Conversations about Saddam in Real Life and Second Life

BlogHer Original Post

As news of Saddam Hussein's execution ricocheted across airwaves and cyberspace, I was anxious to find some informed and diverse conversation about it. So I did what any conversation-starved netizen would do: I teleported myself to Reuters Top News chatroom in Second Life. I hoped for a cross-cultural conversation, with people from the Middle East well-represented. What I found surprised me. [Second Life is 3-D virtual reality platform that has become an important and controversial frontier for practicing journalism. Check out this video of Reporting from the Front panel discussion from last October's State of Play conference at New York Law School to get a better idea of the controversy.] I wondered whether I would meet people with reactions similar to those encountered by University of Iowa law professor Adrien Wing at Wing, who is traveling in Tunisia, notes that many Muslims are distressed that Saddam's execution coincided with the celebration of Eid ul Adha, a sacred Islamic holiday honoring Abraham, whose obedience to God was so strong that he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac on the Lord's command. Wing also reports that while there was little grief expressed for Saddam, her Tunisian companions shared the skepticism that the execution reflected the will of the Iraqi people. The BBC found similar reactions in its reporting. What would happen, I wondered, if those Muslims were in dialogue with someone such as Gina Cobb? Her comments on her Saddam execution linklist suggests that her sympathies lay with those who see the execution as a just outcome for the Iraqi people. Would they see her point of view, or would they share egalia's horror at the barbarity of this moment? When I reached the Reuters lounge, I did not find the rousing, multi-faceted debate I'd expected. Instead, I met an avatar named Teodor Zinner, whose owner described himself as an Iranian graduate student studying mechanical engineering in Texas. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation, which he gave me permission to publish. I went looking for a conversation about Saddam's execution. What I found a dialogue with someone as eager as I was to find a path to peace. Note: This transcript was generated by the chat function in Second Life. The timestamps are Pacific Standard Time. "You" of course refers to my avatar which happens to have an Arabic first name. In Second Life, avatar's names are displayed, which is why we are able to call each other by name.

[20:21] You: Hello Teodor

[20:21] Teodor Zinner: Hi Khadijah. How are you?

[20:21] You: I came here to see whether people were following the news about Saddam Hussein. I wondered whether people would come here to talk about it.

[20:22] Teodor Zinner: It's sad for me. I'm from Iran ;). Your name looks Arabic [20:23] Teodor Zinner: are you from that region, Khadijah?

[20:23] You: Some Iraqi bloggers I've read says this strengthens Iran. [20:23] You: Actually, I'm American, but my name is Arabic.

[20:23] Teodor Zinner: I'm not sure. Iran is in a weird situation. A maniac took over the country. I mean the president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], and now he is ruining the country. It is really sad

[20:24] You: I see that there is a great deal of protest within Iran.

[20:24] Teodor Zinner: I would personally be very happy to see Saddam hanged, however I'm against execution. [

20:25] You: But free expression has been restricted, from what I understand.

[20:25] Teodor Zinner: Yes sure people are against this maniac. There are many things restricted

[20:25] You: Why are you happy to see Saddam executed?

[20:25] Teodor Zinner: First is the freedom of speech.

[20:25] Teodor Zinner: Well, I'm happy to see dictators die.

[20:26] You: Yes, many Internet sites are blocked. [20:26] Teodor Zinner: Yeah how do you know it? It is really interesting

[20:26] You: I am a journalist.

[20:26] Teodor Zinner: Wow, great.

[20:26] You: I follow these issues closely. I also have friends in the Middle East.

[20:27] Teodor Zinner: if you need any information I'll be happy to be of some help. I live in the US but I still have friends back home.

[20:27] You: Would you mind if I recorded our conversation?

[20:27] Teodor Zinner: No [20:28] Teodor Zinner: So may I ask for what kind of media you work? [20:29] You: I write for a couple of online news outlets.

[20:30] You: You said you were from Iran but you now live in the US? When did you come here?

