Preface: Shortly after this article was first published in The Guardian on Sep 25, news came from Iraq that the coordinator of Iraqi LGBT in Baghdad — Bashar, 27 — had been assassinated in a barber shop. Militias burst in and sprayed his body with bullets.
“Bashar was a kind, generous and extremely brave young man — a true hero who put his life on the line to save the lives of others,” says Peter Tatchell of UK-based queer rights group Outrage. He calls Bashar an “inspiration to all people everywhere fighting against tyranny and injustice.”
Read more about the situation for gays living in Iraq in Tatchell’s piece below:
The so-called “improved” security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not gay Iraqis. Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree, with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, as Newsweek recently revealed.
One of these clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Shia Islam, issued a fatwa urging the killing of lesbians and gays in the “worst, most severe way possible.”
The short film Queer Fear – Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq produced by David Grey for Village Film, documents the tragic fates of a several individual gay Iraqis. You can view it below. Watch and weep. It’s a truly poignant and moving revelation about the terrorization and murder of Iraqi lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Since this film was made, the killings have continued and, many say, got worse.
For gay Iraqis there is little evidence of the transition to democracy. They don’t experience any newfound respect for human rights. Life for them is even worse than under the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
It is a death sentence in today’s “liberated” Iraq to love a person of the same sex, or for a woman to have sex outside of marriage, or for a Muslim to give up his or her faith or embrace another religion.
The reality on the ground is that theocracy is taking hold of the country, including in Basra, which was abandoned by the British military. In place of foreign occupation, the city’s inhabitants now endure the terror of fundamentalist militias and death squads. Those who are deemed insufficiently devout and pure are liable to be assassinated.
The death squads of the Badr organization and the Madhi army are targeting gays and lesbians, according to UN reports, in a systematic campaign of sexual cleansing. They proudly boast of their success, claiming that they have already exterminated all “perverts and sodomites” in many of the major cities.
My friends in Iraq have relayed to me the tragic story of five gay activists, who belonged to the underground movement gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT.
Eye-witnesses confirm that they saw the men being led out of a house at gunpoint by officers in police uniform. Yes, Iraqi police! Nothing has been heard of the five victims since then. In all probability, they have been executed by the police — or by Islamist death squads who have infiltrated the Iraqi police and who are using their uniforms to carry out so-called honour killings of gay people, unchaste women and many others.
The arrested and disappeared men were Amjad 27, Rafid 29, Hassan 24, Ayman 19 and Ali 21. As members of Iraq’s covert gay rights movement, for the previous few months they had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, relaying details of the murders to the outside world, and providing safe houses and support to other gay people fleeing the death squads.
Their abduction is just one of many outrages by anti-gay death squads. lslamist killers burst into the home of two lesbians in the city of Najaf. They shot them dead, slashed their throats, and also murdered a young child who the women had rescued from the sex trade. The two women, both in their mid-30s, were members of Iraqi LGBT. They were providing a safe house for gay men on the run from death squads. By sheer luck, none of the men who were being given shelter in the house were at home when the assassins struck. They have since fled to Baghdad and are hiding in an Iraqi LGBT safe house there.
Large parts of Iraq are now under the de facto control of the militias and their death squad units. They enforce a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as “crimes against Islam.” These “crimes” include listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.
Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Bush and Brown-backed Iraqi government. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s governing coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship. The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But if the Madhi or Badr militias gain in influence and strength, as seems likely in the long-term, it could result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.
Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant. I campaigned against his blood-stained misrule for nearly 30 years. But while Saddam was president, there was certainly no danger of gay people being assassinated in their homes and in the street by religious fanatics.
Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is much worse. Even children suspected of being gay are abducted and later found shot in the head.
Lesbian and gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police, since the police are heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. The death squads can kill with impunity. Pro-fundamentalist ministers in the Iraqi government are turning a blind eye to the killings, and helping to protect the killers. Some “liberation.”
This article was originally published by The Guardian, London, on 25 Sep 2008. Republished on xtra.ca with permission of Peter Tatchell.