Thursday, November 10, 2011







One of 2010's important books was Deborah Amos' Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East which examines Sunnis who relocated to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, most as part of Iraq's refugee population -- a population created by the Iraq War and so huge that it became the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. People forced to flee their homes rarely arrive in a new area on strong footing. Most refugees have to play catch up for basic items that didn't make the journey, for cash that is usually finite and dwindling. In such circumstances and in countries where they are legally forbidden to work, a black market economy develops. For women, black market employment has historically included prostitution. In Syria, Deborah Amos met a number of women engaged in the sex trade:
Another woman said her name was Abeer. "My husband tried to smuggle the kids to Sweden, but they got caught and are back in Baghdad," she told me. She had divorced her husband when he set off for Sweden. She had agreed to the separation for the sake of her two children. Now, she lived with her sister, and worried about her kids. She sent her club earnings home for them. But why had she come to Damascus, I asked; what had driven her to come here in the first place?" "I was a journalist," she said. In 2007, she was hired by a television station based in Baghdad. She worked as a correspondent until the day her mother found a ltter that had been thrown into the family farden: "Leave in 28 hours or we will kill you." Syria was the only open border. While I was pondering Abeer's choices, she clicked her cellphone shut, took one last look at her mirror image, and moved toward [the] door. "Have a good night," she said knowingly, one businesswoman to another, as she made her way into the dark nightclub.
I could see why this was Um Nour's favorite club. The system of cost-and-rewards favored women who wanted some control over their work. It was a freelance market. We had walked in through the front door for "free," while the male patrons paid a steep cover charge and even more for the alcohol and snacks delivered to the table. Um Nour explained that women paid the Syrian men at the door at the end of the night -- but only if they left with a man.
Iraq has a long historical connection to prostitution. The Whore of Babylon is a character in the Bible's Book of Revelations, the symbol of all things evil. The world's oldest profession was first recorded in Mesopotamia in the second millennium B.C. The code of Hammurabi, the ancient world's first fixed laws for a metropolis, acknowledged prostitution and gave prostitutes some inheritance rights.
How much choice a woman selling sex for money is debatable -- even when we're not looking at a refugee population. But the women in that section of Amos' book are women who have reached their decisions apparently without being forced into by another person. Many Iraqi women are not so fortunate and are forced into prostitution. Today, Hajer Nailis (WeNews) reports:
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, as many as 5,000 women and girls have been trafficked for sexual exploitation, with most ending up in Syria, according to a preliminary report released today by the London-based Social Change Through Education in the Middle East.
Jordan is the second-ranking destination for trafficked girls and women, according to the Nov. 9 report.
These two bordering countries have maintained a relatively liberal policy of granting visas to refugees while also subjecting them to labor restrictions. That combination, the report finds, puts girls and women at high risk of seeking money through prostitution and also being prostituted by families and organized networks.
"Both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have failed to address the problem of sex trafficking," the report finds, also noting that the Iraqi constitution prohibits the trafficking of women and children, as well as the sex trade and slavery.
1. Between 2003-2007, 4,000 Iraqi women went missing, 1/5 of whom is under 18
2. Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls and women are trafficked internally and internationally into the sex trade
3. Iraqi women are trafficked mainly to Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf countries
4. Traffickers reportedly sell girls as young as 11, for figures such as $30,000
5. Some traffickers have the girls operated on in severe conditions, whereby the hymen is sewn up, so the girls can be sold as virgins again
6. It has been reported that some girls and women are kidnapped, drugged and forced to have sex with between 10 and 15 men every day
7. Tafficked women and victims of sexual violence often find themselves in jail, while authorities ignore their exploiters and the society rejects them.
April 9th, they presented a paper, entitled [PDF format warning] "An Investigation into the Sex Trafficking of Iraqi Women and Girls in Syria and Jordan," to the Women Solidarity for an Independent and Unified Iraq Conference. Among the findings:
Professional traffickers target young girls and women whilst they are still inside the Iraqi borders. These traffickers, very often women, target young girls who have left their families (for reasons of fear of violence, abuse, forced marriage or the threat of honour crimes) typically in places such as public transportations in larger cities. Kidnapped, the girls may be kept for a period of time while negotiations on their prices are undertaken, before they are sold on.