[20:31] Teodor Zinner: I am a student here I left my country on Aug 2005

[20:31] Teodor Zinner: I am a graduate student in the mechanical engineering field [20:31] You: Have you ever been to Iraq?

[20:31] Teodor Zinner: No, unfortunately not

[20:31] You: Why unfortunately?

[20:31] Teodor Zinner: That's a great country for sure. [20:32] Teodor Zinner: That was the capital of the Islamic science for many years

[20:32] You: During your lifetime, relations between the two countries have been very tense.

[20:32] Teodor Zinner: Yes [

20:32] You: Do you remember the Iran-Iraq war?

[20:32] Teodor Zinner: We had an 8 years war. Yeah I was 7 when it ended; I barely remember.

[20:33] You: What do you remember about it? [20:33] Teodor Zinner: Well, we were in the middle of the country, and there were many immigrants from the border area. I still remember that you could not find many foods or drugs.

[20:34] You: Even where you were?

[20:34] Teodor Zinner: Yes

[20:34] Teodor Zinner: The whole country was in the very awkward situation

[20:34] You: Did it get better after the war ended? [20:35] Teodor Zinner: Not within the very first years, but when the Supreme Leader died (he was a maniac as well ;) and the new president took over

[20:35] You: Ayatollah Khomeini?

[20:35] Teodor Zinner: Yes

[20:36] Teodor Zinner: And the president after that was Rafsanjani. He started building the country. We call it "8 years of reconstruction."

[20:37] You: What was the attitude toward Saddam Hussein while you were growing up?

[20:37] Teodor Zinner: 8 years of holy defence (they use defence for war), and 8 years of reconstruction afterwards. Saddam was always hated by both secular and religious people. I personally consider him as a dictator who put his people in this situation. To religious people, he was the one who killed many of their kids.

[20:39] You: Did you have any interactions with ordinary Iraqis? Did they come to your country?

[20:39] Teodor Zinner: I met a couple of them in Tehran (capital of Iran), but they were all shia'. I had an Arabic teacher who was Iraqi as well [

20:39] You: Are you religious?

[20:40] Teodor Zinner:Not at all

[20:40] Teodor Zinner: but I appreciate other's beliefs [20:40] You: What was that like in an Islamic republic?

[20:40] Teodor Zinner: having an Iraqi teacher or not being religious?

[20:40] You: We have the perception in the US that everyone in Iran is expected to be religious.

[20:41] Teodor Zinner: Well, you are Americans ;)

[20:41] You: What is your perception of Americans? [20:41] Teodor Zinner: Cool and superficial at the same time

[20:42] You: Have you seen much of the US? [20:42] Teodor Zinner: I'm in the university though [20:42] Teodor Zinner: No unfortunately

[20:42] You: That can skew your perceptions, I suppose.

[20:42] Teodor Zinner: Don't get me wrong I'm not against Americans. [20:43] Teodor Zinner: I'm just against this "Go Blond" culture

[20:43] You: But I would say that many of us are insular.

[20:43] Teodor Zinner: may I ask where you live?

[20:43] You: On the east coast [20:43] You: Where do you go to school?

[20:44] Teodor Zinner: Red Neck Area ;) Texas

[20:44] You: I know some Texans who aren't rednecks :-)

[20:44] You: But I know what you mean.

[20:44] Teodor Zinner: I know some Iranians who are not terrorists ;)

[20:45] Teodor Zinner: Anyways, can I ask you a couple of questions?

[20:45] You: I don't know any Iranians who are.

[20:45] You: Sure.

[20:45] Teodor Zinner: Are you a White American, or a Middle Eastern American?

[20:45] You: Neither.

[20:45] Teodor Zinner: Are your parents American?

[20:45] You: I am an African American.

[20:46] Teodor Zinner: God, that's great [20:46] Teodor Zinner: Let me ask you some of my questions that I can never ask in the real world. [20:46] You: Okay. [20:47] Teodor Zinner: As a foreigner, I can see many African-Americans segregate themselves but on the other hand, African Americans always claim that the are segregated.

[20:48] You: Have you ever read "Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" I think you would find it helpful.

