Views

Blogging a Nameless War

Authentic voices make Lebanon's tragedy real. Where to find them.

By Crawford Kilian 10 Aug 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian was born in New York City in 1941. He was raised in Los Angeles and Mexico City, and was educated at Columbia University (BA '62) and Simon Fraser University (MA '72). He served in the US Army from 1963 to 1965, and moved to Vancouver in 1967. He became a naturalized Canadian in 1973.

Crawford has published 21 books -- both fiction and non-fiction, and has written hundreds of articles. He taught at Vancouver City College in the late 1960s and was a professor at Capilano College from 1968 to 2008. Much of Crawford's writing for The Tyee deals with education issues in British Columbia, but he is also interested in books, online media, and environmental issues.

Reporting Beat: Education, health, and books

Crawford's Connection to BC: Though he was born in New York City, one of Crawford's favourite places is Sointula, a small town off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Twitter: @crof

Website: H5N1

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Blog makes one bridge, one death resonate.

In the run-up to the Iraq War, and ever since, bloggers have been debating that struggle loudly and eloquently. So it seemed oddly quiet in the blogosphere when the current war in Lebanon broke out.

The mainstream media's websites, of course, were running stories and commentary, and some of the big American political bloggers like InstaPundit have commented on the progress of the war. Yet the mainstream media and big American bloggers have paid almost no attention to the little bloggers on the ground -- the people who can give us an eyewitness view of events.

But the Middle East is full of bloggers and advocacy sites promoting the causes of Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah. They provide a strikingly different view of what's going on in a war that still has no name.

Let’s start with Hizbollah. Go to hizbollah.org and you get only a blank page. But a Google search for "Hizbollah" will also turn up a site called Israeli Aggression on Lebanon (http://www.moqawama.net), which leaves us in no doubt as to its position.

Gathering stories from across the web -- including the Israeli paper Ha'aretz -- IAOL can't even write "Israel" and "Israeli" without putting the words in quotes. The Israelis are "Zionist invaders," and Hezbollah is the "Islamic Resistance." The site also features gory photographs -- a reminder that consumers of mainstream western media rarely or never see such photos.

The rhetoric of IAOL is loud, religiose and self-righteous, but many Lebanese bloggers are amazingly concise and understated. In Life, or Something Like It the anonymous female author writes on August 4: "The bridge in my hometown was hit this morning and a man whose family I'm acquainted with died because he happened to be talking his morning walk there." A photo of the ruined bridge accompanies the post.

'Would they understand the truth?'

Another blogger known as Ramzi is featured in the Lebanese Blogger Forum:

"My second cousin is in the army. Or was. He was stationed in Tyre, to man a prehistoric anti-aircraft gun that could only intimidate migrating birds.

"He heard Israeli choppers flying in to drop commandos in a civilian area. We don't know if he actually managed to get a round fired off or not. Moments later he became a charred body in a destroyed vehicle.

"In my heart, I know his death served no purpose. He is fodder to the raging inferno of death and hate sweeping Lebanon, leaving ash and dust in its wake. But when his toddler kids grow up, and ask me what happened in 2006, I will say he died a hero.

"Would they understand the truth? Would they forgive us if they did?"

Perhaps these are atypical examples, but they echo the flat, matter-of-fact style of "Riverbend," who in Baghdad Burning has portrayed the awfulness of life in Baghdad since 2003.

A number of persons post to The Ouwet Front, which describes itself as "Personal views and opinions of Lebanese Forces members." These range from long, thoughtful analyses of Hezbollah tactics to black humour. On August 4 the Israelis bombed a bridge, killing a Syrian worker sleeping under it: "Israelis have been bombing bridges for the past 20 days now and that Syrian decided to sleep under one? I am sorry if he died, but this is hilarious."

Israeli blogs are distinctly different in tone.

Sarah at Chayyei Sarah sounds anxious but determined: "The fact that it is Israeli weapons that have killed so many innocent people -- even though we have no choice -- makes me ill....The people in the West who do not understand that if Israel does not decisively castrate Hezballah, the entire Western world will be experiencing terrorist attacks for a long, long time, makes me ill." Sarah is also enough of a blogging celebrity to warrant an online interview at Iraqi Bloggers Central.

Rachel Ann at Willow Tree seems defensive about the deaths in Qana late in July: "And the point I think most people are missing is while it matters who brought the building down and whether the people inside were killed that day, or were planted by Hezzbullah or were killed by Hezzbullah or were deliberately forced into the building in anticipation of an attack, the scene was staged.

"The photos speak volumes but they aren't telling the story many want to hear. They are showing rescue workers who seem bent on showing the "evil" of Israel but who seem much less interested in finding the live bodies beneath the rubble."

One Israeli blogger, Vancouver-born journalist Lisa Goldman, posts at On the Face. She's also been exchanging views online with Ramzi the Lebanese blogger; a French journalist has written about this at Common Ground News Service.

No defining voices

Along with the bloggers are news gatherers actively supporting one side or the other. Debkafile has been presenting the Israeli side of events for years.

Information Clearing House is opposed to the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to the Israeli attack on Lebanon. It also provides prompt, free access to the articles of Robert Fisk, which are otherwise available only by subscription to his newspaper, The Independent. While he's anathema to many right-wingers and Israel supporters, no one is providing better on-the-spot Lebanon coverage than Fisk.

In 2003, "Salam Pax" and then "Riverbend" became distinctive and persuasive voices for the Iraqi people. So far, however, no distinctive blogger's voice has emerged on either side of the present conflict. This is a shame. When the leaders on both sides resort to lies and clichés, the voices of ordinary people offer at least sincerity if not always factual accuracy.

But it is striking that Israeli and Lebanese bloggers are actually talking to one another while the rockets rain down. I may not side with a Lisa Goldman or a Ramzi, but at least I can understand them both as likable human beings, and respect what I understand.

Crawford Kilian is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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