The Connotations of a Riverbend

Riverbend, in her blog has hit upon some interesting points. One question we have to ask ourselves as readers is how honest is Riverbend, since she cannot even give us her name? This answer, at least, is an easy one. It is for her safety. Yet, as readers then, we have to ask ourselves if Riverbend is honestly portraying herself as a person who is just surviving, and subsequently ranting on Blogspot? Is Riverbend being a political writer, and in the end, being a politician?

When one thinks of politicians, immediately connotations start to warp what a politician really is. Politicians are a dirty lot, or so we are led to think. Even Riverbend buys into this view…or is she saying this because we buy into this view so easily?

Politicians themselves buy into this connotation that politicians pretty much have an endless get-out-of-jail-free pass. This very connotative structure is what engenders this crazy power to be accepted at all. Unfortunately, the denotative term of politician is not as denotative as I thought, “: a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially: one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government.” (Merriam-webster) or “a. A schemer or plotter; a shrewd, sagacious, or crafty person. In later use also (esp. U.S. derogatory, influenced by sense A. 2b): a self-interested manipulator, whose behaviour is likened to that of a professional politician.” (Oxford). What is funny is that each definition is the first entry in each of the respective dictionaries, indicating that is what the most accepted denotation of the word is used. This right here, shows how powerful politics is in the minds of people.

With the opening of her blog, “In the Beginning” she says, “So this is the beginning for me, I guess. I never thought I’d start my own weblog… All I could think, every time I wanted to start one was “but who will read it?” I guess I’ve got nothing to lose… but I’m warning you- expect a lot of complaining and ranting. I looked for a ‘rantlog’ but this is the best Google came up with. A little bit about myself: I’m female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That’s all you need to know. It’s all that matters these days anyway. Riverbend” (Riverbend).

This right here, gives us, the reader, the notion that she is a survivor, a victim, is this the move of a mastermind writing dangerously, or the writing of someone who just wants to express herself in a language that is not easily understood by her family? Is Riverbend a politician? Probably not according to the definitions stated above, but we can make her a politician in our minds if we read into her blog a certain way. Why does she write in English instead of her native language? Why does she seem to always be neutral with tendencies of being the strong victim? Why does she have Susan Sarandon on her cover?

What I am trying to say is that regardless of Riverbend’s intentions, we the readers, are the ones who ultimately decide just how political her blog is. This is how Riverbend becomes subject to connotation. Here is a link to a nice video that gives some images to Baghdad Burning, it is in parts, but it is worth looking at.

(YouTube Video will have to be copy-and pasted or perhaps just clicked, spent an hour trying to get it to work but WordPress is being exceptionally stupid about it) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC648JfkVZk

Works Cited

Baghdad Burning. Dir. Manuel Steinboeck. Perf. Screenkids. 2010. Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC648JfkVZk.

Merriam-Webster. “Politician.” 2012. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Web-Page. 4 March 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Politician.

Oxford English Dictionary. “Politician.” Vers. Second Edition, New English Dictionary of 1989, print. September 2012. Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 4 March 2012. http://www.oed.com.dbsearch.fredonia.edu:2048/view/Entry/178402?redirectedFrom=Politician%20Value#eid22952955.

Riverbend. Baghdad Burning. 17 August 2003. Blog. 4 March 2012. http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2003_08_01_archive.html.

Sarandon, Susan. Evil Susan Serandon. WordPress. Susan Sarandon. Google images, 2010. Web. 4 March 2012. http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en&biw=1024&bih=632&tbm=isch&tbnid=skY9thffvO0lwM:&imgrefurl=http://edwardwarrenok.wordpress.com/2010/&docid=ZGkj2AQ9MjhwtM&imgurl=http://www.daleisphere.com/wp-content/uploads/susan-sarandon-as-queen-narissa-in-enchanted-2.

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Girl Blog From Iraq- Riverbend

One of the most interesting qualities of this author is the fact that she tries not to take the side of her country, but instead take the side of humanity.  She is able to point out the flaws in the American government and her own.

“September 11 was a tragedy.  Not because 3,000 Americans died…but because 3,000 humans died.” (Riverbend 46)

She is able to point out the fact that it should not be nation vs. nation.  Individuals should all look at matters in this way.  Rather than looking at another ethnicity as different we must care about all humanity.

