cut out. Zappy used Google Earth to measure three petrol queues:
Mustansiriyah length of queue approx 3,480 Meters / 3m (approx. length of car) = 1160 cars
Al Sadoon queue length approx 1140 meters /3m (approx. length of car) = 380 cars
And the Oscar goes to Al Khilani Pump Station, Queue length is 5230 meters /3m (approx. length of car) = 1743 cars!!!
Obviously we have a fuel shortage
And he warns, "If you have stopped the black market, then you’ll find that you just made your first mistake."

Nibras Kazimi makes a good point "Anyone casting doubts on Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s efforts to run Iraq will be labeled as “embittered”, “unfair” or “hasty”; for the man rightly deserves a grace period." He then goes on to promptly pour doubt upon doubt. Well, who says bloggers are not embittered, hasty and unfair!

For my part? if I have nothing positive say then I am not going to say it.

The depths of despair

There is no lament sad enough to describe the following set of posts. If, like me, you hate to read depressing material scroll down to the next section.

You know things are bad when Iraq the Model starts talking of the hardship faced by Iraqis and the dilemma of whether to stay or leave Iraq:
The other day I was with some friends at home and the subject eventually surfaced "let's just wait for another six months, I'm sure things will improve by then" one friend said and I nodded in agreement "I'm not willing to take the risk, what if I get killed or kidnapped tomorrow or next month!? I'm leaving Iraq to live somewhere else until I believe it's safe to return, we live only once guys!" and I nodded in agreement too.
Both opinions make a lot of sense and I could never say the first friend was a coward since he's still living through what I and the other friend are living through.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so do many people but they wonder if the tunnel is going to collapse before we reach its end.

Chikitita is one of those leaving Iraq and she grieves for the memories she has lost. "Now all that's left for me is the polluted air which cannot be captured in snapshots or saved in jars. And even that I know I should leave behind, for my life must start across the borders, where I'll have to go with the flow and pretend that I won't miss what's within these dotted lines I've always called home." she writes.

Iraq sweet Iraq describes a tragedy of murder and kidnappings that befell his neighborhood: "when it gets too sad, even if it is true with no fiction involved , it gets ..what is the word .. ridiculous ? no I wouldn’t say that, it gets unbelievable, you can not believe that things like that can actually happen in real life, so dark and miserable; just like an Indian film, too many tears to be true. What happened a few weeks ago was something like that..." read on if you dare.

Baghdad Treasure lost a beloved neighbor in a recent explosion. He writes:
"It was so hard to see her dead. She was a kind woman. I just saw her few days ago when I was with her son. My heart is full of sorrow and pain. ...

I can’t even think of any hope at the meantime. It is only despair that hovers over us. It seems it is going to stick with us. I don’t know why we have to live like this. Why do I have to wake up everyday on sounds of explosions and shootings? Why do I have to be afraid all the time, why do I have to sleep and wake up with a tear in my eyes? why why why? I don’t want democracy and freedom. I want to live. I just want to live. These two damn words brought only destructions. They never brought hope. It is only death and death and death."

And finally

ChildrenVoiceIraq describes a game Iraqi children play when the rains come late.
it starts with one kid (his age 12-14 has to be boy) he is going to be leader for group; the leader prepares every thing necessary for them, leader bring bags and makes flag and pots...
When every thing is prepared leader starts to go out and yell slogans (slogans; ask God and pleasing God to send rain) every kid in neighborhood joins with him to make group and they walk yelling after the leader (kids age 6-14 boys and girls), kids stop in front of each house to collect rice, vegetable oil, Burghul (Burghul is food made of wheat) salt, bread and everything helps them to cook...
When the kids collect enough stuff to make enough food for kids they walk directly to the nearest graveyard to cook and pray for God to send rain, after everything is cooked the leader puts it in small dishes and hands out for kids around him then kids dump the remained on graves to be food for homeless dogs and birds (kids believe after dogs and birds eat this food will pray to send rain).
Finally after they are done kids come back home waiting rain in home when it rains during or after their operation kids became very happy and dance.

And Nibras is up to some high jinks outing a prominent Iraqi politician for being corrupt, a CIA asset and cheating the CIA of the $100,000 it gave him to bribe other Iraqis. But he is not naming names but giving us a riddle He is someone who:
"has risen to even more prominence as a member of the newly unfurled Maliki cabinet ... he played a very prominent role in advising current US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as to how to go about thwarting Ja’afari’s bid for the PM slot and staffing the Maliki government.... Journalists tend to find this politician charming and gregarious and he is often quoted as an authoritative and objective figure on Iraqi affairs. His connections to US intelligence have never been published before."
Any Takers?

Officials Stating the Bleeding Obvious Part 3...

...or reigning in the monsters.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Marine Corps general flew to Iraq on Thursday to tell his troops they should kill "only when justified," as the U.S. military investigated whether Marines killed civilians in two incidents.
It is a sad reflection on a modern civilsation when a general must fly in to Iraq to tell his troops how not to kill civilians indiscriminately. The point here is that the American soldiers in Iraq have become part of the problem for the Iraqi people and not the solution. The way they are being deployed by the American government is making them no better than Zarqawi or the Badr militia. No more than a killing machine to justify its own presence. And no amount of lecturing by top generals is going to change that. What is needed is a clear policy by the top politicians. But all they are giving is instructions to stay as long as possible and hope conditions get better. It wont.

Monday, May 22, 2006

MagSafe vs. MagSafe

From the Apple Computer Inc. web site

The new power adapter with MagSafe connector is just that: a magnetic connection instead of a physical one. So, tripping over a power cord won’t send MacBook Pro flying off a table or desk; the cord simply breaks cleanly away, without damage to either the cord or the system. As an added nicety, this means less wear on the connectors.

From the Illinois FireArm Resource

MAGnum Performance with SAFEty... That's the concept which led to MagSafe Ammo, the world's most effective handgun ammo. There isn't another bullet anywhere with the take-charge performance offered by MagSafe Ammo. ... This ammunition makes shallow but vicious wounds and is quite effective in many circumstances.

Does Apple Computer really want to associate its laptops with fast-killing bullets?

Take that Punks

I had this comment from an American soldier based in Iraq in response to my "No Bravery 2" post. It is very much a heartfelt plea for understanding and I recommend you read it in full. The main points were...
Let me call for restraint in judging all American soldiers by the acts of these Marines. [...]

Rather, judge us by the motivations we have in volunteering to come here. [...]

Judge us by the sacrifice we are willing to make to stand up the good guy. [...]