In other cases, male solicitors are recruited by trafficking gangs. These men are used to lure vulnerable young girls, eventually persuading them to elope whereby; again, they will be sold for sexual servitude. Some taxi drivers, too, are used as recruiters to lure girls with the false pretence of help, whereas women who are already involved in the sex industry are used as intermediaries who again pretend to offer assistance, offering to bring the girls to shelters when, in fact, they bring them to brothels.
We noted Syria via Deborah Amos' excellent book so let's also include the paper's discussion of the three levels of prostitution being practiced in Syria.
The first level [prostitution on the individual level] refers to a girl or woman who has made the decision to engage in prostitution and without the knowledge of her family. In reality, this decision is often one arrived at as a consequence of being forced by poverty and circumstance. Whilst the well-being and safety of these girls is absolutely important, SCEME's research and campaigning focuses on the subsequent, and often interconnected, two levels which relate to the forced sexual servitude of girls and women; the levels of family and organized networks.
The second level [prostitution on the family level] refers to those forced in work with the knowledge and active involvement of family members; these family members are most often male. This type of prostitution is also called "secret prostitution" and is most frequently reported in the Jaramana area of Damascus.
Complexly interwoven with trafficking and forced prostitution we also report that Iraqi girls are increasingly finding themselves in mut'a marriages. As the Karama Movement in the Arab Region has uncovered, on Fridays young girls are married off at price and on the following Sunday the couple is divorced. Research suggests that rates at which these mut'a marriages are carried out intensifies in the summer when male tourists visit Syria from the Gulf. Some of these tourists arrive looking to pay dowries to the families or pimps of these girls in exchange for brief marriages for the purposes of sexual exploitation for the duration of their visit. These so called 'summer-marriages' in which the girls and their husbands live together temporarily of course also provide none of the legal rights associated with marriage, such as alimony and inheritance, making vulnerable both the women involved and their resulting children. Although this particular kind of marriage is not explicitly called prostitution, it is in effect sexual exploitation, often forced, as means of either securing livelihood, or generating profit.
The third level [prostitution on the level of organized networks] involves organized networks and criminal gans which offer women and young girls for sale to people in the local community, tourists, as well as night clubs and casinos. Traffickers played an important role in opening such nightclubs in collaboration with brokers in Syria, relying on the selling of the bodies of female Iraqis. Clubs such as Al Nigma and Al Manara in the suburbs of Damascus are frequented both by local Syrians and tourists from the Gulf and beyond.
From time to time, I'm asked by a friend to note something -- sometimes something they've worked on. [Like right now, Laura Smith-Spark's CNN report will be noted in tomorrow's snapshot.] I deliberately took a pass on Women, War and Peace -- a five-part PBS mini-series because I think it's bulls**t and garbage. Here's the link to the mini-series for any who feel the need to check it out. Why do I have such a harsh judgment of the mini-series? It's not for Geena Davis' narration (Geena's narration may be one of the few things worth praising).
You want to pretend you're talking about war and women and peace -- you want to pretend your five-part series focuses at all on women? Then how about you note Iraq? You can't because it won't allow you to bulls**t the way PBS and the US government wants. (BS that also, it should be noted, avoids peace activists while putting "Peace" in the title of the program.) Check out the stories. The series is about how the US government helped. In some cases, well after the fact, but always it helped. And including the reality that the US-led war on Iraq destroyed women's rights in Iraq doesn't allow us to all feel so happy and pleased with ourselves. It's nothing but junk and garbage on supposed 'education TV.' PBS is lying as badly as Barack when he speaks of 'success' in Iraq.
The lies that you tell
Will leave you alone
They'll keep you down
They'll catch you and trip you up
Keep you hangin' around
-- "Love You By Heart," written by Carly Simon, Jacob Brackman and Libby Titus, first appears on Carly's Spy album
Francine Kiefer (Christian Science Monitor) reported on the reality for Iraqi women last March as documented in Freedom House's "Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa 2010:"
War hurt both sexes in Iraq, but it significantly increased gender-based violence against women. Kidnappings, rapes, and "honor killings" soared in Iraq. That made many women afraid to go out, with a negative spin-off on their employment and education.
Meanwhile, Iraq seems to be moving toward a more conservative society, and this has affected the role of women in politics. Only one woman serves as a cabinet member in the new Iraqi government, as the minister for women's affairs. In the two previous governments, women held from four to six positions.
And in parliament, many of the women are relatives of party members. The New York Times reported this week that only 5 of 86 female parliamentarians got their seats because they won them. The rest were placed there by party leaders to meet the 25 percent quota.
