Let a Thousand Blogsoms Bloom

Dave Winer points today to a stimulating USA Today article sure to gladden Jeff Jarvis‘ heart, about Internet adoption and blogs in Iraq:

Iraqis enjoy new freedom of expression on Web journals
By César G. Soriano, USA TODAY
BAGHDAD — A year ago, few Iraqis had ever had access to a computer, much less used it to communicate to the outside world.

Now, Internet cafes seemingly dot every block in Baghdad, and new ones open often. That has led to a new phenomenon here: bloggers.

“We suffered for years under Saddam Hussein, not being able to speak out,” says Omar Fadhil, 24, a dentist. “Now, you can make your voice heard around the world.”

Hence, the blog. Short for “web log,” a blog is a diary or journal posted on the Internet for all the world to read. E-mails can be sent to the blog, so it’s also interactive.

The article naturally describes the famous Salam Pax blog, now available in book form, (who’da thought?) and a photo album. It also cites two educated brothers, a dentist and a pediatrician, Omar and Ali Fadhil. They are pro-American and hugely grateful for the American intervention.

“We get threatening e-mails from Palestinians and Arab-Americans who write, ‘You are traitors. If I were in Iraq, I would shoot you,’ ” Ali says. Other e-mails accuse the brothers of being CIA agents who are writing from Washington, “as if the CIA didn’t have anything better to do than run a blog,” he says.

“My ideas are very shocking to people,” Ali says. “I tell people I am a friend of America, a friend of Israel. Some of my colleagues at the hospital think I am an infidel. It’s impossible to change a man’s mind, but you can only make him consider other alternatives.”

Digital Divide

The two brothers jointly maintain their blog. In America, they’d earn about $30,000, monthly between them but USA Today reports that the average Iraqi doctor earns $150 per month. The typical price for connectivity at Baghdad’s proliferating Internet cafés is $1 per hour. That means some people are spending the equivalent of $1,000 per hour to update their blog. Doesn’t the blogosphere have an award for that level of dedication?

Like many bloggers, the Fadhil brothers’ site solicits donations to help make ends meet. They’ve received more than $1,000, most of it from Americans. The money is wired to Kuwait, where friends pick it up. The Fadhils’ site gets about 3,300 visitors and a few dozen e-mails a day.

Maintaining the blog “is really a 24-hour job,” Omar says. “When I’m not blogging, I’m thinking about what to blog. I’m watching the news, discussing topics. It’s become part of our life.”

There are about 30 Iraqi bloggers in Baghdad, plus a few other blogs written by Iraqis abroad. Not all share the Fadhil brothers’ optimism. “You have your Fox TV. I am offering a counter response,” says Faisa Jarrar, whose blog is critical of the U.S. occupation. Her mixed Sunni-Shiite family began in December with a joint blog, afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com. Now, each of Jarrar’s three sons has his own blog. Raed, 26, Jarrar’s eldest, is studying in Jordan. Khalid, 21, and Majid, 17, are in Baghdad.

This is crazy. Broadband costs the US military nothing. They should be spreading GPRS or WiFi or WiMax everywhere, and handing out routers with the food rations. Hell, Linksys and Cisco could get a huge write-off by donating equipment for the Marines to distribute. Isn’t this called Yankee ingenuity? If the Iraqi wireless scene were data-friendly and cell modems cheap and plentiful, then the Iraqis might have a better use for the phones than for detonating IEDs.

Why kill people to pacify them when you can get them to sit down and engage each other constructively? Even if the Mayor of Salt Lake City is right, it’s worth it: he doesn’t support universal broadband because it causes people to get fat while they download music. At least they’re not shooting at us.

As Doc says, the three most important attributes of the Internet are infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.

Sister Cities

At the International session at Bloggercon II on Saturday, I wondered why bloggers can’t take the initiative by acting globally and locally? Why not revive the sister city program, but conduct it at Internet speed, mediated by bloggers rather than chambers of commerce?

This would be a pure grassroots effort, with groups of bloggers in US cities and villages “adopting” similar-sized cities in Iraq and then donating equipment and connectivity so that Iraqis can get on the Internet and blog sell stuff on eBay and do some phone banking and all the rest. Since Iraqi is essentially a U.S. colony, why not issue them U.S. charge cards? The US should insure card issuers against losses–as good a use of some of those 87 billion dollars as cluster bombs.

Naturally, we’d have to get somebody to translate some blog software into Arabic, as Jeff Jarvis is Jonesing for. Joi? Loïc? Ethan? Ferris? Anyone? (Shameless plug for Open Republic: This is precisely the kind of well-defined, small project that the Open Republic project would whip out its checkbook for. There’s nothing like a paying client to grab a freelancer’s attention!)

Bloggers donated a lot of the $40,000,000 collected by Howard Dean’s campaign. We might be equally motivated to address problems directly rather than supporting someone else in the hope that they will find a solution.

Just a thought.

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
                                                — Dwight Eisenhower

10:20:19 PM    comment [commentCounter (282)]

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