Judge us by the respect we have for Iraqi culture and the Islamic religion. [...]
I was really ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe soldiers are actually being trained to respect the local culture. And then I saw this picture and comment volunteered by another American soldier to Flickr.

Again, "Judge us by the respect we have for Iraqi culture and the Islamic religion"... (*sigh*)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Flying over the Iraqi Blogodrome...

...almost literally (I'm plane-blogging again).

I thought about this again and again and there is no other way to describe what passes for government in Iraq. Today I give you some snapshots of a failed state. And this is the subject that dominates the Iraqi blogs.

If you read only one blog this week read this

Brian has been getting emails from Qasem in Ramadi. He description of life for ordinary people caught in a battle between US troops and the people he calls 'fighters' is both compelling and shocking:
At 9:30 in the morning, the US troops tried to install more snipers by occupying more houses close to the core of the city, some fighters attacked them and tough fighting continued for 3 hours… US bullets damaged many houses because of their random shooting, this way hurt many families inside their houses and my family was harmed also when many bullets sparked fire in the kids room.. I heard their screams while 2 of my nephews run away from their burning bedroom. My brother and I ran upstairs to find out what kind of hurt we will find this time… my mind was full with images of a kid killed with sniper bullet in head or burned dead body of one of my nephews. I was scared too much and I lost control of my steps on the stairs. I found my brother broke down the door and crashed the window with his hands to get out the heavy smoke and he carried out his 5 year-old son Mustafa who was startled, to get him out of the burned room. The fire started to burn some blankets, I found my way to bring water and started extinguishing the fire. It was small fire cased by the bullets …this kind of bullets used by US troops is very harmful gun for human beings or the materials-it contains lead that will be like a hot liquid inside the bullet…if the bullet get inside the body will explode and crash the body from inside and melt bones & flesh ….and if the bullet attacked a car or furniture or wood, it will burn and melt it.

The streets were empty and the fighters succeeded to disapear as usual …but the US soldiers keep there machine guns working and pointing to our houses….

I know that US soldiers want to keep themselves alive till they see their families but we also need to be alive to take care our suffering families in our poor hard life in Iraq.
On top of this there is no electricity,no water, no phones and no security. But given all this trouble where would he rather be?
Now, IF I have the choice to live in Baghdad or Ramadi or Fallujah …I will choose the 2 last choices because the dangerous side is clear but in Baghda every thing is Dangerous even Police check points can arrest and kill the people for money or some thing else ……….
Beyond Blogodrome

A new blog was spotted by Fayrouz on an important subject: Gay Rights in Iraq. The need is urgent:
An anti gay pogrom is taking place in Iraq. Gratuitous killings of gays are permitted under Iraqi law, and it is a fact that George W. Bush approved the wording of the Iraqi constitution that makes it so... That Bush-approved language for the Iraqi constitution making the indiscriminate killing of gays a legal activity is galling beyond all measure and beneath contempt.
And they have had some success:
Following two weeks of negotiations with Iraqi LGBT – UK, Sistani’s office agreed to remove the fatwa calling for the murder of gay men, but has curiously refused to remove the fatwa urging punishment for lesbianism.
Riot Starter of the blog Thought Riot has got her marketing right - go to every blogger and leave a little comment. Its subtle and it works. So I will let Zappy do the recommending for me...
I don't seem to know where she's blogging from, but who cares anyway, as long as its a good blog, she's taking politics to seriously.

I wish her the best.
Snapshots of a Failed State

There is a common theme flowing like a whisper through the Iraqi blogs. In a phrase: "Where is the government?"

Iraq The Model reports that Iraq's largest power station was forced to shut down because gunmen forced the employees and their families to leave. "I wonder how the government failed to protect those families who live in a relatively easy-to-protect isolated area around the station!" Mohammed writes.

"Where is the government?"

Meemo is feeling the strain these days: "even I know nothing is going fine, everything goin as bad as it can, even the the weather ..., the situation over here is kinda unbairable, 'cause everything is forbidden right nowI [...] they killed three young guys becasue they were wearing the pagan short pants .."

"Where is the government?"

Even mobile phones can be a weapon used by criminals. Iraqi Screen describes how: "you might get threats of unknown persons warning you if you do not pay a ransom you will be kidnapped and cut in pieces, beside informing you to quit your job." And she asks " Who is the real government? ... I asked a high rank official in Baghdad police about legal procedures regarding such threats, he told me that police directorate had a huge pile of them but always impossible to verify and waste of time to follow up."

"Where is the government?"

Zappy gets leaflets dropped in his street from the "Honorable Resistance” AKA “Zarqawi’s (sic):
Men are not allowed to grow goatees
Men are not allowed to wear Jeans
Men are not allowed to remove their facial hair
Woman are required to wear a “Juba” some kind of black gown that looks like a sack
Woman are not allowed to drive
Women are not allowed to leave their homes without a chaperon

Any one not obeying these rules will be shot. On that same day a young boy coming back from school was shot at the “Amal al Shabi” street.

One Question to the people responsible for providing security to that neighborhood “The Iraqi National Guards”, why are you not doing your F***ing Job!
"Where is the government?"

Ishtar's phone keeps ringing from friends asking what to do. Because two women were shot for driving a car and another three for wearing trousers. She laments, "it is really unbelievable, how the reconstruction campaign falls apart whenever it starts in Iraq while violence reconstruction campaign builds up in such a rapid speed and systematic way to maintain every body everywhere."

"Where is the government?"

Mama treats a 10 year old boy for a decayed tooth but first she needs his parents approval..
He stepped from the chair in an attempt to leave, with his eyes full of tears, and said nothing.
-"Are you coming back with someone later? I asked.
-"no, I have no one".
-"With whom do you live?".
-"With my younger brother, he is Mongolian".
-I grip his shaky hands ... and asked him if he knew any one?
Few minutes later he pointed to a man, he was one of the servants" H".
I sent for" H", and told him that I need some one of Salih' relatives ... He said "I am his fathers' cousin, I can stay with him because he has no One close…his older brother who was taking care of him was murdered 3 days ago"…
- He was a policeman…
-"Are you hungry, did you have your breakfast honey?" I asked Salih trying so hard to hold my tears.
- " no I did not , the neighbors did not bring us any". he said.
Just then I could not hold my tears any more, I took his little hands and took him to buy him something to eat. "let us buy something to eat, I am hungry too" ..
-" no, I will go home" said Salih pointing to a far cottage..
- I will take him to my place, bring him something to eat, and be right back"…said" H".
But the boy ran away….
I sat in my room, wondering how could these children survive. How could they live alone, what do they do in the darkness every day? Where is our government, are they aware about that policeman's family….
"Where is the government?"

