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03 April, 2010

Life of an Iraqi blogger


In the summer of 2008, I survived an assassination attempt in Iraq. My "crime" was that I am "an enemy of God," a promoter of concepts that "offended" religion. My crime was writing articles calling for the protection of religious minorities and calling for the rights of women, children, and homosexuals in Iraq, urging people to protect innocent people from brutal attacks by armed militias.

My principles forced me to live in harsh humanitarian conditions as I search for a safe haven, and as many of the countries which adopted human rights protection, bloggers from Iraq are not in the ranks of immediate threat, and I am thus forced to stay in search for protection.

We pay a high price in order to convey the reality of death and destruction in Iraq and to defend freedom of expression. While I live the reality of my search for a lifeline away from a death sentence awaiting me in my home country, I receive no means of protection and every day I come closer to face death again because of the programs forcing Iraqis to return, adopted by several European countries through treaties the Iraqi government put fourth.
Through my continued search for safety, I think of my conditions and imagine the reality of my fellow bloggers inside Iraq, and I know in my heart that they have a more difficult reality and they face more risks as every day the challenging for blogging are bigger and more dangerous.

A few months ago an Iraqi woman ophthalmologist disappeared on her way back to Iraq. She was on her way to participate in a project to help Iraqi children with a delegation of medical professionals from Jordan. An informant for the Iraqi border police accused her of being a blogger known as "Hiba Shemary" who blogs under the false name of the daughter of the Baath. On inspection of her personal laptop, several articles were found to support the charge, and she was arrested on charges of promoting terrorism. Me and many Iraqi bloggers believe in the new Iraq and reject the return of the past and we disagree with her and her beliefs, but the truth is that she was not more than a doctor who promotes ideas and opposition to the government of Iraq through a personal blog, which had limited followers, obviously not enough to be regarded as a promoter of terrorism in a time when the government allows many satellite and radio channels, the kind that would have allowed her to potentially reach millions of people, so the claim against her remains ridiculous.

At the beginning of March, a known Iraqi activist in the field of human rights, who operates on the Internet, specifically on Facebook, received two death threats. The first accused her of being a Western agent and anti-Islam (the same charges I received) because she promotes the rights of women and children, freedom of education and discusses the failure of the educational system in Iraq. The second accused her of insulting Iraqi religious figures, threatening her not to cross the line against the characters of religions working in politics. She was forced to reduce her activities because she still lives in Iraq.

In another incident, a young Iraqi blogger living in upscale Shiite areas of Baghdad was attacked by the security forces and intimidated because of his support for the young Iraqi blog which promotes freedom of expression. The army officer searched his room for evidence of any potential threat. He asked about the many books in the young boy’s room. Were they school books? When the answer was that they were novels by Marquez, the officer asked, "Marx? Are you a communist?"

During the recent elections, bloggers carried cameras and took pictures documenting the elections. Whenever arrested they told the police they were working for a channel or a newspaper belonging to one of the sectarian groups, depending on what the soldier would like to hear, to avoid being charged with "terrorism." Other bloggers carried their phones, posting into sites like Twitter, moving between different houses in order to prevent anyone from detecting their signals. Especially since a number of religious parties had taken precautions against repeating the "new media" experience of the Iranian elections with bloggers and activists.

Political assassinations with silencers, explosive adhesive bombs, kidnapping, arrests for unknown reasons, hacking Iraqi sites, psychological and intellectual warfare: this is the reality of the Iraqi bloggers.

Any believer in freedom of expression, warrior against corruption, observers of the reality of political and financial corruption and advocate for reform and national reconciliation, fighters for the rights of minorities and other persecuted groups… anyone with the objectives of turning away from religious totalitarian regimes and ideology will face the hard reality that Iraqi bloggers continue to suffer through.

I asked a number of Iraqi bloggers about how to describe blogging in Iraq. They said: primitive, isolated, like a small child lacking guidance, a severe shortage of support. We are not recognized or treated like "media men," we are neglected, forgotten, ignored.

The best description of Iraqi blogging came from a veteran blogger who describes himself as an unarmed Iraqi soldier alone in a battlefield.
Iraqi bloggers learned blogging without a teacher. They do not get support or training from any person. They work in a country governed by customs, traditions and religion.

They are working in conditions of bad electricity to run the computer, using very bad Internet services, forced to walk long distances to reach the Internet café to publish blogs. Iraqi bloggers are working in complete secrecy because of the eyes that lurk in the Internet cafe from religious groups and parties. If we write in support of the new Iraq, we are an agent of the occupation. If we blog criticizing the Iraqi reality, we are an agent of terrorism. We don’t have any rights, it’s like we are unknown.

Iraq is a country living a conflict. It is in the middle of many powers trying to force their views to shape it close to the image that serves their interests.

Bloggers want to convey their vision of the nation, a vision we may like or not, but in the end a person wants to express himself and say a word in a peaceful manner, and has the right to work without fear or intimidation.
Unfortunately, through my experience that I live today I discovered that many of those who were outside Iraq and encourage us to express ourselves and convey images of a new Iraq, were at the forefront of abandoning me and others in my position. Today I face the risk of death or displacement, I risk my life, but I took to myself to fight in my remaining days to prevent a repetition of tragedies with other Iraqi bloggers who face the realities of working in an atmosphere of danger.

Help Iraqi bloggers with support and protection. Do not leave us to fight windmills alone, because we will fight like heroes and die without leaving a trace. Help us leave a trace in this struggle.

This post is contributed by Wamith Al-Kassab, a blogger at Iraqi Streets and Mideast Youth.

Courtesy: Countercurrents

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