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The Presentation of Iraqi Life in Riverbend's Blog

Page history last edited by Miriam 14 years, 1 month ago

 How are Iraqi life and Iraqi people presented in the Riverbend blog?



There are reams of web sites where U.S. soldiers or their family members write about their experiences and knowledge about the war in Iraq in order to present another, more “real” face of the war to the blog’s readers than is shown by the Main Stream Media. There are also Iraqi people who express their point of view in weblogs. However, not many of the known weblogs are written by Iraqi women. The following essay is meant to examine the representation of Iraq under occupation by a young Iraqi woman from Bagdad. Is the blog meant to make the reader sympathetic for the Iraqis described in the blog? Is the reader induced to be of the same opinion as the narrator or does the narrator put things into question? 




  1. What is a blog?
  2. What does the narrator talk about?
    1. Social life in Iraq
    2. Political life in Iraq
  3. How does the narrator talk about it?
    1. Eloquence
    2. The problem of anonymity
    3. A woman's perspective
    4. Illustrative Language
    5. Selectivity vs. Objectivity
  4. Who/what is the narrator writing for?
    1. A possible addressee...
    2.  Writing for change?

  5. Conclusion
  6. References




What is a blog? 


The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:     


      a blog is „a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer; also : the contents of such a site“.      

     However, Riverbend is not just a diarist. Blogs are more than just online diaries: 


More detailed information about blogs:      


  • blogs can be analyzed in temporal  (post frequency) and structural (tool used, post word count, quantity of links, presence of features like calendars) terms 
  • a blog is a diverse set of practices resulting in the production of diverse content in blogs  
  • Beside their layout, structure and content, blogs must be seen as “both a medium and a bi-product of expression. Thereby, we also take into account the culture and practice of a blog, which helps us to “understand the diverse intentions” of the blogger. Blogs can be seen both as a genre and as a medium  


                                                                                                                              (Danah Boyd, A Blogger's Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium, p.93, 97, 102) 


Features of Riverbend's Blog: 


  • used as a medium
  • product of expression
  • there is an archive of former posts in reverse-chronological order defined by Susan Herring, who follows a structural approach (see: Danah Boyd, A Blogger's Blog.., p. 97)
  •  Riverbend’s site does NOT give the reader the opportunity to comment on her entries – which is often a feature of weblogs
  • there are few hyperlinks on her page, which are in the text and on the blogroll on the right side of the entry, linking to news-sites, other blogs and other media sites.
  • she illustrates her ideas with some pictures as well



What does the narrator talk about?



Social life in Iraq


  • strong connection between the people:
    • everyone helps each other out when it is needed
    • everybody knows somebody who has already had some or another type of illness
  • the tragic destiny of people close to her, a description of their life and why they were important to her (January 12, 2006)
  • she explains how people become suicide bombers: "I hate suicide bombers (...) But I completely understand how people get there. One victim was holding his daughter. 'The gunmen told the daughter to move then shot the father,' said a relative. Would anyone be suprised if the abovementioned daughter grew up with a hate so vicious and a need for revenge so large, it dominated everything else in her life?" (November 25, 2005)
  • the problem of losing more and more educated people through killings and emigration
  • about torture houses in Iraq, where innocent citizens are tortured
  • about horror stories and cruelties done to the Iraqi people
  • depriving conditions without electricity and running water, high prices, especially for gasoline


Political life in Iraq


  • the Elections
  • the Saddam trial
  • her political opinion 
  • Americans killing civilians with chemical weapons
  • the reconstruction of Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991 (with stress that it was done by Iraqis alone!), illustrated with pictures (January 18, 2006)





How does the narrator talk about it?