Neurotic Wife shouts the question out loud. She hears 6 or 7 big explosions outside the Green Zone and a bullet lands just under her room. Next day her colleague tells her she lost a cousin when gun men broke into his office and shot everyone inside; an uncle who rushed to the scene lost a leg in a car bomb explosion, another colleague gets a phone call from her daughter in Amiriya saying militias are shaving the heads of women found outside without a headscarf She writes:
And where is the darn government??? The government is deciding who takes the Defense ministry and who takes the Interior one....Wowwww!!!! People are getting killed left center and right all under the eyes of the government!!!
She asks you to imagine what it is like to be in a lawless country and a gang kidnaps your wife and daughter for ransom...
You get the give it to them...and then you wait...a day...2 days...3....a week....2 bodies are found shot in the head in the garbage...Its your lovely wife and beautiful daughter.....Youve lost your family....Youve lost your hope.....

More and more stories like this happen everyday....More and more killings...More and more kidnappings...This is the plight of the Iraqis...But no one hears them.. [...]

This current government is hopeless...As long as there are fanatic religeous people governing and having great popularity then forget it....As long as there are bin laden loyalists...Zarqawi called mujahideen....There will no longer be Iraq....this place has literally become a hell hole....

But remember Iraqis are not helpless victims waiting to be killed. Meemo explains:
becareful all dudes dont show your hairy legs 'casue that would send you to your death, its bullshit people I'm wearing now the shortest pants I have, its almost undrepants and I'm in the internet cafe right now, you know if I'm gonna die by a bullet its better than the how weather, i've been wearing short since I was a kid these motherf***ers wanna come now and control ma life, you are dreaming no one can control me no not even ____,
And finally

Asterism (thats me) picks up on a classic quote from Michael Rubin, a former American administration official in Iraq:
'The reconstruction obviously hasn't gone that well, but we have put together a lot of PowerPoint presentations about the problem.'
(via STLtoday)

With Powerpoint we will conquer the world!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No Bravery Part 2

I regularly read the moral outrage expressed by Americans in blog comments when an Iraqi blogger dares to mention that the conduct of American soldiers may be somewhat less that professional. Then even worse if one should call them outright murderers. And so Americans should be angry. After all they pride themselves with having the world's best trained professional army.

So I will leave it to an American to explain to his fellow countrymen the sense of outrage felt by Iraqis (and any decent person) over the news that a Pentagon inquiry will report that US Marines killed 15 unarmed civilians in cold blood.

One Army official told NBC News "This one is Ugly." Billmon replies:
Ugly? That doesn't even begin to cover it. Dick Cheney is ugly. The Pentagon is ugly. An Abrams tank is ugly. Executing helpless women and children while they're huddled on the floor, praying to their God, is a war crime committed by terrorists. It's Lidice and Rwanda and Srebrenica and, of course, My Lai. The men who committed this crime aren't really human any more -- they shed their humanity like a snake sheds its skin when they walked into those houses and started shooting. All that's left of them is a dark pit at the center of their reptilian brain stems, a place that knows no pity or remorse or even self-awareness. They're lost souls -- lost to the world and to themselves.

... These were professionals, supposedly the best of the best, and yet they threw away their training, their code and their honor, and drenched themselves and their flag in the blood of innocents. They simply snapped, in other words, and it makes me wonder how many more like them are out there -- one IED or ambush away from going beserk.

There is a whiff of genocide in the air...

And, I would add to apologists who would shrug this off as an aberation, that Iraqis will not be the only ones to sufffer. These soldiers will go back to America one day and may well treat other Americans in the same way.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No Bravery

And I see no bravery,
No bravery in your eyes anymore.
Only sadness.

I normally do not post videos - but this one struck me by the effect that it had on even the most hardened Iraqis around me. A sort of stunned silence.

So, as I say if you watch no other Flash animation today watch this one.

Quote of the Week

Michael Rubin, a former American administration official in Iraq:

'The reconstruction obviously hasn't gone that well, but we have put together a lot of PowerPoint presentations about the problem.'
(via STLtoday)

With Powerpoint we will conquer the world!

China's Cultural Revolution 40 years on

Listening the the BBC World service this morning I heard a classic quote. It was said as if it was a matter of fact.. "China suffered irreparable damage because of the cultural revolution". And I thought, 'what planet do BBC reporters exist in'. Look at the China before the cultural revolution, and look at China now. I can't for the life of me imagine what kind of damage the reporter was talking about.

I admit the cultural revolution was really bad for a very large number of people and it is not something China should boast about. But, frankly, it was a success and this should be recognised. Without it China would have remained in absolute poverty, and quite possibly ten times as many people would have died of starvation than died in during the cultural revolution.

Now China has established its independence and economy its real challenge is to translate this into a sustainable system that will last. And this can only be done by stopping censorship, allowing open debate and an independent Judiciary. Without this how is China going to educate the new generation of leaders that will take it into the next century?

Sunday, May 14, 2006


It was my birthday yesterday and my wife was really nice to arrange a surprise party with my friends in Dubai. *Thanks Sweetie*

Just as he was leaving, my friend turned to me and said: "You were born in 1967 right?'

"erm, yes why?"

"So was I." He declares proudly.

"Oh, that's interesting..."

"Do you know Iraqi men born in 1967 are very rare?"


And he goes on to explain that they caught the worst of the fighting in the Iran-Iraq war as they would have been the new recruits sent to the front line in 1985. Where 100's of thousands died. And on top of that 1967 was the only birth year not allowed to finish their military service before the Kuwait war started.

So us 1967'ers are an endangered minority in Iraq. Like other groups we can easily prove deliberate persecution from Saddam. And given the current political climate in Iraq, we should have a right to declare our own state. So I am now officially laying claim to the site of the new US Embassy in Iraq to be the Fedaral Republic of 67'istan. After all - it would be a waste to use all that space just for an embassy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Flying Over the Iraqi Blogodrome...

...almost literally. I am completing this post in an airplane somewhere over Turkey and Iran. If I look out of my window I can point to an area of the darkness outside that might be Iraq. Worth the delay just so that I can say this!

This week I have new blogs some breaking news and I will try to concentrate on the routine stories of the day to day life of Iraqi bloggers. But the special thing about blogs is that even the mundane become fascinating.

