Badly overdue note on my trip to Amman

One of the disappointments of my previous trip to Jordan this spring was that I didn’t get to meet many Jordanian bloggers. I sat next to Isam Bayazidi during a meeting for Open Society Institute, but the meeting wasn’t really about blogging, so we didn’t get to talk much about Jordan Planet or the Jordanian blogger scene. Despite connecting with Jad Madi over Flickr – where he’d admired some photos from my previous trips to Jordan – I wasn’t able to meet him on the last visit.

So when I was invited to come to Amman and speak at an Open Source conference sponsored by Jordan’s excellent – but decidedly pro-closed software – IT association, Int@j, it was very easy to say yes. And I emailed Isam immediately to see if it would be possible to meet a few Jordanian bloggers for dinner to talk about Global Voices and ways the Jordanian blogger community could get involved. And whether or not the conference was a success (read Jad Madi’s scathing review of the event, if you’re curious… my take on the event is somewhat more sympathetic), we had a blast talking blogs last night in Amman.

Isam is clearly much beloved by Jordanian bloggers – not just for his technical skill in setting up the Jordan Planet blog aggregator, but for his quiet leadership – and his call was answered by almost a dozen Jordanian bloggers and geeks, who joined us at Wild Jordan, a beautiful new nature center, arts space and cafe in one of the city’s most elegant neighborhoods, Jabal Amman. It’s an absurdly beautiful building, which takes advantage of its cliffside location to offer some of the best views of the city.

Isam was held up in traffic and I didn’t recognize the group of Jordan Planet bloggers who’d already gathered at a table at Wild Jordan. I was busily looking for Jordanian geeks, and ignored the small group that was beginning to form, as they were clearly “the cool kids”, laughing, chain smoking and snapping digital photos. Turns out the geeks are the cool kids in Amman, a city is starting to take technology very seriously.

Turns out they’re also all blogging in English. This isn’t entirely surprising, given past British influence in Transjordan, and the fact that Jordan’s bloggers are – by their own admission – a highly educated and wealthy elite. What’s really interesting to me is the extent to which Jordanian bloggers seem to be committed to the idea that they’re blogging for an international audience. Talking about this the day before the meetup with Ahmad Humeid (on a podcast we posted on Global Voices), Ahmad made the point that Jordan’s a small nation, with few people online, and that Jordanians want to be heard by a wider audience… which means blogging in English, the current default language of the web.

Other of my Jordanian friends were interested in blogging for that wider audience expressly to challenge American and European views of the Middle East. This is clearly one of the motivators for Haitham Sabbah, who just added to his workload as one of Jordan and Bahrain’s alpha bloggers by agreeing to round up Middle Eastern blogposts for Global Voices. For Haitham, this means posts like his recent “Arab and Muslims are NOT TERRORISTS”, or today’s reaction to the release of an Al-Qaeda videotape, addressing the tape’s author:

Then he asks the holy war fighters in Palestine not to follow the Palestinian president, saying that he is a western agent and should not be trusted.

For God sake, leave us alone, leave Arab and Palestinians alone, go to hell.

But changing Northern perceptions of the Middle East aren’t always explicitly political – Roba challenges stereotypes with nearly every post on her blog, And Far Away, talking about her daily life in Amman. Whether she’s attending a Boney M concert, sampling the local café scene, or explaining the challenges of translating between Lebanese and Jordanian arabic, I learn something from almost every one of her posts… and I can’t imagine what a surprise her blog is for anyone misinformed enough to believe that every woman in the Middle East is hijab-clad and preventing from having a public life.

Talking about Jordan’s ability to challenge and translate, we started talking about the idea of Jordan as a “bridge nation”, much like a bridge blog. Ahmad expands on this idea in a recent blogpost, “Can Jordan be the bridge-blog nation?” noting that:

The Jordan blogging community, a small but active group, seems to be well positioned to act as a bridge between the Arab world and the rest of the world. Many Jordanian bloggers write in English and the country is open both to the west and to the Arab world. Amman is becoming a meeting place, both in a physical and digital sense.

Hey, Jordan’s got my vote. There’s a reason I’ve been happy to visit three times in the last seven months, and it’s not just because I like the shawerma. Though I do love shawerma.

I can’t close a post on this trip without mentioning that a recent post on Jad Madi’s blog made me laugh so hard I spit coffee out my nose. It won’t make much sense to you unless you work with Unix, but if you do, be warned about that whole coffee/nose thing: The War Against Terrorism for Geeks. A sample passage:

$ pwd
/middle_east/Afghanistan
$ cd /opt/UN
$ ln -s /Bad_Guys/Al_Qaeda /middle_east/Iraq/.
ln: cannot create /middle_east/Iraq/Al_Qaeda: Permission denied
$ su
Password:*******
# ln -s /Bad_Guys/Al_Qaeda /middle_east/Iraq/.
# cd /middle_east/Iraq/Al_Qaeda
Al_Qaeda: does not exist

(It’s originally from the Sun Ray blog. But Jad gets credit for pointing me to it…)

Thank you to all my Jordanian friends, to Isam and Roba for organizing our gathering and for Int@j for making it possible for me to make the trip.

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