Private revolution: “Homosexuals” and “Satanists” in Kermanshah

2nd century BCE rock carving of Bahram, Zoroastrian god of strength, outside Kermanshah

It’s my party, come in and have a drink: 2nd century BCE rock carving of Bahram, Zoroastrian god of strength, outside Kermanshah

On the night of October 9 (17 Mehr 1392), the Nabi Akram (Prophet’s) Corps — part of the Revolutionary Guards — raided a birthday party at a community hall in Kermanshah, in western Iran. The website of the city’s basij (religious police) reported it the next day. It said a “network” of “several dozen” people engaged in homosexuality (the derogatory term used was hamjensbaz) and Satan-worshipping (Shaitan parasti) was broken up. The “network” had been “under surveillance of the security forces of the Revolutionary Guards for several months.” Eight people in the group were “homosexually married.”.

There were several foreign nationals from Iraq and some other countries in the region … Groups practicing Satan worship and homosexuality had sent support from abroad. For a long time these disgusting practices have sought to penetrate the country.

Some additional information on this has come from sources inside Iran, and with the permission of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), which has been following this closely, I can share a few things they have been able to confirm.

  • About 80 people were caught in the party. The Guards used pepper spray, beat many of them, and took the personal information (including mobile numbers) of everyone they found.
  • 17 people were arrested (the rest were freed that night), taken first to a police station and then to an unknown location. They were beaten, threatened, and verbally and physically humiliated.
  • Most of those have been released, but five remain imprisoned. There were reports they would face a court today — Saturday — but no one as yet knows the charges or the outcome.
  • All reports suggest that straight as well as gay and lesbian and transgender people were at at the party.

The story has already made it to the international press, so it’s probably worthwhile offering a few cautions as well as reflections.

First, there’s almost nothing that can be done right now, at least until the outcome of the first hearing is known. Lawyers are on the case in Kermanshah. International interventions tend to polarize things; they can tip governments into pursuing prosecutions when they’re hesitating, or turn fluid situations into injustices set in concrete. This is particularly true when the conservatives responsible for the arrests are already pointing to the penetration of the nation by foreign (im)morals.

Makwan Mouloudzadeh, d. 2007

Makwan Mouloudzadeh, d. 2007

Second, we don’t know anything about the arrested people: either what they’re accused of, or whether they identify as heterosexual, gay, transgender, or something else. Don’t presume on their identities. It was in Kermanshah in 2007 that Iranian authorities executed Makwan Moulodzadeh, a young man who’d been convicted for the rape of three teenaged boys (while himself a teenager) in a nearby town. His case was not helped — in fact, his judicial murder was arguably facilitated — by Western activists who tried to defend him by claiming without any evidence that he was “gay” and had a gay “partner,” and hence was guilty of another capital crime. There’s no room for a repetition of those mistakes.

Predictably, if so far in a minor way, international politics have already entangled the story. Ben Weinthal, a propagandist working for the right-wing “Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” (which Glenn Greenwald called “a Who’s Who of every unhinged neocon extremist in the country”) tweeted it:

Weinthal news iran copy

Weinthal is paid to promote a war against Teheran, with Western LGBT communities as a swing constituency to convert (most ridiculously, he took to New York’s Gay City News some years back to opine that an “anti-gay genocide” was happening in Iran). His solicitude for Iranian gays is a bit hard to take seriously given that he wants to kill them, and plenty of other Iranians, in a military assault.

Nonetheless, it’s very possible this is part of a test for Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani, even if not quite what the neocons imagine. Since taking office, Rouhani has struggled to establish the perimeters of his power in an inherently ambiguous system where the president is subordinate to the Supreme Leader. This has meant trying to rein in the other power centers in which authority is dispersed — most more loyal, and formally more responsible, to Ayatollah Khameini than to him. Majid Rafidzadeh describes them in Al-Arabiya as

solid institutions which have not only employed, educated, and ideologically trained millions of loyalists in the last few decades, but have also managed and controlled the nation’s economy and foreign policies. These institutions were created in order to secure an adequate and dependent social base in case of any revolt or opposition, as well as a stalwart against potential Western intervention.

The Revolutionary Guards are crucial to this network. They manage a large share of Iran’s military-industrial complex, and their tendrils reach deep into energy, construction, and other industries; some estimate they control a third of the Iranian economy.  Crucial too are the basij, in theory under Revolutionary Guards command but in practice under the charge of a welter of local clerics and commanders. The basij can mobilize more than a million volunteer members for social policing and control (though it claims figures higher than 10 million), and since 2008 has had leeway to build its own empire of economic projects.