[20:48] Teodor Zinner: Who is the author?

[20:48] You: Beverly Daniel Tatum

[20:48] You: I can try to explain it to you. [20:48] Teodor Zinner: I hope I didn't offend you.

[20:49] You: Would I be correct in assuming that you go to a predominantly white university?

[20:49] Teodor Zinner: I myself want to see more mixture of cultures in the society [

20:49] You: I am not at all offended.

[20:49] You: That is not our history, unfortunately, although there are some exceptions.

[20:49] Teodor Zinner: Yes, our university is more populated by Caucasians [20:50] You: Is it private or public?

[20:50] Teodor Zinner: public

[20:50] You: Okay, Let me try to explain what typically happens. [20:50] Teodor Zinner: Sure, listening....

[20:50] You: First, You have to understand that there were two kinds of segregation in this country. [20:51] Teodor Zinner: aha

[20:51] You: Segregation by law (de jure) and segregation by practice (de facto)

[20:51] Teodor Zinner: okay [

20:51] Teodor Zinner: yeah I see

[20:51] You: Segregation by law was made illegal, but segregation by practice was reinforced by economic practices and social practices.

[20:52] Teodor Zinner: ahan

[20:52] You: For example, once it became illegal to segregate public schools, some white segregationists created private "Christian" schools.

[20:53] Teodor Zinner: Got it, you are great ;) [20:53] You: Others moved away from cities to the suburbs --it's called "white flight"

[20:53] Teodor Zinner: Never thought of that this way [20:53] You: There were lending practices called redlining that kept people of color from moving into certain neighborhoods.

[20:54] You: There were also policies during the 1960s that destroyed a number of black owned businesses in cities.

[20:54] Teodor Zinner: Okay but let me ask you a question

[20:54] You: Okay

[20:55] Teodor Zinner: I see that African-American community is struggling with some problems, like single moms, etc. but no one can stand up and talk about that, because people are afraid of being called racist.

[20:56] You: That is talked about all of the time. [20:56] You: It's been talked about since the 19th century.

[20:56] Teodor Zinner: So you mean the average is not more that the white community? [20:56] You: Booker T. Washington talked about it, Du Bois talked about it, Martin Luther King talked about it,

[20:57] You: Jesse Jackson talked about it in the 1970s...etc.

[20:57] Teodor Zinner: aha

[20:57] You: Actually, The rate of black teen pregnancy has declined in recent years. [20:57] Teodor Zinner: Interesting

[20:57] You: What is a matter of great concern within the black community is that marriage rates have declined.

[20:58] Teodor Zinner: and do you think that the academic privileges can help this community to gain what it has lost through many years of segregation? [20:59] You: Well first, you have to understand that part of what is going on now is that the one-third of African Americans who still live in poverty often lack the basic skills to compete in the modern economy. So education is important, yes.

[21:00] You: The second thing that it's important to note is that real wages have been stagnant here for 30 years. And many of the jobs that people typically used to get a foothold in the economy went away in the 1980s and 90s. So people who are not prepared to compete in the skilled labor market are at a greater disadvantage.

[21:02] Teodor Zinner: I see. So the technology is killing many of the job

s [21:02] You: During the 60s and 70s, poverty declined considerably among African Americans. Well, US companies sent many manufacturing operations out of the country. And other countries such as China and India now produce many manufactured goods at prices that US companies can't compete with.

[21:03] Teodor Zinner: And do you see Christianity a barrier in this country? I mean, many of the racist people that I have seen were radical Christians.

[21:04] You: There is a tendency to see Christianity as monolithic, but it isn't. It is true that Christianity has been used to bolster white supremacy.

[21:05] Teodor Zinner:Exactly [

21:05] You: However, it has also been used to combat it. There is a prophetic tradition within Christianity that is profoundly committed to social justice.

[21:07] You: Have you read "The Politics of Jesus?"

[21:07] Teodor Zinner: No, who is the author?

