In honor of the second anniversary of April 9: thank-you to Iraq the Model
Mohammed of Iraq the Model, eloquent as always, wrote a post yesterday in honor of the second anniversary of the 9th of April--a day he calls the "Eid of Liberty"--when US troops streamed through Baghdad and the statue of Saddam was pulled down. Mohammed begins his post this way:
I don't think I need to tell you how close is the 9th of April to my heart. And now, after two years happiness is still the same for me; one person among millions who were freed on that great day.
He ends his essay with these words: Finally, I would like to say it again and say it loud: Thank you our liberators.
Reading his post, I remember that it's I who want to thank him, for starting the blog Iraq the Model back in November of 2003.
Until then, we'd heard from very few Iraqi voices other than those of politicians and exiled activists. Salam Pax, the very first Iraqi blogger, was an exception. His Dear Raed was begun a few months before the war itself, and I had read it almost from the start, amazed that he was able to post from inside Iraq. Salam (a pseudonym) had previously lived for many years in the West, and was sardonic and sophisticated--cynical and bitter and slightly hopeful, all at the same time. He had an especially idiosyncratic voice. Fascinating though he was (and I read him every day), it was hard to know whether he represented anyone in Iraq other than his very own unique self.
Ali and Mohammed, the brothers who were the main writers of the Iraq the Model blog (brother Omar, less prolific, was mostly involved in the technical aspects), seemed different. They had lived in Iraq their entire lives. They were heartfelt and impassioned and hopeful, yet at the same time practical and realistic and logical. Their voices--and I kept thinking of them as voices, not simply as words on a computer screen--had an immediacy, a power, and an intimacy that cut right through the huge distance, both cultural and otherwise, that separated them from so many of their English-speaking readers. They were talking directly to us, it seemed; they were talking directly to me.
What were they saying? Here are some quotes from one of their very first posts:
I was counting days and hours waiting to see an end to that regime, just like all those who suffered the cruelty of that brutal regime....Through out these decades I lost trust in the world governments and international committees. Terms like (human rights, democracy and liberty..etc.)became hallow and meaningless and those who keep repeating these words are liars..liars..liars. I hated the U.N and the security council and Russia and France and Germany and the arab nations and the islamic conference. I've hated George Gallawy and all those marched in the millionic demonstrations against the war. It is I who was oppressed and I don't want any one to talk on behalf of me, I, who was eager to see rockets falling on Saddam's nest to set me free, and it is I who desired to die gentlemen, because it's more merciful than humiliation as it puts an end to my suffer, while humiliation lives with me reminding me every moment that I couldn't defend myself against those who ill-treated me.
I had lived in New Hampshire for many years, and the license plates there had borne the state motto "Live Free or Die." Back in those pre-9/11 days, it had seemed a bit much to have that saying displayed on my car--outdated, over-the-top, full of hokey flag-waving rah-rah drama.
But when I read those words in 2003 on Iraq the Model (It is I who was oppressed...I, who was eager to see rockets falling on Saddam's nest to set me free, and it is I who desired to die gentlemen, because it's more merciful than humiliation), I thought immediately of those license plates, without a trace of irony. Ah, I thought, that's what those words were about, that's what they meant all the time!
It's not that, prior to that, I hadn't realized the importance of freedom. But freedom had seemed to be an abstraction, and somehow, without even realizing it, I had taken it for granted. Now, here on Iraq the Model were some young men who would never--could never--take it for granted, not for a single moment. Here were people who had earned the right, through years of almost unimaginable suffering, to embrace freedom wholeheartedly, to not be afraid to say exactly and precisely how much it meant to them. And what it meant to them, quite simply, was their lives.
Over and over, as I continued to read their blog over the next year and a half, I was struck by how much the brothers Fadhil resembled the patriots in the early history of our own country. Who would have predicted such a thing?
It was like listening to a living embodiment of Patrick Henry: Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! Patrick Henry, transformed in some magical manner into a young Iraqi man who most likely had never heard of his speech and never had experienced a moment of freedom in his life, but was somehow recreating those same sentiments in the present day, in a country halfway around the world.
In the year and a half since the brothers have been blogging, both at Iraq the Model and at Ali's spinoff blog Free Iraqi, their voices have been the source of inspiration and calm for many of us. Time and again, when things in Iraq looked as if they were falling into chaos and darkness, and all the efforts and deaths seemed to be for naught (and there were many such days), I'd spend hours reading the gloomy prognostications in the mainstream media and the blogs--and then I would turn to the brothers. Always reassuring, not with empty fantasies but with a unique combination of passion, humor, and cold logic, they would analyze the situation and explain why all was far from lost. Their personal courage was immense; they were willing to risk their lives, and they reported that they were not alone. Many Iraqis felt the same, according to the brothers; I had no way of knowing whether this was true, but I trusted them. They had never let me down before.
When the 30th of January finally came, and the Iraqi people stunned the world with their bravery in the face of threats, I thought (of course) of Iraq the Model. I was ecstatic for Ali, Mohammed, and Omar, and for the Iraqi people. But no one who had been a regular reader of their blog could have been totally surprised at the conduct of the election. After all, the Fadhil brothers had always told us it would happen that way.
So, as Mohammed is thanking his liberators, I would like to thank Mohammed and his brothers: for their bravery, and for writing to us with words of such passion and clarity and reassurance--and, in the process, helping our own history to come alive. Seeing their words for the first time, "hearing" their Iraqi voices, was to receive a stirring message of hope and courage which spoke to the mind and heart, forming a deep and human bond--reaching out to us as though from terra incognita, the dark side of the moon.