Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The slow awakening





This is Iraqi Mustafa sharing his story:

There is a hmam [bath] in Basra that gays frequent. I entered, but I was very careful how I looked and acted. I took a shower, and then this man approached me. He started talking about the situation in Iraq: how people should be more open, accept changes and change with them. He was very clever in his questions!
He asked if I watched satellite TV. I said yes. He asked if I watched the European channels. I denied that I did. He said, "The Internet is a good thing; it is good that it came to our country." He asked what websites I visited. I just said, various ones. He asked if I went to porn sites. I denied it. Then he asked if I used Manjam [a personals site popular among gay men]. He was very smart: that website is only known among the gays, I thought. When he said that, I trusted him; I admitted it.
He smiled for a couple of minutes, a very neutral, slick smile, just looking at me. Then he grabbed me by the hair and started beating me, shouting, "You are gays." That was how he said it: gays. He dragged me out of the shower; I begged him to let me put my clothes on, and he let me dress, but then he dragged me onto the street, shouting "You sodomite!" [Enta luti].
People gathered around us while he was hitting me, and tried to interfere. They said, "How do you know he is a sodomite? Did you see him practicing liwat?" The man said, "I have my own ways of find out!" I was begging them to help, and while they were trying to reason with him, I took advantage of the confusion and ran away. We were on a narrow, winding street; I must have run 300 meters before I reached a shop where they sell rope. I shouted dakhilak [a cry for asylum]. The owner let me hide in his shop.
He put me in the cellar, but even there I could hear the man shouting, "Where is he?" and other voices joining him. Two hours later, the owner told me he had to close the shop. He said the man was from the Mahdi Army and the militia was searching for me up and down the street. I pleaded with him to let me stay overnight, and so he shuttered the shop up and let me hide there. In the morning, after dawn prayer, he came and said it was safe and I ran away.

Mustafa is among the Iraqis sharing his story in a Human Rights Watch report entitled "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq." For the 67-page report [PDF format warning] click here. We noted the report yesterday and we're noting it again today. It is news. Iraq's LGBT community is being targeted. And, with that it, all people who don't fit some theocratic thug's stereotype of what a man or a woman is. They're being terrorized and this is taking place while US troops are on the ground which really underscores that US troops need to leave Iraq. When they can't even provide protection to the at risk population, there's no reason for them to remain in the country. Human Rights Watch's report notes that the Kurdistan Regional Government does everything they can to publicly black out discussions of same-sex issues. In terms of the KRG, that's it from the report. The gangs are Shi'ites, militias. Allowed to operate and terrorize by Nouri's security forces who look the other way even as the bodies pile up. In April 2008, Mashal was kidnapped in Baghdad. He tells HRW, "There was a police patrol right next to my store when they kidnapped me; they saw everything that was happening, but they didn't intervene. Everyone believes the police [in the area] are under the control of the Mahdi Army." Nouri's security forces and Interior Ministry are accused of blackmailing gays on top of everything ("And gay men are especially easy for them to blackmail," says an Iraqi military officer). The report notes, "One young man told us a story in which official corruption and brutality intertwine. In early 2009, as the broader militia campaign was getting underway. Ministry of Interior officers kidnapped and tortured him in a murderous shakedown, to extort money because they knew he worked with an LGBT organization abroad. He paid and escaped. He says he saw the bodies of five men killed because they could not pay." Nuri was stopped by the police, a bag pulled over his head, beaten and pulled into a car which desposited him at the Interior Ministry:

Once we got there, I heard them talking on a walkie-talkie: they were telling people from the intelligence service what had happened.
They put me in a room, a regular room, took the bag off my head, and there I was with five other gay men. I didn't know them previously, but I found out we had mutual friends. They gave their female names but not their real names. Gay men in Iraq are very cautious that way.
Then two hours later, they separated us and put each in a room. After they separated us, I didn't know anything about the fate of the other five men. And then a police officer dame and said, "Do you know where you are? You are in the interrogation wing of the Ministry of Interior." He told me, 'If you have ten thousand US dollars, we will let you go."
I said I didn't have that kind of money.
The next day at 10 a.m., they cuffed by hands behind my back. Then they tied a rope around my legs, and they hung me upside down from a hook in the ceiling, from morning till sunset. I passed out. I was stripped down to my underwear while I was hung upside down. They cut me down that night, but they gave me no water or food.