“American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas.  The rest of the world should simply ‘put the past behind,’ ‘move forward,’ ‘be pragmatic,’ and ‘get over it.'” (Riverbend 48)

In our minds as ignorant Americans, we envisioned that the “Iraqi people were dancing in the streets of Baghdad” (48) as the planes crashed into and led the Twin Towers to fall.  That is exactly what I would have predicted them to be doing.  Cheering for the success of the terrorist attacks on the United States.  This blog humanizes the Iraqi people for me.  I did know that it was not their fault for the attacks on the Twin Towers, although in the back of my mind I want to partially blame them.

“[I]t’s strange how horror obliterates ethnic differences–all faces look the same when they are witnessing the death of loved ones.” (48)

Riverbend

I want to start this discussion off with a comment about the introduction of the book begin inning on page 1. It becomes clear throughout reading this book, that the points of view expressed by the author or uniquely not American, and sometimes, not even political. I admire the author for her independent voice – which can maybe be attributed to the way in which we as Americans single her out as a foreign woman. We as Americans, in publishing this book, take some sort of meaning away from her reason for writing this blog in the first place. However, to get back to page 1; I find it wrong that the publishers chose to paint an American nationalist POV – putting everything this girl has to say – into a warped context; one we associate with war and politics. Her comments are about a way of life for her and her people; and how this idea has been continually lost throughout especially most recent decades.

“The Irony is hearing about the “War on Terrorism” on CNN and then tuning in to the CPA channel to see the Al-Da’awa people sitting there, polished and suited, Puppet Knights of the Round Table” (notice her reference to the Round table; her people have become completely westernized through their idea of politics) “To see Al-Jaffari, you almost forget that they had a reputation for terrorism over the decades.” (123).

This is very interesting to me; the concept of western politics and war has changed a bunch of so called terrorists into politicians – and changed all sorts of dynamics (note Al-Queda wasn’t in Iraq until the U.S entered that country). So then, lets take a look at images from this region – starting with the politicians, so that we may perhaps see the clash in ideology promoted by western interests.

Baghdad Burning Blogs

I have never really used a blog site before until this class, however I have grown accustomed to it by using other things like Facebook and Twitter, which generally serve the same purpose with a few differences here and there.  In the last class, my group discussed how this book was like Twitter in the fact that all of her blog entries are pretty short, most being probably no longer than 500 characters each.  As I continued to read more, I slowly became more and more amazed at how Riverbend could encapsulate so much power and emotion in such a small blog post.

Riverbend also is able to highlight a lot of what happens in Iraq in these small spurts of blog posts.  Writing in this fashion just made me want to know more every time I read the next blog post.  The one post that I really liked was The Prmoise and the Threat where Riverbend explained the “Myth” and the “Truth” about Iraq.  Most people, when it comes to Iraq think that it is just a grotesque, rundown war zone that is a home for terrorists. It’s really not, though.

When we search something on Iraq, we generally associate it with the war going on. This actually taints our knowledge and understanding of what real life actually looks like in Iraq.  I searched Iraq on google images and all that came up were photos of the war and american soldiers fighting all over the place.  I had to specify my search in order to retrieve pictures like the ones posted above of beautiful buildings and houses that Baghdad is actually made up of. I guess we really have created  myth that overshadows the truth.

Another Perspective On Iraq

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.

not all in vain

On September 12, 2003 Riverbend talks about reading a blog called Turning Tables written by an American soldier and how he “somehow puts a human face on the troops in Iraq.”  This is exactly how I feel as I’m reading Riverbend’s blog.  A glimpse at the “other side.”  I think it’s relevant to add here that I’m a veteran of the Iraq War-Operation New Dawn; my unit was among the last to be drawn out just a few months ago.  I agree with some things Riverbend says and other things completely infuriate me.  And what makes me most angry is that I’m not even sure why it’s infuriating to me.  Maybe because after reading her account, what the hell were we doing in this country?  Even though I have to agree with her that the US troops’ invasion in Iraq was not justified, I can’t say we didn’t accomplish something there.  Call me naïve, but despite the fact that so many civilians despised our presence, I’d like to think our “occupation” did some good.

I’m not defending the actions of the soldiers from early in the occupation, such as the horrifying raids and lack of judgment and professionalism.  The soldiers in Iraq were there because they were told to be there, they were tossed into a foreign country into a complete culture shock and given guns, ammo, and lenient instructions.  The soldiers knew there were innocent civilians and they knew that there were terrorists.  What they didn’t know was how to tell the difference between the two.  The most unfortunate part of this early “occupation” was that there was no strict Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the soldiers to follow.  18 and 19 year old soldiers were fed the same media news we were fed back home, except they were put behind destructive, area-target weapon machine guns.  They were shot at and they shot back.

