Last May, Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith interviewed seven young Iraqi men on the program. CBS News summed up the interview: “Many Iraqis think conditions have gotten so bad in their country, they’d like to see Saddam Hussein back in power…” One stated, “A lot of people want, well, ‘We just want Saddam come back. We don’t want to live this life. OK, dictator? We don’t care; doesn’t matter anymore. We just want Saddam get back. We just want our life to get back to before.’” Leaving aside the daily “collateral damage” killings of Iraqi civilians, and the occupiers’ failure to accomplish the most basic reconstruction goals, the collapse of law and order and accompanying empowerment of fanatic religious militias has made life hell for women, Christians and other religious minorities, and intellectuals.
“Under the previous dictator regime, the basic rights for women were enshrined in the constitution,” the head of an Iraqi women’s group told Inter Press Service News Agency in March. Under Saddam, “women could go out to work, university and get married or divorced in civil courts. But at the moment women have lost almost all their rights and are being pushed back into the corner of their house.” “I think we were better off under Saddam,” 38-year-old Christian Amira Nisan told Religious News Service in May 2003, after her family was forcibly evicted from their Baghdad home. Her Muslim landlord had decided that with the collapse of Saddam’s secular regime he would no longer rent to non-Muslims. “I'm afraid for my people,” said Bishop Ishlemon Warduni, the leader of Iraq’s Chaldeans, 80% of Iraq’s Christians. During the war, we were not afraid like we are now. All Christians are in danger.” That was before tens of thousands of Christians fled to the welcoming embrace of neighboring, secular Syria. Things are only getting worse for the Christians.
As for intellectuals, over a thousand university professors had been killed by the end of 2005 by thugs taking advantage of the invasion-induced chaos to lash out those whose critical reasoning clashes with their religious prejudices. A Baghdad University political science professor has stated, “To tell the truth, in the time of Saddam Hussein, we used to speak to our students freely.… But now, a lot of people are not willing to say these kinds of things because of fear.” Thousands of intellectuals are fleeing the country.
Now, the U.S. military of course decries all this. Last semester, a group of military officers who had been stationed in Iraq spoke at a forum at my university. They were actually divided on the issue of whether or not the war was justified, and when I asked from the floor how anyone could possibly say that things were now better in Iraq, one frankly said he didn’t know, and that he’s wrestling with the issue. Another responded with some indignation that of course things were better now, as though the query was itself impertinent. This knee-jerk response to reality is widespread. When Howard Dean says, “…as of today (August 2005) it looks like women will be worse off in Iraq than they were when Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq,” or Hillary Clinton says (Feb. 2004), “Women tell me they can’t leave their homes, they can’t go about their daily business. And there is a concerted effort to burn schools that are educating girls [and] to intimidate aid workers who are women,” the butthead American counterparts of Iraq’s fundamentalists are all over them.
The traitors! How dare they say such things!
But the fact is, things are worse. And for none more than that group most vulnerable historically to attacks from religious fanatics: homosexuals. Last month Ali Hili, who used to run a gay nightclub in Baghdad, told The Times of London he knows of more than 40 Iraqi gay men killed this year. “We could never envisage this happening when Saddam (Hussein) was overthrown,” the 33-year-old now in exile declared. “I had no love for the former president, but his regime never persecuted the gay community.” “There was no homophobic attitudes toward gay and lesbians,” he told Democracy Now!. “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?”
In April 2005, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared that homosexuals should be killed in the “worst, most severe way.” (This presumably in accordance with the hadith, “Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to,” closely comparable to the Biblical injunction in Leviticus 20:13 championed by some in the U.S. Christian religious right.) The Badr Corps, military wing of the of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq well represented in the regime midwifed by the occupation, is among the militia tracking down and brutally murdering gay men and boys. Last month, following the murder of a 14-year-old boy-prostitute by the Iraqi police, al-Sistani removed the anti-gay male fatwa from his website (retaining one against lesbians). Not that this will necessarily change the militiamen’s behavior towards gays.
Al-Sistani is of course viewed by the occupiers as an ally of sorts, since he has discouraged armed resistance and commands the respect of the SCIRI and other Shiite politicians dominating what President Bush wants to call an independent, democratic new country. So while officially “troubled” by the bourgeoning misogyny, religious intolerance, anti-intellectual and homophobic plagues unleashed by the illegal overthrow of the former regime, U.S. spokespersons can’t attack too squarely the Muslim fundamentalist repression exercised by their sometimes allies.
“If someone is in danger of being slaughtered or persecuted, we do all we can to stop it,” says Army Maj. Joseph Todd Breasseale, chief of the Media Relations Division of the Multinational Corps in Iraq. In other words, the U.S. military, which officially regards bans gays who are out unsuitable for military service, does want to stop the slaughter of Iraqi gays. But he adds:
“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, when we’re in a fledgling time like this, to go in and say, ‘Here’s these issues that are going to repel 80 percent of the population and this is what we want to inflict on you.’ We’re trying not to get into too many values judgment type issues and just do the right thing.” That’s what Breasseale told the Washington Blade, the capital’s GLBT newspaper.
So let me get this straight. In this “fledgling time,” while the primordial chaos of the criminal invasion still prevails, the occupiers -- bogged down in suppressing resistance to their presence, slaughtering civilians in the process -- haven’t much wherewithal to prevent other, indigenous Iraqi slaughter. The latter can be attributed, with anthropological indifference, to age-old Muslim culture. The occupiers have better things to do than to “get into” the “values judgment issue” of shooting 14-year-old gay boys, especially if 80% of the population has no problem with that. That’d be “inflicting” somebody else’s values (although not, apparently, the Major’s), and that just wouldn’t make sense, would it?
So doing the “right thing” must mean doing something else: publicly acknowledging that gay people shouldn’t be murdered, probably, and it’s not the occupiers’ policy that they should be. But, hey, this is the Iraqis’ business. At least they’re free now.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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