Mohamed Nanabhay
Mohamed Nanabhay

Pan-Arab blog spat: The power of a good story

The treatment of Iraqis at Jordan’s Queen Alia Airport triggered a storm in the Middle Eastern blogosphere. What at first seemed to be a straightforward story of refugees being ill-treated by their neighbour’s security guards has spawned into a pan-Arab blog spat (the type of which is normally reserved for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict). Last week I wrote a very thorough round-up of posts on both sides of the dispute for Global Voices Online.

Apart from the important issues raised in the story, there is another important lesson that this spat brings to the forefront — the power of telling an authentic, honest and compelling story. Previously a number of other Iraqis (who are arguably more well known) wrote about similar treatment in Jordan but the issue never picked up much traction.

So why did the story finally take off? Mohammed, a 25-year-old Iraqi dentist, wrote “The Jail” on his blog “Last of Iraqis” which was more of a short story than a blog post. His story spread through the Middle Eastern blogosphere like a wildfire eliciting both explanations and reactions of shock, shame, dismissal and reason. The story finally gained traction because Mohammed told us a simple story.

He told us how he braved Sadr City in Iraq and then lied his way into getting a “sick note” from a doctor, then lied to his boss so he could take his wife on a vacation to Amman, Jordan. Unfortunately, his plan fell apart when he was “jailed” with a mother who was not allowed to get new diapers to change her crying baby, a man who had been kidnapped and ransomed and was trying to flee Iraq, a student trying to visit the US embassy in order to take up a university scholarship in the US and wealthy Iraqis trying to get their money out of Jordanian banks.

Eventually he was deported back to Iraq and made his way to Syria for his vacation.

He described a story of love, war, deception, agony, humiliation and hope which is what set his story aside from the others emerging from Iraq. There are thousands of stories of abuse, tragedy and pain that have been caused by the war. Mohammed managed to capture our attention and rise above the cynicism by telling a powerful, authentic, honest and compelling story that contextualised the effects of the occupation and war in a manner that everyone could relate to and easily empathise with.