Welcoming two new blogs:

A new weblog has been created on a much-needed subject. It is for Expatriate Iraqi Scientists and their role is to "Stay united and rejuvenate Iraq's scientific heritage". One important task they have started is to gather information about the spate of assassinations of Iraqi academics and professionals. One thing I want to link to here is a PDF showing the demographics of assassinations in Iraq. What is most horrifying about this is not so much the division of killings, but the fact that enough people were killed that meaningful statistics can be gathered.

Also, this blog came to my attention from a a little Smiley :-) placed in my comments section... A very warm welcome to new blogger, Fatima. Being born and raised in the US and now living in Baghdad shed is a Bridge Blog in her own right. She is, Thoughts From Baghdad. And she blogs about... her thoughts on living in post-Saddam Baghdad. I have to highlight here her post of some amazing pictures of sandstorms in Baghdad. But I did not have the time to ask for her permission to show them so you will just have to click on the links for yourself of... sandstorms and more sandstorms.

If you read nothing else today read this

Baghdad Treasure writes about the color black:
“BLACK”! Is it a mere color? In the world, people ride black cars, use black laptops, write in black ink, put on black shoes, etc… But in Baghdad, this word means something else. “Black” hovers over the city. Whatever we see becomes black even if it is red.

Starting from the black funeral banners that decorate almost every street, to the black smoke of explosions that rock the city’s morning like fireworks everyday, and the black shrapnel that pave the roads, “black” became an everyday scene.

What you won't see in the news

I really don't want to sound like a catalog of how the mainstream media is missing the events in Iraq but here are some things you will not see on the television news...

The activity of Shia militia still continues unchecked. The health ministry announced that 122 young men under the name of “Omar” (a known Sunni name) were killed, most of them is believed were killed intentionally by Shiite militias.

While bloggers have given eyewitness accounts of the ethnic cleansing of the western Baghdad district of Amiriya by Sunni gangs. Fatima writes:
My cousin in law, 'I', had her first baby on Friday.... Just as her new daughter was entering the world, her parents' neighbor was leaving it. He was killed on Saturday, as is happening to a good number of Shiites living in the Baghdad district of Amiriya.

Salam Pax describes Amiriya as some sort of a parallel universe ruled by "an alien race called Sunni Fundamentalists". Apart from killings of barbers who shave beards and shop owners for being Shia, families that are forced to leave are not allowed to take their belongings as it is "legitimate loot for the Sunni Jihadists who are working hard to insure the purity of the district."

Salam also tells of the breakdown of the education and justice system:
The ministry of Higher Education has announced today that it is giving Universities the right to choose the date for their final exams which is sort of telling them you can have them as early as you want. Elementary and High Schools have all but closed down. Principals have telling parents that kids don’t have to come to school until the final exams on the 20th.
Meanwhile the minister of justice admitted that death-row inmates are bribing the prison wardens to let them go.

And the battle for the Baghdad district of Adhamiya goes on. Omar reads two completely opposite reports in the Iraqi papers of the same incident and in the end gives up and wonders what bloggers are saying. Zeyad steps in:
It hasn't been very pretty in Adhamiya since my last post. The district looks deserted most of the time, with random gunfire here and there. American Apache helicopters circle the area almost non-stop, and residents are whispering to each other about an imminent assault, as part of the American plan to 'liberate' Baghdad again. But to liberate it from whom? Its residents?

A Life in the Day of an Iraqi Blogger

If you ever wondered what a typical blogger's computer looks like go no further than Neurotic Wife...

photo by Neurotic Wife

Scary isn't it. She lives and works in the Green Zone. But as she tells her imaginary friend LTC Harvest it is more of a guilded cage than freedom. But with a difference: "The visitors on the otherhand wanna come inside this prison, just to get away from the reality of it all...This prison for them is a gateway to their own freedom. They can talk, critisize, they can walk without having to look over their shoulder a million times."

Morbid Smile is having a hard time sleeping:
"Hot weather, sandstorm, humidity, lots of bugs in the air with only four hours aday of electricity and no water! How cool and comfortable is it to sleep in such conditions! Well, it didn't end this way. At night my family decided that we should sleep on the roof."
Then five minutes later it starts raining. But she was kept up by the sound of the rain. "And then a sandstorm started right afte the rain. I don't know how can there be rain and sandstorm in one place at the same time!" she writes. inevitably she woke up "feeling that as if i had fallen from a very high building. All my bones are aching, even my nose's bones!!" Same again next night - no electricity - too hot to sleep in the house. But sleeping on the roof has its own problems: "i woke up before 8 o'clock in the morning. Bugs were eating me all night long, and now flies are everyehere. The bombings continued till the morning." Sleep well Morbido!

Zappy gets to visit the Green Zone for the first time. But he is not impressed. "the Date Palms, I noticed how neglected they were... my escort corrected me that its not called the Green Zone but the International Zone. It Figures, by the way they Neglect the Gardens and Date Palms."

Even the most hardened blogger needs to go for a haircut. And Mohammed dreads it but he could not remember why until he gets to the barber's. He has to listen to conversations full of conspiracy and contradiction. He concludes: "I chose not to waste my breath on more of this conversation as long as the guys were convinced that everybody wants to kill them ... An Iraqi finds it so hard to admit his mistakes, not only that, he doesn't even want to review his history to avoid facing the reality that it was our mistakes over time that made us what we are now, so let's just blame the others for our failures."

Chikitita goes shopping in the famous Al-Kadhimiyya Market. And though the spectre of random violence haunted her:
the trip was as fun as usual, the driver played a very hilarious song, which made all the commuters chuckle; the very same hideous voice all drivers play, I guess he's a hit these days....

The market was even more fun. My friend and her sister were the perfect guides; they knew all reference points in this maze, which I'm sure had I been alone I'd need a GPS, or call emergency numbers to show me out. Women are obsessed with this market, though the prices are not less those in other places. I guess the only reason why it has become the place to squander their savings is the fact that they could find everything they needed, from clothes to herbs to kitchen utensils to jewelry to rosaries to prayer mats, to name but a few.

And finally...

Shaggy lives a privileged life and he knows it. The most he worries about is exams that get postponed or empty cola cans damaging the motorized seats of his car and ... erm ... playing guitar in the toilet making him sleepy. But he does not realize it shows until this happens in a restaurant:
The waiter threw a remark with a sprinkle of scorn that translated word for word would be: "You're in a different world". At first I thought he was referring to how drowsy I was and so I replied that I hadn't slept last night he quickly retorted that neither had he. Obviously I got the message wrong the first time.

