May 17, 2003 7:01 AM   Subscribe

'Salam Pax' plays Americans for fools in Iraq more speculation from RogerLSimon, LGF and junkyardblog and a dissenting view needlenose.
posted by srboisvert (34 comments total)
(a bit off-topic)
I used to like reading LGF's weblog. He used to write about PHP and website stuff, but after 9/11, it turned into a "down with the palestinian infidels" weblog. Shame.
posted by slater at 7:07 AM on May 17, 2003

Mr Warren's article is so painfully arrogant I could barely finish it. He makes up for what appears to be a complete lack of inside information with broad speculation backed up by nothing more than a tone of utter confidence. Well, "your sayin' so don't make it so", and frankly Salam Pax's random and down-to-earth musings impress me far more than this guy's blowhard ranting.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:14 AM on May 17, 2003

I agree, Mars. David Warren's problem is he assumes he alone has the ability to perceive bias, as if everyone else is duped, as if he's privy to secret cache of skepticism and doubt.

But anyone capable of reading is capable of perceiving that the perspectives of Salam Pax, whoever he is, are in the form of a personal journal because that's the appropriate medium for his biased, persuasive, opinionated posts. Of course they're biased. How could they not be?

And why isn't he an ordinary Iraqi? Literate, worldly, educated, contemporary, proud, informed? Isn't that what we hope for all of Iraq? Smart people making educated decisions about the future of their country?
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:44 AM on May 17, 2003

Yes, but what about his conspicuously available internet connection? Fascist dictatorships usually don't smile on that sort of thing.
posted by hama7 at 7:51 AM on May 17, 2003

My pet theory is that Salaam is the next Kaycee Nicole, with an aborted killing off of the character. Since there is little chance of order being restored in Baghdad any time soon (and the concomitant investigation of his disappearance being done), the '(wo)man behind the mask' decided to keep the invention 'alive'.

Note the parallels, right down to the phone interview and the postings via proxy. I think there are enough similiarities to at least entertain the hypothesis.
posted by Alwin at 7:57 AM on May 17, 2003

hama7 - a person and their isp are not the same thing. i live in chile, but my site is on a server in the uk.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:18 AM on May 17, 2003

What we can know, just by reading his blog, is that this Salam is up to no good. He is spreading "inside views" of the new Iraq, not only to the blogosphere, but directly among the journalists still encamped at the Meridian (formerly Palestine, formerly Meridian) hotel

OK, so the charge is that he's spreading "inside views" of the new Iraq. This is how we can know Salam is up to no good?
posted by harja at 8:20 AM on May 17, 2003

I've been wary to believe salam pax was real since day one, and still think it could be one big sham. I'm still waiting to hear from the NYT reporter he talked to, as that sounds like the only one that could prove his existence.

The strangest thing about this recent wrinkle is that I think people are reading so much into the posts to pull an agenda out of them (I thought he sounded pretty anti-saddam myself). I think the real truth is whether or not this is a writer posing as an iraqi citizen getting sloppy.
posted by mathowie at 8:21 AM on May 17, 2003

(I thought he sounded pretty anti-saddam myself)

Exactly. I kept waiting for Warren to address the many anti-Saddam comments and parse them to show how they were sprinkled in in just such a way as to give him credibility for "balance" or whatnot. About three-fourths of the way through, it became clear that any such mention would torpedo the writer's ever-more-overblown thesis, and I had pretty much the reaction Mars mentioned.
posted by soyjoy at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2003

I found MeFi for the first time while researching Net hoaxes, having been directed to the archives of discussions about Kaycee Nicole. My interest in such hoaxes stemmed from being taken in by one myself on a message board.
Perhaps once burned, I'm overly sceptical. But, if you'll pardon the expression, I too have felt something's not kosher about good old Raed.
I don't know if he's who the Canadian writer describes, or a Western-government ploy. Mostly I've imagined him as just some genius nut somewhere in the American midwest, having a good, perverse laugh at all the Net intellectuals analyzing and fretting over him.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:59 AM on May 17, 2003

I'm really amused by all the people touting Roger Simon's opinion "because he writes mystery novels." Weren't some of those people talking about how we should ignore actors speaking out against the war because they're only entertainers?

More to the point of Salam Pax's reality: unless you have an emotional stake in believing that life was unilaterally terrible under Saddam, his story bears out. Life was horrible under Saddam for a lot of people. Many were tortured. It is good that Saddam has fallen. But that does not mean everyone was watched every second of every day.

