SALAM PAX CONTINUED
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
I'm posting more because I'm thrilled to see that Nick Denton actually linked to my Salam Pax post below! His post, which I just linked, was really thoughtful and was respectful of my argument. In fact, he agreed with me that Salam Pax is such a hit in the West because of his Tariq Aziz like, Condé Nast publication reading ways. He just sees this as a more benign phenomenon than I do. He made a good point that non-Westerners who like our culture ultimately show the superiority of Western, liberal values and can help to spread them, which, indeed, is a good, heartening thing.
posted by Eric |
Anyway, getting this link and seeing something I wrote written about like this is definitely the highlight of my young blogging life. In reality, I'm a huge fan of Nick Denton's New York media clique , an obsessive Gawker reader etc. Part of the reason I wrote the post below was, in what I thought of as the tiny chance that any member of the clique actually read it and reacted to it, I wanted to see if they would react in a way that confirmed my worst fears of what they might possibly be like, given the tone of Maass's article, or react in a way that would confirm the fact that they were cool and reasonable people (as I thought they most likely were). The fact that a guy who (I think) has a Soho club membership, would make a thoughtful, complimentary post to something that I posted on my site is a testament to the democratizing power of new media and the egalitarianism and general coolness of the new media clique. Cheers to Nick Denton.
Now, in case Nick Denton looks in his referrer logs and happens to see this or even if he doesn't, I have a response to his post. My fear is that Western liberals, in their admiration for those around the world who understand their culture and speak their language, are often blinded to the very anti-liberal things that have to be done in order to afford a very small minority these luxuries. The example he gives of Tariq Aziz's affinity for Vanity Fair and the France's friendliness with African dictators who have read Voltaire in the original are both straight to the point. The elite in virtually every country is somewhat Westernized because Western culture is, frankly, the elite culture on the planet, but that doesn't mean they're good people or bad people. They're just the elite, and because of that may be resistant to the changes that real democracy would bring. Saudi Arabia is the best example. We've kowtowed to the Saudi royal family for oil, definitely, but also because they were charming squash buddies for the Bush's and for Colin Powell. Meanwhile, the charming, Westernized Saudi royals were sending money to terrorist groups so they could direct their attacks at us instead of them, because they enjoyed their position at the top of a medieval monarchy, the most anti-liberal system imaginable.The result, of course, was 9/11. Part of international relations is, indeed, who makes a good dinner companion, but there's a danger that their charm will overshadow the line they're peddling after they step away from the table.
And, I'm still very curious as to why Ahmed Chalabi, who I'm sure has read Vanity Fair and The New Yorker in his time has such a bad profile with the liberal media. Is it because he has a good relationship with the W administration and is, therefore, automatically suspect? It happened so fast. Tom Friedman wrote this extraordinary column where he admitted that, despite having seemingly unlimited access to everyone and a seemingly unlimiated travel budget, he had never interviewed Chalabi, but had made up his mind already that he shouldn't be given much power or say-so in Iraq. Since then I've seen very little in the way of quotes, interviews, columns or anything concerning Chalabi, and very little of that positive.
I've also been having a thought about the journalistic ethics of Salam Pax's column for The Guardian that I haven't seen expressed anywhere else, yet. Is it acceptable for a major newspaper to have a regular columnist write under a pseudonym? I mean, I know for blogs its fine because they're taken with a bigger grain of salt, but this seems different. I don't know if I've ever seen an anonymous or pseudonymous Op-Ed in a big newspaper and I've certainly never seen a regular contributor to the Op-Ed page of a big newspaper not give a real name. I realize he may have legitimate reasons for not giving his real name but then that means he shouldn't get to do the column. Now he can say whatever he wants to a much wider audience, through a big media outlet which is respected by English speaking liberals everywhere, and then hide behind his pseudonym. It removes accountability. One possible response to this argument is that he's getting a gig as an Op-Ed columnist not a reporter, but if his pieces are going to be anything like his blog, there will be a mixture of reporting and commentary.
IN OTHER NEWS, THE DOMESTICATION OF DOGS CONTINUES, UNABATED
Everyone is linking to Peter Maass's "revelation" today that he knows that Salam Pax is real and is in Baghdad, because Salam was his interpreter, interior decorator, and DJ there, but not his driver. Of course, the debate has long since moved from arguing these points, and I mean well before Peter Maass went to Baghdad where he says he wasn't able to look at the internet, to arguing what sort of person Slam Pax is and what value and meaning we an ascribe to his blogging. Maass works at the Times so you can forgive him for being a bit slow in catching on to things.
posted by Eric |
The reaction is predictable. The New York media clique that Maass is part of, which seems to include Nick Denton, among others, have fawned over the piece, in which their buddy gets to brag about his time in the presence of their hip, gay, pop reference dropping Iraqi idol. Anyone who tries to look at Salam's writing critically is dismissed as a "hawk". The piece itself is almost a parody of the typical condescension with which New York liberals treat elite foreigners or members of minority groups. Salam, as an Iraqi Muslim homosexusual, is both, so its time for a cliché bonanza. Maass writes about him like he's the non-threatening, asexual homosexual best friend in a bad sitcom:
His cultural inclinations are impeccable. As we were spending a lot of time in my car, we stopped at several music stores to find acceptable road music; the offerings were meager, but he unearthed an excellent Cranberries cassette at one shop and brought an Oasis CD from his own collection, as well as the soundtrack from Pulp Fiction—the best music imaginable for driving around anarchic Baghdad. And when, in my final days, I wanted to buy a Persian rug or two, his advice was crucial. My living room now owes much to his fabulous taste.
So charming! There are actually Iraqis who know about Western music, read The New Yorker and, because they're gay, are good interior decorators too! Of course, other Iraqis who might also know about Western culture, like Ahmed Chalabi, and Kanan Makiya, are dismissed as opportunistic interlopers because they chose to leave Iraq and work tirelessly to end the brutal Ba'athist regime, as opposed to sticking around and lamenting the liberation of Ba'athist and Mukbahrat buildings like Salam. I can't blame Peter Maass. The hipster Iraqi (now outted as being, shockingly, chubby, which may hurt his ability to be accepted by New York media types who clearly want to make him one of their own) would certainly make better company than a scythe-wielding Shia fundamentalist. But, just because he's someone that they can imagine hanging out with at WD-50 doesn't make him, as Nick Denton ludicrously suggested the "the Anne Frank of this conflict". Anne Frank was trying to escape genocide. Salam "do you know who my father is?" Pax is merely turning a blind eye to the ones his government has perpetrated, and using his Tariq Aziz like qualties to try to become a media sensation.