I think Burning Baghdad brings up some interesting issues of narrator reliability. All throughout my education I’ve been told (about internet sources) that if it doesn’t have an author, it’s not reliable. But everyone seems to buy, pretty unquestioningly, that this is definitely a twenty-something Iraqi woman.
And I’m not saying I don’t buy it. (OK, but I guess I am saying that I’m a little skeptical.) I did a little research and found that Riverbend lives in Syria now. Why isn’t she blogging about that? (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, this website has a bunch of up-to-date stuff.) Why remain anonymous, after all this time? Why the willingness to accept Riverbend’s identity? It could just be a bald, sweaty man sitting at a laptop somewhere and laughing to himself about how everything thinks he’s a woman from Iraq. I don’t know.
I think that society is kind of desperate for a humanizing perspective from the Middle East, particularly from Iraq. On August 22, 2003, Riverbend writes, “We’re all victims of the decisions made by the Bush administration” (16), in reference to the suffering that both the Iraqis and the American soldiers endure during the occupation. But I think it has farther-reaching applications. When we first started talking about this book in class, several people attested to the fact that they had been picturing Iraq as a sprawling desert where people all lived in tents. That’s a little dehumanizing, right? Even if we don’t mean it that way. But the Bush administration did little to counter that perspective; in fact, it went to some effort to perpetuate that misconception. And in our willingness to accept this dehumanizing stereotype of the middle east — in allowing ourselves to be indoctrinated so — we’d also “fallen victim” to the rhetoric, if not also the decisions, of the Bush administration. (If you’re interested, here’s an article about the Bush administration’s advertising and PR [read: propaganda] spending.) And now we’re so eager for something that allows us to identify with the Iraqi population that we’ll take whatever we can get, with or without complete confirmation that it’s actually from an Iraqi civilian.
Personally, I was super reluctant to start reading this book. My brother fought in Iraq, in Baghdad, for fifteen months, and I was a little worried that this was going to be roughly 300 pages about how much Riverbend hates American soldiers, which would have just pissed me off. So I was pretty unreceptive at first. I’ll level with you for a minute, and it’ll probably be a bit unbecoming: I don’t think I cared to know, at first, what an Iraqi civilian thought of the American occupation. Twice my brother was almost killed by a car bomb. Once, one of the Iraqi soldiers (or police officers or whatever) my brother’s troop was training, opened fire on the American soldiers, whose side he was supposed to be on, killing six men, and too narrowly missing my brother.
I mean. Are you kidding me?
It’s really easy to forget that the people pulling stunts like that do not account for the entire Iraqi population. That probably sounds dumb but it’s true. I’m not, generally, a narrow-minded person. I’m not the type to make sweeping generalizations about any demographic based on the actions of a few people. But I did come really close to that sort of thinking regarding the Iraqi population. And I’m not saying that that’s been remedied completely by reading part of Baghdad Burning, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.