We can never be a hundred percent sure of what we know when we talk about the blogger and his life because everything could be made up by someone completely different, 

but according to what we know, Riverbend was a computer programmer, and has probably spent some time of her life in the US. Her skill of writing so well in English, both supports and threatens her credibility:


  • on one hand, good writing is often an important argument which convinces the readers of the blog's credibility (Jakob Nielsen, How Users Read on the Web)
  • some say she can't be the person she claims to be because Iraqi women do not have such a good education (e.g. Alexandra Lauer)


The problem of anonymity


As for many bloggers, blogging in her situation can put herself and her family at risk because any rather radical opponent could find her out and kidnap or kill her in order to prevent her from spreading her point of view. Therefore, it is a good way of protecting herself while being able to speak her mind without any fears or restraints. However - as mentioned before - anonymity always leaves open the possibility, that the blog's content is made up without much truthful ground. Anonymity is often a key point to expressing oneself on the web, since it enables the blogger to speak as freely as he or she likes, but in order to reach a certain credibility, he has to find a way to provide for it.


A woman's perspective


What difference does it make that she is a woman? 

She writes from the perspective of those in society who do not have much of a saying in the political public of Iraq, but in her blog, she can represent the voice of the women of Iraq and make it known to the world. For example, she can tell the world in her blog what Iraqi women want and do not want and that many of them are not satisfied with their supposed representative:


"Some of Allawi’s campaign posters show himself and Safiya Al-Suhail. I can only guess Safiya being used in his campaign posters is meant as a gesture to Iraqi women who have felt more oppressed this year than ever. The problem is that if there’s one woman Iraqi females can’t relate to- it’s Safiya Suhail. She’s the daughter of some tribal leader who was assassinated abroad in the eighties or seventies- I’m not sure. She was raised in Lebanon and when she’s on TV she comes across as arrogant, huffy and awkward with her Iraqi accent tainted with the Lebanese dialect." (December 15, 2005)



Illustrative Language


  • Riverbend brings across her opposition to a radical and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam where women have few rights and have to be veiled in dark clothes. An example would be drawing a picture of Hakim's audience that is dark and inconvenient to most modern women: "The women were sitting on one side of the audience and the men were sitting on the other side, the sexes separated by a narrow aisle. The women all wore black abbayas and headscarves. It could have been a scene out of Teheran." (December 15, 2005) 
    • In order to encourage the reader to share her opinion, she links negative images to the concepts she rejects.    
    • she presents frightening images of them: "It's disconcerting to scan a seemingly innocent wall and have a row of identical Hakims smiling tightly down on you". (December 15, 2005)
  • Mentions Iraqi sayings for illustration when talking about Allawi: “Ili ishuf il mout, yirdha bil iskhuna.” He who sees death, is content with a fever. “ (December 15, 2005)
  • The tribe metaphor puts down the importance of the trial:


"It wasn't really like a trial. It reminded me of what we call a 'fassil' which is what tribal sheikhs arrange when two tribes are out of sorts with one another. The heads of the tribes are brought together along with the principal family members involved in the rift and after some yelling, accusations, and angry words they try to sort things out. That's what it felt like today. They kept interrupting each other and there was even some spitting at one point… It was both frustrating and embarrassing- and very unprofessional." (Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, December 5, 2005)




Selectivity vs. Objectivity


Riverbend's blog is of course not objective, but it seems like she wants that image in order to convince the reader. Therefore, she uses a couple of strategies to get the reader on her side:


  • Riverbend gives an overview of the parties that are to be voted for, but it only includes parties that she has selected to be the most outstanding.
    • the narrator gives the reader the impression that he sees the whole picture, but in reality, he does not.
  • She calls politicians "puppets" (December 15, 2005) who, in her opinion, work with the Americans in order to enrich themselves, regardless of what is best for the Iraqi people.
  • People she opposes: 
    • she only gives information that makes them unlikable as in the case of Allawi's wife
    • she ridicules them or comments on their behavior with irony, e.g. with Bush: "(is he having another 'Bring it on...' moment?)" December 1st, 2005)
  • even though her anonymity allows her to say what she wants, she keeps some information hidden from the reader: "(Several rather vulgar jokes about list 555- I can't go into it on the blog, but Iraqis know what I'm talking about)." (December 15, 2005)
  • In connection to the Iraqi people's family life, she presents them as very caring and friendly, e.g. by encouraging the reader to smile about their way of living:"It’s interesting how friends and family react when they realise I’m voiceless- they either lower their own voices to just above a whisper, or they begin to speak unnaturally loud like I might have lost my hearing also." (Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, December 15st, 2005)



Who/what is the narrator writing for?