I imagine something unusual does emanate from me, maybe it's my emancipation of current events or maybe I don't have those eyes that tell the same story of a lifetime of suffering that nearly all Iraqis share.

Need more tea.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Small Green Tomatoes

Omar of Iraq The Model has come up with an innovative solution to all the trouble in Iraq. In a phrase "Turn Baghdad into one big Green Zone." Hmmm.

On the plus side, there is some logic behind this suggestion. Any Iraqi from the older generation (who have lived through no end of coups and revolutions) will tell that you that the key to controlling Iraq is to control its capital. It is the one classic mistake the Americans made. Their theory of dividing Iraq into semi-autonomous regions and keeping a weak centre has backfired in a big way. And Omar is in agreement with al-Qaida in Iraq whose latest strategy is to take over Baghdad and announce a state.

Otherwise this idea just does not work in so many ways I just cant think where to begin.

Lets start with who exactly is supposed to do the securing of Baghdad. The American army will not even poke their heads out of their bases to stop any civil strife (as was so graphically demonstrated by their complete inaction to protect Iraqis following the Samara mosque bombing). Why on earth would they risk their lives to search every house in Baghdad let alone find enough troops and money to do this? The Iraqi Army is still not there. By the most respected American analysis it will take another three to five years to be anywhere near ready. And the recent video of soldiers rebelling against being positioned outside their home towns does not inspire hope. Even the Iraqi Army has generals involved in sectarian killings. And talking of sectarian killings I will not even start to recommend the Iraqi police for the task.

Then there is the politics. Even if you put a wall around Baghdad it will still divide into the lumpy stew of sectarian enclaves and no-go zones for residents and the security forces. Why? Because the constitution is sectarian, the government is sectarian and the police are sectarian. And there will never be any trust between the people and the government. And without trust there will be no security.

The solution is to secure Baghdad, but, as a dentist, Omar will know that putting a filling over a rotten core does not get rid of the rot. The real solution is to tear up the constitution and start the political process again. But that is much harder than dreaming of quick fixes because everyone who has a vested interest in the current process will be violently against you.

When I was at high school I used to imaging that all the worlds problems could be solved by banks printing more money. But those were immature day dreams. The real world requires sacrifice, hard battles and never giving up on your principles.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Landing at the Iraqi Blogodrome

And here for your reading and commenting pleasure is my latest Global Voices column...

The biggest barrier to understanding the reality of today's Iraq is not being able to feel what it is like living in a state of continuous war and lawlessness. On Wednesday the BBC led on the story that 50 people had been killed in one day in Iraq. Yet the story did not even register in the blogosphere. For Iraqis today such atrocities are just part of the background of their lives. I have dedicated this weeks column to posts about the day to day life in Iraq. But it is not all negative. if you read through to the end I have instructions on the Iraqi style of haggling.

Writing this post does not get easier. This week I again send my commiserations, this time to veteran Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar who lost his aunt recently when an American missile hit her house. He also writes a memorial for the principal of his old school who was one of the many teaching professionals to have been assassinated over the last three years:
Slah Al-Bandar was the principle of my school... A great man with a big heart. We never call our teachers with their first names in the Middle East, every teacher is called "Ostath" then his name, as in Teacher. Ostath Slah used to be a very strict eastern teacher that everyone feared, but everyone loved as well. He used to work as a taxi driver in his beaten VW car after finishing his work in our school, and on weekends too...

Every Thursday, he stood there in the middle of the big football field while the 1400 students gathering in a U shape around him never dared to whisper. He stood there and asked us all to watch the Iraqi flag going up while singing the national anthem.... Then, he'll get the old microphone and repeat the exact same introduction for his weekly speech:

"My dear sons and students. My dear colleagues and educators. Good morning...
In this blessed day, I want to talk to you about....."

He repeated this for years, until he was assassinated some days ago.

Ostath Slah Al-Bandar's big heart will never beat again.
May they all rest in peace.

Fear and Courage on the Streets of Baghdad

Miraj is no shrinking violet. She wants to buy a milkshake and after giving up on the household men helping, she decides to go herself regardless. But being a woman, traveling alone in Baghdad has its problems. Going by foot is out of the question:
"There was a new food shop ... but the problem it’s located in a street where all you can see is men and men and more men. Rough looking guys sitting in the street near the shop, standing next to cars in the street where the shop is. I didn’t want to attract attention if me and my sister shopped from there, especially because most of them will know where we live and under these circumstances we are nothing but a simple bait for some of the criminals and rapists roaming our streets. It happened to me once when I was attacked near my house and I won’t risk it again by exposing myself or my sister to such animals."
So she goes by car and her mother and sister come for support. But this is not without its hazards: "after passing by a small check point my heart started pounding like a drum and I opened my eyes wide unconsciously and started paying attention to any strange move around me. A car behind me with a guy in it started gazing straight into my eyes right from the check point." But he was only one of those men who "think they own the street and it’s not a place for females with their cars... I wonder if those silly things they do make them feel better about their faked manhood."

Then at the shop she takes the standard precautions:

"The safest move is to keep the car engine on in case anyone one came nears me to run away... On our way back I noticed a small van with guys stopped meters away behind my car, I told my sis not to go out together because it would take me some time to open the door while mum seemed still reciting Quran. I asked my sis to stay at the shop in case anything happened she could scream. I went to the car and mum felt my fear and opened the door for me, my sister quickly joined us and I moved with my highest speed.

And once home you thank God: "I turned to sis and mum and told them Hamdallah ala Alsalama, a phrase used to be used back n time in Iraq when you reach safely from another country by a plane mostly. Here we used it in such a small trip to the food store. Weird though, I didn’t feel the milk’s taste as before."

But there are no standard precautions when gangsters enter your house looking to kidnap your daughters. That is just what happened to I Was There. Fortunately his daughters were not home as their bus had broke down. He tries to rush home as fast as possible. "But it took 45 minutes in a 15-minute road to reach my house because of those police checkpoints and the 150-meter distance that we should maintain between our cars and the US military Hummers ... other wise they will shoot us so I was driving slowly following them while I was boiling deep inside trying to get home as fast as possible."

All he can do is reinforce the locks on his house and plan for his daughters to leave Iraq. But the ordeal does not end there:
Next morning, I was leaving the house when two men took a picture of me while they were driving by the house and run away.

