During the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion, I regularly read the blog called "Baghdad Burning" written in impeccable English by a young woman under the pseudonym Riverbend. It gave a completely different picture from what was seen on the news and in speeches. I couldn't help thinking, back then, that every time I heard sweeping judgements and grand decisions being made about Baghdad, that this meant people like her and Salam Pax, the other famous Iraqi blogger (who has been on "hiatus" since April 2004). The idea that one can communicate with even a small segment of the Iraqi people seems to be one that is growing more distant every day.
Taken together, these two blogs represented a form of dialogue and understanding of the Iraqi civilians which the ordinary media just didn't allow. You don't learn that eggplant and cardamom are important in Iraqi cuisine from CNN, and you don't hear about the power outages and how you deal with them on BBC. Knowing that Iraqis have jobs and worry about electricity, and that people sleep on rooftops to stay cool at night, and make soup, and have family troubles, and have neighbours that get kidnapped and so forth. It all made everything more real, more troubling. Every time you hear about 15 people killed in a car bomb, 35 people blown up at a wedding, 8 civilians killed by mistake by American troops, wrongly detained people dying in detention or interrogation at Abu Ghraib or wherever they put them now, it means one of these people. People with a voice that can't talk to us. The bloggers happened to know English. We can talk to them, and that's unbelievably important.
So that's why I'm very happy that Riverbend is nominated for a £30,000 non-fiction award. I think it acknowledges the importance of these things, and the power of blogs to change minds.