Go here to read Salam Pax: http://www.dearraed.blogspot.com/
Posted on Thu, Mar. 27, 2003
A 'blog' goes silent, and world holds its breath
Thousands read "Salam Pax," who says he posts a Web log from Iraq.
By Beth Gillin
Inquirer Staff Writer
Where was Salam Pax?
While bombs rained on his beloved Baghdad and fierce battles roiled the
sands of Iraq, people around the world spent last weekend seeking a man
In Brazil and Sweden, in China and Australia, from California to Maine,
the question flew across the borderless Internet: Where is Salam Pax?
For months, the mysterious Blogger of Baghdad, whose pseudonym
translates as "peace" in Arabic and Latin - and who is suspected by some
of being a secret agent or a hacker - had chronicled the minutiae of
life in a city on the edge of war. Salam Pax's blog - a log of thoughts,
or a journal, on the Web - had become a symbol of the power and pitfalls
of a fast-growing new form of interactive reporting that has emerged
with this war.
In opinionated, quirky English prose, Pax tracked the rising price of
tomatoes and the influx of tie-dyed "war tourists."
He described members of the Ba'ath party, "fully armed and freshly
shaven," taking up positions in trenches around the city. "They looked
too clean and well-groomed to defend anything. And the most shocking
thing was the number of kids. They couldn't be older than 20, sitting in
trenches sipping Miranda fizzy drinks and eating chocolate."
On Friday, Pax - a gay man in a repressive society, an atheist in a
Muslim land, a lover of democracy but a hater of war - filed a worried
dispatch as he awaited the first shock-and-awe assault on the city he
He is, like many in his part of the world, conflicted about the war. At
times it seems he hates Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush in equal
measure. When soldiers arrive in Baghdad to liberate him, Pax warned,
"Don't expect me to wear a 'I heart Bush' T-shirt."
His Friday message showed him to be nervous, but not too scared to
abandon his trademark sarcasm: "The most disturbing news today has come
from Al-Jazeera. They said that nine B52 bombers have left the airfield
in Britain and are flying 'presumably' towards Iraq. As if they would be
doing a spin around the block."
A short time later his Web log, "Where is Raed?"
), went dark, and fans around the world began
Had an errant bomb fallen on his house? Had the Iraqi government shut
down his Internet service? Or was the blog a fraud, an intelligence
front that had hastily shut down? Who could say?
Blogs give everybody with Internet access a chance to converse with the
masses. Whether diaries or journals, thoughtful essays or nuggets of
commentary, blogs invite feedback that, uploaded almost instantly,
invariably provokes argument. Most blogs provide links to like-minded
blogs, which link to other blogs and so on, in a buzzing spiderweb of
give and take.
"This is a very powerful technology. Maybe it is the beginning of
something that will change the world as much as the Iraq campaign
itself. Or more," wrote a tech-savvy businessman in Bangor on his blog,
Gary Robinson's Rants.
Robinson noted that by reading Pax's blog he was able to predict within
the hour when, in Maine time, bombs would fall on Baghdad. "As far as I
know, none of the major news networks made such predictions."
Pax's compelling, ground-eye account of Baghdad under attack is history
as it happens. But like all blogs, "Where is Raed?" lacks the
fact-checking mechanisms of traditional journalism. So its truth is
almost impossible to verify.
"Other than what he tells us, we have no way of knowing if he's actually
posting live from Baghdad or is running some elaborate hoax from the
middle of Kansas," Web designer Jason Kottke blogged at kottke.org.
But Susie Madrak of Bensalem, who calls her blog Suburban Guerrilla,
believes in Pax.
"For many people, Salam is the face of this war. He articulates the
anguish of being caught in the cogs of the wheel when it's out of
control. If he's a hoax, he's a damned good one."
Pax posted this at 6:05 p.m. Friday in Baghdad (10:05 a.m. in
Philadelphia): "2 more hours until the B52's get to Iraq."
Then, for three days, nothing. His site was inaccessible.
Was he dead? As it turns out, no. Traffic to his jury-rigged blog had
blown out servers on two continents.
Visits to his site have intensified with the war. In December 2001, the
blog's first month, Pax got 140 hits. A year later, there were 2,563. So
far this month, there are 98,757.
When he came back online Monday, after servers in London and in Santa
Clara, Calif., were back in business, Pax thanked Blogger and Google for
improving his access, and began to share:
He'd gone for a walk Sunday and picked up two American propaganda
leaflets that had dropped from the sky. Water, electricity and phones
worked. The price of vegetables was back to normal. Bomb hits were
precise, but shock waves shattered glass and caved in roofs on nearby
"As one of the buildings I really love went up in a huge explosion I was
close to tears," the 28-year-old architect wrote.
He appears to be well-off and well-educated, with eclectic musical
tastes that embrace the Deftones, Amr Diab, and Black Rebel Motorcycle
Club. His blog is named for a wealthy Jordanian friend he calls Raed.
(Blog chat notes this is "dear" backward, perhaps a pseudonym to protect
Pax says he speaks English, German and Arabic because his father's work
required the family to settle abroad for 14 years. He resides in an
unnamed neighborhood, in "Hotel Pax," as he nicknamed the house when his
mother invited 30 people in to wait out the war.
He's such a colorful character, so observant and bitterly humorous, that
he seems to some too good to be true.
What if he's a CIA plant? An agent for Israel's Mossad? A treacherous
Saddam Hussein relative? A regime loyalist setting an intelligence trap?
The debate has raged for months.
Perhaps the name of his blog, with its pop culture homage to "Where's
Waldo?," is a clue.
"Gevalt, if either our side or theirs is faking a gay antiwar
anti-Saddam Weblog, either they are much smarter than I thought or the
CIA is no longer screening for current drug use," Washington writer Eve
Tushnet observed on her blog, eve-tushnet.blogspot.com/.
"I believe he's real - nothing he says sounds a false note, you know?"
e-mailed local blogger Madrak, a former reporter. "I interviewed
politicians for a living. I know a con job when I hear it."
"Please stop sending e-mails asking if I were for real," Salam Pax
blogged Friday. "Don't believe it? Then don't read it. I am not
anybody's propaganda ploy. Well, except my own."
Paul Boutin (paulboutin.weblogger.com), a technology writer for Slate
and Wired, investigated Pax's blog and concluded the man is "probably"
Boutin proved that Pax connects to the Net via Uruklink, the state-run
Iraqi service provider. For his e-mail, Pax uses an e-mail service run
by the British music magazine New Musical Express.
The blog is hosted in Santa Clara by blogspot.com, a domain that Iraqi
network administrators have blocked from access to Iraqis. Pax
circumvents the authorities by using his techno-savvy.
The evidence that Salam Pax is all he claims to be is persuasive, but as
Boutin concluded: "In the end, it's still a matter of faith." http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/5490233.htm