On the next day, my youngest daughter... went to her teacher, who lives one block from my house, for a privet lesson.Two men in a black car chased her to her teacher house then when she finished the lesson they were still waiting for her there so she told her teacher and called her mother; the teacher kept her in her house until they left then she walked her home.

He concludes: "It bothered me that no one cared for what happened... because what happened with me is an every day story in Iraq now... I just became a new scene in the Iraqi tragic play which the marionettes called it the new Iraq, but we will leave this new Iraq for them. I don’t think that they will found many Iraqis who will accept to live in their new Iraq."

Now even the busses are targeted by bombers. Baghdad Treasure's friend Ahmed relies on them to get to work:
Ahmed started to be worried all the time. Like all Iraqis, he is unsafe at all. “Wherever I go, I feel I am going to die. Even going to work became as hard as getting a job,” he told me once. Today, a bomb planted inside a minibus exploded in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood, killing at least two people and wounding six.
But although he says the security forces are doing nothing to stop this, Iraqis themselves are reporting suspicious cars. He writes: "Today, a group of people noticed an anonymous car parked inside the main bus station in Baghdad's famous Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya. They called the police who came hurriedly to see if the vehicle was a car bomb or not. Bravely, they defused the bomb they found in it and saved dozens of innocents’ lives."

But the police cannot always be trusted. An Iraqi Tear gets a call from her son. He explains that he lost his money and mobile. Here is his story:
Close to the Central Children Hospital, a joint police-national guard check point stopped him. (Such check points used to stop him several times a day because his car number plate [is from a] Sunni governorates... and you can imagine what would be happen to a driver being alone) and my son was alone.

A policeman asked him if he is Sunni or Shiite... my son answer was (I am a Shitte). The next question "why is your car carrying this number?" my son told him that he bought the car from Baghdad... Another policeman who was searching the car told him: look I found this book in your car with the name Omer (a Sunni name). Who is Omer? A student in my class, my son answered. "F*** Omer and every Sunni; be a good Shiite and curse Omer and the Sunnis" the policeman adviced him... The policeman took the $200 and his $430 worthy N70 Nokia mobile that he bought days ago.
What could we do?

Nothing but thanking AlMighty Allah that they let him go... Till now more that 244 Omers were assassinated in Baghdad. They were kidnapped or arrested by the police; then their tortured and shot dead bodies were found.

Life on the Front Line

And if it is not the police, it is being caught up in the ongoing war. Brian gets mail from Qassem in Ramadi who describes the American military operations there against insurgents last week. While there is a strong political message, there is also a story of life on the front line. Qassem writes:
I am now with my family in Anbar I found my family ok…and most friends also…….but the situation was very bad ……burned tank ( US tank ) was in front of my house and my house [was damaged] partially… there was hard fighting ……

He relates what it is like to emerge after a battle and how people create their own system of communication to warn each other away from the war zone:
at the morning I succeeded to get out my house and I found many holes at many wall of the houses around … resulted from last night attacks of US troops ( after midnight ……most of streets blocked by the local people …..we can notice that the street is blocked when line of small stones cross the street ,it means there is US tanks on it some where……this is our way to warn the people that this street is dangerous and US tanks can kill who enter it………the clear fact is that US troops never put marks or signs to warn the civilians if they don’t allow people to get in some where…..and 100s of civilians killed because of no signs put by US troops .

An idea of the troubles of living in a front-line city:
For the last year Ramadi people take care of their city services by their own selves because our city completely ignored by the Iraqi government in add to the problems of my people with US troops along the last 3 years… we need to maintain the services again by ourselves ……the people in Ramadi think that the US troops want to punish the local people of Ramadi because they never allow to US troops to install military bases inside the city and fighting US soldiers every time they trying to get in the city…..for the last weeks US troops made many mistakes and destroyed houses of Alkurbeet Family ( tribe leader ) , train station of Ramadi centre and many other buildings …… in add they attacked Iraqi national guards that joined them …..US snipers killed 3 of Iraqi soldiers ….it was other mistake!!

And a message of defiance...
At night ,the US air force was very noisy with their jets and scared us too much …..I canot imagine that it will be ok tonight ...

I like to tell them “ I am and my family and my people living in our houses and staying in our city , and, US soldiers and tanks and guns used every day against us…so, who should stop ??? we or U ??”

And Finally...

I really don't like to end on such a negative note and this post cannot pass without a mention. Neurotic Wife learns from her HUBBY something that everyone should know. How to haggle in the bazaar. Here is her blow-by-blow account:
HUBBY: How much are these pants
Indian seller: Sir they are 150
HUBBY: A HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!!! (his eyes popping out)
IS:No sir no, 150 dirhams (shaking his head from side to side)
HUBBY: A HUNDRED AND FIFTY DIRHAMS!!! WHY???I can get much cheaper in America (accent turning slightly to match that of the IS)
IS: But sir, this good quality, this is pure cotton sir, look at the quality sir...(taking the pants on his hands and turning them inside out)
IS: LOOK sir, look, this is TOP, TOP quality...u no find anywhere in market same same...
HUBBY(looks at me, and Im just staring into space, indicating I dont wanna be part of this)
HUBBY: Ok look I buy 5, i give you 150...(HUBBY starts taking the cash out)
IS: No sir, no, cannot, is good quality sir, see hand made...
HUBBY: ok i buy 4 i give you 100...(Im laughing my ass off here)
IS: Oh noooo sir (the shaking of the head becomes vigourous) NO, what you do is haram...I have baba(father), mama(mom) mal ana(all of a sudden the indian seller turns speaking broken arabic) fee old, very old people...have to give food, no money...
HUBBY: Ok I no buy..too much money this..BYE...

AS we walk away...The IS shouts, ok sir ok, for you i give 100, HUBBY tells me under his breath to continue walking and not look back...but im really feeling sorry for the IS now...we continue walking...The IS's screams become louder...SIR SIR I GIVE YOU 90...HUBBY again tells me to continue walking....The screams becomes begging and we hear running footsteps...The IS is behind us..OK sir he says...his eyes twitching..ok sir, what u want to pay???HUBBY tries to act cool and says I changed my mind...IS contniues...Ok sir I give you this look good quality 100% cotton, 50, only 50..HUBBY rolls his eyes, and shakes his head...IS then said ok sir, take (pushes the pants onto HUBBY) and tells him give me 20....OMG im thinking..OMG...from 150 to 20!!!! WTH.....

...HUBBY said watch and learn from the expert with a cute smirky smile covering his entire face...

