Baghdad Burning

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Baghdad Burning is a collection of entries from the popular Iraqi “web log” “Girl Blog from Iraq.” Authored by an anonymous Iraqi woman living in Baghdad and going by the name “Riverbend” online, Girl Blog from Iraq has become one of the most intriguing and insightful voices to emerge from Iraq. With each entry into her online journal, Riverbend shares insights into the feelings and attitudes of ordinary Iraqis living under the occupation, providing the necessary historical and cultural context that is so often missing from the corporate media’s coverage of Iraq. Whereas the media focuses almost exclusively on violence and death in Iraq, Riverbend tells the story of life under occupation.

Baghdad Burning collects entries spanning roughly one year, from the first entry in August of 2003 to the fall of 2004, a time during which the resistance in Iraq intensified, a power struggle began between the various religious factions, Saddam Hussein was captured, and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) managed the occupation. Riverbend’s writings, a mix of personal experiences and political commentary cover all of the major events of that period, from the attack on the United Nations to the “transfer” of sovereignty, providing an Iraqi perspective that is almost entirely absent from the corporate media in the Western world. While this elusive Iraqi perspective was frequently cited in the corporate media via the proclamations of Iraq’s Governing Council, Riverbend amply demonstrates that the various Council members, especially the much hated Chalabi, were not representative of the Iraqi people, and in many cases, had not lived in Iraq for years. Riverbend describes how people gather around TVs in Baghdad (when the electricity is running) and laugh at the CPA-appointed government and how the “puppets” are aiding the United States government. Baghdad Burning is most helpful in these instances, when Riverbend is explaining how her family and friends view the occupation and how the government in Iraq used to function or in the numerous portions of the book that explain both customs unique to Iraqis and the concepts of Islam that are foreign to most in the United States.

Throughout her writings, Riverbend never claims to speak for all Iraqis, yet her perspective that is fairly typical of many Iraqis who, after years of disruption to their lives under the sanctions imposed by the United Nations at the behest of the United States, simply want to get on with their lives. Moreover, Riverbend reveals the attitudes of her family, friends, and neighbors, all of whom want the occupation to end. Few Iraqis want Saddam Hussein to return to power, but many are outraged by how the war has led to the decline of a once prosperous Iraq. It is clear that the Iraqis see the United States presence as a hostile one and that the only way to end the insurgent attacks is to remove troops from the country, as continued a continued “war on insurgents”—complete with the type of raids, searches, and detentions described by Riverbend—will guarantee ongoing hostility to both US forces and their representatives.

In the end, Baghdad Burning is a valuable addition to the various books published on the war on Iraq since its start in 2003 and is unique among them in its focus on sharing an Iraqi perspective. Riverbend’s blog is essential reading for those opposed to the war and the book is a great way for opponents of the war to familiarize themselves with one Iraqi perspective.

Riverbend, Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq, (The Feminist Press, 2005).

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The Fire this Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism

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When second-wave feminism came to the front of the various protest movements of the 1960s it was seen by many of both sexes as a distinct set of issues, and although its broader goals and revolutionary implications applied to everyone, too often it was seen in the limited context of woman’s groups, the fight for access to safe abortions, and other such issues. The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism reflects the tremendous expansion of feminism over the past thirty years and presents a series of essays from a number of female organizers about the varied issues they address, giving an indication of how feminism has moved beyond on just “woman’s issues” to become an integral part of citizens’ movements around the world.

The topics addressed in The Fire this Time are varied–the emergence of the global Indymedia network and its addressing of gender issues, the effects of US foreign policy on women, transgendered people and the legal system, immigration, efforts to organize largely female domestic worker populations, efforts to unite women whether in the zine scene of the early 1990s or more recent attempts to form feminist foundations, and the consequences of the prison-industrial complex for women-and those are only a few of the topics covered. Among the most interesting of the essays is Robin Templeton’s look at how the prison-industrial complex is shaping minority families in the United States, how the role of women in these families has shifted, and how women are organizing in response to the incarceration of a significant portion of their races’ males. Ana Nogueria’s and Joshua Breitbart’s essay on how the Indymedia network and how the creation of participatory, user-centered networks for publishing news has created a feminist alternative to the corporate media (as well as raising some questions about how women’s perspectives and gender issues are addressed in the framework of a largely male population of tech people) provides a critical examination of how more egalitarian systems can function within, and as a response to, the existing structure of society. Other interesting essays include Ayana Byrd’s essay on female subjectivity in contemporary hip-hop and Syd Lindsley’s examination of the anti-immigrant stances of many environmental groups. Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned from the book that feminism cannot be narrowly defined and that an analysis of gender and patriarchy must be a critical part of movements for social change, and indeed The Fire this Time presents a number of ways in which feminist views can be incorporated into a variety of organizing efforts.

Many of the authors in the book eschew the “Feminist” label, viewing the upper-case feminism as the narrowly defined province of upper-class white liberal women who want “an equal share of the wealthy”, and prove that as Rebecca Walker states in the introduction, feminism is far from dead and indeed has been revived in a variety of movements. The Fire this Time provides an engaging series of essays on the amazing work that woman are doing and the ways feminism has been embraced by a new generation of activists.

Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin, eds., The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism, (Anchor Books, 2004).

Living My Life

I would argue that Emma Goldman’s Living My Life is the most important contribution of United States anarchists to the global anarchist canon. In terms of both her dedication to promoting anarchism and feminism, and the extraordinary life she led, Emma Goldman’s autobiography is unparalleled among other writings by anarchists from the United States. I also think this book can be read as a challenge to present anarchists. Who among us can honestly say that have put forth a genuine effort to make anarchism an issue as it was at the time of Emma Goldman and her contemporaries?

Moreover, this book, by virtue of Goldman’s extraordinary life and her accessible writing style, should appeal to non-anarchists who are simply interested in history, especially those seeking to move beyond the limited scope of history taught in high schools and universities. For those of us who have read about the radical and reform movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Emma Goldman’s book is an entertaining look at various radicals, as she encounters Eugene Debs, Jane Adams, Johann Most, Voltaraine de Cleyre, and numerous others, and that is just in the first volume.

I highly recommend reading both the first volume, which focuses primarily on her life in the United States, as well as the second volume, much of which is dominated by her experience in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and her subsequent disillusionment.

Emma Goldman, Living My Life, (A.A. Knopf, 1931).