Sunday, January 27, 2008

Baghdad is Burning: A Contemporary 3rd Space

In The Decolonial Imaginary, Emma Perez writes that: “The repetition of struggles, of oppression, seems endless, as if never to gain movement forward into another future, one where change would be hopeful or better. Perhaps all one can really hope for is survival” (76). That “survival” is all one can hope for seems to be a rather bleak assessment, but one that, sadly, may be true. Of course, even in the face of pessimism, Perez’s project attempts to undermine the inherent oppression created by history through the construction of a:

third space feminism [that] allows a look to the past through the present always already marked by the coming of that which is still left unsaid, unthought. Moreover, it is in the maneuvering through time to retool and remake subjectivities neglected and ignored that third space feminism claims new histories, Chicana feminist histories. (127)

Although “the repetition of struggle” and subsequent “third space feminism” Perez writes about focuses on Chicana history, parallels abound with the current situation in Iraq. Specifically, one can read the blog Baghdad is Burning, written by a Muslim woman under the pseudonym Riverbend, as a “third (cyber)space” in which a marginalized subjectivity asserts itself and develops an alternate, contrary history to those inscribed by the dominant Western (i.e. American) culture. The blog chronicles the daily life of a woman living in Baghdad and narrates “the routine events of the day,” as well as “stories of raids in her neighborhood [and] abductions of women by roving gangs” (Friedman 1707). Just as The Club Femenino Chapultepec wrote themselves into history with the “Letter from Chapultepec,” or as many Mayan women did by filing grievances through the Department of Justice and Labor, so does Riverbend with her on-line journal, and thus provides a voice for the “interstitial gaps [that] interrupt the linear model of time” and create “oppositional, subaltern histories” (Perez 5). Ultimately, this “third space” becomes “the negotiating space for the decolonizing subject” (5).

But to re-inscribe a decolonized history is no easy task, for “the ‘tradition’ and ‘discipline’ of history is infused with morality, with how the documents ‘should’ be interpreted and written, with ponderings over what is and what is not the definitive story” (Perez xiv). Additionally, the dominant culture constructs a “morality” to what documents should be read. With regard to Baghdad is Burning, the question becomes: “Are blogs a legitimate historical source?” and “Is the author credible?” Concerning the former question, one can understand the source of skepticism when confronted with the fact that, according to Susan Friedman: “only one out of thirty [college] students read blogs regularly” (1708); one can only assume that both older and less educated audiences read them even less. Regarding the latter of the two questions, Friedman writes that even some of her women’s studies students “clearly buy into the binary the Bush machine is so fond of pushing: Muslim world equals liberating modernity; the Muslim world equals backward traditionalism” (1708). Thus, people question Riverband’s authorial legitimacy: "Is she really a Muslim woman writing in Baghdad?" Public doubt about her origins was vocal enough for Riverbend to address people’s questions directly:

A lot of you have been asking about my background and the reason why my English is good. I am Iraqi- born in Iraq to Iraqi parents, but was raised abroad for several years as a child. I came back in my early teens and continued studying in English in Baghdad- reading any book I could get my hands on. Most of my friends are of different ethnicities, religions and nationalities. I am bilingual. There are thousands in Iraq like me- kids of diplomats, students, ex-patriots, etc. (Riverbend “About Riverbend”)

The fact that a woman from another country would have to defend her command of a foreign language, or her familiarity with popular American icons such as “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brad Pitt, Whitney Houston, [and] McDonalds” (Riverbend “About Riverbend”), demonstrates at least two aspects of Riverbend’s American audience: 1) that, due to a culture that promotes the “greatness” of all things American and its subsequent xenophobia, they fail to realize that many, if not most citizens of other cultures are multi-lingual, and 2) the pervasiveness of Western hegemony is so broad that Hollywood “stars” and franchised eateries are now global phenomenon.

Yet, just as social and cultural context force Perez to unearth documentation from the margins of Chicana, Mexican and American history to create a “third space,” similar circumstances force today’s Iraqi woman to create fringe documents that may eventually be necessary when constructing a “third space” in history for their voices.

Works Cited

Friedman, Susan Stanford. “The Futures of Feminist Criticism: A Diary.” PMLA 121 (2006): 1704-10.

Perez, Emma. The Decolonial Imaginary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Riverbend. “About Riverbend.” Baghdad is Burning. 24 Aug 2003. 27 Jan 2008.

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