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July 7, 2008 | by  | in Books | [ssba]


Riverbend, Baghdad Burning (

As a 17 year old wannabe dissident, I derived large amounts of pleasure from churning out mediocre pieces of writing on topical issues, my favourite at the time being the military fiasco otherwise known as Iraq. I rarely managed originality or gravitas, but I had what I considered to be a secret weapon: the insightful writings of Riverbend – blogger, social commentator and all round interesting lady. Her blog, Baghdad Burning was a curiously eloquent insight into the world of power cuts, unheard-of levels of sectarian violence and the shifting sands of political ascension. Curious, because I didn’t expect that kind of depth from a blog, a term at the time used synonymously with ‘LiveJournal’. Baghdad Burningwas personal, but it was also political, and fascinating, and tragic, and surreal. It was no self-involved tirade, as many of the forays into the world of internet based diaries were and continue to be. Riverbend (her real name was fiercely concealed) peppered her discussions of the unfolding invasion with fascinating titbits of information about Iraqi culture and tradition. Her command of English put legions of native speakers to shame. Combining the view as seen by her Baghdad family with observations of the breakdown of security elsewhere in the country, it gave a more humanistic portrayal of the invasion than any piece of heartstring-pulling journalism by a foreign correspondent could manage. As well as domestic issues, Riverbend touched heavily on local and national politics, giving the impression of a lions’ den populated by plate spinners and fire-breathers. Nothing undermined the Bush administration’s protestations of stability quite like hearing about the daily betrayals and failings of those supposedly running the country. And nothing challenged my preconceptions of Middle Eastern countries collective;y like Riverbend’s succinct explanations of life preand post-Saddam. For example:

“I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night”

It almost feels trite now to talk about the hitherto unheard voices that the internet, in particular the blogosphere, provides for in times of warfare, when normal channels of communication are cut off. If you can be bothered looking for it, there will always be someone writing about what’s going on, wherever they can find an internet connection. The Vietnam War is momentous for being the first to reach American civilians in image and sound thanks to television. Will the second Iraq war be remembered for being meticulously documented in 300-word daily updates by a quiet army of observers? Riverbend, Salam Pax and Raed have done their best to make sure that we will have a vast archive of foreboding insight to refer to when next we hear of the ‘necessary and just war’ we just gotta fight.


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