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.)

Apres nous, le deluge

James Fallows posts an email from a friend of his who recently sat next to an Army sergeant coming back from Iraq:

  • Surge has “worked” because Iraqis who just want to start killing one another again are biding their time. Après nous, le deluge.
  • No one could comprehend the waste of money in US expenditures in Iraq.
  • IEDs have become infinitely more sophisticated, very high tech now, and can penetrate all but one type of US vehicle. Suicide bombers can penetrate anything they want.

Scene from a deli

It's 3 a.m. on a Thursday night in a Brooklyn corner deli.
CLERK #1, an Arabic man in his 40s, stands behind the
corner with a weary look on his face.

A CUSTOMER, a white man in his late 20s, walks up to the
counter, and pays for a single bottle of beer.

              (with an Brooklynese Italian accent)
          They got him. Zarqawi.

                          CLERK #1
              (not understanding)

          Zarqawi, you know, Zarqawi.

CLERK #2, an Arabic man in his early 20s, looks up from
mopping the floor.

                          CLERK #2
              (with a harder "r")

                          CLERK #1
          Ahh, Zarqawi.

          Yeah. (pause) I guess, I say it with my
          Italian accent ...

                          CLERK #1
          They got him?

          Yeah, it was on the news. They finally
          got that motherfucker.

                          CLERK #2
          A good thing.

          Yeah. (pause) Next is Bush.


Waiting for the final count

Give the Bushies some credit: They know how to force the Democrats into a corner. Witness the effusive outpouring of praise over last week’s Iraqi election, not just from the President’s own party or the easily cowed mainstream media, but from most voices in the supposed opposition party. Judging from the last week, history would have to judge Bush’s wrecklessness in Iraq as a resounding success. Iraqis overcame their fears and expressed their collective political will, so speaking out against the Bush policy is the same as speaking out against freedom, right?

Well, before we lefties go wringing our hands about whether Bush was right, let’s do the underappreciated work of picking through the fussy details. The White House may snicker at the “reality-based community”, but students of history know that if you don’t study reality, it will come back to bite you in the ass. Just ask Osama bin Laden.

The Iraqi election was a testament to the bravery of millions of individual Iraqis, but whether that bravery will be rewarded remains to be seen. How legitimate was this election, and how much will it contribute to stability? It was certainly an improvement over the single party rule of Saddam, of course, but there are lots of problems we should keep an eye out for before declaring political victory. For one thing, initial counts indicate that voter turnout was much lower for Sunnis, because many Sunni parties boycotted the vote and Sunni regions are the most dangerous right now. And the run-up to the election fell short of the vigorous debate you’d normally expect from a democratic process: You can’t have that sort of a debate when many candidates are anonymous so they won’t be killed by car bombs. So we should pay attention to reports that indicate that voters didn’t want to ratify democracy as much as kick out the U.S.: “Every Iraqi I have spoken with who voted explained that they believe the National Assembly which will be formed soon will signal an end to the occupation.” And if preliminary reports are to be trusted, the man to be entrusted with that mandate may be the Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani. Remember that the last time that Shiite religious fundamentalists got to ride a nationalist wave against neocolonial powers, they took control of Iran for, well, 25 years and counting.

Continue reading “Waiting for the final count” »