Gay Iraqis, hunted in their own country

Gay Iraqis are living in heightened fear as they become the victim of militia and government terror, reports New York Magazine:

... in February of this year, something changed. There was no announcement, no fatwa, no openly declared policy by a cleric or militia leader or politician, but a wave of anti-gay hysteria hit the country. An Iraqi TV station, with disapproving commentary, showed a video of a group of perhaps two dozen young men at a private dance party, wiggling their hips like female belly dancers. Terms like the third sex and puppies, a newly coined slur, began to appear in hostile news reports. Shia and Sunni clerics started to preach in their Friday sermons about the evils of homosexuality and “the people of Lot.” Police officers stepped up their harassment of openly gay men. Families and tribes cast out their gay relatives. The bodies of gay men like Mazen and Namir, often mutilated, began turning up on the street. There is no way to verify the number of tortured or harassed, but the best available estimates place that figure in the thousands. Hundreds of men are believed to have been killed.

The eruption of violence in February appears to have been an unintended consequence of the country’s broader peace. In the wake of the surge in American troops and the increase in strength of the Iraqi military and police forces, Iraq’s once-powerful Sunni and Shia militias have wound down their attacks against American forces and one another. Now they appear to be repositioning themselves as agents of moral enforcement, exploiting anti-gay prejudice as a means of engendering public support. Gay Iraqis seem to believe that the Mahdi Army is the main, but not only, culprit in the purges. “They’ve started a new game to make people follow them. No more whores, no more lesbians, no more gays,” a friend of Fadi’s told me. “They’re sending a message to people: ‘We are still here, and we can do anything we want.’ ”

The article also describes the efforts of Human Rights Watch to spirit some of the men out of the country to safety, and the difficulties of that mission. I went to the HRW site and was surprised to see there isn’t any specific fundraising appeal for this effort—I suspect that making this a focused campaign, operationally and in terms of fundraising, might enable them to do some more good in this area.

In the meantime, it’s issues like these that make me wonder how long we in the U.S. will decide to stay engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between reports of Iraqi policemen torturing and killing innocent gay men, and reports of widespread electoral fraud in Afghanistan, there’s probably some point where the American people stop caring about fine distinctions and get disgusted by the whole thing. (Regardless of whose fault it is that it got that way in the first place, obviously.)

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Tagged: iraq, gay, human_rights

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