Tuesday, March 13, 2012






As Al Mada, Dar Addustour, Alsumaria TV and Kitabat reported last week (Al Mada all last week) and as the US and UK LGBT press picked up on the story of Iraqi youth being targeted -- those thought to be Emo, those thought to be gay and those thought to be both. (As was the case in Egypt last year, Emo youth were demonized in Iraq this year as Satanists and vampires.) But while all this went on, silence from Big Media. Saturday,the silence was broken. First, Ahmed Rahseed and Mohammed Ameer (Reuters) reported on the targeting noting, "At least 14 youths have been stoned to death in Baghdad in the past three weeks in what appears to be a campaign by Shi'ite militants against youths wearing Western-style "emo" clothes and haircuts, security and hospital sources say. Militants in Shi'ite neighborhoods where the stonings have taken place circulated lists on Saturday naming more youths targeted to be killed if they do not change the way they dress." Later the same day, Alice Fordham (Washington Post) reported on the targeting including, "Lists threatening named people with death unless they change their attitude circulated anonymously late last week in Baghdad. Prominent clerics, as well as at least one police official, have condemned the emo -- short for emotional -- craze for its gloomy music and macabre look, which includes tight clothes and styled hair. The trend began in the 1980s in the West but has only recently become popular in the Arab world." And suddenly, Big Media was interested in the story. And applause for law professor Jonathan Turley who noted the targeting at his blog today. With all that, we might have been tempted to feel things were finally moving.
How can we be
Just along for the ride
We'd rather believe
That we decide
That we can stand here
And say loud and clear
Here comes the turn of the tide
-- "Turn Of The Tide," written by Jacob Brackman and Carly Simon, first appears in Robert Richter and Stan Warnow's 1984 film In Our Hands (of the June 12, 1982 peace demonstration in NYC -- which includes speeches and performances) and performed live on Marlo Thomas' 1988 TV special Free To Be . . . A Family where Carly sang it live and -- via with satellite link -- with children in the then-Soviet Union, appeared on the soundtrack album to the special, on the cassette single of "Let The River Run" and first on a Carly collection with the boxed set Clouds In My Coffee.
But if the tide had truly turned on this topic, wouldn't today's the issue have been raised in today's State Dept briefing? It wasn't. At least they were semi-adult. The issue also wasn't raised in the White House press briefing but there were giggles and guffaws as a reporter joked about a Blackberry app and more garbage. Does the press not get that their peers may laugh, White House spokesperson Jay Carney may laugh but the public's not laughing. The public's wondering why these people paid to cover the White House use this time to giggle and snort instead of addressing serious issues? And while trivializing serious issues, the press trivializes itself in the eyes of people. And it's probably worth again noting that in 2009, when a wave of attacks targeted Iraq's LGBT community, it took the BBC to ask about it at a State Dept press briefing. The New York Times, AP, Reuters, ABC News, CNN, and a host of other outlets at one press breifing after another in 2009 and no one bothered to ask. That's okay. The BBC took that embarrassing non-answer from the US State Dept and made it sort of the centerpiece of their 2009 radio documentary on the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community -- thereby allow the entire world to listen and laugh at the US press corps and the US State Dept. The one hour documentary was anchored by Aasmah Mir, entitled Gay Life After Saddam and first aired on BBC Radio 5 July 12, 2009 (it was meant to debut the week prior but the Wimbledon Men's Final delayed it). And let's note one thing from the documentary, Iraq's LGBTs had a better and safer life before the start of the 2003 US war on Iraq. Excerpt.
Aasmah Mir: Haider is an Iraqi seeking asylum in England. He's been living in Huntersfield. He left Iraq shortly after the US invasion six years ago.
Haider: If you respect yourself and live and you don't cause any problems nobody is going to kill you. We didn't hear of anybody being killed because of his sexuality in Saddam's regime. Now after that, everything got worse, everything got fluctuated. I fled from Iraq in 2003 because of one of the worst experiences I've had in my life. I was kidnapped for 9 days, they took me in a small car and they send me about to a place about half an hour. I was. I was eye-folded, they call it. [. . .] on the border of Baghdad. One of the officers there, he raped me. And then he said "if you're going to tell anyone from the rest of the gang, I will kill you directly." I was scared. Just a one meal a day which is not enough. They were always telling us that they were going to kill you.
Today England's Sky TV filed a video report on the latest attacks on Iraqi youth:
Simon Newton: Even for a country used to terrible violence, these killings have been shocking. The rise of Emo culture among some young Iraqis hasn't been welcome in all quarters. Despite the infiltration of Western influence, many in the country remain deeply conservative. Sarah is an Emo but too frightened to show her face on camera. She interacts with other followers around the world using Facebook.

