Sunday, June 25, 2006

Meet up with Jordanian bloggers

As a result of my last post and observation on Jordanian reactions to Zarqawi’s death, I had a pleasant and rewarding meet up with a few Jordanian bloggers last Wednesday.

The rendezvous was at an unpretentious café at Jabal Al-Luwaibda called the Paris Library, which seems to be often frequented by workers of the French embassy in Amman.

4 bloggers, out of 7, turned up, and sooner rather than later they were all deep in intense discussion like old friends.

The bloggers I met:

Lina, a radiant, energetic young woman, was actually the first to respond to my request to meet and had arranged the whole meeting. She has what I believe to be the characteristics of an activist and community leader.

Mariam, a friendly young lady of Palestinian background, back home at Amman, on a break from studying anthropology at London. From her remarks and her blog posts, she is a profound student of the human character.

Laith Zraikat, a 28-year old IT manager and co-founder of the Arabic web site, also a non-practicing dentist. Their motto is to: empower people to enhance their lifestyle by providing community-based innovative web services. I was actually surprised to learn that they hosted several thousand Arabic language weblogs, in addition to a myriad of other services.

Roba, a young, reflective arts student, with an affable American accent, also of Palestinian background.

We briefly discussed the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the state of the Iraqi blogosphere after the initial small talk. They seemed a tad surprised that there were no attempts back in Baghdad to arrange an Iraqi bloggers get-together at any point, a fact that I have lamented in some earlier posts. Salam Pax did once suggest a small meeting back in 2003, which never took place, and I tried the same last year during my blog hiatus when I collaborated with about 30 other Iraqi bloggers to create an Iraqi group blog, a listserv, and a portal (the site is dormant now). We learned at the time that about a dozen of us lived in the very same neigbourhood, but other than small meetings with 2 or 3 bloggers, there was no group meet up.

Jordanian bloggers, on the other hand, regularly meet and collaborate on several projects. They have a successful blog portal at Jordan Planet, which is also a good introduction to the growing Jordanian blogosphere. Bloggers in Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain have also arranged several social gatherings, in addition to maintaining a strong blog conversation and interaction, despite political or ideological differences.

The Iraqi blogosphere, even though it was the first in the region, and probably still the largest, remains fractured and divided, with a few notable exceptions. All out attempts to establish a community or dialogue have miserably failed. Iraqi bloggers very rarely challenge or link to each other (I’m probably even guilty of this myself), and if they do they choose to link to bloggers who share their viewpoint. I don’t really think that is what blogging is about.

Back in 2003, when there were only 2 or 3 Iraqi blogs, and a lack of alternative news sources from the country, I started blogging in the hope of providing ordinary citizens with a voice and an outlet to the world. I was specially encouraged by Hoder’s experience with Iranian bloggers, but I was not just trying to copy his approach. I envisioned a legion of Iraqi citizen reporters all over the country, from Dohuk to Basrah, blogging about their daily lives at a time when the mainstream media concentrated on American casualties, suicide bombings or the irrelevant antics of imported Iraqi politicians.

Iraqi blogs have passed 200 in number today, but less than a dozen are well known. This is largely because most bloggers live in a void. They are like isolated islands.

I don’t want to turn this post into a critique of Iraqi blogs, so I guess I’ll leave it for another time.

The conversation with the Jordanian bloggers shifted to a diverse assortment of topics, from pan-Arabism to tribalism, defining a Jordanian national identity, the genealogy of Christians in the Arab world, local politics, student unions, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, democracy and whether Arabs were ready for it, school curricula, the World Cup, and the horrors of visiting the dentist. All in all, a very interesting exchange.

They also invited me to their next meet up, which will involve a much larger group of bloggers. I’m looking forward to it.

Other than that, I’m still waiting for my visa interview on July 3. My 2 weeks residency will be over tomorrow, so I should apply at the Interior Ministry to extend it for another month.

I think I’m having withdrawal symptoms being away from home and family. The violence in Baghdad is at the same level, or worse, notwithstanding the new security operation in the capital. My family is reporting street battles almost every day in their area, and I can’t help but feel concerned for their safety all the time, which affects everything I try to do over here. Somehow, there seems to be no end at sight to this mess.

I’m also going to try to post a photo blog of interesting places in Amman during my stay soon.