Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The In T View: Baghdad Treasure, Iraqi Journalist And Blogger

Iraqi journalist and blogger Baghdad Treasure answers Mister Ghost's questions thoughtfully and openly, a man willing to speak his mind, regardless of the costs. And is that not what a citizen of the New "Democratic" Iraq should be? Silent no more, proud to let the world know where they stand, without fear or reprisal. A free press in Iraq, a free society, and citizens like Baghdad Treasure unhesitatingly confronting life's issues...

MG: Baghdad Treasure, Welcome to the In T View. Can you tell us about yourself?

Baghdad Treasure: I am an average Iraqi citizen lives in Baghdad and went through hard times of three wars and 12-year sanctions. I am a reporter with one of the most famous and influential newspapers in the world. I chose this job to help my country in revealing the truth and making myself a productive and influential part in the Iraqi society.

MG: How did you become interested in blogging and what was the genesis of your Blog: Baghdad Treasure ?

Baghdad Treasure: The first time I heard of blogging was through an article published in the Washington Post. The article talked about how blogging in Iraq is incredibly increasing after the U.S.-led war in 2003. Among those interviewed was An Average Iraqi who becomes one of my favorite blog friends.

MG: Then, you suddenly stopped blogging. Could you tell us why?

Baghdad Treasure: For a long time, I was really impressed by the way the bloggers tried to make a change in the world. But I discovered that this is not completely true. Maybe 10 percent of the blogs in allover the world can make a difference while the others are trying to do something but in vain. I know mine is included in this 10%. Until now, there are people who want to listen to what they believe and that's it. They don't want to hear opinions of others. If what is written matches their beliefs, they praise the author and if not, they curse him or her and sometimes insult them. That's what happened to me. So, I decided that these people do not deserve the effort I am doing and said it is better to find another way to be helpful. But then I thought of the other readers, whose goal is to get the truth, no matter how bitter it is. And for them, and for the truth to be revealed, I decided to continue.

MG: And now you've resumed blogging, what made you change your mind?

Baghdad Treasure: What changed my mind was what happened to one of my best friends in this world, Jill Carroll. She was my muse. She was the very first person who told me what journalism and being a reporter mean. So, I thought writing about her is my task to make people understand how a great journalist this kidnapped friend is.

MG: Your Friend and colleague American journalist, Jill Carroll, was kidnapped on January 7th in Baghdad. She was abducted within "300 yards of the office" of prominent Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, mysteriously absent from an appointment that had been set up with Jill. Can you comment on the speculation that al-Dulaimi or someone in his office allegedly set up Ms. Carroll?

Baghdad Treasure: I don't think Dulaimi is involved personally. Also, I don't believe Jill would go to that neighborhood without a pre-set up appointment. That appointment was behind the killing of Allan, the interpreter, and her kidnapping. Whoever kidnapped her might sold her to a gang who sells hostages to Qaeda or someone else.

MG: Why was she kidnapped? There was obviously a message in it and that message was?

Baghdad Treasure: These criminals, mostly foreigners, want to turn Iraq into Afghanistan under Talaban. A colleague of mine always says this is the ? New Talabanization of Iraq?. They want to make all women wear scarves and men grow beards and carry weapons in a country that used to be secular and cosmopolitan. They want to kill the civilization in this ancient country. And I think they are succeeding gradually. That?s why most of the educated people are suffering. They are being killed one after the other. Immigration is increasing because no one is able to stop these criminals. The Iraqi government and its weak security forces cannot protect themselves and the American forces are doing their best to get rid of them but still. These criminals are increasing and becoming stronger day after day. Now, journalists are writing about all the above. The first message any journalist would get from the kidnapping of Jill is "be careful and leave, or you will be next."

MG: Is she like a big sister to you? Can you share a memory of her with us?