Sarah: There are special events where we support the Emo group. We meet regularly to decide which ones to attend.

["Famous Last Words" by My Chemical Romance plays.]

Simon Newton: Like most youth cultures, Emo has its own music, fashion and lifestyle -- much of it revolving around themes of emotional pain and andorgeny -- a blurring of the sexes. Sarah says she only meets fellow Emos with her parents approval and admits her family are divided by her lifestyle.

Sarah: Sometimes we have heated discussions at home. I usually stay silent and usually don't go to gatherings.

Simon Newton: Nine Emo youngsters were bludgeoned to death and seven shot recently in Sadr City. The Interior Ministry says it's monitoring the movement claiming rumors of homosexuality and mass suicide means it's a danger to wider society

[Official babbling, I'm not interested.]

Simon Newton: Being gay remains taboo in Iraq. Human rights groups say 750 men and women have been murdered for their sexual orientation. But with clerics linking the Emo lifestyle to homosexuality, the fear is that figure will only rise. Simon Newton, Sky News.
And one of England's premier music papers picked up the story, the New Musical Express which debuted in 1952. Today NME notes, "Reports also indicate that militias in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's conservative Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City have distributed leaflets with the names of 20 young people that they say should be punished for being 'emo'." Yesterday, BBC News explained, "Dozens of Iraqi teenagers have been killed in recent months by militias who consider them to be devil worshippers, human rights activists claim. The young people are described as 'emos', a term used in the West to refer to youths who listen to rock music and wear alternative clothing. [. . .] Iraq's interior ministry recently described emos as devil worshippers. In Iraq, the term emo is also conflated with homosexuality, which although legal is socially and religiously taboo." And Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) spoke with a gay Iraqi youth who explains, "Ten days ago, I received a letter from militiamen threatening me that if they found me then they will not kill me like other 'perverts' but they will cut my body into pieces." The letter reads, "We strongly warn every male and female debauchee, if you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen." Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw) spoke to a variety of Iraqis including Dr. Shamil Ashu who is a psychologist and explains that emo has been in Iraq for some time, "It emerged in the 1990s when some bands were singing emotional songs to attract people's attention. Many teenagers and children who had family problems were influenced by it. These bands have unique costumes, and the suppressed emotions and frustrations among teenagers nowadays is the reason they are mimicking these imported habits." Peter Graff (Reuters) adds, "Since the start of this year, death squads have been targeting two separate groups - gay men, and those who dress in a distinctive, Western-influenced style called "emo", which some Iraqis mistakenly associate with homosexuality. [. . .] Iraq's government, dominated by the Shi'ite majority that was oppressed under Saddam, may not be helping. The Interior Ministry added to the atmosphere of menace last month by releasing a statement that labeled the emo culture 'Satanism'. It said a special police force would stamp it out."
As Graff points out, the statement came from the Ministry of the Interior last month. And yet Nouri al-Maliki has done nothing. Excuse me, he's given his approval on this targeting, this terrorism and these murders.
In November 2010, Jalal Talabani named Nouri al-Maliki prime minster-designate. It was his task to name a (full) Cabinet by the end of December 2010. Nouri refused to name heads to the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of National Security. For 15 months, the posts have remained empty.
Which means Nouri is in charge of all three -- something he insisted would be temproary at the end of 2010. He's in charge of the Ministry of the Interior. Which means he was or should have been aware of the statement on the Emo youth that the Ministry released last month. He should have been aware of it and, as someone who takes an oath to the Constitution, he should have stopped it. He didn't.
The deaths fall at his feet. Via intent or ignorance, he has allowed this to take place and he is responsible for the deaths. And this despite his proclamations to care for Iraq and to care for Iraqis. Only some Iraqis, apparently, are worthy of Nouri's protection -- an interesting way to interpret both the Constitution and the role of prime minister.

