Graphic pictures from Iraq’s anti-Emo killing campaign

Two Iraqi friends have sent me graphic photos from Iraqi media of children (at least, they look likely to have been under 18) murdered in the campaign against Emos.

One who wrote me, a young man in Baghdad, writes:

Now they’re using blocks or rocks or hammers in the killing of young people and all kinds of bad people are to be killed on the pretext that we are servants of Satan or Massachin [Christians] —  blood militias run free every day and kill the flower of youth, all of whom are innocent of the charges that tarnish their image. I don’t know what to say because I am afraid and scared and now I am mentally ill because of the fear, and they even control mobile devices now, and external and internal checkpoints [on the surrounding roads and city streets ] are collaborating with the militias for fear of the flight of young people from Iraq or from Baghdad. I appeal to the humanity in you…

Here are two photographs of a corpse, one juxtaposed with the living young man:

The correspondent who sent the following pictures says, “as you can see from the way they are dressed in their pictures, they are not Emo per se. I have been reading reports which indicate anyone who wears a stylish jeans with gel in their hair that represents the west has been identified as an Emo.” (Militias and the Iraqi media used similar markers to identify men who had sex with men back in 2009.) But he adds,  “I have also seen many pictures of young men who have shaved their head and grew their beards just that so they would not be targeted.”

One of the pictures shows the same corpse with a different image of the living boy.

On a different note, I want to add that — though no one has contacted me about this — I should be ashamed if anyone took any remarks I made here about Emos (“strange hair,” “earrings in the wrong places”), in an attempt to impersonate conservative disdain, as serious. I apologize; it’s not kind to let sarcasm, even if directed at the oppressors, spill over to the oppressed.

One thing that strikes me in reading about Emos is how much other adolescents target them for bullying in places where the subculture genuinely has flourished, like the US. (A comment on an earlier post I didn’t let through, from an IP address in Atlanta, Georgia, read: “Hahahah Gay Emos in Iraq? What the fuck is going on ?? Hahhaah emo iraqis i can’t imagine that shit lol .. we should stick dildos up their asses and fucking set them on fire”). Emo style (unlike the comparatively hard-edged cynicism of goth) emphasizes open emotional vulnerability coupled with a certain nervy fearlessness in displaying it.  You can see how, in a society with repressively stratified gender roles like Iraq or high school, this would be a comprehensive recipe for not fitting in.   Boys aren’t supposed to be vulnerable at all; girls would face reprisals from more confidently feminist girls for reveling in their weakness, and from boys for the covert, armored bravery with which they reveal it.  Equally, you can see how, for those who feel at odds with those gender straitjackets, Emo would be a way to find a community, and an Archimedean point from which to start saying “no.” No one should slight the heroism in that.

Iraq is far from the first place to crack down on Emo. In addition to all the school principals who have gone apoplectic, my colleague Brian Whitaker points out that Saudi religious police arrested 10 Emo girls in Dammam in 2010, among other grounds because they were “trying to imitate men.” And in Russia, always reliable for such things, lawmakers in 2008 contemplated a bill to restrict Emo websites and ban Emo coiffures from schools and public buildings. (What headscarves are to the laic French, hairstyles are to religious Muscovy.)

Emo culture’s “negative ideology” may encourage depression, social withdrawal and even suicide, the bill alleges – with young girls being particularly vulnerable. “Of course, there are emo teens who just listen to their music. But our actions are not directed at them but rather at those who also hurt themselves, commit suicide and promote those acts,” bill co-author Igor Ponkin explained to the Moscow Times. Though we are not certain how Ponkin intends to target people who have committed suicide, he certainly seems determined.

There was also angry rhetoric about how the state was losing control of its population: “‘The point of the bill is so that by 2020, Moscow will have someone to rule its government,’ explained Alexander Grishunin, an adviser to bill sponsor Yevgeny Yuryev, apparently without irony.” That, of course, is always part of the point of these panics. They not only reinforce the state’s power, they furnish it a raison d’etre. What better legitimates the repressive side of rule in the hypothesized public’s mind than the defense of custom and the control of deviance? And again and again — as the middle class find that kids, given a little money, will start carving out a dangerous independence — deviance among bourgeois youth turns into repression’s favored object.

The main differences in Iraq are that state urging, or state action, finds a responsive echo among the militias; and that both forces, either dispossessed of or disdaining more delicate methods, prefer the crudity of the gun. The extremity of the solution doesn’t erase the ubiquity of the impulse to repress. The Emos who are dying in Iraq stand up for all of us who, stuck with being different, chose to embrace it. I am ashamed I can do nothing to help, just salute them.

The Emo killings in Iraq: The police and their smoking gun

Seal of Iraq's Interior Ministry: The Eye of Barad-Dur

An ordinary scribbler or blogger — a Bruce Bawer, say — would probably react if something rabid and ferocious he wrote, calling down violence on the heads of offenders, were followed up in a few days by somebody murdering the offenders in question. He’d try to deny the connection, or even delete the offending words.   However deceitful, this mendacity at least shows a healthy sense of shame.   But one thing that police have in common, around the world, is an utter absence of a sense of shame.  Never apologize, never explain!  Never understand, either — I mean, never even grasp how somebody might deduce that you’ve done something bad.  The stupidity of the constabulary is, with death and taxes, one of life’s fixed points.