In a carefully calibrated speech just a month ago — immediately before leaving on his hectic UN visit — Rouhani tried to strike a bargain with the Revolutionary Guards. He offered to leave their economic interests untouched, even urging them to “take on important projects that the private sector is unable to take on,” if they would leave politics alone. The Guards seem unimpressed. Mohammad Ali Jafari, their commander, criticized Rouhani strongly in the state press after he returned from New York, for “prematurely” talking to Obama. Senior Revolutionary Guards leaders have stressed the organization’s important role in recent weeks, warning with renewed intensity that the West plans to “internally weaken” Iran in advance of any nuclear talks.

Three bears: Rouhani (center) with Jafari (L) at September speech

Three bears: Rouhani (center) with Jafari (L) at September speech

A well-publicized moral scandal serves the purpose, in a minor way, of emphasizing the Revolutionary Guards’ vigilance against both foreign and domestic foes, and stressing they can drum up public support. There are rumors in Kermanshah that the Guards have been under instruction, at least since Rouhani’s election, to look for gender dissidence — “men who appear like women” (mardan-e zannama) and “transvestites” (zanpoosh).

There may be more strictly local motives as well. Kermanshah lies at the heart of the Kurdish area of western Iran, increasingly a source of anxiety to Teheran as they face a spillover of Kurdish separatist sentiment from Iraq. (The day after the arrests, Kurdish guerrillas reportedly killed five Revolutionary Guards in a border town in the next province to the north.) I would bet the Iraqi guests mentioned in the basij report on the party were Kurds, whose presence — even if only rumored — may have attracted additional scrutiny to the event. The accusation of “Satan-worshipping” is also suggestive in this light. Many Iranian Kurds adhere to the Ahl-e Haqq (“People of Truth”) or Yârsânî faith, a syncretic religious order whose believers may make up as much as a third of Kermanshah’s population. Several Ahl-e Haqq believers are rumored to have been at the fateful party. Iranian authorities persecute the sect, on religious grounds coupled with fear of ethnic solidarities — in June two Kurds burned themselves to death in Hamadan, between Kermanshah and Teheran, to protest abuses suffered by their co-believers in prison. An ominous mix of religious heresy, political separatism, and sexual deviance may be what the Revolutionary Guards read into an innocent birthday celebration.

All this is speculation. What’s certain is that Rouhani so far has little control over anything the Revolutionary Guards do. The test of his presidency is not so much whether continuing human rights abuses belie his reputation as a “reformer” — that reputation is overblown, but largely irrelevant to the issue — as whether he can accumulate enough authority to curb the parastate, paramilitary institutions behind much of the abuse.

"Rouhani's Key": Cartoon by Touka Neyestani, at -- a key was Rouhani's campaign symbol

Cartoon by Touka Neyestani, at — a key was Rouhani’s campaign symbol

Maybe the most important point to make, though, is this. What’s at stake in this case is not so much “LGBT rights” or the status of any minority — it’s the right to privacy, and its profound contribution to human dignity. Thinking of it solely as an “LGBT” issue misses the larger point.

Female basij (R) arrests a woman for "bad hijab," revealing the hair, during a periodic crackdown in 2013

Female basij (R) arrests a woman for “bad hijab,” revealing the hair, during a periodic crackdown in 2013

The people at the party were exercising their right to do as they liked, harmlessly, behind closed doors: in a rented hall, to be sure, but that partly reflects the porous nature of safety and opacity in even “private” homes, where overbearing families keep watch, and intrusive neighbors mean a basij raid may be only a phone call away. This right has a scope that extends beyond closed spaces. It’s also the claim that women are making when they defiantly wear “bad hijab,” or straight couples when they declare their intimacy with an over-the-top embrace on the street; they’re asserting they should carry an umbrella of autonomy around with them wherever they go, because they’re human beings, and their bodies or their hair or their hands are nobody’s business. The way the Iranian state treats this right with loathing and contempt, through a myriad micro-practices of meddling and surveillance, is one reason the religious police are perhaps its most popularly despised and resented symbol. It’s not because Iranians are all secular; it’s because they’re all human, and they want to be left alone. Iran’s LGBT-identified communities have made many strides in recent years in building alliances with opposition activism, partly because they affirm not just the specialized identity of a minority but a freedom from oversight and intrusion that should be a universal entitlement. Not everybody in Iran knows what it’s like to commit lavat, or “sodomy,” but millions of Iranians know what it’s like to be at a party sweating in anxiety lest the basij break in. That’s where sympathy and solidarity begin.