A possible addressee...


are most likely the people of the Western world. If it was meant for the Arab world, the narrator would write in Arab, not in English. It is also not likely that she wrote for Iraqi people  because they mostly do not have access to the internet on a daily basis. It is probable that her target audience includes Europeans and Americans.


Writing for change?


Reading the blog, one can see that she not only writes about the ongoings in Iraq in order to cope with what she and her family goes through, that she wants to achieve something with her blog.


  • Riverbend is a bridgeblogger. She explains local events, and politics to a global audience and thereby tries to build a bridge in order to communicate. She does this not only to bring her ideas and opinions across, but to convince the reader that she is right and to identify with Iraqi people as we can see in her strategies
  • This blog may be meant to change Western countries' perception of life in Iraq:

    • they can get a glimpse of what Iraqi people feel and think in regard to the occupation and what they want their political future to be like
    • She wants people to understand the reasons why she opposes the occupation and to make American troops leave Iraq
    • She shows Iraqi people to be understanding and caring and she explains why it is natural for them to reject the occupation by American troops, thereby invites the reader to feel and agree with her
    • She compares Saddam's cruelties to those of the AmericansThe descriptions of cramped detention spaces, and torture are almost exactly the testimonies of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, etc. It makes one wonder when Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest will have their day, as the accused, in court." (December 5, 2005)
    • She uses provocative irony: "the blessings of the Pentagon- all Iraqis will be tortured equally." (November 18, 2005)





The way Iraqi life and people are presented in Riverbend's blog, the reader is tempted to agree and identify with her/the narrator about the Iraqi people's feelings thanks to her illustrative language and her way of describing the cruelties afflicted on their people. Another reason for an easy identification and also an argument for her credibility are the detailed descriptions of what is going on in her family's life and in the life of people she has known. She even uses Iraqi language to undermine this point. However, as long as she stays anonymous, she will never be rid of the accusations for being "fake" and not really a girl living in Iraq.

Written by an Iraqi girl or not, the blog does promote an opinion and various arguments for why Iraq should continue on its own and as a united coutry in the future. The narrator has the ability to depict an Iraqi life which throroughly illustrates this point of view and encourages the reader to understand it. These types of blogs may someday have a power in shaping the world's public opinion and catch up with the Main Stream Media because - if authentic - they can be the primary source of information and therefore, the most valuable.





Amazon. "Alexandra Lauer's Profile". 17 August 2008 <http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1GQLVX8Q3P14L/ref=cm_cr_pr_pdp>


Boyd, Danah. "A Blogger's Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium". 2006. Reconstructions 6(4). <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/064/boyd.shtml>


MacKinnon, Rebecca. Global voices web site. 15 August 2008 <http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2005/07/07/seeking-bridge-bloggers>


Merriam-Webster. "Blog". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary 2008. 12 Aug 2008 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blog>


Nielsen, Jakob. "How Users Read on the Web". 17 August 2008 <http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html>


Riverbend. "Baghdad Burning" 15 Aug 2008 <http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com> November 2005 - January 2006.


The Lunch Counter web site. Entry from December 7, 2005: "Saddam A No Show, Look In New Mexico". 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.phillysonline.com/lunch_counter/2005/12>


Wikipedia. "Gulf War" 15 August 2008 <http:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War>


Wikipedia. "Riverbend" 17 August 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverbend_%28blogger%29>



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