Regular commenter Frank al-Irlandi quite rightly reminds us that it’s been nearly three months since the ultra-talented Iraqi female blogger Riverbend informed us on her blog that her family had decided they had to leave the country.
Even that post, which reported from inside a family making an extremely tough set of decisions, was characterized by Riverbend’s usual sense of groundedness and grittily wry humor. It ended like this:
- I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I’ve had since the age of four? Is there room for E.’s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?
The problem is that we don’t even know if we’ll ever see this stuff again. We don’t know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?
It’s difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.
Since when (April 26) we’ve heard nothing from her.
It is really tragic that so many of these fine people who have done so much, through their blogs, to bring the realities of war and occupation home to the audience in the anglosphere that is to a large extent responsible for the invasions and occupations inflicted on their people, have ended up having to leave their homelands. I’m thinking of Faiza, Riverbend, Laila el-Haddad… But at least, right now, I have a rough idea of where Faiza and Laila are. Riv has dropped out of the blogosphere (as, earlier, did that great US antiwar blogger “Marine’s Girl”). For both of them, I just hope they are alive and well.
Anyway, Frank wrote a short appreciation of his own of the impact of Riverbend’s work, which I am very happy to publish here:
- Whatever became of Riverbend?
by Frank al-Irlandi, July 11, 2007
It is now three months since we heard the sad news that Riverbend and her family had given up on Baghdad and loaded up the car to head for the frontier. A smart cookie like Riverbend would have filed the post after they had crossed the frontier
She and her family probably have a small amount of money so they are unlikely to be among the destitute and desperate refugees in Syria and Jordan.
I enjoyed Riverbend’s posts. She gave a human face to the misery being inflicted by our misadventure in Iraq. It was possible to empathise with her description of her family preparing for an American Air raid in Bagdad by comparing it with my mother’s story of cowering under the stairs in Belfast as the house fell down around them during a Luftwaffe Air Raid on the city.
Her sympathy expressed in some of her early posts for bewildered young soldiers far from home in the heat and dust of Baghdad illustrates the size of the missed opportunity to build bridges in Iraq.
Her description of the creeping collapse of civil society starting with her loss of a job because jobs weren’t for girls to harassment about dress and hijabs through the collapse of safety in the city and the rise of local militias protecting districts to the same militias controlling districts to the walling off of districts of the city to the progressive ethnic cleansing of the city shows us just what a developed and sophisticated society we have destroyed.
Her description of the problems of gathering water and lack of electricity in the heat of the Baghdad summer and her grief at the death of her friends and acquaintances all serve to show us that we do not have Neville Chamberlain’s excuse of a far away country of which we know little.
Even in all the misery of Baghdad her humanity is illustrated by the fact that she still had time to express outrage and sympathy for the unfortunates killed and wounded at Cana by an Israeli Air Raid.
It was with some surprise that I saw Simone Veil the French Minister of Government and President of the European Parliament addressing the D-Day veterans in Normandy on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings. She told them that she wouldn’t have been there if they hadn’t landed because she had been liberated from Auschwitz seven months later. She overcame that horror and went on to build the European Union.
I do hope that some University has offered Riverbend the opportunity to use her talents by making available a scholarship to study journalism or history or law and so make her one of the first of the exiles to train in the skills needed to rebuild whatever form of state replaces the present chaos. If this were the prototype of a scheme funded by the EU to build a skill base then so much the better.
Otherwise we will see the effects of the dragon’s teeth that have been sown in the countries around Iraq in the very near future.
Wherever she is, I wish her well.
I would just add that whatever “schemes” the EU might dream up, however visionary or well-meaning, seem to me to be highly unlikely to prevent the terrible effects of the dragon’s teeth that have been sown in the countries around Iraq… And indeed, the dragon’s teeth have already, as we know, majorly ripped into Iraq itself for the past 4.5 years. All that carnage– existing and potential, inside and outside Iraq– needs to be stopped.
If the EU’s people and leaders want to do something constructive in that part of the world they need to do everything possible not just to dissociate themselves from the ghastly US military adventure there, which they are, in a pussyfooting kind of way finally starting to do. But they need to be a lot more proactive in confronting the claims the Bushites are making about the continuing “need” for the US presence in Iraq. The Europeans are well placed to help pull the US government to a real forum to direct the real, sustainable de-escalation of all the region’s tensions, under UN auspices.
But will we see them play such a much-needed, humane, and constructive role any time in the near future? I doubt it.
Well, I realize that my little rant here about the EU’s “learned helplessness” in the face of US power is a diversion from the main topic of this post, which is Riverbend. Sorry about that. I guess I’ll have to write more about EU-US relations here later.