The speed with which the Iraqi army disintegrated is a testament to Saddam's lack of iron-clad control. One blogger making occasional posts from Baghdad? Not at all hard to believe, unless your world view requires you to think that Iraq was full of technical illiterates who need to be raised up by benevolent Americans.
posted by Bryant at 9:04 AM on May 17, 2003

Aside from the is-he-or-is-he-not-real argument, the linked article is ridiculous, even for an opinion column. Salam's dad works for OPEC because you say so? That's some amazing journalism there.

There are a slew of good posts on the LGF thread by someone named Occasional Reader that sound pretty level headed and spot-on. It seems like way too much of a stretch to say that Salam (even if his parents were part of the old ruling class) is a planted agent from the old regime trying to throw a wrench into the American progress over there.

He was obviously from an upper class background, just to have an internet connection in baghdad, but that alone doesn't make him an agent.
posted by mathowie at 9:10 AM on May 17, 2003

I rather enjoyed this perspective:

So childish and or malevolent, such a gay deceiver that he harbors resentment for those people who, in Warren's words, were "fighting the good fight against Mr. Saddam abroad,". Governments in exile are always so courageous and steadfast--it's all sterling history there--amazing how they even deign return to lead the cowering masses who never had the balls to challenge tyranny from abroad. Noblesse Oblige doesn't begin to cover it.

Salam is such an embittered, deposed nomenklateratti that he belittles the expertise and efficiency of the American transition team in Iraq, a team so sure-footed and swift that, well, they were all called home and their jerseys were retired after three weeks.

It couldn't just be that Pax is the son of a fairly privileged family within Saddam's Iraq, that his privilege gave him experience and knowledge of the world beyond iraq's borders, but that in spite of his advantages and his relatively cosmopolitan outlook his entire life was shaped, and half of it lived, beneath the billboard gaze of Saddam. And that cosmopolites can turn nationalist pretty fast when wars loom close to home ( check out Vienna circa 1916). And that wars in Iraq look and feel differently to Iraqis than they do to, oh say, Ottawans. And that maybe people can tell us things worth knowing while at the same time being prey to delusions, prejudice, confusion and ignorance. Which is to say maybe we can learn something even from human beings less perfectly formed and finished than David Warren, Charles Johnson and Roger Simon. And that maybe Salam is a human being many times more complex, contradictory and variable than his blog shadow can ever, or will ever, reveal.

[...] Warren's piece was an intellectual and ethical mess.

--Agenda Bender, May 15th.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:28 AM on May 17, 2003

I regret to say that I thought Mr. Warren must have taken all of his daily dose of crank before writing his screed.

Having started to read S.P's blog during the run up to war, I am astounded that anyone would waste braincells or electrons being concerned in the slightest about S.P's being an "agent". When millions of Americans filling the streets in protest were unable to make an iota's worth of difference in the fixed Bush policy of war against Iraq, only the most self-referential inhabitants of the blogosphere could entertain the notion that Saddam's secret agents would commission a *blog* to demoralize the Free World and thereby dissuade the Coalition of the Rented from finding all those WMDs that Saddam was hiding.

I took from the Raed postings a plague-on-all-your-houses attitude offered by a young man who, although obviously from a background of advantage--from the Ba'athist nomenklatura of Iraq, fer sure, dude--maintained that ironic sense of distance historically associated with the "outsider within." See, e.g., Oscar Wilde, Isaac Babel, Cole Porter, Ronald Reagan,Jr. . . . .Just exactly what did the gentleman post that was not consistent with the persona of a young, gifted, gay iraqi faced with the existential crisis of his life?

This attitude was particularly demonstrated in the very passage relative to the Iraqi Communist Party that seemed to exercise Mr. Warren the most. Was it not absurd for the rump of Iraqi Communist Party to put a graffitti "tag" on the headquarters of the organization most responsible for the torture and murder of thousands of its members--and the effective destruction of what had once been a significant force in Iraqi politics? S.P's observation on this point is far more ironic than sympathetic.