In today's New York Times, Jack Healy reports on the targeting of Iraqi youth and notes the image problems as the Arab Summit looms, "Many details of what Iraqi newspapers have called the 'emo killings' are murky, but the uproar comes at an awkward moment for Iraq. The country has been preparing to showcase itself to the world as host of a high-profile meeting of Arab leaders in late March, the first major diplomatic event here since American forces withdrew in December. But the news that young men in tight T-shirts and skinny jeans are being beaten to death with cement blocks and dumped in the streets has threatened to overshadow the new palm trees and fresh paint." The Arab Summit was supposed to have been the crowning glory of 2011. Baghdad would host the Summit. But it was postponed once and then twice. Now they insist it will take place this month (March 29th), the officials from other Arab countries will come to Iraq for the summit to represent their countries. AFP reports that Bagdhad is contemplating shutting down its airspace of all commercial traffic in an attempt to guarantee safety during the summit. I'm not sure if they're assuming that al Qaeda in Iraq has had flight training (no one's offered that theory thus far) or that they believe a shipment of fighter planes is coming in. But the only 'air' attacks in Iraq have been from mortars and small rockets. They're also considering imposing a curfew. Those moves don't really speak to a 'safer' Iraq, do they?
The summit, if it takes place, was supposed to be Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's moment to shine. Due to the nature of the summit, Nouri would be representing Iraq in the same manner as visiting officials represented their countries. Presiding over the summit itself would be Talabanai. Over the weekend, Kitabat reported that Talabani's latest trip to the Mayo Clinic in the US makes many believe he won't be back in Iraq in time for the summit and won't be able to preside over it. (Past trips to the Mayo Clinic usually require Jalal to spend a week to a week and a half in the US. If this trip is like previous ones, he should be able to make it back to Iraq in time for the summit.) It's been a period of bad news for Talabani which kicked off with the March 1st killing of American teacher Jeremiah Small in the KRG. The killer then took his own life. The killer was Beyar Talabani, Jalal's great-nephew.
Last week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had promised he would attend the Arab Summit. Today Ban Ki-moon delivered prepared remarks on Middle East Countries at the UN Security Council meeting on Changes in the Middle East -- a 1330 word statement. And not once did he ever mention the targeting of Iraqi youth or, in fact, Iraq.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outdid Moon in bluster and word count. Yet her opening remarks running 1876 words didn't mean she found the time to note Iraqi youth or Iraq. Excuse me, who leads the US mission in Iraq now?
That supposed to be the State Dept which Hillary Clinton is supposed to be in charge of. So, golly, maybe at a Security Council meeting entitled "Changes in the Middle East," Hillary should damn well talk about Iraq?
I understand why she doesn't want to talk about it. Would you want to talk the US failure in Iraq? Would you want to be the one to admit that, yes, Iraq is "the breakdown" of a state, that "the army, the ministries, and so on that are still plagued by chaos and confusion and violence"?
Oh, I'm sorry, that has been admitted to by the State Dept. The press just forgot to inform you. Friday, State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland agreed with that description quoted above as she conducted the press briefing and she herself stated that what was described "is precisely why we are focused [in Syria] on trying to push everybody towards a political solution through dialogue."
Seems to me, when your own spokesperson is describing Iraq that way and when your department is tasked with Iraq, when you brag about how the US is running Iraq to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month -- when you do all of that and the country's falling apart, you stop screaming for war on Syria or Iran or any other damn country, you shut your mouth, roll up your sleeves and do the damn job you've been tasked with.