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:

Why won’t Obama arm Human Rights Watch?

Video of a Bahrain Defence Forces unit on the Budaiya Highway near al-Qadam, March 16, 2011. Visible are an M113 in front, with three others behind it on the ground and on the flyover, a Humvee, and a tank, possibly an M60. All are likely there thanks to US arms sales.  Bahiya al-Aradi, a Bahraini woman, and Stephen Abraham, an Indian guest worker, were murdered nearby the same day, probably by the same forces.

A couple of good pieces in Salon yesterday bear on the street cred the Obama administration has been getting for its embrace of LGBT people’s human rights. Kudos to Barack and Hillary again. Just remember: other people are getting killed.

Justin Elliott notes that the Obama administration has been delivering arms to Bahrain, despite the royal regime’s penchant for killing protesters. For some time, the administration has had a $53 million arms package for Bahrain on the table, but has put it off due to Congressional qualms and human rights groups’ opposition.  But this is a different package.   Obama is so eager to get hardware to the killers that he’ll exploit any technicality to permit it. Foreign Policy explains:

The State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process …The State Department simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale, arguing it didn’t meet the threshold that would require more formal notifications and a public explanation. …

Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification …

We’re further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain’s “external defense” and therefore couldn’t be used against protesters. Of course, that’s the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.

It’s not just Bahrainis. Glenn Greenwald observes that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has reaffirmed, with no public scandal attending him, that Obama can kill any US citizen he likes without a trial. In other words, what happened to Anwar al-Awlaki, US passport-holder killed by a drone in Yemen, could happen to you.

President Obama’s hit list of those he approves for assassination is completely secret; we only learned that Awlaki was being targeted because someone happened to leak that fact to Dana Priest. The way the process normally works, as Reuters described it, is that targeted Americans are selected “by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions”; moreover, “there is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”  …

Panetta’s whole case rests on simply asserting, without proving, that Awlaki was a Terrorist trying to “kill Americans.” That, of course, is precisely what is in dispute: actual Yemen experts have long questioned whether Awlaki had any operational role at all in Al Qaeda (as opposed to a role as its advocate, which is clearly protected free speech). No evidence has been publicly presented that Awlaki had any such role. We simply have the untested, unverified accusations of government officials, such as Leon Panetta, that he is guilty: in other words, we have nothing but decrees of guilt.

The whole interview with Panetta is here: 

Obama loves his drones. As the Washington Post summarized, in an extensive report on the program last month,

In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force­ ­cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents. Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.

George Monbiot in the Guardian elaborates on the consequences:

 

As a report last year by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed, of some 2,300 people killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 until August 2011, between 392 and 781 appear to have been civilians; 175 were children. … As soon as an agency claims “we never make mistakes”, you know that it has lost its moorings, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn suggested in his story of that title. Feeling no obligation to apologise or explain, count bodies or answer for its crimes, it becomes a danger to humanity.

It may be true, as the US air force says, that because a drone can circle and study a target for hours before it strikes, its missiles are less likely to kill civilians than those launched from a piloted plane. (The air force has yet to explain how it reconciles this with its boast that drones “greatly shorten decision time”.) But it must also be true that the easier and less risky a deployment is, the more likely it is to happen.

In other words: it might be the case that a drone kills fewer civilians than targeted bombings by humans. But we’ll use the drones even more than bombers, as Obama does, because they don’t put any humans on our side at risk. Hence more civilians will end up dead anyhow.

Protest against drone attacks, North Waziristan, Pakistan, January 2011

There is always something absurd, however murderous, about technology taking over the supremely personal job of exterminating persons.  Death is the one inalienably human thing about each of us, the one thing we cannot trade or give away. The more killing is alienated from human beings and handed over to machines, the less our own deaths seem our own property, somehow. What machine, in what hospital or killing field, will take responsibility for the last act?   But for sheer and sick absurdity, I don’t think you could go farther than the New York Times op-ed this morning, “Drones for Human Rights,” by the “co-founders of the Genocide Intervention Network.” They note that “Drones are not just for firing missiles in Pakistan” anymore: “In Iraq, the State Department is using them to watch for threats to Americans.” Hooray! “It’s time we used the revolution in military affairs to serve human rights advocacy. With drones, we could take clear pictures and videos of human rights abuses, and we could start with Syria.”

There’s hardly a sentence here I cannot quote with morbid delight. “Drones are increasingly small, affordable and available to nonmilitary buyers. For hundreds of thousands of dollars — no longer many millions — a surveillance drone could be flying over protests and clashes in Syria. …  It isn’t the kind of thing nongovernmental organizations usually do. But … We have a duty, recognized internationally, to monitor governments that massacre their own people in large numbers. Human rights organizations have always done this. Why not get drones to assist the good work?”

 

“Graphic and detailed evidence of crimes against humanity does not guarantee a just response, but it helps,” they conclude. “If human rights organizations can spy on evil, they should.”

Drone in flight: Tremble, puny evildoers

I suppose no one will get far by arguing that evil has a right to privacy, or even a “right to be forgotten.”  But what about the ordinary person who finds her life monitored and recorded by sleek rockets overhead, in the name of “spying on evil?”  After all, the evil will come intermixed with a lot of snippets of normal life, and even normal peccadilloes, all for the human back somewhere at the end of the monitoring chain to sort into the appropriate categories. And does anyone really think the drones will stop at “monitoring” evil?  Won’t the pressure be enormous for somebody — if not the human rights groups themselves, then some friendly government — to use a drone to strike down the evildoer instantly with a virtuous lightning bolt, without the bother of a trial?  After all, these guys’ group is called the “Genocide Intervention Network,” not the “Genocide Observation Network.”

Indeed, why wait for the evil to be done? If you can predict someone is going to commit atrocities, by recording their conversations, or watching who they meet with, or Googling their blogs for “genocide,” why not act pre-emptively? (Oh, my God, how can I keep Google from registering this post? Now I will look up every time I step outdoors.) After all, that’s what the Obama administration says it’s doing: Didn’t al-Awlaki die, ostensibly, to save others from dying? And you do have to wonder. Human rights activists tout their endorsement of due process; but in secret, all too many long to become due process, expropriating the roles of police, prosecutor, judge and jury.  “Granted the chance,” as George Monbiot says, “to fulfil one of humankind’s abiding fantasies: to vaporise their enemies, as if with a curse or a prayer, effortlessly and from a safe distance” — granted the chance, how many of our unco guid, our insistently righteous, could keep on saying no?