But dont take your negotiating skills too far. Neurotic Wife refused to pack her husbands suitcase for him. As she says: "...Sorry HUBBY, I no give you 100% hand made perfect quality wife..."

Zero Sum Game

The snake...
Unable to get the necessary recruits for the military the old-fashioned way, the U.S. Army has sunk $16 million into a government-sponsored video game that blurs the line between fantasy and the reality of war.

The taxpayer-financed "America's Army" is so clever a mind game that even the military folks behind it get a little confused when talking it up. Time magazine said Major Chris Chambers, deputy director of the video's development team, had to stop and correct himself when he called the violence, combat and "death animation" in the game "real." "It's not real; it's simulated. But we're simulating reality," he said. ...

Military officials say the game is designed so these possible recruits understand the Army doesn't want them to be Rambos. There are game penalties for players who hurt noncombatants. And if you're wounded or killed, the game's over for you. But it sounded real Rambo-like when one military official said -- perhaps jokingly -- to a Time reporter playing the game, "isn't killing Afghans fun?"

Eats its tail:
Tech-savvy militants from al-Qaida and other groups have modified video war games so that U.S. troops play the role of bad guys in running gunfights against heavily armed Islamic radical heroes, Defense Department official and contractors told Congress.

The games appear on militant Web sites, where youths as young as 7 can play at being troop-killing urban guerillas after registering with the site's sponsors...

in a modified video trailer posted on Islamic Web sites and shown to lawmakers, the game depicts a man in Arab headdress carrying an automatic weapon into combat with U.S. invaders.

"I was just a boy when the infidels came to my village in Blackhawk helicopters," a narrator's voice said as the screen flashed between images of street-level gunfights, explosions and helicopter assaults.

Then came a recording of President George W. Bush's September 16, 2001, statement: "This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while." It was edited to repeat the word "crusade," which Muslims often define as an attack on Islam by Christianity...

SAIC executive Eric Michael said researchers suspect Islamic militants are using video games to train recruits and condition youth to attack U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

We Media Middle East Debate - The elephant is still in the room

I am as mad as hell - such a good opportunity wasted. This was a meeting between leading members of the Arab and Western media - even a satellite link with Iraq - and something good could have come out of it. But, We Media had its Middle East debate and they actively side stepped the biggest issue affecting trust in the western media among Arabs. Again, to quote the Financial Times:
Nothing, is more damaging to US interests than the inability to have a proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how Washington should use its influence to resolve it, and how best America can advance freedom and stability in the region as a whole. Bullying Americans into a consensus on Israeli policy is bad for Israel and makes it impossible for America to articulate its own national interest.

So how close did they get? ... Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman was invited to present her project of bringing Israeli and Arab bloggers together. She also quoted lots of nice things that Arab blogger have said about Israel. Forgive me for not sounding impressed but this changes nothing. Frankly, if that is the best that the media leaders of 'We Media' can come up with on such an important debate then I give up. The shit is hitting the fan fast in Arabia and the leaders of the Western media cannot even approach the Arab-Israeli conflict. What chance have they to get their collective minds around the complexities of the Iraq crisis?

Actually it is not all bad I had a chance to speak with the Dr. Michael Craig of the Stanley Foundation. And for once some Americans gets it. Their basic thesis is that the 'democratisation' that America is pursuing in the Middle East is not going to bring about the stability and results that are good for America or the region. All they need now is someone to listen to them.

Anyway here are my raw notes of the session...

Session: We the World | Middle East (with satellite from Baghdad)
Moderated by Keith Porter (Stanley Foundation), with Zuhair Al-Jezairy (Aswat Al Iraq), Jihad (from Al-Arabiya), Rami Khouri (Lebanon Daily Star), Dr. Michael Kraig (Stanley Foundation), Salah Negm (BBC), WM Fellows

Keith Porter: 250-400 Arabic satellite channels. revolutionary changes driven by 24 news channels - Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya.

Rami Khouri. 3 big misperceptions of the Arab media...

1/ media incite anti americanism but media is a mirror of Arab public opinion.
2/ jazeera is a mouthpiece for terrorist groups. Unfair - its just newsworthy
3/ bad quality. but he bets that content analysis shows that jazeera is more full and balanced than any american channel. also only been on the air for 6 years

Salah (Head of BBC Arabic news tv.) there are only 2 or 3 news stations so there is room. + BBC will be tri-media (web, tv, radio)

Zuhair (Baghdad) - explosion of Arab media - 35 years of secret world - in 1st 3 months 180 newspapers - also bad so too many ways of getting facts - it gets messy. There are too many political leaders. Chaos of information. People start to distinguish between independent and not. People bored of party media.

Gov't media only for announcements
Independent media cannot secure their offices - so easy target.
No ad money for indep. media.
problem of professionailty - 3 waves of Iraqi journalists
no legal environment.
trying to give training for new generation of journalists. professional in tech but not journalism!!!

Jihad - who pays for the newspapers - it is cheap to start a satellite channel. Arabiya only one to make money from group. Jazeera is funded by Qatar.
competition improves the channel. Arabiya is ahead in Iraq. in past 9 months Arabiya got ahead in Saudi.

Michael Craig - pan arab nationalism is back in these new channels! What it means for US policy - must speak to Arabs differently - like al-Hurra. But it is closely and controlled - purely to show US policy. But why does it not reflect differences within even America.
- Look better if diplomats were given more freedom. But centralised control
- easier visas would help.

Zuhair - people use TV to decide if going out is safe or not. News is important to daily life. but old gen want to listen to news, young want entertainment. Cultural identity is separated. Media very important in Iraq. News in the morning and at night is very fast. Newspaper - is not for daily news just for analysis.
Jazeera has credibility but have not done more than project ideas already in public domain.
arab world citizens are better informed but still powerless.

Someone - Aggregation sites are getting very popular.

Zuhair - Iraq language needs to be carefully chosen not to insult the wrong militia.

Al- Jazeera has project to invite anyone to submit video footage.

Rami Khouri - information is where arabs have beaten america at their own game - it is why rumsfeld went nuts.

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We Media - the party bag

There are many ways to judge trust in the media. Lets judge it by the quality of their party bags for conference attendees. The We Media conference is held at two venues - BBC Television Centre and the impressively named Reuters Global Headquarters. And I get two party bags.

So who do I trust more - Reuters or the BBC?

