Thursday, July 31, 2008
"Shortly after the airstrikes came streaking into his country but before Saddam Hussein was plucked from a hole in the ground, a young Iraqi student wrote and directed a play. This video documents its second public showing to a thousand Iraqis in September 2003, but the debut was that May. "I was thinking that the drama must act some new things, so I want to study what was not allowed before 4/9/2003," he tells me. That was the day when many in Baghdad celebrated the end of Saddam's regime, and despite his professors' reluctance, the student convinced them to collaborate on his play, which expressed how “Saddam and evil were brothers”, as he puts it to me. "I told them that I have plan to change the theater history in Iraq," he recalls. "It's not easy to do that, but in theory I can talk what I want..."
In September 2003, Second Life was undergoing upheavals of its own. The tax revolt was just winding down, leading to SL's re-birth as a true user-created world a couple months later. And though it may seem strange, it was probably inevitable that the Iraqi student and the virtual world would eventually converge. This year, they finally did: on August 5th, a Resident named "alsarmady Eel" was born. Because by then, the student had become an arts teacher based in Babylon, with an Internet connection that was strong enough for him to discover Second Life, create an account, and reach out of Iraq and touch the metaverse. But only just barely.
Thousands of blogs rage around the topic of Iraq-- though most aren't about Iraqis themselves, who are generally relegated to abstract concepts in a larger debate. This blog is not part of that conversation. In any case, most will agree that this is among the war's most unlikely consequences: one of Second Life's greatest advocates is an Iraqi professor who visits the world in search of Philip Linden, the man he's anointed the inventor of "the 8th art". When he can even log in, that is.
alsarmady Eel discovered Second Life in his research, he tells me, after passing over other 3D chat programs.
"When I discovered Second Life it was a dream," he writes to me in fractured but eager English. (I am interpreting many of his statements, rough hewn as they are through an Internet translator.) Since Professor Eel didn't have a bank card, he created a free account, and explored-- and reveled.
"The second flight is the dream of life, [offering] the possibility of meeting all the people from anywhere [around the] world... and to see how they want to be in the imagination." This led to an insight from his computer terminal in Babylon. "[T]his is very important, what distinguishes Second Life from all previous experiences in the digital world." Now he had a mission, not just for himself, but for the people of his tattered country: "I hope all Iraqis register and I will work to achieve this through the books [I] write about Second Life. It's the last art. This is a fundamental assumption."
This is what he means by calling Second Life the eighth art: "There are seven arts we all know," he argues. "Poetry, painting, music, theater, singing and photography and cinema. And there [are] subsidiary arts graduated from [them], but not as major as the seven arts." All of them are substantially the same, he says, "[B]ut in Second Life, man lives in the world of art through the production of a new digital life, without physical or philosophical borders, such as exist in real life... we have a life in our mind and it's ours, but if we can share it! That is a big move to a better world."
And this is why he is hoping to get in touch with Philip Linden. "NEW life need a new philosophy," he says, "but he is not a god so we have to [create] a philosophy of art!" Professor Eel says he's creating this very thing in his writing, but with limited resources, it's difficult to convey it to anyone outside Iraq, let alone the Lindens. He attempted it with an obscure comment to an unrelated post on Second Life's official blog, a YouTube video scored to Jon Bon Jovi, and most striking, a direct video plea to Philip, who's depicted in a visionary pose-- to which Eel has added the caption: "This man had no idea what he did to the philosophy and the art!"
His dream is to have an institute where he can teach Iraqis about Second Life and its role as a new form of human expression. A Second Life Institute based in Babylon, one of the world's most ancient cities-- capital of Hammurabi, the king who codified the first known written laws of civilization in 1760 B.C.
"Babylon's a safe city," he assures me, "So I can teach the 8th art and Second Life." A supporter of Saddam's removal, he finds fault with much the US has done in his country since 2003, but hopes they'll restore Iraq as they did Germany, after World War II. He thinks Second Life can help in this regard. "Let's don't forget that SL is the United States' front door now!"
But that will require Internet access that is faster and less sporadic than what he has. After several tries, we're unable to meet in-world, even through Movable Life, the web-based SL viewer, and resign ourselves to talking in Skype. One night, however, his Internet connection across the Middle East to San Francisco stabilizes, and for a few minutes, a Babylonian scholar appears at the river near my office:
alsarmady Eel's connection is so poor, he appears like the shell of an avatar, every limb and plane displaying the notorious "Missing Image" message. The reason for this is a mismatch between what I see on my monitor, and his avatar's appearance; due to a bug, the textures of his identity fail to load properly on my computer-- or for that matter, anyone else in Second Life looking at him. (When I tell him this later, he fears that's how all Iraqis will be seen here, ambiguous and unrecognizable.) Trouble is, somewhere in between Iraq and the Western world, what this Iraqi yearns to be is obscured, and lost in transmission. But then again, that is not a problem confined to Second Life."
Thursday, July 24, 2008
"Alsarmady Eel" is the name used in the online world of Second Life by an arts professor who lives in Babylon, Iraq. Last year he joined Second Life because he decided the Internet was, as he puts it, "the 8th art," allowing "people from anywhere . . . to see how they want to be in the imagination."
An appealing notion, one that he'd written extensively about. But because broadband in Iraq is still unreliable, his understanding of this strange virtual world based in San Francisco remained mainly abstract and secondhand. (The few times he was able to log in successfully, he'd just briefly appear as an unresolved blur.)