One often hears that privacy is a culturally specific concept. Certainly the forms of privacy and the things it can contain may vary; certainly the ability to experience it is stratified by class and power; but I’m persuaded by Barrington Moore’s researches, among others, that nearly every society traces distinctions between inside and outside, and lays down rules by which its members can control what other people see and know. In Iran these rules are perpetually changed and fought over, subject to the whims of a swollen state and a people’s capacity for resistance, and the conflict can be brutal.

The struggle for privacy ought to be critical for everybody — especially though far from exclusively for LGBT people around the world, whose earliest moral claims and legal successes partly hinged on the demand for a respected, protected private sphere. In the West, though, our sense of why privacy is vital seems to be eroding. Among LGBT movements, it’s a right either denigrated or confused with a privilege, and in either case hardly mentioned any more. This may hinder our ability to understand why events like this in Iran are not trivial but political and decisive. Frank Rich wrote a few months ago, about the US’s own surveillance scandals, that

The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago. Many of us not only don’t care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets, and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don’t, from the servers of Fortune 500 corporations to the casting directors of reality-television shows to our 1.1 billion potential friends on Facebook. Indeed, there’s a considerable constituency in this country — always present and now arguably larger than ever — that’s begging for its privacy to be invaded and, God willing, to be exposed in every gory detail before the largest audience possible. We don’t like the government to be watching as well—many Americans don’t like government, period—but most of us are willing to give such surveillance a pass rather than forsake the pleasures and rewards of self-exposure, convenience, and consumerism.

Try telling this to an Iranian. They’d be amazed, I suspect, that anyone would doubt how preserving and cultivating your sphere of privacy and autonomy is indispensable to your dignity. This is one reason the struggles in Iran continue to be important, not only as source of “inspiration” to the West –that generic and vapid tribute — but as something we should learn from.

Death and life in Iraq: Obama death cabs, vampires, Ministries, and murder

Choose your weapon: Iraqi anti-emo graphic

If you want to know what life and death are like in Iraq, here’s a story. When a colleague and I went there during the killing campaign in 2009, among those we met were three men, best friends, all calling themselves “gay” in English, though two had wives.  I’ll name them (as I did in HRW’s report of that year) Hamid, Majid, and Idris. Hamid could barely talk to us: he’d developed a severe speech impediment after his partner’s murder, three weeks before. Armed, black-masked raiders had taken the man from his parents’ home. The next day, his corpse was found thrown in the garbage, castrated, with his throat torn out.

The following night, they came for Hamid.

They entered my house and they saw my mother, and one of them said: “Where’s your faggot son?” There were five men. Their faces were covered. Fortunately I wasn’t there but my mother called me after they left, in tears.

He went into hiding. His two friends took care of him. Their homes had been raided too, but they’d escaped; the three moved from cheap hotel to cheap hotel, till they got our phone numbers through some still-serving grapevine.

We were trying to help the most endangered men we encountered get out of Iraq. We offered to assist the three — we almost begged — but they hesitated. They wanted to be sure they would stay together, wherever they were ultimately accepted as refugees. The two married men wanted to bring their wives.  I could promise all that with reasonable certainty; but I couldn’t promise that, if they filed refugee claims based on sexual orientation, their wives wouldn’t be told the grounds. They went back to Baghdad to consider it;  after a week or two we couldn’t reach them by phone anymore. It was one of the worst stories we heard in Iraq, made worse by the fact that we couldn’t do enough.

I’ve spent the last few days posting on 500 or so gay Iraqis’ personals ads on various websites, warning them about renewed killings, trying to get additional information. Idris was one who replied.

He told me that in 2009, about a week after Hamid finally returned to his family home, militias broke in and kidnapped him. His body appeared in the neighborhood next day, his head and penis chopped off.  And Majid? Last year in December, a group of Iraqi policemen beat him up on the street. His skull injured, he lay on the sidewalk for two hours before anyone helped him; some passersby insulted him as jeru (puppy, slang for “sodomite”). Emo was another, newer word they used. He died two days after. Idris managed to flee to a European country a month later. Now he is seeking asylum.

The terrible thing in Iraq is that violence is everywhere. It turns from side to side from time to time like a lighthouse beam, and casts its ghastly attention on a new target. The killing, though, seems a uniform impulse, almost indifferent to who is killed. It’s irrational and unintelligible as background noise.