Baghdad Treasure: Jill is more than a sister to me. She is a sister, a teacher, a friend, and a muse. I am always inspired by her courage and nobility and love of life. I cannot forget the first day I worked with her when she was working for the Jordan Times in 2003. That day was my birthday, the last day in college, and the day when Uday and Qusay [Saddam?s sons] were killed. It was the very first day I work with a westerner. One of the nice times we spent together was when we had a farewell party to J, my friend and colleague. At dinner, Jill was present and she was sitting next to me. We talked, joked and laughed for a long time. She was speaking Egyptian Arabic as I requested so she could practice her Arabic as much as she can. Whenever I finished my glass of wine, she refilled it over and over. ?Yallah, Yallah. "You are happy? " she said, while we were having a great time along with J and O, my friends.

MG: Is there something you would like to say to her right now?

Baghdad Treasure: I would like to say,"Jill, I miss you and I am praying for you day and night. I'm proud of you and your bravery. I wish I can do something to free you."

MG: Another colleague of yours, Iraqi Journalist Allan Enwiyah, 32 serving as an interpreter for Jill was also abducted with her and found dead, "shot twice in the head..." Can you tell us about Allan? I understand he was a good man?

Baghdad Treasure: Allan was a very good man. The first thing I heard about him was when I was in college before the U.S.-led invasion. He had a very famous CD music store in a high scale neighborhood in Baghdad. I used to hear about him since then. One day, I was surprised when he worked as an interpreter for Jill. So, that's how I met him the first time, through Jill. He was a nice person. He used to joke with Jill accusing her of caring about O and me more than him.

MG: What will you miss most about him?

Baghdad Treasure: I will miss his company in smoking Hookah [Tobacco]!

MG: His sad passing saw his two children left without a father. Is there a support system in Iraqi society that will help his wife look after the children?

Baghdad Treasure: As we say in Iraq, There is the mercy of God and that's it.

MG: Because of what happened to Jill and Alan, do you feel intimidated or scared off investigating a story?

Baghdad Treasure: I don't feel scared at all. If so, I would have not accepted to be interviewed here.

MG: Since reporting in Iraq is one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet, why don't you or other reporters carry a Concealed Weapon?

Baghdad Treasure: I do carry weapons. I have a pen and a notebook!

MG: What is the most intriguing rumor, you recently heard in Iraqi journalistic circles, that you can safely share with us?

Baghdad Treasure: Mohammed Bahr Al-Uloom, a prominent Shiite clergy and a former Governing Council member, is gay. We can discuss this freely and safely!

MG: Our next door neighbor's daughter is a lesbian, and we all know this to be so, because she's very open about it. If there was a homosexual woman in Iraq who was equally open about her sexual preference, what would happen to her?

Baghdad Treasure: There is no lesbian in my neighborhood, as far as I know.

MG: You're worried about your neighborhood. Those likely sympathetic to the insurgents or insurgents themselves are moving in to your section of Baghdad from the Anbar province. If your neighborhood becomes a hotbed of insurgency are you worried about being caught in a crossfire figuratively and literally?

Baghdad Treasure: There isn't any safe place in Baghdad anymore. The best thing to do is to tell people that you work privately. Wherever we go now, there are clashes or car bombs. I might be caught anywhere. It doesn't matter.

MG: Are we seeing the "beiruitification" of Baghdad with neighborhoods being divided by sectarian and ethnic issues and Shia, Sunni, and Kurds leaving their old neighborhoods to be with their own people? Has a post war segregation taken place?

Baghdad Treasure: Yes, but not in allover the country. In Baghdad , I can say no. We are still beyond what is called a civil or sectarian war. If so, I would have been killed since a long time ago, being a Shiite living in a very Sunni neighborhood.

MG: Baghdad, what keeps you in Iraq? Since, it's only real estate, why not move to a safer place?

Baghdad Treasure: Iraq is not real estate. Iraq is history and it is the reason why the world exists on papers now.
I get this question from people very often, but I
understand why they ask.
It is not like those countries, where people migrate to from other places and don't feel attached to history and background. Iraq has roots to go back several thousands of years into time, and its people are the same since. Therefore, they are attached to it. And no matter how many Iraqis are abroad, their next generations are returning in the future.

