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Review: Baghdad Girl by Raghda Zaid
"I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars."E.M. Forster Howard's End.
She is fifteen years old and she has just finished her exams. She likes cats. She has a blog which consists almost entirely of pictures of cute little kittens rolling about on well-tended lawns, or relaxing, stretching and yawning, or playing with balls of wool. She is like most teenage girls the whole world over.
Her name is Raghda Zaid and she lives in Baghdad.
If you want to know what life in Baghdad is really like, then you should take a look at Raghda’s blog. In between pictures of cats she adds these totally unselfconscious comments on the state of her city, on the killing and the violence all around, on the fear that stalks their every move. It would take a hard man indeed not to be moved by the simple humanity of this one, small girl.
She has aunts and cousins and uncles - a whole wide, extended family - who also have blogs, all of whom have links to her site. So you can read about Rose from Baghdad, Raghda’s aunt, who was pregnant with her second child, and about her husband Ahmed who was having to do all of the housework because of complications. Rose says she will no longer talk about the political situation in Iraq as it is futile.
She says, “speaking about politics has become useless to me, it will not change the facts of what will happen in the future and I don't think that what I see and feel will make any difference to anyone or to what will happen to my own country. ”
Or you can read the words of Mama, a 34 year old mother of three, from Mosul, Rose’s sister and Raghda’s aunt. And on Mama’s site you can read about the killing of one of the elder’s of their family, their 78 year old uncle, shot in the neck by American soldiers while driving in his car and killed instantly.
Now this is the remarkable thing.
As you know, blogs have the facility to allow comments. So following the heartfelt report of Mama’s uncle’s violent end, you can read what the mothers and daughters and fathers of American servicemen have to say.
You can read the sorrow, and you can read the justification. You can read the confusion and the sense of pride.
Sometimes the American commentators miss the point. Sometimes they are aggressive. Sometimes they are patronising. But sometimes, too, they are sympathetic. Sometimes you even get a sense that there is the beginning of an understanding.
Across that vast gulf, across that oceanic divide, both of territory and of culture, there is some form of communication going on.
It’s as if the mothers and daughters of British soldiers fighting in the trenches in the First World War were writing directly to German mothers and daughters.
One of the most remarkable of the links is to Raghda’s uncle Ahmed: the same Ahmed who is married to Rose. His blog is called “Life in Baghdad” and it blazes with a sense of irony and deep intelligence. In one of the posts he lists his favourite quotes from literary sources all over the world, and then debates with them. He quotes from American, British and European authors, as well as those from Iraq and the Middle East.
This is truly a learned and intelligent family.
One of the comments is from a relative called Najma.
She says, as if sensing his despair:
“Believe me, I'm not me without you. Every one of my family knows that whatever happens, I try to act like you. When I was in the 3rd grade, I hung a piece of paper on the wall, reminding myself to get good marks like yours.
“Maybe I won't get to where you are, but I'm sure you have CHANGED my life! ”
And then she quotes from Arnold Bennett and Bertholt Brecht.
“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.’ ” Arnold Bennett.
“Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are .’ Bertolt Brecht
To which Ahmed replies:
Your comment meant the world to me. I am so proud to be your uncle. ”
I have to say that at the time of writing it appears that most of the family have moved away from Iraq. And who can blame them?
However, there is one comment on Ahmed’s site which really brings home the truth about the full horror and absurdity of this war.
This is it:
“I'm sorry for being intrusive in to your blog. But I am Melissa and I am a mother of two that is just trying to get out of an incredible financial debt. See my hubby is away in Iraq trying to protect this great country that we live in, and I am at home with our two kids telling bill collectors please be patient. When my husband returns from war we will be able to catch up on our payments. We have already had are 2001 Ford repossessed from the bank, and are now down to a 83 Buick that is rusted from front to back and the heater don't work, and tire tax is due in November.
“I'm not asking for your pity because we got our own selves into this mess but we would love you and thank you in our prayers if you would just keep this link on your blog for others to view .
“God Bless You .”
It doesn’t bear much thinking about, does it? The wife of an American serviceman posting a begging letter on the blog site of an Iraqi civilian whose near relative has recently been shot through the neck by another anonymous American soldier.
Who said that irony was dead? Or that the families of American servicemen are being properly looked after?
Another of the links is to a site called Iraq The Model.
Again, there is a sense of radical debate going on, of a shifting mental and emotional perspective.
In this one of the posters, Omar, takes a thread from a BBC site about the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier by Hamas in Gaza, which he quotes from extensively. He points to a remarkable statistic. The comments from Iraq seem to be weighted very heavily, 10 to 1, if not in favour of Israel exactly, then at least in opposition to the actions of Hamas. Comments by nationals from other Arab countries are factored the other way around, at 10 to 1 against, a phenomenon that those other Arab nationals are aware of and pass comment on.
As one of them says:
"I think the occupation brainwashed some of our Iraqi brothers that they no longer distinguish between right and wrong or between the oppressor and the oppressed. We understand your bitterness about your situation and we hurt for you but I call upon you to go back to reason before making judgments and to not listen to the propaganda of Iraq's enemies. "
The Iraqi contributions have a depth, a political maturity, and an empathy that is rare anywhere in the world, let alone in the Middle East.
We are left with the sense of a world whose very outlines are changing, a world where old certainties are being left behind. A residue of sympathy across nations. A sense of recognition. It’s as if, around the world, people are reaching out to touch each other through this new medium. As if people’s long-suppressed voices were being heard. Though all the static and white-noise of the conventional news-media, through the crash and thunder of the entertainment industry, through all the inversions and distortions of the various propaganda systems, we are hearing the voice of humanity at last.
Maybe there is hope for the world yet?