I've just returned to my office from the final, Northern California, stop on the US tour of Spirit of America in support of the Friends of Democracy project being mounted by the blogging brothers of Iraq the Model. About forty in all attended the get together at the Garden Court Hotel, including soon-to-be-ex-SJ Merc columnist Dan Gillmor, fellow VC blogger Jeff Nolan, Silicon Valley Redneck, Renee Blodgett and Vinod of the eponymous blog. Also some of Roger Simon's regular commenters who, alerted by his blog, had driven up to three hours to attend (Update: see comments). Quite a few attendees were simply Spirit of America contributors, wondering how all these people already knew each other, even though they didn't recognize each other's faces.
Dan introduced Spirit of America founder Jim Hake, Omar and Mohammed, and Marine LTC Al Burghard, who was one of the first to work with Spirit of America when he was posted in Al Anbar province. Jim reviewed a number of previous SoA projects, and passed it over to the brothers - Mohammed took the lead - to describe the next projects in which they will participate. Mohammed talked about the Friends of Democracy project which the brothers have helped catalyze with Spirit of America's support. The Arabic blogging project has already been much discussed - a new detail is the hope to have enough bloggers and tools in place by the Iraqi elections at the end of January to live blog them nationwide. With the MSM reporters mostly hiding in Baghdad, this would be a guaranteed scoop for the Iraqi blogosphere. (And yes, there is something you can do to help out.)More important than bypassing the MSM will be the effects within Iraq. As Mohammed put it (from my notes):
I am Iraqi. I can express myself - I can tell my own story. It's hard for people to be alone. If you can see others that share the same thoughts and dreams, you are stronger.For the Iraqi people to be able to witness to themselves, as well as the rest of the us, will be a world changing event. Omar pointed out that although the rest of the Arabic world has had access to the Internet for some years, there are now more blogs from Iraq than all the rest combined, even having to struggle with English only tools. This is a people who will raise their voices, given the means.
It being Silicon Valley, some of the Q&A concerned the Iraqi economy. Whereupon it developed that Omar can speak with authority about the benefits of exchange rate stability, and relative activity in the public and private sectors of Iraq. The educational program for Iraqi dentists must be wide ranging indeed - media pioneers, political organizers, economic analysts - what's next? In all seriousness, and as others have said, these are intelligent but ordinary guys, with enormous determination. That's something we will all need in the next few years, and they are an inspiration. Bon voyage, friends. Win it.