MG: You've said of an Iraqi friend and you, that we spent the " best time in our lives in wars and sanctions that stole the smile from our faces." I ask you Baghdad, what then would put the smile back on your faces?

Baghdad Treasure: Safety and security.

MG: Your fellow Iraqi blogger Akbar, commenting at the ITM's comment section said the United Iraqi Alliance received the majority of votes because:

One of the side effects of living under saddam (and i know this from personal experience) is that when an Iraqi is in Public voicing an opinion he/she will always voice the opinnion that is generally wanted of him .. what i mean, when those people went to the election booths and saw the police and milisias running the show,, a natural reaction is to immidiately go with the crowd and vote for whoever is demanded of you to vote for.. Its an inate fear that you are watched even though you are not...

Do you think this is an accurate assessment by him?

Baghdad Treasure: People tend to have different opinions and we should respect these differences.

MG: Will Iraq have a civil war, as the country seems to be in a cold civil war at the moment?

Baghdad Treasure: Yes, there might be a civil war and I think it would be over within 15 years when everyone feels bored and fed up.

MG: Baghdad, you are a Shia, and on the Day of Ashurah or Ishirih, some of your fellow Shi'ites in Iraq engage in a flagellation ritual called "zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam" using a zanjeer, to slice open to bleed, the skin of themselves and their children. Baghdad, here in the 21st Century, is this ritual in the time of AIDS and other diseases, really necessary? Is the practice too barbaric for our modern society?

Baghdad Treasure: Just a lesson in history for those who don't know, before I answer the question. These "barbaric" rituals originally came from Spain .

Christians hit themselves with chains and stab themselves with daggers and nails mourning Jesus.

Then the Iranians imported these "barbaric" actions to their land, and that's why you used Iranian names and phrases in your question because we don't have certain names for them. The Iranians on their part, exported these rituals to Iraq when they annually visited the shrines of Hussein, Ali, and Abbas in the holy cities of karbala and Najaf. So to answer this question, I would say if one believes these rituals are "Too Barbaric", he or she shouldn't practice them. Instead, they should find a cure for AIDS.

MG: Do you think that there is a state of religious apartheid in Southern Iraq where all but Shia religious observances are discouraged and endangered?

Baghdad Treasure: No, there is not.

MG: Baghdad, one of the most under-reported stories from Iraq seems to be Christian flight from the country with estimates of 30 - 50 percent of the Christians leaving. Will there come a day when all the Christians are gone from Iraq like the Jews?

Baghdad Treasure: First of all, not all the Jewish left Iraq. There are estimated 30 Jewish families in Iraq now. You should know that for a Christian to immigrate is much easier than for a Muslim. Therefore, the number of Christians fleeing Iraq is higher than Muslims. One day, when Iraq is safer for Iraqis to live in, Iraqis should return.

MG: Inshallah... It's in God's hands. Baghdad, do you think one of problems with the all-pervasive role of Islam in Middle Eastern society is that people abrogate personal responsibility since everything, the outcome of all things, is in God's hands? Or, if not abrogating personal responsibility, what about a lack of self-criticism?

MG: Baghdad, the Middle East: Dictators, death, despair, explosions, endless wars, poverty, subjugation and hostility towards women, honor killings, genital mutilation, suicide bombings, the fury of the Arab street, pollution, human trafficking, ignorance, ignorance, ignorance... Should a two hundred-foot fence be built around the entire Middle East and anyone attempting to escape be shot? Should we not try to contain the madness within before it affects us all?

Baghdad Treasure: Woooow, calm down man. Are you asking or angrily answering? Have you been to the Middle East before? I don't think you've been. Otherwise, you wouldn't be such misinformed. As for the 200-foot fence, I think you should spend this money on your poor people. Don't you think you should mind your own poverty and child molestation first? (as Oprah Winfrey always advised)

MG: In your recent journey to America, what impressed you the most about the U.S.?

Baghdad Treasure: The busy life the Americans live that sometimes deprives them from emotions.

MG: When you were in Boston, did you have a chance to sample the New England delicacy known as fried clams and wash it all down with another New England favorite, Moxie? Because you really haven't experienced life until you've survived drinking Moxie at least once.