One thing that Riverbend stresses in her blog is that even though she’s against the occupation, she is on the side of humanity.  She takes pity on the US troops pulling security in the sun in full gear, hydrating with warm water.  She recognizes the tragedy of 9/11 for the horrific loss of 3,000 human beings.  A big thing she said that struck me was “American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas” (Riverbend 48).  And how can one argue with that?

From my experience, the Iraqis were excited with our presence.  On a mission that brought one of our squads to a small village, we were welcomed with a sprawled out lunch of goat legs and fresh fruits (which was considered a huge deal).  One of my main jobs was to work with and help train the Iraqi police.  As far as my unit goes, we trained IP recruits to operate the AK-47 weapons and to recognize Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)  I’ve been doing my best to keep up with local news in Iraq and even though there are still a significant number of security risks within the country, Iraqi Police have become more successful in finding IEDs and applying successful security measures in those situations.

Riverbend’s account is completely fascinating to me.  I read about her culture and feel honored that I got experience part of that.  I wish that I had read her blog prior to my deployment, I would have had a better sense of their culture and their thoughts.

On another level, some things Riverbend went through were horrific and my experiences cannot even compare to the terror of hers.  I empathize greatly with her, and that’s one thing this blog has done for me:  “put a human face” on Iraq.  I was there for about 9 months and although we experienced water and electricity shortages every so often, it was nothing compared to the hardships Riverbend and her family had endured for years.  So many American soldiers have been lost in the war in Iraq, but so have so many innocent Iraqi civilians.  Her words best describe my reaction to her blog, “mixed feelings in a messed up world” (Riverbend 15).  I’d like to think that even though our government placed US troops in Iraq for about a decade, that it wasn’t all in vain.  Because whether or not the US government was justified in sending troops into Iraq, all gave some and some gave all. Both innocent civilian Iraqis as well as our own American Soldiers.

The Unwanted and Unnecessary American

One of the ideas that Riverbend tries to combat through several of her posts is the stereotyped image of Iraq and the Iraqi people. She is constantly making references to the way the world “sees” Iraq and comparing it to what the reality is.

The Myth: Iraqis, prior to occupation, lived in little beige tents set up on the sides of little dirt roads all over Baghdad. Men and boys would ride to school on their camels, donkeys, and goats. These schools were larger versions of the home units and for every 100 students, there was one turban-wearing teacher who taught the boys rudimentary math (to count the flock) and reading. Girls and women sat at home, in black burkas, making bread and taking care of 10-12 children.

The Truth: Iraqis live in houses with running water and electricity. Thousands of them own computers. Millions own VCRs and VCDs. Iraq has sophisticated bridges, recreational centers, clubs, restaurants, shops, universities, schools, etc. (Riverbend 34)

The saddest part about this statement is that Riverbend is correct–many Americans really do think this way because they do not know any better. Part of the general ignorance of the population of our country is due to our own willingness to accept what we are shown as truth and fact. We don’t question nearly as much as we should and as is healthy because there are consequences for individuals who question authority–granted the consequences aren’t as dire as they are in other nations around the world, but they can be dire enough. Mainly I think we do not question what we are told because of the apathy and self-centered attitude which has become an epidemic in this country.

The other thing which Riverbend discusses often in her blogs is how Americans think they are helping the Iraqi people through their occupation. Newsflash people–not every country wants to turn into a carbon-copy of America! Many countries, Iraq included,

 just want to be left to their own vices to figure out their own political affairs. Yes–it can be helpful to aid in the removal of a tyrannical governmental figurehead, but after the dirty deed is done, we need to have the social graces to get out instead of setting up camp in whatever country we just “liberated”. There was actually a book written which deals with the views towards Americans who overstay their welcome and try to “help” countries which don’t necessarily want the pity for one reason or another: The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick.

One last interesting point I would like to raise also deals with the issue of the unnecessary American occupation which Riverbend discusses. It is the issue of re-building. I came across an image which is perfect for the situation Riverbend describes in regards to building bridges.

   …Someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses…and came up with a number they tentatively put forward–$300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc. …A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around–brace yourselves–$50,000,000!! (Riverbend 34)

This all goes back to the concept of the Ugly American and our constant desire to “help” where we are not needed. In the example Riverbend uses, not only is the native country–Iraq–capable of rebuilding on its own, it is able to do it at a much more reasonable price by taking advantage of natural resources as well as using Iraqi engineers for the project. Not only would this save the country money, it would also create much-needed jobs which would in turn help stimulate the economy and raise overall morale. But hey, this is just one woman’s opinion.

Works Cited

Riverbend. Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq. New York: Feminist at the City University of New York, 2005. Print.