Sunday, July 17, 2005

Free Khalid

I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.

-- Voltaire (letter to M. le Riche, Feb 6, 1770)

For me, this statement is sometimes very applicable to the Jarrar family. I sometimes agree with them, and a lot of times I don't. However, I like and respect all of them as people, and I applaud their courage in expressing their opinions despite the risk this may pose to themselves.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any successful democracy. You cannot have true democracy without people being free to express their opinions and debate current issues. In a true democracy, you cannot expect everyone to agree with you all the time, and if they all seem to agree with you, this is probably a bad sign.

In that light, it has been a good sign to see bloggers like the Jarrar family emerge after the Iraq war. Well educated and fluent in English, they have expressed their opinions with veracity, in individual blogs, as well as on television. And in a real demonstration of courage, they have done all this under their real names, and with their real pictures, knowing that someone who takes offense to their opinions would not have much difficulty in finding them.

The Jarrar clan have tended to be critical of the American actions in Iraq, but have varied greatly in their individual approaches. The oldest brother Raed is the most critical, lashing out at the "occupation" at every opportunity. The mother, Faiza, is more calm in her approach, writing long flowing essays and looking at historical analogies. And, the youngest brother Majid has been too busy with school to pay much attention to his blog.

Of the group, Khalid is possibly the most interesting, preferring to try to find humor in even the most horrible situations: terrorist attacks, people breaking into his house, and the inconveniences posed by security countermeasures. A few months ago, I watched Khalid in the Canadian television special, and he was hillarious - despite the serious nature of the topic, I broke out laughing several times while watching it. Khalid poked fun at electrical problems, water shortages, the security situation, and even his own physical appearance (joking that his beard makes him look like a terrorist). When I talked with Khalid afterward, I told him that he could easily make a living as a stand-up comic if he gets sick of engineering.

I've spoken to Khalid a few times on Instant Messenger, and I can say he is even funnier in person. He is a natural comedian, and a naturally very open and likeable guy: the kind of person who you would always want to have at a social gathering.

Khalid is also a guy who really loves his country. When his family chose to leave Iraq and go to Jordan, Khalid remained behind in Baghdad. A few weeks ago, Khalid joined his family in Amman for a vacation, but when someone broke into their family house in Baghdad, Khalid took that first opportunity to return to Baghdad. When I spoke with Khalid a little over a week ago, he sounded relieved to be back in Baghdad, much like a beached whale might feel upon being returned to the ocean. Despite the violence and uncertainty, Baghdad is home to him, and he likes it there.

What is sad about this whole situation is it is guys like Khalid Jarrar who will be key to the ongoing economic success of the new Iraq: people who are educated, and who could get a job anywhere in the world, but who choose to remain in Iraq despite all the problems.

Khalid Jarrar has been in jail for six nights now, and so far there has not been any reasonable explanation as to why.

It is important to keep talking about Khalid's plight, otherwise he will rot in jail and be forgotten. So, this will probably not be my last blog post on this topic. A few other things that are being done:
  • Liminal setup a blog called Give us our Khalid Back with up to date information on Khalid.
  • A petition has been started to free Khalid.
  • Emails have been written to journalists alerting them of this situation.
  • Letters and emails have been written to the Iraqi embassy in Washington, to members of the US Congress, and to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • A number of bloggers have put up posts in support of Khalid, including my online friends Fayrouz and Najma, and Khalid's brother Raed.

For the Iraqi authorities to jail Khalid Jarrar simply for his blogging activity is morally repugnant, and an affront to democracy. I hope the Iraqi authorities come to their senses soon and release him.

Update [July 18]

Thanks to my friend and resident Photoshop expert Najma, we now have a small "Free Khalid" button that will fit on the sidebar of a typical Blogger blog. I've already added this on mine, but for anyone else who is interested in adding this to your blog, here is the HTML code you need to insert in your template (substituting angled-brackets < > for square brackets [ ], of course).

[p][a href=""][img src="

Update [July 20]

Some schmuck seems to be putting up comments on Khalid's blog and others, pretending to be Khalid, and saying he has been released. As of this morning, the official word from the Jarrar family is there is no new news - Khalid is still in jail. Please remember, if you see a odd-looking comment on this blog or anyone else's blog, that it is possible to comment under someone else's name in the comments section any blog (there really isn't any security there). So, if you see any comments suggesting Khalid has been freed, verify that information with a reliable source before you believe it.