I suggest that we be concerned about a far more importance menace: Ann Coulter's links to Katherine Leung and the PRC.
posted by rdone at 11:02 AM on May 17, 2003

I'm sure some dictator, at some point in the past, has created a false dissident, critical of both sides, for their own subtle manipulation of moderates. However, if you look at the Baathists' style (100% of votes in elections, denying Americans are even within range of Baghdad, etc. etc.), subtlety was not their thing. So I strongly doubt this was an official hoax.
posted by condour75 at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2003

I get the feeling that Warren perhaps believes the brown-skinned are uniformly uneducated illiterates who are incapable of possessing an interesting and informative weblog...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2003

unless you have an emotional stake in believing that life was unilaterally terrible under Saddam, his story bears out. Life was horrible under Saddam for a lot of people. Many were tortured. It is good that Saddam has fallen. But that does not mean everyone was watched every second of every day.

I agree.

Simple application of Occam's Razor :-
'Occam's razor is also called the principle of parsimony. These days it is usually interpreted to mean something like "the simpler the explanation, the better" or "don't multiply hypotheses unnecessarily." In any case, Occam's razor is a principle which is frequently used outside of ontology, e.g., by philosophers of science in an effort to establish criteria for choosing from among theories with equal explanatory power. When giving explanatory reasons for something, don't posit more than is necessary. Von Däniken could be right: maybe extraterrestrials did teach ancient people art and engineering, but we don't need to posit alien visitations in order to explain the feats of ancient people. Why posit pluralities unnecessarily? Or, as most would put it today, don't make any more assumptions than you have to.'
posted by plep at 11:59 AM on May 17, 2003

The guy is from a privileged background, is critical of American policy and maintained an Internet connection... therefore he must be an enemy agent. That's quite a leap of logic, almost like something a second-rate mystery novelist with LeCarre ambitions would plot.

Those insisting that he never would have been allowed to post if he wasn't a plant are giving far too much credit to Iraqi technology-- anyway, I believe they had other things on their mind than the words of a disgruntled citizen. You know, bombs falling from the sky and such.

As someone pointed out elsewhere (sorry, I cannot recall where I read it), it is SP's ambivalence that makes him convincing. Considering that I share his feelings, I see no problem being both anti-Saddam and anti-occupation.
posted by cedar at 12:08 PM on May 17, 2003

I'd say that the more time these Iraqi double agents spend hooked reading weblogs, checking the blogdex rankings and trying to get their postings linked on Metafilter, the less time they've got to help out suicide bombings, prepare anti-American uprisings and feed people into tree-shredders. Which is quite possibly A Good Thing, right?
posted by tapeguy at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2003

Good comment rdone, nicely put.

Originally, I thought raed might be some sly american propaganda since his comments were anti-saddam, and I agree with condour75 that subtlety wasn't saddam's schtick. I still am not sure if Raed is real or not, but if indeed he is someone's propaganda, I don't see a very malevolent agenda at play; it certainly seems less agenda driven than Warren's blatant beatification of Chalabi.

His blog reads true to me, but then again, so do many of my favorite novels. Yet novels have progressed my thinking on issues despite their being fiction. I've enjoyed the perspective largely because it represents a human voice and shifts my thinking to the human plane. Because I don't really know if he is real or who he is, I keep a healthy level of skepticism. That's a good rule of thumb when reading just about anything on the web, and certainly when getting news from the established media - we know who owns them.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:15 PM on May 17, 2003

It seems like a fairly typical reaction from the LGF set-- this guy is an Iraqi who doesn't like Saddam or America. Ooh he must be a super-secret intelligence mole trying to capture the hearts and minds of the blogworld. This gives way too much credit to the Iraqi secret police, and way too little credit to the individual Iraqis.

I don't doubt that Salam Pax could actually be living in Jordan or Lebanon, or even America, but whoever is writing it is most likely Iraqi or has lived in Iraq for a long time. So to me the question is not if it's real, but how real. The whole intelligence agent angle is too preposterous, and clearly serves an agenda for the folks who thought that the blog was making some huge anti-war impact.
posted by chaz at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2003

Ooh he must be a super-secret intelligence mole trying to capture the hearts and minds of the blogworld. This gives way too much credit to the Iraqi secret police, and way too little credit to the individual Iraqis.

Not to mention too much credit to the blogworld.

Here's a hint: everyone in power can safely ignore blogs.
posted by NortonDC at 5:57 PM on May 17, 2003

Btw, what is the evidence that he's gay? I mean, I suppose he seems a little effeminate in his writing, but these guys seem to spout this like gosple.

Btw, I don't usualy credit conservatives with much sense, but to accept these accusations, based only on their baseless suppositions about life in iraq (speaks english? must be a bathist, has access to the 'net? Must be a bathist, I mean come on)

Btw, he definetly does not have 'constant' access to the internet.
posted by delmoi at 8:26 PM on May 17, 2003

what is the evidence that he's gay?

