16 April 2007

Where is Raed?

No one knew who he was: those who knew him never suspected the risks he took. Indeed, Salam Pax could hardly have taken a greater risk; more than 200,000 people had gone missing under Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime, many for far lesser crimes than the open criticism voiced on a blog used to communicate with his friend Raed. Perfectly aware of the dangers (no less than four of his relatives had gone missing; one friend, for no apparent reason, summarily executed), he even wrote openly about his homosexuality, a frank admission that still presents a significant risk to his life. One of the first people to link to his blog said, "It is all about a guy who risks his nuts to tell us he's a pervert and his friend likes to watch"

From idle chat to startling reportage, his internet outpourings delivered the most compelling description of life before and during the illegal war on Iraq, with a simple but honest descriptions of life in his home. He talked equally freely about the soaring price of tomatoes and the sudden arrival of the feared Ba'ath party militia setting up a gun position in an empty house on his street, his writing was remarkably free of sentimentality even as the approaching war becomes inevitable. Reports of his writing began to filter into the newspapers in Britain and the US where his voice, recognisably human and authentic, received considerable attention at a time when the only voices from inside Iraq to which the Western world had access got filtered through an unreliable network of newspapers and television networks, who appeared to have loyalties and sympathies of their own and were clearly struggling to cover what was happening on the ground. For a while, some readers doubted that Salam existed, preferring to believe he was an agent of Iraqi or US intelligence; his allusions to David Bowie and Hollywood movies seemed unusually familiar, so his identity was questioned, the doubters unable to accept that an Iraqi in Baghdad could share their interests and write on them eloquently and with humour.

At one point during the war- by now 20,000 people were regularly reading the most linked-to blog on the internet- when he was still able to access the internet and send his writing, the Arabic radio services of the BBC and the Voice of America ran stories on him. When his father heard the reports, for the first time guessed that that it was his son they were referring to. Not only was he risking his own life, he was risking the life of his family and everyone they associated with. In the final weeks before the impending conflict, he feared Iraqi intelligence agency were on to him... and all of his readers feared for him.

It's quite possible he doesn't appreciate what impact his blog made; he probably doesn't even know about how his writings were displayed at an art exhibition in the Centre de Cultura Contemporanea, Barcelona (CCCB) back in 2004, which is how I initially heard about the Baghdad Blogger; the first blog I ever encountered, and it remains the only blog I have ever read compulsively. It would not be an exaggeration to say I remain quite, quite infatuated with the brave and dashing Salam.

Over nine months have passed since his last post, his silence the source of much consternation. When I read something like this, I fear the worst... but allow myself to hope that silence is a prudent measure on his part.

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