Salam Pax Is Real
How do I know Baghdad's famous blogger exists? He worked for me.
His discretion was understandable. Although Saddam Hussein and the thugs of the Mukhabarat are gone in theory, in reality they are still around, somewhere, along with many other weaponized people who might not appreciate the iconoclastic observations of a 29-year old who skewers not only the old Baath regime but the new American one, too. His blog's epigram is a quote from Samuel P. Huntington: "The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."
There was a kerfuffle when The New Yorker published a "Talk of the Town" story about Salam Pax (both words mean "peace" in, respectively, Arabic and Latin), because it included a number of personal details that the anonymous Baghdad blogger might not appreciate being published in a magazine with a circulation of 900,000. Because of the continuing sensitivity, I won't mention Salam's last name, his e-mail address, or any information that might get him into trouble.
I don't know what Salam thought about The New Yorker story, but he likes The New Yorker. I happened to have two issues of the magazine, and he was mesmerized by them, especially a story about the selection of Daniel Libeskind's design for the WTC site. Salam is trained as an architect and is a fan of Libeskind's work. He was amazed at the length of the stories. "They go on and on," he remarked. "They start in one place, go somewhere else, then to another place. They are, like, endless."
His cultural inclinations are impeccable. As we were spending a lot of time in my car, we stopped at several music stores to find acceptable road music; the offerings were meager, but he unearthed an excellent Cranberries cassette at one shop and brought an Oasis CD from his own collection, as well as the soundtrack from Pulp Fiction—the best music imaginable for driving around anarchic Baghdad. And when, in my final days, I wanted to buy a Persian rug or two, his advice was crucial. My living room now owes much to his fabulous taste.
I tried to reach Salam today to tell him that I figured out who he was, so we could laugh about it, but I couldn't get through to either his father's sat phone or his home phone (he lives in a neighborhood that has an occasionally functioning telephone exchange). I'll be in touch with him this week, however, and we'll all be hearing more from Salam: He has signed up to write a fortnightly column for the Guardian, and he continues to blog. He also continues to be surprised by the reaction to his work. When he was told by the Austrian interviewer that his fans had begun making "Salam Pax" T-shirts and coffee mugs, his response was frank—"Are you kidding?" Nobody is kidding. The coffee mugs are for real, and Salam Pax is for real.
Peter Maass, a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, is working on a book about oil that will be published in 2009.