Did you see the edited entry where he goes on about the high point of the war being that he saw a reporter (almost) naked?
posted by mathowie at 10:22 PM on May 17, 2003

I think it's worth pointing out that there are two contradictory critiques of Salam Pax here: One is the standard hoax concept - he's not in Iraq, he's just done a lot of research and/or is a made-up character created to sway public opinion - and the other is Warren's, which is that he is in Iraq, a son-of-OPEC Ba'athist sympathizer whose attitude and agenda are shaped by his fealty to the party line. I want to be sure to separate these because they are in fact mutually contradictory, but they can be (and sometimes seem to be) combined by sloppy thinking into an overall thumbs-down on Salam. If you want to diss him, great, but pick your poison - you can't have it both ways.

("You" being some of the other critics I've noticed - e.g. on Simon's page - not anyone on this thread so far)
posted by soyjoy at 11:13 PM on May 17, 2003

I don't think the "John f. Burns of the New York Times naked" bit indicates he is gay, at all. It's funny that he saw Burns naked, that's why he wrote it in.
posted by dabitch at 5:54 AM on May 18, 2003

You know... maybe this Salam Pax has just been reading Ender's Game too much.
posted by teradome at 8:23 AM on May 18, 2003

It's funny that he saw Burns naked, that's why he wrote it in.

Quite right. The interesting question, which I still haven't seen answered, is: why did he take it out?
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on May 18, 2003

Jeff Jarvis has translated an interview conducted by Salam's Vienna pal Stefan Kaltenbrunner for the Austrian magazine Format.

The idea that he's gay isn't made up or inferred by his enemies; note where he calls himself bitter queen ma-boy; but more particularly his post about his missing "precious angel" (he wasn't released in the general amnesty; news came). The classic is probably oh did I mention that I am a pervert as well?? The way I look at men makes them feel uncomfortable (or perhaps where he teased Diane about letting him, should she ever visit Baghdad, wear her dress).
posted by dhartung at 3:06 PM on May 18, 2003

...of course, the question still remains, why does it matter if he's gay?
posted by SpecialK at 4:49 PM on May 18, 2003

Of course it makes nowt whether S.P. is gay. What is significant is that his rather incautious comments lend credence to the notion that he is an authentic voice and not a troll.
posted by rdone at 7:24 PM on May 18, 2003

I don't know if he's real (and no one else does, either) - but I think it's more plausible than the fictional suppositions in this "column":
Salam is the scion of a senior figure from Iraq's Baathist nomenclature. He was brought up at least partly in Vienna, which is the OPEC headquarters; his father was therefore an oilman, and possibly a former head of Iraq's OPEC mission.
WTF? He mentions living in Vienna only once on his weblog, and that is in the context of someone he shared a flat with there for four years.
If he was living with a roommate, it's safe to assume he was older than being "brought up" there. And if he was sharing a flat with a foreign roommate, we can be pretty sure he was not living there as the son of an elite Iraqi oil Minister.
This does not prove he's not a hoax, but does prove what facile logic this Ottawa reporter uses.
Baathist party officials are not the only English speakers and educated people in Iraq. In fact, about the only "good" thing Saddam did was make education compulsory and create one of the most literate populations in the Middle East.
And if it's propaganda, it's not very good propaganda. He seems to criticise the old Iraq policies and other Muslim countries as much as the U.S. occupiers. I think the real reason conservatives may not like his weblog is it represents something they would rather forget about: humanism.
posted by sixdifferentways at 9:25 PM on May 18, 2003

dhartung: Thanks much for the interview link.

sixdifferentways: There's also the Matrix factor; for whatever reason, the idea that nothing is what it seems and no one is who they say they are is extremely popular now, regardless of evidence or plausibility. If you post a link to some wacko claiming that Bush is gay or Jennifer Lopez is a transsexual or the Catholic Church is a Masonic front, I guarantee you an enthusiastic reception (plus, of course, the usual quota of outraged rebuttals from people who have their own preferred conspiracy theories). The idea that what looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck probably is a duck has fallen from favor.
posted by languagehat at 8:05 AM on May 19, 2003

perhaps where he teased Diane about letting him, should she ever visit Baghdad, wear her dress).

I wondered if the writer is a woman using a male, Mark Twain.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:07 PM on May 19, 2003

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