First the pen - you always have to get a pen! The BBC pen is plain and simple white with a lid. But what a writer - one of those liquid ink roller balls. Reuters give a beautiful pen with presentation - false leather case with silver logo, brushed aluminium effect and big gel-filled padding for your fingers. But then a big disappointment. All that funky packaging contains a cheap biro. Yuk.

Next the notepad - about the same here. BBC's is smaller so a slight advantage.

And finally the advertising bumf. Again equal marks there. Funny thing, Reuters gives a "Reuters Foundation Reporters Handbook" - I guess to show off the quality of their journalism. But it is full of photos from Iraq. Is that the only news story in the world?

But wait - what do I see.. a free 20"x16" photo print for every attendee. Pah! I'll discount that, I cannot be bribed so easily.

So on the pen alone, the BBC wins my trust. No no no wait again! - I just saw the desert for lunch. A very, very, very nice chocolate cake. Sorry BBC, chocolate cake wins my trust every time.

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The Elephant in the Room

One of the biggest weaknesses of the mainstream media is its vulnerability to moral blackmail from powerful pressure groups. Everyone know it but no one says it for fear of treading on the wrong toes. I plan to take the media to task about this tomorrow at the We Media Forum.

These pressure groups include the pro-war lobbies before the Iraq invasion, the National Rifle Association and the pro-Israeli lobby in America. The latter is critical as it is the single biggest issue that affects American interests worldwide.

But don't take my word for it read below what the Financial Times said in a recent editorial:
Reflexes that ordinarily spring automatically to the defence of open debate and free enquiry shut down - at least among much of America's political elite - once the subject turns to Israel, and above all the pro-Israel lobby's role in shaping US foreign policy.

Even though policy towards the Middle East is arguably the single biggest determinant of America's reputation in the world, any attempt to rethink this from first principles is politically risky.

Examining the specific role of organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly considered to be the most effective lobby group in the US apart from the National Rifle Association, is something to be undertaken with caution.

Doctrinal orthodoxy was flouted last month in a paper on the Israel lobby by two of America's leading political scientists, Stephen Walt from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago. They argue powerfully that extraordinarily effective lobbying in Washington has led to a political consensus that American and Israeli interests are inseparable and identical.

Only a UK publication, the London Review of Books, was prepared to carry their critique, in the same way that it was Prospect, a British monthly journal, that four years ago published a path-breaking study of the Israel lobby by the American analyst, Michael Lind.

Moral blackmail - the fear that any criticism of Israeli policy and US support for it will lead to charges of anti-Semitism - is a powerful disincentive to publish dissenting views. It is also leading to the silencing of policy debate on American university campuses, partly as the result of targeted campaigns against the dissenters.

Judgment of the precise value of the Walt-Mearscheimer paper has been swept aside by a wave of condemnation. Their scholarship has been derided and their motives impugned, while Harvard has energetically disassociated itself from their views. Mr Walt's position as academic dean of the Kennedy School is in doubt.

On various counts, this is a shame and a self-inflicted wound no society built on freedom should allow.

Honest and informed debate is the foundation of freedom and progress and a precondition of sound policy. It is, to say the least, odd when dissent in such a central area of policy is forced offshore or reduced to the status of samizdat. Some of Israel's loudest cheerleaders, moreover, are often divorced by their extremism from the mainstream of American Jewish opinion and the vigorous debate that takes place inside Israel. As Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, remarked in Haaretz about the Walt-Mearsheimer controversy: "It would in fact serve Israel if the open and critical debate that takes place over here were exported over there [the US]."

Nothing, moreover, is more damaging to US interests than the inability to have a proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how Washington should use its influence to resolve it, and how best America can advance freedom and stability in the region as a whole. Bullying Americans into a consensus on Israeli policy is bad for Israel and makes it impossible for America to articulate its own national interest.
I would also add that nothing is more damaging to the media than its inability to have a proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The partition theory and other madness

Here is another thing you will not see on television news - the reality of sectarianism in Bahrain. Thanks to Mahmood for bloggin this. It has two sides to it. The extremist Salafi Sunnis who send their kids out demonstrating in Bin-Laden T-Shirts and complain about the persecution of the Sunnis in Iraq. And the Shia demonstrators whose protests are getting increasingly violent.

Why is this a big deal? The Sectarian strife Bahrain is a microcosm of the sectarian tensions in Eastern Saudi Arabia right over their oil fields. I will let the Shia blogger Hammorabi explain his suggestion for a solution to that:
The basic solution to end such terror and human right violation is for the Oil-Rich Eastern provinces [of Saudi Arabia] to have their own state as is the state of Hijaz in the West which include Makka and Madina.

If the media did not have its collective head in the sand over the issue of sectarianism in Saudi Arabia we could all see what suicidal madness Senator Bidens 'new' plan for partitioning Iraq is. In an op-ed article in the New York Times Biden suggested splitting Iraq into 3 mini states. Sunni, Shia and Kurdish. He argues that this could lead to a more stable Iraq and then America can withdraw its troops.

Let us follow Biden's plan a little. The Shia get their state in south Iraq. As a result the movement for a Shia state in Saudi Arabia and some other oil-rich Gulf countries will become irresistible. These new Shia states would be forced to form a security pact with Iran as they will be threatened from disenfranchised Sunnis and will have no one else to protect them. As a result of the partition of Arabia into Shia and Sunni statelets a very large number of extremely angry Sunnis get dumped with nothing to do right on the border of Israel. And then America pulls out all its troops. Do I need to explain what happens next?

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Blogging We Media 1

Session 1 Conversation: Trust, Media and Society, moderated by Merrill Brown (Media Center), with Nihal Arthanayake (BBC), David Brain (Edelman), David Schlesinger (Reuters), Karen Stephenson (Media Center)

The debate is about trust - and centered around these statistics.

Here is a funny one Egypt - 74% trust media, 33% trust the gov’t. I have worked with the Egyptian media. Nobody in Egypt trusts their media. Egyptians buy the national newspaper for the classified comments. But then again even less people trust their government. So what media are they talking about?

Also the wrong question is being asked - what I want to know is where the trust is going not where it is now.

I asked what happens when the media abuses that trust? I mean the New York Times apologised for not asking critical questions in the run up to the Iraq war. But has the lesson be learnt? There is a gathering storm over Iran and I cannot see any decent debate in the media.

Karen - agreed with me and said when that trust is gone, it is very hard to get back. David Brain said that a positive thing is that there are bloggers who regularly follow and criticise BBC News. But did he read those blogs to get that feedback? Erm.. no. David Schlesinger is listening but he will rely on 150 years of Reuters history to get it right.

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