The following post is by Phil Gomes on one of Australia’s most popular blog sites Larvatus Prodeo:
In The Blogging Revolution Antony Loewenstein takes us on a personal journey through some of the more difficult places in the world to blog. Iran, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China.
It’s a timely book on the importance and necessity of blogging and the open web given recent un-informed opinions by writers like Christian Kerr.
The book is also important in that it more thoroughly expands on ideas expressed in David Burchell’s clumsy opinion piece in the Australian in July of this year where he attempted to contrast the “pseudo-expertise and vituperation” of Western bloggers with their counterparts in the less democratic corners of the world; using Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez as an example.
The most impressive thing about Sanchez is her complete disregard for the bad habits of Western bloggers. She refuses to engage in histrionics, vainglory, pseudo-knowledge or personal posturing. Instead she trades in the gentler arts of allegory and satire.
Sanchez is also mentioned in The Blogging Revolution and Burchell is right. She does not engage in the histrionics of so many Western bloggers (mea culpa) but then again our personal circumstances are different to those that live in repressive states.
Are critics like Burchell and Kerr right? Are non-Western bloggers really better than their western counterparts? Are they less vituperative and undergraduate in their opinion? Does living in an information poor society mean that their views can be nothing more than that of a pseudo-expert? What do non-Western bloggers sound like? The Blogging Revolution gives us a peek behind the government filters.
Throughout the book Loewenstein introduces us to writers like Caesar, an Iraqi blogger he met in Damascus.
Reading his story, we find that Caesar’s father was an officer in Saddam’s army who fought the Americans in the 1991 Gulf War, but as Caesar states, “my father wasn’t fighting for Saddam, he was fighting for his country” – that kind of distinction comes up repeatedly in different contexts throughout the book.
We also hear that Caesar was a bought man when it came to supporting the American invasion and had even worked for them as a translator for a time before fearing for his life as a collaborator. This soon saw him and his family leave for the relatively safer confines of Syria.
From Caesars and many Iraqi’s perspective, who wouldn’t want to see Saddam overthrown? All media was under state control there was no real ability to openly express your frustrations and views on your society or even to write about that girl you liked.
Similar to many Western bloggers, Caesar writes about issues of both a personal and political nature, his blog covers sexual politics as much as political events, in fact his blog is titled “In Iraq, sex is like snow”.
Is this vituperation and an undergraduate tone, Iraqi style?
As a result Caesar has an online reputation as some kind of “sex maniac”, an odd description given that he is a self described virgin. Then again context is everything and in his world he just may be someones sex maniac.
Caesar also uses his writing to describe what his country looks like, or should look like. In his case it shows what a liberal Iraqi looks like and if blogging is anything at all it’s liberal; in the freewheeling unmediated sense of the word. And while he may be far less freewheeling than many of his Western blogging counterparts his writing is probably no less confronting to the Burchell’s and Kerr’s of his world.
As Loewenstein states:
Blogging was almost invented for people like Caesar. It is unpretentious, revealing and transparent about daily life – and thankfully doesn’t require a tentative editor the explicitness or rawness of the material. Hearing about his displacement in Syria and longing for his homeland made me feel ashamed of our culpability in the Iraq disaster. Those in power in the west have taken no responsibility the effects of their actions, as if the tragedy was a natural disaster over which they have no control. Without his blog Caesar’s eloquence in the face of such horrors would never have been seen or heard.
Not being seen nor heard is another one of the recurring themes in The Blogging Revolution, outside of a few star non-western bloggers adopted by the mainstream media we have not heard from many others in the growing mass of bloggers in places like Syria and Iran, why? Is it because these voices don’t subscribe entirely to our mainstream media’s political view of the way the world ought to work?
I’m not alone in thinking our mainstream media would better serve us by airing the views of an Iranian female writer who identified as a Muslim secular atheist than that of Lindsay Lohan, but then again why not cut out the increasingly untrustworthy middleman and head right to the source, it is a media revolution after all.
Make no mistake, many of the non-Western bloggers and writers portrayed in the book want much of what we have but on their terms. A thought repeatedly expressed in the book is that they want these things at a different pace, one determined by them, not one forced on them from the outside without their overwhelming approval and they want these things to fit naturally into their specific cultural and political contexts.
At the moment we have the luxury of not having to negotiate our writing through levels of cultural and/or state based censorship, though we do have to deal with attempts at muting our voices through all too regular opinion pieces like Burchell’s and Kerr’s – opinions that seek to denigrate and deny us a growing legitimacy that they would like to preserve for themselves.
There was a quote early in the book which came from a prominent Iranian Shia cleric who recognised the power of the open web and blogging by saying, ‘blogging due to it’s very nature, has the capacity to nurture the spirit of vulgarity….[and is] a destructive plague’.
In this at least, Western mainstream media blog critics like Burchell and Kerr are not too dissimilar to an Iranian cleric or Cuban despot in recognising the inherent power of blogging and the voices it contains. Their motives? To maintain an economic market share not a religious or political one, though sometimes political motives are not to be discounted.
The Blogging Revolution is about introducing us to a different and difficult blogging world but Antony Loewenstein has also succeeding in produced a highly readable addition in the ongoing blogging and open media wars.