According to the Arab Social Media Report, released by the Dubai School of Government’s Governance in 2014, there were 2,825,820 new users of Facebook in Iraq by the end of 2013. Yet, while the numbers of these users continue to increase, their considerably limited online interaction seems to be the problem.
Over the past ten years, social media users in Iraq, mainly Facebook, have managed to broaden the scope of public debate hoping to bring some positive political and social change into the real world. Some local observers credited the Iraqi Facebook bloggers, for accelerating the efforts to convince Iraqi PM Nuri Al Maliki to step down last October.
Many Facebook bloggers, some of whom are also local journalists, have a wide followership that often exceeds 5000 followers. Yet, the interaction with their posts has become a challenge for some of them recently.
Often angered by the deteriorating conditions of the country, particularly after the emergence of ISIL in the northern and western parts of the country, bloggers’ posts are very critical of the government and parliament, suspicious of the meddling roles of the “foreigners and neighbors” and compassionate with those displaced by ISIL acts of violence.
Despite the gravity of these crises, some users say they are tired of reading about the same issues over and over again. The diminishing hope of any positive change in the near future as well as the language complexity of some bloggers appear to have suppressed the appetite of the users who started to shift their attention towards humorous bloggers such as Mofeed Abbas.
Abbas is one of few bloggers who choose to offer a daily dose of humor for his followers far from the Iraqi politics. Generally, his posts tell funny stories about the kind of customers he encounters in the men’s clothing shop he owns in Baghdad, or about his love adventures with the “liver”, a colloquial word in Iraq that stands for “girlfriend”. Being big fan of good food and travel, Abbas would often mix humor with his musings on these favorite topics.
But it is his “If God created..” posts that really brought him fame and has become his signature. In these almost daily posts, Abbas wonders what if God created him with a different nationality; say a German or Indian or Tanzanian. Every day he picks a new country and gives himself and his girlfriend common names from there. He then employs other cultural ingredients of the place within the main lines of the story. The posts received so much attention that readers sometimes suggest new countries for Abbas.
Shortly after Charlie Hebdo shooting on Jan 7, Abbas introduced a new twist to his popular posts that took his readers by surprise: What if God created him in pre-Islamic Mecca where he was also able to witness the rise of Islam!
In this new miniseries adventure, which so far has exceeded 19 episodes, Abbas’ main character, “Jurhom Ibn Kolaib”, owns a shop for selling idols. After the emergence of the Islam which opposes idolatry, “Jurhom” started to sell decorative Islamic calligraphy products. We also learn as readers that “Jurhom”’s heart is torn between two girlfriends: Jumana and Huntoma.
Jumana’s tribe refused to join the new faith of Islam, so she was displaced to the suburbs of Mecca while Huntama, like Jurhom, chose to join Islam.
The events combine different cultural elements from different time periods. The ancient past and contemporary present are integrated in Abbas’ story in a comical but metaphoric way. Cell phones camels, pop music and swords, can all be present in one scene.
In some aspects, readers may also feel that there is a similarity between the repercussions that surfaced in Iraq after the regime change in 2003 and those that they lived through in Jurhom’s story, such as the rise of political Islam, corruption, and displacement of minorities.
With this scenario showing people’s proclivity to view history in chrono-centric terms, Abbas attempts to make his readers perceive and judge some of the historical, cultural and religious values differently. The latter bears significant value in light of the escalating violence inflicted by Islamic extremists in Iraq and elsewhere, upon non-Muslims and Muslims who think differently from them.
Readers’ comments so far indicate that many of them are identifying with “Jurhom”, whom they see as everyday man trying his best to get by without losing sight of his dreams. Because of the growing number of comments, Abbas decided recently to start a Facebook group for Jorhum’s stories only.
With this chrono-centric humorous story which emphasizes similarities and how values and standards may change over time, regardless of our faiths and ethnicities, Abbas hopes to contribute to other efforts to refute the religious discourse of hardliners that often exclude the (other).