Here are some things I’ve learned about the emo killings in Iraq:

1) The Ministry of Interior has blood on its hands. It’s the ubiquity of violence the makes the Ministry’s actions unforgivable. As I’ve noted here, in mid-February the Ministry issued a statement designed to whip up hatred and fear of “the phenomenon of ‘EMO’ or Satanists.” It wielded the loaded language of “eliminating” the problem. The Ministry then followed up, on February 29, by announcing a “campaign” against emos in Baghdad’s Kadhamiya neighborhood, after finding a shop that sold emo “clothing and accessories” there: “The phenomenon is contrary to the customs of Iraqi society and has destructive effects on the structure of communities.”  By that time, murders had already started. They merited no Ministry condemnation.

Instead, faced by public indignation and a demand by members of Parliament to investigate the killings, the Ministry came out with a third statement on March 8. It warned “radical and extremist groups attempting to represent themselves as guardians of morals and religious traditions” not to engage in “any conduct against people based on fashion, dress or hairstyle.” At the same time, it baldly claimed no violence was happening. “There have been no cases of murder,” it said; “the Ministry of Interior categorically denies all these lies.” Menacing the messenger, it threatened “necessary legal action against those who try to highlight this issue and blow it out of proportion.” The bullying wasn’t a bluff: Iraq’s police have dealt with dissent increasingly harshly. To press the point, a few days later Baghdad police arrested a Russia Today news team trying to film a story about slaughtered emos, confiscating their footage.

The moral panic about straying youth in Iraq certainly predated the Ministry’s brusque interventions. I have seen a memo from the Ministry of Education, apparently dated August 2011 (it was shared in confidence and I can’t show it here.).  “In response to the emo phenomenon insinuating into our schools,” it urged steps including:

  • Male and female students should be barred from leaving school grounds during the school day on flimsy excuses, as they have been seen congregating in nearby cafes, shops, and arcades to engage in these foul practices.
  • Female students should be barred from wearing immodest clothing and should comply with the approved uniform. …
  • The parents of students (in Emo cells) should be advised to cut off Internet service in their homes because it is a prime cause of this deviancy …
  • Deterrent legal and administrative measures should be taken against students who engage in this deviancy inside schools.

November 4, 2011: Moqtada al-Sadr on emos

It wasn’t until February, apparently, that the Education Ministry decided to invite the police into schools to further the work. But in the meantime, mosques and media helped fan the fears.  In November 2011, the Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr condemned emos. In Q & A form like most fatwas, his statement is worth quoting in detail:

Q: Sheikh Ali al-Sa’ady: It is obvious now that there is a new social phenomenon in our society known as the “the emo” which means being “rebellious and sensitive.” This emo thing was first known in North America years ago, among teenagers from both sexes calling themselves “devil’s friends.” Some of their weird thoughts are sadness, grief, depression, pessimism, silence, shyness, drawing tattoos, wearing black and dark outfits and tight pants …. They also like to take certain hallucinatory drugs. …. So, Sir, as you know, while this awful occupation is still in place, these kinds of groups are now appearing in Iraq. What would you say to religious figures and parents in order to prevent such social manifestations?

A: Moqtada al-Sadr: Regarding what you mentioned, Sir, in your question, they are a group of lunatics and are a disease in a Muslim society, so those who are responsible should get rid of them from the outset, in accordance with the law.

However, “in accordance with the law” is a key phrase. It helps explain why the Ministry of Interior’s irresponsible proclamations last month not only incited but legitimated violence against emos. Here were the law enforcers, urging “elimination”!

In fact, all the evidence suggests the Ministry’s interventions had a key impact. Al-Sadr’s website approvingly republished and expanded on the Ministry of Interior’s first February statement — explaining how emos were linked to drugs, prostitution, and homosexuality. And after its second February statement, the “head of the security committee of the Kadhimiya local council, Ali Al-Shammari,” told reporters that “detachments of national security and community police in the area informed us about suspicious movements of people who imitate the emo.” He added that the fiends “absorb blood from each others’ wrists.”  “Vampires in the Holy City of Baghdad!” Al-Sumariya News headlined it.

Moqtada Al-Sadr, at least, has distanced himself from the violence. In a new statement he reiterated that the phenomenon should be dealt with “by the relevant authorities,” not vigilantes, and “in accordance with the law.”   But the Ministry is still in denial.  You don’t talk about “elimination” in a country filled with death squads, and expect nothing to happen. The Ministry carries a heavy burden of guilt.

2) Who and how many? Nobody knows exactly who’s inflicting the violence. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, and a breakaway Shi’ite militia, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous) are often mentioned; but that seems to be simply because they loosely control areas of eastern Baghdad where several deaths have been reported. Militias in Iraq, in any case, are not tightly structured military entities. They’re loose agglomerations of angry young men; people come and go, and the pattern of belonging is as diffuse and random as the prospect of death.  Men affiliated with a militia might be killing without central control; different groups, Sunni as well as Shi’a, may copycat one another. (Contrary to what some bloggers write, Sunnis may well be involved. I’ve heard reports of attacks in the Adhamiya part of Baghdad, which is decidedly Sunni.) Most major Shi’ite militia forces have infiltrated the police, and officers sometimes wear their official hats, sometimes moonlight in the murder racket.

Police have apparently actively participated in the crackdown. One story repeated to me by two sources  had officers arresting several emo girls at an intermediate school in the Karrada district; no one could say whether they had been released.  However, there have also been instances of sheer mob violence. Al-Sharqiya TV said on March 7 (in a report I’ve cited here before) that a crowd brutally beat two young women in the al-Mansour neighborhood, because they wore  “fashionable clothing.” They had to be taken to a hospital.

Nor can anyone say how many have been killed. Human Rights Watch has confirmed 6 gay-identified people murdered — “confirmed” in the sense of having the deaths reported by a source with direct knowledge. By the same standard, I know of two non-gay people killed. Anonymous sources in the police gave the Associated Press numbers:

An Interior Ministry official said 58 young people have been killed across Iraq in recent weeks by unidentified gangs who accused them of being, as he described it, Emo. Sixteen were killed in Sadr City alone, security and political officials there said. Nine of the men were killed by bludgeoning, and seven were shot. No arrests have been made.

Al-Sharqiya claimed 90 dead a week ago. Rumors in Iraq run as high as 100 or 200. Those figures are probably too high. But stigma certainly dissuades the families of dead children from reporting a killing as emo- or gay-related — so that no exact figure will ever be forthcoming.

What we have are images and stories.  Several Iraqis sent me a video this week that purported to be an emo kid strung up from a bridge: slowly twisting like an broken pendulum.  YouTube removed it as “shocking and disgusting.”  Another video offers a tribute to Saif Raad Asmar Abboudi, a 20 year-old beaten to death with concrete blocks in Sadr City on February 17:

I spoke to a heterosexual man in his twenties, from a city outside Baghdad, who had started a heavy metal band with three friends some years ago. They found themselves ostracized in town for their long hair, black clothes, and angry sound. “People everywhere started calling us Satanists.”  Last week, he heard that two of his fellow band members had been murdered on the street. He’s in hiding, unable even to speak to his family, desperately afraid. “Why are they doing this to us?”

“I am facing killing threats from armed militant groups,” a 23-year-old gay man in Baghdad wrote me. “I don’t know where to go or live.”  Several people reported getting direct death threats.

I have been threatened with death on my personal mobile if I don’t cut my hair and change the way I dress and start wearing loose-fitting clothes instead of tight clothes and jeans. If I don’t do as they say I will be imprisoned or killed. I am a beautiful lady boy … I cannot do as they say. So I ask you please to help me urgently, I want to live in dignity and freedom away from threats and terror.

Then there are the rumors. This warning appeared on an Iraqi emo webpage: “About the killing of emo and metal and rap. A  Chrysler 300C (Obama) yellow-colored (taxi) was seen driving away in the Zayouna district [a wealthy, mixed Sunni-Shi’ite neighborhood] near Tariq ibn Ziyad Junior High. They are killing young innocent people.  Please beware of them and publish this alarm … you might save a boy or girl’s life.” The Chrysler 300c is one of the most popular cars in Iraq: it’s nicknamed “Obama” because Barack once drove one.

And there are the lists. The fliers spring up like fungus on the walls in mainly poor Shi’ite districts like Sadr City — though some have shown up in tony Zayouna too. They’re never signed. The same thing happened in the killings of gays in 2009: the threats are anonymous, the threatened named. “To every licentious man or woman, we are warning you: in case you don’t stop these filthy actions within four days God’s punishment will come upon your heads by the hands of those who fight for His own name. Remember that we warned you.” Here are some pictures sent me from Baghdad (the photos spread fear more widely than the posters themselves), all with more or less the same message, and slews of nicknames (Allawi the Brassiere, Mohammed the Rose):

3) What is to be done? Let’s be honest: nobody really knows. Given the degree that Iraqis see “deviance” among the young as a Western disease, spawned by military occupation and cultural invasion, I doubt that asking Western leaders to speak out against the persecution will get you anywhere. If demanding it makes you feel better, then by all means feel better. But don’t imagine your signature means the situation is on the way to being solved.