[21:07] You: Obery Hendricks

[21:05] Teodor Zinner: (By the way I am a big fan of Langston Hughes ;)

[21:06] You:

I play it cool/ and dig all jive/ and that's the reason/ I stay alive –

That's my favorite Hughes poem.

[21:07] Teodor Zinner: Let me see if I can remember a poem. I read it in Persian

[21:07] You: Persian -- I've read Rumi.

[21:07] Teodor Zinner: God, thats great [

21:07] You: That I've read Rumi?

[21:07] Teodor Zinner: Yes

[21:08] You: thanks

[21:09] You: But I really recommend Hendricks' book for a view of contemporary liberation theology. You might also check out

[21:09] Teodor Zinner: I can remember a verse of Hughes about when Jesus comes back to earth anf what if people see his black skin ;)

[21:09] You: I know the poem, but I can't remember it. That theme has been used a few times.

[21:10] Teodor Zinner: Yes I always mention to my friends that Jesus himself was a middle eastern Jew

[21:10] You: W.EB. Du Bois has a series of pieces: Jesus Christ in Georgia; Jesus Christ in Texa

s. [21:10] Teodor Zinner: ha ha

[21:10] You: John Hendrik Clarke had a story, "The Boy Who Painted Christ Black" [21:11] You: Great stuff

[21:12] Teodor Zinner: okay anything elese you want to know about our stupid president? [21:13] Teodor Zinner: :)

[21:13] You: I was wondering what you thought about 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

[21:13] Teodor Zinner: Wow. That night I couldn't believe it. I was a sophomore

[21:13] You: When 9/11 happened?

[21:13] Teodor Zinner: Yes [21:13] Teodor Zinner: My mom called me

[21:14] Teodor Zinner: And said that two airplanes hit the Twin Towers. I couldn't believe. The day after that I went to the street see someone shout: "We nailed Americans :(". It was a sad time for everyone

[21:15] You: Did you understand why someone said "We" nailed Americans?

[21:15] Teodor Zinner: Well, Muslims always feel intimacy

[21:15] You: Did you feel that way?

[21:15] Teodor Zinner: No definitely not

[21:15] Teodor Zinner: I mean the Muslim community is always one single group against non-muslims

[21:16] You: Did the news reach Iran that many of the victims were not American, and some of them were Muslim?

[21:16] Teodor Zinner: Sure

[21:16] Teodor Zinner: The Iranian broadcasting system is biased, but not stupid.

[21:17] You: Did that matter?

[21:17] Teodor Zinner: Yes, and in fact, you know in their weekly prayer, they always shout "down with USA" and other [chants]. I can remember that for 4 or 5 weeks they didn't do that. In fact, some Iranians were killed in September 11..

[21:19] You: What did people think of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq?

[21:19] Teodor Zinner: I personally think that what happened in Afganistan was great. It brought them back into the civilization. I mean invading Afganistan really helped that country (in my point of view). To me it's more like Mongolians invading Russians (Mongols brought russians to history)

[21:21] You: Some people say that the US and its allies made a mistake by shifting the focus from Afghanistand and the hunt for bin Laden to Iraq.

[21:22] Teodor Zinner: Honestly thats a hard question

[21:22] Teodor Zinner: I think I was very happy, and very optimistic up to the fall of Baghdad

[21:22] You: Why were you happy?

[21:22] Teodor Zinner: I thought that it would be better for Iraqi people, but afterwards [21:23] Teodor Zinner: I just saw chaos

[21:23] You: Why do you think that happened? Any ideas?

[21:23] Teodor Zinner: Well. before that there was a country which was stable in some sense. There was dictatorship, and women couldn't vote, but at least it was stable in its own nature. We americans :) invaded that country withought any plan. We didn't actually know if there were any weapons of mass destruction. Now women can vote, if they stay alive :(. I think Saddam's dictatorship could control the rivalry between Sunni and shia. Now we have removed that controlling system but [we have] no substitute. You know iraq has many different groups and races: Kurds, Shia and Sunni. Without a good control this chaos is inevitable

[21:28] You: What do you think the impact of Saddam's execution will be?