Baghdad Treasure: No, I did not. But I'm still alive!

MG: During your visit to the States, one
of the differences you noticed between American
and Iraqi women is that American women aren't as
makeup intensive as Iraqi women. Do you prefer
women to wear makeup?

Baghdad Treasure: Yes, definitely. Make up makes women more beautiful. But FYI, Iraq doesn't spend billions of dollars a year on plastic surgeries!

MG: Poverty: My father hates bananas, can't even stand the smell of them, because when his mother was pregnant with him a long while ago, his family was so poor, the only food they could afford that was cheap and plentiful was bananas, so she ate them by the carload during her pregnancy. Have your family or you experienced such poverty too, or do you know of any poor acquaintances that you try to help out?

Baghdad Treasure: My family never experienced poverty but our next-door neighbor did. We helped them a lot in the time salaries were terrible under Saddam. For months, my mother cooked for them and I carried the food to their house every single day. The thing in Iraq is that no matter how poor you are, you still afford to live. Iraq is rich, and never turned down its people. How do you think Iraqis survived 12- year sanctions?

MG: Baghdad, your Mother is a schoolteacher and obviously a big influence on your life. What makes her special to you?

Baghdad Treasure: My mother taught me what life means. She taught me what being an Iraqi woman living in a hard time means. She is one of the millions of the great Iraqi mothers-women.

MG: You mention Anthony Shadid's book, Night Draws Near a lot in your blog. Tell me about it? What justifies your high praise for this work?

Baghdad Treasure: Shadid is a brilliant reporter. I was interested in reading his book because it was a clear mirror that reflects how Iraq looks like. Anyone reads the book will feel he or she was in Iraq before, during and after the US invasion. Shadid was very sincere in conveying every single thought he wrote in the book. He was very accurate and brilliant in writing about feelings. It is not easy to do that, especially in a country with peopleof mixed feelings. The book does not deal with the US invasion as much as it does with how people feel about this invasion, supporting or rejecting it. Honestly, it is a journey into the pain and joy of the Iraqi people.

MG: Thanks very much, Baghdad Treasure, for a nice interview and the final question is: Have you ever reported on a Ghost Story?

Baghdad Treasure: Thank you. I don't believe in Ghosts!

Photos sources:

Baghdad Treasure, Tigris, The Soul of Baghdad

Baghdad Treasure, Chosing the Name

Wikipedia, Hulagu Baghdad - Battle of Baghdad ("A long article about Hulagu's conquest of Baghdad, written by Ian Frazier, appeared in the April 25, 2005 issue of The New Yorker. It explains Osama bin Laden's reference to Hulagu." See Link.)

The Schøyen Collection,
Lexical list of God's names in order of senority and importance.
Manuscript in Sumerian on clay, Sumer, 2400-2200 BC, 1 tablet, 4,7x4,4x1,7 cm, single column, 5+5 lines in cuneiform script. Binding: Barking, Essex, 1998, blue cloth gilt folding case by Aquarius. Commentary: This is clearly the beginning of the list, since Enlil, god of the town of Nippur, was the practical head of the pantheon at this time. The Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian religions had thousands of gods, hence extensive lists to keep track of them. No other copy of this particular list is so far known.

Wikipedia, Map - Persian Domination; 550 BCE to 652 CE-Achaemenid Empire

Edmund Dulac Gallery, Arabian Nights 1
The (fictional) storyteller of The Book of One Thousand and One Night

Baghdad Treasure,Baghdad Taxi - "Not my Way"

In T View by Mister Ghost.
(Layout & additional research: Diane - AFD)


At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no place like home

At 11:42 AM, Blogger D.C. said...

You be, mynewsbot!

Dear BT and MG,

Thanks so much for this great interview!
I will come back with questions as soon as I am done work here.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger D.C. said...

Hamas won the election in the Territories, will Iraq recognized the new government?

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Pablo said...

Good stuff!

Mister Ghost, did you email me?

Pablo aka Powderfinger


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