I’ve spent the evening writing to Iraqis, and looking for information on the Iraqi murder campaign that targets “Emos” — harmless, Gothy teenage punks. And right on the website of Iraq’s Ministry of Interior is a press releasedated February 13: a smoking gun.  Here it is in rough translation: 

 

Ministry of Interior waging a campaign to eliminate the “EMO”

The Director of Community Police of the Ministry of the Interior has been following up on the phenomenon of “EMO” or Satanists, and they have official approval to eliminate them as soon as possible, because the dimensions of this community have begun to move in another direction, and are now threatening danger.

It is noteworthy that the phenomenon of “EMO” derives from the word “emotional” in English. It is a widespread experience among adolescents, not just in Iraq, but in the majority of communities. They rely on appearance and movements as a means to express their feelings and embody their behavior and outlook on life.

Colonel Mushtaq Talib Mohammadawi said: “The EMO phenomenon was discovered by members of the Directorate in the capital, Baghdad. They have studied it, prepared reports and research, and gone to the Ministry of the Interior to obtain approval to follow up this case and determine how to eliminate them.”

He added that the Ministry of the Interior recognized the importance of this, and a priority was obtaining the approval of the Ministry of Education specifically for the preparation of an integrated plan that would let them enter all  he schools in the capital.

He continued that they had marked the spread of the phenomenon specifically in the schools of Baghdad, but that they faced great difficulty because of the lack of a women’s cadre in the district that would permit them to pursue the issue in detail, especially as the phenomenon had spread most among girls aged 14 to 18 years. Signs included the following:  they wear strange, tight clothes with skull-like decorations, and use school implements in the form of skulls, and put earrings in their noses and their tongues, along with other manifestations of the exotic.

“Eliminate.”  Who can say exactly what that was meant to mean, in a country brutalized to the root over the last forty years? Toward the end the statement morphs into an analysis of the schools: but the Emos aren’t a “phenomenon” merely to be left to the Ministry of Education; otherwise why would the cops want unimpeded entry to their corridors?

Militias have been killing kids suspected of being “Emos” for several weeks now, in Baghdad and apparently several other cities. The scope of the killings is unclear, with figures from 56 to 90 dead traded in the media in the last three days.  The best you can say of this press release is that it echoes with the cry of Henry II – you know, the English king who talked overloudly to himself about his Archbishop: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” His knights overheard him, and the priest turned up dead.  The statement, by the most generous interpretation, sends a perhaps-inadvertent message to the militias that the Ministry wants the problem eliminated, and is looking for help. By a more sinister reading, it says the Ministry is eager to get its own hands bloody as well. Given the thuggish brutality of Nouri al-Maliki’s administration, the second is hardly unlikely.

just you try

And who are the Emos? They’re kids addicted to weird music; they’re girls with earrings in strange places, or guys with their hair too long. In the midst of a moral panic galvanizing a demoralized and degraded country, these adolescents become the emblems of evil and the aliens to be extirpated.

I confess, four days ago I had no clue what Emos were. (Emus? Ewoks?) I’m too old and too tired to know how youth are living, or what they’re dying for. But they’ve become a New Thing in many Arab countries. Here, for instance, is an account of Emos in Damascus from just over a year ago:

With skinny bodies, oddly-combed hair, tight trousers and striped shirts, Syrian Emos are proving to the world they are not myth but indeed, a real phenomenon in Syrian society. …

Things changed drastically with advent of the third millennium; a communication boom accompanied by satellite TV and Internet invading Syrian society. All of a sudden, new ideas and trends began to infiltrate society, at every social level and in every age group—but mainly, the youth. … One of the novelties in Syrian culture, as a result of this social revolution, is the Syrian Emo. This community, revolved around young Syrians aged 14-17, brings people together regardless of their social background, who are all dedicated to a particular form of Western music.

Syrian Emos stand are introvert, like most of their peers, championing isolationism and alienation from society at large. The truth about them, nevertheless, has become indeed very blurred, attracting some because of the mysticism and scaring many away because all of what is said about their dabbling with suicide, sex and drugs. What best sums them up is, “Revolutionary teenagers with sensitive psyches.”

That pretty much sums up the anxieties: porous borders, infiltrated economies, technologically abetted invasions.  Oh, yes, and sensitivity: the myths of penetration always take on the mask of gender.  Good boys from the proper Ba’athist revolution, after all, don’t cry. I’m sure if Assad thought an anti-Emo campaign would discombobulate the opposition, or even be noticed amid his massacres, he’d be lining the strange-haired children up before his firing squads.

Or check this out, from a slightly censorious regional blog:

I don ‘t really know much about what is going on at the moment for western teenagers but all I know is what I have been seeing this year in the Middle East region. ….  I look around, and I see the streets are literally packed with kids that seriously lack style and etiquette. They walk in the Middle of the streets as if they don t care to be run over since they are fearless (EMO) …

One should not talk much and be extremely emotional, the pain felt by EMO is a pleasure and not actual pain as they tend to deep cut their arms and legs and do some major physical damage. As for the trend, the hair should at least cover 30% of the face/forehead, dark colors to be worn, tight jeans, scarves and jackets, all seasons!! And for the girls, make up should be dark with dark or multicolored nail polish.

The style is livelier than Colonel Mushtaq Talib Mohammedawi, but the sentiment runs parallel. The kids are bundles of contradictions: they’re in equal measure vulnerable to pain and “major physical damage,” and fearless.  The contradictions sum up a kind of collective vulnerability, a sense of society wandering at widdershins with itself, both defenseless and defiant.  Out of such mixed-up signifiers, violent hatred is born.

And now, in Iraq, they’re dying; kids are dying, and along with them other people who got sucked into the morass and maelstrom of hate.  I almost wish the police would cover their tracks; it’d help me forget. In case they come to their senses and try to, though, I screensaved their confessional statement. Here’s the original: