We’re about 99.99999999877 percent certain life is pretty miserable for many of Iraq’s openly gay and transgender folks. If actually being murdered and tortured weren’t bad enough, living in fear that you’ll be among those rounded up (sometimes by state police), slayed, and left “wearing diapers and women’s lingerie” must be pretty daunting to just getting through the day. But wait, what’s this? News that being gay in Iraq is FANTASTIC?
Despite laughable assurances from U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs John Fleming that all is okay with gays in Iraq — you know, because homosexuality isn’t illegal, so what’s there to worry about? — reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and British-based Iraqi LGBT tell a very different story. Like how international advocates, so worried about the fate of queers there, are simply working to evacuate them after attempting the more insurmountable task of just keeping them safe.
Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, tells Edge Boston (in an excellent piece), “It’s been almost impossible, though, for us, or any other human rights organizations to verify them fully by making contact with eyewitnesses, victims, or others who could testify to them directly. This time, we were able to find people who had accounts of violence they had experienced and it seemed incumbent on us to go to Iraq to speak to as many of them as possible and see how we could help.” Long also says the “crackdown” on gay and even effeminate men is being led by militias commanded by the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (pictured), a group known as Sadrists, which radically contradicts al-Sadr’s supposed call for an end to anti-gay violence.
But are these murders part or a religious fatwa? Absolutely not, says Long. “Nobody in Iraq needs a fatwa to kill people they don’t like. … Although there are substantiated reports that Shi’ite mosques started preaching about the dangers of homosexuality earlier this years in neighborhoods such as [strong Sadrist centers] Medinat Sadr and Karrada, they do not appear to have directly called for killing. The orders to exterminate, if there were orders, came from high in the militia leadership and were political orders, not fatwas, per se.”
So how can anyone say gays in Iraq are “thriving”?
That’s the report from Islam Online, whose interpretation of gay life in Iraq is markedly different from international aid groups.
Gay life is thriving in post-invasion Iraq with many places becoming openly homosexual-friendly amid efforts by social groups and religious leaders to reverse the trend.
“The gay community in Iraq is increasing despite the fear from extremists,” Salahdinne Abdullah al-Rabia’a, a social worker in the capital Baghdad, told IslamOnline.net.
Contrary to reports that homosexuals are going underground, gays are reportedly gaining choices and places in the war-torn country.
In the first years after the US-led invasion, militant attacks had led gays to go into hiding.
But now, nearly seven years, gay life is taking some roots with central Baghdad emerging as their popular meeting point.
With very few money, as cheep as US $3, gay couples are able to spend hours in hotels with no worries of attacks or security arrests.
Cinemas, taverns and specific corners are the new havens for homosexuals, particularly males.
“I have to allow such sexual behaviors in my place because if I don’t, I will be forced to close my business due to the lack of clients,” argues Abu Ruwaida, a cinema owner in downtown Baghdad.
(Not to mention some of these new “gay-oriented business” include prostitution.)
Now before you go calling Islam Online the Middle East’s version of American denial site World Net Daily, take a look at some of their other stories: Here’s a sympathetic piece on a woman surviving domestic abuse and getting a divorce from her abusive husband with the help of activists; a positive review for the movie Angels & Demons (bad for Catholics, good for Muslims?); and a multimedia presentation on Iran’s presidential hopefuls (there’s more than just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad!).
Which begs the question: Who’s delivering these wildly different accounts? Certainly, the experiences of gays in Iraq differs from city to city, but Baghdad is reportedly home base to gays thriving and gays being targeted.
(Photo: World of Wonder)