The one hopeful sign is that prominent Iraqis — religious leaders and politicians — have spoken out against the killings. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the revered Ayatollah al-Sistani have condemned vigilantism. And Sawt al-Iraq reports that even a government spokesman sounded considerably more liberal than the Interior Ministry’s hard-line written posture, when confronted on the issue at Tigris University:

Ali al-Dabbagh said during a conference …  “there is no prosecution for belonging to the phenomenon of EMO in the country,” saying it was “personal freedom”; stressing the state’s duty to protect them as citizens exercising their freedom, he said, “The security agencies are obliged to protect freedoms.”

Good for him. Few dared be so outspoken back in 2009, when gay and “effeminate” men were being killed. The atmosphere then throughout Iraq was more inflamed, the militias more powerful, the state weaker; but the moral opprobrium upon the victims was also even stronger. Now the fact that children are dying gives parents, parliamentarians, and others both cause and courage to speak up.

For that reason, as I’ve said before, an exclusive emphasis on the gay side of the present killing campaign is unlikely to help anybody in Iraq much: not gay men, who will find the murderers’ attention to them only increasing as the skewed perspective filters through the media, and not emos, who will find stigma only intensified. The one thing that will curb the campaign is to strengthen and amplify the Iraqi voices who are already speaking out. Quiet support for their courage, by governments and by international civil society, is crucial.

If you want to offer help to emo or gay Iraqis, well, go online and do so; it’s what I’ve been trying to do myself, in my lone capacity. Visit them on, or on the emo pages on Facebook, and try to communicate. I’m impressed, too, by how vampire, goth, and emo communities in the US and elsewhere have been collecting and spreading information on what has been going on: amazing solidarity work. There’s something else that can be done, though — pressure North American and European governments to offer accelerated acceptance to victims of the moral panic when they apply as refugees.

The US has a special category, called “P-2” (Priority 2) for refugees “in particular need of resettlement.” The category offers accelerated approval to applicants, as opposed to the cumbersome procedures the US (like other governments) usually imposes.  Only a few groups qualify for it, mostly determined by highly political critieria: they include Cubans, Iranian religious minorities, and Vietnamese.

In Iraq, the US now extends P-2 status only to applicants who can prove they have worked with the US occupation forces. This is a sensible admission that we have a moral obligation to people who sacrificed for what we billed as a liberatory project — but which put their lives in desperate danger.

For people facing a sudden, swift-moving moral panic, though, accelerated refugee acceptance may be the only way to save their lives. They need to get out of the country fast, because the threat is imminent; they can’t wait on bureaucracy. By a quirk, the 2007 US law on Iraqi refugees (one of Senator Ted Kennedy’s last generous works) gives the Secretary of State the exclusive power to designate new categories of Iraqis as eligible for P-2 (whereas with other nationalities, Congress must approve the move).

If you want to assist emo Iraqis and others who face persecution and panic because of their nonconformity, sexuality, or gender, you can urge Secretary Clinton to extend P-2 status to them — or find another solution to get them quick refugee relief.  Great Britain joined the US-led invasion; it has the same obligation to the invasion’s victims. And other European countries that pride themselves on liberal domestic policies on sexual orientation and gender should move just as fast.

One gay Iraqi wrote me, about the killing:

thanks for that but If you want the truth your People Brought that with them … so please don’t come talk about human rights because you do not know anything about it, sorry for that but is the truth

It’s not as though there wasn’t ample violence wrought on Iraqis under Saddam Hussein. But the state held the monopoly on it; you at least knew who had the guns. The US unleashed the pent-up anger of a population trained in the ways of violence by its constant infliction. In that sense, Americans and their allies brought the killing with them. No one can undo that, and we can’t pose as saviors a second time to clean up the mess of death we made; but the onus is on the guilty governments to do what they can for the victims.


CORRECTION: Human Rights Watch got the figure of six deaths (cited above) from news bureau contacts, not from family or friends of the deceased, so it’s not precisely fair to say they’ve been “confirmed” as killings due to the campaign. Wildly different figures float around depending on whom you read or talk to. I should think it’s best not to take any of them as fully informed or valid, but to concentrate on combating the atmosphere of violent paranoia about “deviance” that the Ministry has helped create.

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: