Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gay Iraqis Fared Better Under Saddam

During a March 23 program on the American program Democracy Now!, Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi living in exile in Great Britain, stated that being gay was far easier under Saddam Hussein’s regime than it is currently. He says:
Iraq, at the time of Saddam, was — I mean, I'm talking about as a gay Iraqi — it
was not as bad as we can see now. In fact, it was a little bit — we [had] a
little bit acceptance … There was no homophobic attitudes toward gay and
lesbians. Most of them [were] welcomed in the community and the society … Well,
we started to receive information, in particular, the last two years, when we
made contact with our friends, in particular, my old friends in Baghdad. And
horrific, horrific details about, I mean killing, intimidation, harassing,
arresting. It's a very dark age for gays and lesbians and transsexuals and
bisexuals in Iraq right now. And the fact that Iraq has been shifted from a
secular state into a religious state was completely, completely horrific. We
were very modern. We were very, very Western culturalized — Iraq — comparing to
the rest of the Middle East. Why it's been shifted to this Islamic dark ages
country? … We were much better off in the Saddam time, although he's a tyrant.
Such a statement is not a surprise, what with the numerous Shi'a death squads abducting and murdering gay people throughout Iraq. In a article published in the Gay City News, Doug Ireland relates the dangers gay Iraqis face on a day-to-day basis. According to the article, the Badr Corps is entrapping gay men via the internet under the guise of a date, and then beat and kill the victim within hours of meeting. The Badr Corps, the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is infamous for violently killing targeting propenents of what they see as immoral behavior, including unveiled women, sellers of alcohol and people who listen to Western music.

The Badr Corps has been targeting gay people for a while, but incidents increased in late 2005, when Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, the 77-year-old Iranian-born cleric and the supreme Shi'a authority in Iraq, issued a fatwa against homosexual people in the Q&A section of his website. Translated, the section reads:

What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism?
Forbidden. Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.
Essentially, this statement gives a green light to Shi'a militants to hunt and kill gay people, a passtime they did not so freely enjoy under Saddam Hussein's regime. Why?The answer is complicated. Firstly, it involved the issues of power and control. In order to keep control, innumerablte leaders in the past have created enemies - often artifical - in order to maintain control over the populace, in effect distracting the people from noticing their leaders' faults. Such was the tactic of Pol Pot, Hitler, McCarthy, Louis VII, etc. Under the regime of Hussein, the people of Iraq were provided with a malicious enemy: the West.

Hussein was easily able to blame the Iraqis' troubles on the injurious actions of the West, mainly the United States. Ostensibly, the sufferings of the Iraqis were due to Western sanctions and not a result of Hussein's tyranny, when, in fact, both were huge, symbiotic factors.

Such was a main reason why gay people were not as much of a target under Hussein. Sure, "honor killings" of gay people were tolerated, but there were neither roving gangs kidnapping and murdering gay people nor numerous court trials on homosexual activity.

Currently, the situation has changed drastically due to one main factor - Iraqi leaders can no longer effectively use America as a scapegoat. With the breakdown of the Iraqi government after the U.S. invasion, leaders are scrambling to gain power in the inchoate government. America cannot be used as an enemy because it will not leave Iraq in an anti-American state. Furthermore, it will actively dissemble the anti-American leadership, as witnessed in the folly of Moqtada al-Sadr, whose newspaper was banned in March 2004. Thus, an internal enemy is needed, and gay people, supposedly immoral and subversive to society, are an easy target.

To add insult to injury, gay people are a target that the United States will ignore. With American support for the war continuously decreasing, America wants to pull out from Iraq as soon as possible, which can only be achieved when leadership that presumably represents its interests is in place. In addition, America will do almost anything to appeal to the Shi'a, for it wants to be in a position to negotiate with Iran and stymie its nuclear plans.

Because of this, America is willing to ignore certain scapegoating. Shi'a-Sunni tension it will definitely not, because a civil war would irreparably tarnish its image of success. Targeting of women it will probably not, because women's rights was a much-publicized "reason" behind the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But gays? No problem. Americans don't overwhelmingly care about gay people, and a few gay people dying daily in Iraq will not tarnish the U.S.'s image of success.

The situation for gay people in Iraq is unlikely to improve. The legality of homosexual behavior is uncertain. A death penalty imposed in 2001 for homosexualty was ordered by Paul Bremer to be removed when the U.S. occupied Iraq, but whether or not that was accomplished is uncertain. Other laws in the Iraqi Criminal Code are vague and loosely applicable. Furthermore, the new Iraqi constitution is equally indeterminate, with the stipulation that Islamic law will be the rule of the land.

If there were legal clarification regarding homosexuality, the situation for gay people might improve, simply because punishment would be in the hands of the government and not roving gangs. In addition, gay people would know better what to expect, and how to avoid persecution.

April 14 Update:

Doug Ireland published another article in the Gay City News about gay people in Iraq. In it, he states that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has confirmed that gay Iraqis have been targeted for kidnapping and murder. An interesting excerpt:

The U.N. report said that Iraq’s gay community is one of those targeted 'for
reasons other than ransom money,' and said that one local non-governmental
organization reported that 'members of Iraq’s small gay community had received
more than 70 threats from kidnappers in the past two months, while 12 have been

April 15 Update:

Apparently Moqtada Al-Sadr's followers are in on the action, too, according to the New York Times:

Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army, a force of armed men loyal to the Shiite cleric
Moqtada Al-Sadr, has been pushing into Musayyib, introducing a harsh brand of
Islamic law. According to Staff Sgt. Joseph Schicker, a psychological operations
soldier, Mahdi militiamen recently threw battery acid on a woman whose ankles
were showing and dragged a man accused of being gay through the streets.


Blogger arch.memory said...

Do you know of anything (petition, etc.) taking place that might help raise awareness of this? I know it's not much, but it's better than nothing...

April 27, 2006 3:12 PM  
Blogger Al-Fil said...

Well, the BBC reported on it April 17, which is good.

As did the Advocate on April 25.

There are no real petitions that I know of. I don't know how effective they would be. Maybe some organization like the HRC in the US or Amnesty International could do something. I'll write them a letter.

May 01, 2006 3:45 PM  

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