The women MPs are often locked out of party strategy sessions. But some of them don't mind, in part because they don't believe they have the necessary experience (as if democracy is somehow newer to Iraqi women than it is to Iraqi men).
The declining rights of women in Iraq are not a new development or even a just discovered one. Nadje Sadig Al-Ali was covering this topic for Le Monde back in May of 2007:
Women's organisations have also documented Islamist violence to women, including acid thrown into faces, even targeted killings. In 2003 many women in Basra reported that they were forced to wear a headscarf or restrict their movements because men began to harass or shout at them.
Women of all ages are now forced to comply with dress codes and be careful when they go out. Suad, a former accountant and mother of four, lives in a neighbourhood of Baghdad that used to be mixed before sectarian killings in 2005 and 2006. She told me: "I resisted for a long time, but last year I started wearing the hijab, after I was threatened by several Islamist militants in front of my house. They are terrorising the whole neighbourhood, behaving as if they were in charge. And they are actually controlling the area. No one dares to challenge them. A few months ago they distributed leaflets around the area warning people to obey them and demanding that women should stay at home."
The threat of Islamist militias now goes beyond dress codes and calls for gender segregation at university. Despite, indeed partly because of the US and British rhetoric about liberation and rights, women have been pushed into the background and into their homes. Women with a public profile (doctors, academics, lawyers, NGO activists, politicians) are threatened and targeted for assassination. There are also criminal gangs who worsen the climate of fear by kidnapping women for ransom, sexual abuse or sale into prostitution outside Iraq.
It isn't a surprise that many of the women I interviewed remember the past nostalgically.
In March 2010, three years after the Le Monde article, Dahr Jamail and Abdu Rahman (Al Jazeera) were reporting: the same findings:
"The status of women here is linked to the general situation," Maha Sabria, professor of political science at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad tells IPS. "The violation of women's rights was part of the violation of the rights of all Iraqis." But, she said, "women bear a double burden under occupation because we have lost a lot of freedom because of it.
[. . .]
Sabria tells IPS that the abduction of women "did not exist prior to the occupation. We find that women lost their right to learn and their right to a free and normal life, so Iraqi women are struggling with oppression and denial of all their rights, more than ever before."
Yanar Mohammed believes the constitution neither protects women nor ensures their basic rights. She blames the United States for abdicating its responsibility to help develop a pluralistic democracy in Iraq.
Iraq doesn't get much reporting from the US mainstream media but it does get a lot of opinion pieces -- though calling them "opinion pieces" might be overstating since most people can back up their opinions with facts and the bulk of the gas baggery reads like one long feelings check with maybe a little "highs and lows" of the day tossed in.
So we get nonsense like "Who lost the war?" and "Is leaving responsible?" and "Is the US leaving Iraq in a responsible manner?" and a host of other garbage.
The Iraq War was a failure. In fact, "failure" is probably too weak. If I attempt to give a speech and am struck with a panic attack resulting in an inability to speak, I have failed at my speech. If my speech makes life worse for people, results in their deaths and more, my speech is much worse than a "failure." I'd call it criminal.
And the illegal Iraq War is criminal. Last week (see yesterday's snapshot), I had to sit through the idiotic Senate Foreign Relations Subcomittee hearing where everyone pretended they gave a damn about women in the Middle East and of course they all avoided Iraq because we can't be honest and discuss how we screwed up the lives and rights of Iraqi women. Better to just disappear it.

But Republican or Democrat, what did all the senators give lip service to? That women's rights were indicators and measurements of how much freedom a society had.
So someone explain why in all the pontificating of the last three or four weeks by various men with column inches to fill on Iraq, no one wants to address Iraqi women?
The Iraq War is a criminal failure. If you happen to believe it was a big success and you're not referring to the theft of Iraqi oil, what are your measurements? And if you think the US should continue to stay in Iraq (as some Republicans in Congress want and as Barack will ensure thanks to the militarization of diplomacy) what are you measuring with?
The Iraq War has destroyed the rights of women. We're not just talking about the women and girls who have to live through the ongoing war. That's bad enough. We're talking about robbing women of rights, removing legal rights, overturning them. That is what the Iraq War "accomplished."
And that is what the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee didn't want to deal with last week, what the five-part PBS mini-series works overtime to ignore and what US gas bags in newspapers across the country refuse to pontificate on.