[21:28] Teodor Zinner: Let me think. I can remember that at the very first years of Iran-Iraq war. Iranian Arabs were very happy with Saddam attacking Iran, but not now.

[21:29] Teodor Zinner: I think if Saddam gets executed, I personally think that some part of history will die with him forever. I can remember that when the Americans found Saddam and before that, when Baghdad fell, many Iranians were happy. My father was crying when they found Saddam. He was very happy I'm sure that many people will be happy to see Saddam being executed

[21:32] You: You know that it has happened, right?

[21:32] Teodor Zinner: No. Was it today? I read that they wanted to execute him this week, but i didn't know that it has happened.

[21:33] You: Yes, it happened around 10 pm Eastern time.

[21:33] Teodor Zinner: [I'm] reading it right now. They hanged him :)

[21:34] You: Yes, about 2 1/2 hours ago,

[21:34] Teodor Zinner: Yes my father and my mother were very happy when he was captured. To be honest, he was the source of many of the sufferings of the poeple of Iran and Iraq [21:35] You: Because of the war ?

[21:35] Teodor Zinner: Yes, for Iranians because of the war [21:35] You: What is your hope now?

[21:36] Teodor Zinner: I hope that Iran keep itself out of that country

[21:36] Teodor Zinner: I think if the Iran's problem [is] solved there will be no other problem in the Middle East. Iran is in a very awkward situation right now.

[21:37] You: Not even the Palestinian problem?

[21:37] Teodor Zinner: We all know that iran has a role in Palestinian problem. They are supporting Hamas, and this stupid presidet is really ruining everything.

[21:38] You: Do you plan to return to Iran when you finish your studies? [21:38] Teodor Zinner: No

[21:39] You: Are you concerned for the people you know who are still there?

[21:39] Teodor Zinner: Yes

[21:39] You: What do you plan to do when you graduate?

[21:39] Teodor Zinner: for Iran or for myself :) [

21:40] You: Both

[21:40] Teodor Zinner: As for myself, I'm looking for a job here. To be honest, it is a great country, and as you mentioned I can find many different groups of people here that I can hang out with. But for my country we have many problems. Like the US religion plays an important role in Iran too. I was shocked when I recognized people here are this religious.

[21:42] You: You didn't know?

[21:42] Teodor Zinner: Nope

[21:42] Teodor Zinner: I was expecting somethng like the lef[tist parties] in europe :)

[21:42] You: This is actually a pretty conservative country.

[21:41] You: Finally, if Pres. Bush were to ask for your advice about the Iraq war, what would you tell him?

[21:43] Teodor Zinner: President Bush lacks social acceptance and also international acceptance. If I was president bush at that time, I would try to find some firends inside Iraq [among] the parties who were against Saddam. [21:44] You: The US thought it had you know.

[21:44] Teodor Zinner: Yes. You know it is easy for us now to criticize Pres. Bush, because we know that it didn't work.

[21:45] You: There were people who predicted some of the problems we've seen in Iraq. That's why the US didn't try to depose Saddam in 1991. [21:46] Teodor Zinner: I didn't know that.

[21:47] You: But it sounds as if you feel that Pres. Bush was trying to do the right thing.

[21:48] Teodor Zinner: Well I don't know

[21:48] Teodor Zinner: If you ask me about a solution for iran

[21:48] Teodor Zinner: I would say it is very complicated also:

[21:50] You: No problem. Thank you so much for talking to me.

[21:54] Teodor Zinner: Tell them do not invade Iran. let Isreal invade its nuclear reactor but not the whole country ;)

[21:54] You: Will do. Thanks again. Good luck in your studies.

[21:55] Teodor Zinner: Thanks you too [21:55] You: And I hope the resources I mentioned help in your understanding of the

[21:55] Teodor Zinner: It was really my pleasure to talk to you here

[21:56] You: Same here. Good night. [21:56] Teodor Zinner: Good night. Photo: Teodor Zinner (left) and I chat in the Reuters Top News lounge.


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