Last week, however, I received an instant message from Alsarmady Eel, sent within Second Life itself.
"Hahahahah," he announced, after I teleported over to find him standing in a thatched hut by the sea. "From Iraq. Nice to see you here. I got better Internet, but how do I look?"
"Very skinny," I observed.
Professor Eel had managed to find a wireless provider in Iraq, he explained, and though the service was rather pricey, it was worth it. "I am so happy and lost," he said. "Please take me to somewhere I can talk about my theory." I introduced him to some people who write about or express ideas similar to his, including two named Bettina Tizzy and Eshi Otawara.
After some brief introductions, Professor Eel told them what was on his mind. "I am asking the philosophers all over: what philosophy can describe and appropriate explaining this interactive digital life?!"
They continued to talk, but I had to go. I left Alsarmady to get to know his new friends. Then hours after I'd logged out, I discovered something wonderful had happened.
Bettina Tizzy and Eshi Otawara had taken him to a sandbox, so they could show him marvelous virtual objects. "He asked us to do him a favor," Bettina wrote me, "on behalf of all of the people of Iraq: he wanted us to make him a new Iraqi flag."
But Eshi had another idea. "She said, 'No, I will not make your flag, but I will teach you to make your own.' "
So she showed him how to make a banner, then a pole, then how to upload a texture. He worked diligently from his computer terminal in Babylon, and after some time, Alsarmady Eel was done. He raised the flag of his country over this other place in which he'd also become a citizen.
Wagner James Au is the author of "The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World."Whether that Iraqi is seeking new adventure by fleeing a relaity and endulge himself to another reality, a virtual one, this is something to be determined, but one thing is for sure, there are some Iraqis who are looking for any means and every means available to catch up with the advanced world of technology in spite of difficulties and barriers in providing normal internet services i.e. broadband connection...etc
Thanks to Iraqi Facebook University for the information.
Link to the article here
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Saturday, July 5, 2008
I realize that the whole world knows about Iraqis who still on the run because of the horrible situation their politicians put them into around the years, but denying them visit visa in such a pathetic way as I am going to explain is something beyond humane!
There are a lot of Iraqis around with Dutch nationality who would love to invite their relatives (sister, brother, aunt...etc) to the Netherlands. The Dutch embassy in Baghdad does not issue visit visas - actually if we look into their website, they don't issue anything related to visas, passport or any other sort documents. In this case, Iraqis should be either have to apply for a visit visa at the Dutch embassy in Amman, Jordan or that one in Damascus, Syria. Entry to both Arab countries became difficult since the end of last year - in the past, anyone can take a taxi or a bus and travel to these two countries. Now Iraqis have to go to either Syrian or Jordanian embassies in Baghdad to apply for an entry visa. They have to pay more than 50 dollars fee and they have to give valid and approved (with written proof) on the reasons they want to enter these two countries. The written proof can be a medical report or school enrollment certificate, or business related authentication. For visit trips to relative to the Netherlands, all embassies would ask for: invitation from Dutch signed and approved by the municiplity of city or twon the invitee from. In additon, three kopies of salary statements must be also submitted with the visa application form and the invitation form. Optionally a letter to the embassy explaining the purpose for the trip can also be sent. All these documents must be first be checked by the Jordanian and Syrian embassies to verify the truth behind that person's applying for entry visa. After a couple of days, a week to the most, an entry visa is granted and that poor Iraqi would be able to travel and arrange a date where he or she would go to the Dutch embassy to submit all these papers, again! Additional to that, some of these embassies ask for more papers, such as, ownership of a property in Iraq and bank statement - according to the law and regulations for applying for a visa, these two are only asked in case someone is applying for a tourist visa and not in case Dutch citizen inviting someone to the Netherlands! However, the Iraqi comply with no objections, thinking that this country has the right to ask anything and acquire anything!
Then comes the interview: it is indeed asking about every single member of the family; about work experience; education; children; marriage date - if married; what is the purpose for the visit? how long is intended to stay? If there are children or relative living in the Netherlands...etc
From all people I heard from and talked with, all of them went through the same experience: bad treatment by the Dutch embassy staff in Jordan and in Syria - consensus on: The way they talk is like talking to a piece of garbage and not a human being; emotionless, faces with no expression; they ignore you or just don't answer you when you ask something - keep head down like they are busy writing notes; and some make fun in a sarcastic way that sometimes hurt the feelings!
After all that degradation, the Iraqi is given a reference number, and asked to call in a month or forty days time to check whether the visa application has been accepted or rejected. The forty days passes by, and many Iraqis waited much longer- months! After that period is completed, a simple answer is received with a written letter: "...not convinced that you are going to leave the territories after your stay permit ends..."
After all that money spent for staying at a place in another country, expenses for food and drink, and visa fees; after all the energy spent in traveling outside Iraq ( some took a leave from their work to arrange their trip, and some just left their families behind thinking that they would go like any human being for a vacation) and the time consuming arranging papers here and there; above all that, the hopes and expectations were becoming higher and higher every day passes by to see relatives after all many years... All this vanished... and the worse part is the bitter experience of being directly or indirectly being looked down at by that embassy employee, as if that Iraqi has no dignity - some sort of a human litter, or as if that Iraqi is begging for that visa!