Salam Pax succumbs to unbearable weight of blogging
By Elisabeth Wynhausen
May 20, 2004
JUST five days after leaving Baghdad, Salam Pax has rushed from a television studio to an interview in the atrium of a glossy Sydney hotel. The whole thing seems a little surreal, he says. Salam Pax as he is now known the world over, is the 31-year Iraqi man whose weblog or "blog" provided the most immediate account of life during the war in Iraq.
His web diary began on a lighter note as a way of keeping in touch with his friend Raed, a Palestinian from Jordan he had met while the two were studying architecture.
There was a time he practically felt he knew the few fellow bloggers reading him. But the site had millions of hits in the ominous build-up to the war, as his blog recorded the hardships of life under Saddam Hussein, with sharp barbs and sly humour. When he went offline, during the war, it was feared he might have been picked up by the Iraqi secret police.
Pax survived. But his blog has succumbed not to the authorities but to the terrible weight of becoming the virtual personification of Iraq.
"As the world starts looking at your website, you get more and more weighed down with the responsibility of it," he tells Media.
In Australia as a guest of the Sydney Writers Festival, Pax is an animated, round-cheeked man as full of surprises as his web diary, now published in book form by Text. He, too, has a sneaking preference for books, he admits in his rapid-fire English.
"The truth is I still prefer printed stuff. I still print loads of stuff out," he says. "The disadvantage of the book is that you don't really see how things are put in context. In a weblog, the whole point is, click on the link, read the article, make up your mind , then tell me whether you agree with me or not. The weblog is just immediate."
Indeed some believe that web diaries like his will eventually replace war reporting. Salam Pax is not one of them, however.
"Someone wrote 'these bloggers commit random acts of journalism' and they are random. You always have to remember that all blogs really are opinion pieces."
On the other hand, the blogger has the access journalists may be denied.
Because an Iranian expatriate adapted the software to allow people to blog in Farsi, he says, "there is a huge Iranian blogging community". "A couple of months ago there was a big student uprising in Iran."
The journalists who tried to enter the country were refused permission by the authorities.
"There was no possibility for a journalist to go in and talk to people. But you had five or six incredibly good weblogs that were showing pictures of dorms that had doors kicked in and blood spattered on the walls,"
Pax says. While the boundaries between journalism and blogging have blurred, with some journalists producing weblogs their own organisations have the right to edit subverting the idea of the weblog Pax has gone in the opposite direction.
He writes a column, Baghdad Blog, for the Guardian newspaper but gave up his web diary last month, at least for the time being. He was starting to censor himself, he says.
"There are almost 30 Iraqi blogs now, all of them started after the war. Blogging as an Iraqi became a political statement. You're supposed to say right at the top of your blog whether you love the Americans or you're a Saddamist.
"People don't realise there are a hundred shades of grey in between," says Pax, who managed to be open-minded from first to last.
Good thread and posts.
Iran will become front page news soon, and one can imagine a future Mideast with a Westernized Iranian democracy next to a reformed Iraq. These two nations, over 90 million people, will be the hope of the planet.
The Iranian students smell freedom, the smart but quiet Iraquis smell freedom. When they TASTE it, lookout world.