In the United States, we were outraged, appalled and disgusted by the events of October 12, 1998. That was when Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered. He was beaten, tortured and left to die tied to a fence. It was outrageous and inhumane. And Matthew Shepard's brutal death galvanized the country into action and out of apathy on the issue. In Iraq today, there are multiple Matthew Shepards, targeted because they are gay or thought to be gay, targeted, threatened, beaten, murdered. And the White House has not condemned it and the United Nations has not condemned it and just attempting to get press coverage of the issue is like moving a mountain.

Steve Inskeep (NPR) observes, "The report is painful to read. It begins with the words of an Iraqi man describing the abduction, murder, and mutiliation of his partner -- and it's not clear from the description if the three-events happened in that order. Like many HRW reports it appears to be based on the specific detailed accounts of survivors and eyewitnesses. Homosexuality in Iraq is so thoroughly submerged that according to the report there is not even a commonly accepted term for it, no Iraqi equivalent of 'gay.' Nevertheless it has become a major focus for Iraqi militiamen, who have waged a 'killing campaign' to eliminate what some consider a social disease brought by the American army." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) adds, "Among the tortures described to Human Rights Watch researchers by gays and doctors is the practice of injecting glue into men's anuses. Human Rights Watch says that according to the gays its researchers interviewed, the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, 'bears primary responsibility and launched the killing in early 2009'." CBC speaks with HRW's Tom Porteous who states, "One theory is in order to maintain relevance and to gain publicity, they are now taking it upon themselves to run a campaign to -- in the words of some preachers and some media commentators -- cleanse the country of depravity, which again is bieng interpreted as being brought in by the foreign invasion and occupation." Neal Broveman (The Advocate) covers the report and how "Iraqi officials allegedly knew about the murders but have done little to stop future killings." Dalila Mahdwai (Lebanon's Daily Star) explains, "Although the violence is mainly concentrated in the Iraqi capital, abuse has also been recorded in other the cities of Basra, Kirkuk and Najaf, Moumneh said. 'Murders are committed with impunity, admonitory in intent, with corpses dumped in garbage or hung as warnings on the street,' the report said." Free Speech Radio News points out, "Homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq, and according to HRW, the militia action spurred by the Mahdi Army violates the tenets of legality, proof, and privacy enshrined in Sharia law as well." Mark Memmott (NPR) includes HRW's call for Nouri al-Maliki's government to condenm the assaults while Alsumaria notes, "Iraq authorities have done nothing to stop the killing, Human Rights Watch said calling on Iraq's government to act urgently to rein in militia abuses, punish the perpetrators, and stop a new resurgence of violence that threatens all Iraqis' safety."

It matters. So does the Iraq War -- although to some it's past tense "so did." Conservative Byron York (Washington Examiner) observes:

Remember the anti-war movement? Not too long ago, the Democratic party's most loyal voters passionately opposed the war in Iraq. Democratic presidential candidates argued over who would withdraw American troops the quickest. Netroots activists regularly denounced President George W. Bush, and sometimes the U.S. military ("General Betray Us"). Cindy Sheehan, the woman whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, became a heroine when she led protests at Bush's Texas ranch.
That was then. Now, even though the United States still has roughly 130,000 troops in Iraq, and is quickly escalating the war in Afghanistan -- 68,000 troops there by the end of this year, and possibly more in 2010 -- anti-war voices on the Left have fallen silent.

He explains that at Netroots Nation (Daily Toilet Scrubbers Unite!), Stan Greenberg polled and the dead last issue for the Cult of St. Barack was "working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan." Byron York's not pointing out anything that we haven't pointed out community wide; however, it's worth noting that the right-wing is now laughing at the hypocrisy of the so-called left. As they should. (York also notes Cindy Sheehan will be at Martha's Vineyard next week to protest during Barack's vacation there.) Byron York offers more honesty than 'from the left' Brian Katulis who writes at American Progress that the SOFA creates "an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces on a three-year timeline" -- it does no such thing. What a load of crap and what a way to flaunt ignorance. No link to trash (or government propaganda -- US Institute of Peace). I'm real damn sorry that little Katulis felt the need to talk about something he knows nothing about but for those who actually have signed contracts -- and for those of us who have been able to legally break those contracts -- we're damn well aware of what a contract does and doesn't do. The SOFA replaced the UN mandate for the occupation. The US didn't want to renew it because the US government already wasn't living up to legal obligations under it. Nouri didn't want to renew it because under the UN mandate he had less ability to manuever. The SOFA was a way to continue the Iraq War. It was not about ending it. It is a three year treaty and, at the end of it, it can be extended. That's why Nouri floated that idea on his DC visit last month. If you've never signed a contract and/or you have no background in contract law, maybe it's time you just found something else to talk about it because you only embarrass yourself as you attempt to misinform others.

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