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Blog to the world
Jai Arjun Singh |
July 13, 2005
In August 2003 a young girl, a former computer programmer living in Baghdad, started a weblog with these words: 'A little bit about myself: I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.'
She wasn't sure herself what the point was. 'Who would want to read this?' she wondered. Two years later, the answer resounds across the blogosphere.
'Riverbend' and her website, Baghdad Burning, now have a fan following in the tens of thousands.
Her first-person accounts -- untrammelled by the constraints placed on mainstream media -- of what it's like to live in a city under siege, have struck a chord with readers around the world.
The posts from the first year of Baghdad Burning have even been published in book form.
Opinion, context, humour
What lies behind Riverbend's popularity? Well, to start with, she happened to be in the right place at the right time (though it's unlikely any Iraqi would see it in those terms), with the right resources and knowledge of how to use them to good effect.
These are crucial factors; imagine an Anne Frank with Internet access. But equally, Riverbend has a frank, engaging writing style and enough awareness of current affairs to place her experiences and observations into a larger context.
Like most good bloggers, she's very opinionated and makes no apologies for it.
In the last two years, she has held forth on topics ranging from the synthetic coverage of Iraq by the American media to Michael Moore's anti-Bush polemic Fahrenheit 911, apart, of course, from conveying the minutiae of day-to-day life in a place where no one knows when the next air raid will occur.
She's even sympathised with the American troops -- "I feel terrible seeing them standing in this merciless sun," she says, "Wearing heavy clothes… looking longingly into the air-conditioned interiors of our cars" -- though this acquires a hard edge as the occupation continues.
And, remarkably, she has retained a piquant sense of humour; check out her Christmas post, for instance ("With the current fuel shortage, reindeer and a sleigh are highly practical -- but Rudolph should be left behind as the flashing red nose might create a bomb scare. We're all a little jumpy lately").
To read Baghdad Burning's archives in chronological order is to see how understanding can gradually develop between cultures; how wariness, even antipathy, can turn into trust.
When Riverbend started blogging, she had to contend with dozens of disbelieving readers (many Americans among them) who questioned how an Iraqi could write so well or even have access to the Internet.
Over time, many of those barriers have dissolved (though, as her readership grows, many of the old questions continue to be asked by new readers) and her followers now include converts from Western countries who recognise that her posts give a clearer picture of ground realities than what they get from conventional media.
The person behind the screen
Dedicate blogging doesn't make it possible to dissemble for too long.
Identities can be concealed (many high-profile bloggers, including Riverbend, use pseudonyms) but when a quality blogger writes with passion over a period of time, it's inevitable that you get to know the real person.
It's an immediate, personal effect that runs deeper than the chatrooms from the WWW's early days.
Jai Arjun Singh, aka Jabberwock, blogs at http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com.
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