Monday, April 18, 2005

For Riverbend in Baghdad the good news isn't that the hostage crisis never really took place - but that Raed Jarrar's initiative to fundraise and distribute aid for civilian victims is moving forward: the total amount of donations has now reached $18,343.

And here's Riverbend's take on the imaginary hostage crisis:

[...] The first time we heard about it was a couple of days ago. I was watching the news subtitles on Arabiya but the subtitle was vague. It went something like this, "Sunni guerrillas capture 60 hostages in Iraqi town and will kill them if all Shia do not leave the town." It said nothing about which town it was, who the guerrillas claimed to be representing and just how the whole incident happened.

We kept watching the channels and hoping for more information. I remember reading that subtitle and feeling my heart sink with worry. I kept checking other news channels and then finally decided to check the internet. There was another vague news article on Yahoo. This one had a few more details- the town was Madain, south of Baghdad and the person who had called in the hostage situation was some sort of high-profile Shia politician.

News channels were still being vague about it. The only two channels who were persistently talking about the hostage situation were Arabia and Iraqia- but the numbers had risen. It was now 150 Shia hostages in Medain and the Iraqi National Guard and the American army were taking their positions on the outskirts of the town, preparing for a raid.

Medain is a town of Sunnis and Shia who have lived together peacefully for as long as anyone can remember. The people in the town come from the local "Ashayir" or tribes. It's one of those places where everyone knows everyone else- even if only by name or family name. The tribes who dominate the town are a combination of Sunni and Shia. Any conflicts between the townspeople are more of the tribal or family type than they are religious.

The whole concept of a large number of Sunni guerrillas raiding the town and taking 60 – 150 of its members (including women and children) was bizarre, frightening and by the second day of the rumor, a little bit suspicious.

People in Baghdad didn't believe it. Most of them waved a hand dismissing the report and said, "They just want to raid Medain." It's a town that has been giving the Americans quite a bit of trouble this last year, a part of the Sunni Triangle . Many attacks were reported to have come from the area, but at the same time, it's not like Falloojeh, Samarra, or Mosul- it's half Shia. It wouldn't be as easy or politically correct to raid.


Now, Associated Press is claiming,

"The confusion over Madain illustrated how quickly rumors spread in a country of deep ethnic and sectarian divides, where the threat of violence is all too real."

Uhm, no. Not really. See, this whole thing didn't start out as a rumor. Rumors come to you through actual people- the guy who brings you kerosene spreads rumors, that neighbor next door brings you rumors, the man you get your rations from spreads rumors. This came to us, very decidedly, from a news source. It first made its debut as breaking news and came from an "Iraqi Shia official who wished to remain unnamed". The official should have to answer to the rumor he handed over to the press.


We know a lot of our new officials and spokespeople are blatantly lying and it's fine to lie about security, reconstruction and democracy- we've gotten used to it. In fact, we tell jokes about it and laugh about it at family gatherings or over the telephone. To lie about something as serious as Sunni-Shia hostage taking is another story altogether. It's unacceptable and while Sunnis and Shia were hardly going to take up arms against each other over this latest debacle, but it was still extremely worrisome and for people who wish to fuel sectarian violence, it was a perfect opportunity.

We have an Iraqi government that bans news channels and newspapers because they *insist* on reporting about such routine things as civilian casualties and raids, yet the Puppets barely flinch over media sources spreading a rumor as dangerous and provocative as this one.

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