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Human Rights Group Documents Widespread Torture and Murder of Iraqi Gays

Jim Burroway

August 17th, 2009

Human Rights Watch this morning issued a detailed report documenting the hundreds of gay men who have been tortured and murdered, some by members of Iraq’s security forces, and others by members of the Mehdi Army, the Shi’ite militia operating around Baghdad. Based on interviews with doctors, family members, and other surviving gay men, They Want Us Exterminated: Mirder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq indicates that hundreds of men have been killed in Baghdad, with authorities doing little to address the situation.

The interviews given in the report indicate the kind of reign of terror Iraqi gays are living through:

He was very public, everybody knew he was gay. His family said his killers made a CD of how he was killed-they filmed it. They slaughtered him; they cut his throat. His family did not want to talk about it. And now they are killing people right and left in Shaab and al-Thawra. We heard 11 men were burned alive in al-Thawra. Everyone is talking about the numbers of people killed. And they just keep rising.

I think those two were tortured into giving my name, because two days after I learned they were killed I got this threat. … I spoke by phone to a friend of mine yesterday night: he is also gay but he’s very masculine and no one knows about him. He said, “Get out if you can and save yourself. They are killing gays left and right.”

They came to my parents’ house a day later. I was out of the house when it happened. The neighbor’s son has the same given name and so they kidnapped the wrong guy. When they found out they let the boy go, but they beat him severely-they wanted to kill him. They tortured him with electricity, they beat him with cables. He looked like a roast chicken when he came home. … When I came back everyone was yelling and screaming that Majid, this boy Majid, had been taken. When he was released, he staggered home and said, “They didn’t want me, they wanted the other Majid. They said he was gay.” I had to leave. My parents threw me out. I cannot face them anymore.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Iraqi government to put an end to the tortures and slayings, but the government appears unphased by the report. U.S. representatives, including U.S. Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) have complained to the Iraqi government to no avail.



August 17th, 2009 | LINK

I’m against religion in general, but I read this and am only further convinced that nothing good can come from the Abrahamic religions. There’s something deeply damaged within them.

Timothy Kincaid
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

To lump in fundamentalist Islam with, say, Reform Judaism or American mainline Christianity is not only intentionally offensive but reveals a deep ignorance about all of the above.

August 17th, 2009 | LINK

Oh, yeah. “Liberated” ’em, all right. *spits*

This month’s Marie Claire magazine also has a short and depressing article about how the majority of Iraqi girls have lost years of their education thanks to the fallout from the war. They will be less educated and contribute less to the economy than their mothers.

I look forward to learning what we as Americans can do. Some of our leaders and compatriots did a lot of damage. Those of us who didn’t support the war owe Iraqi LGBTs and women something, I think.

August 17th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy, I’m not saying there aren’t a number organizations and individuals that aren’t fundamentalist/extremist, but fundamentalism will always have justification among Abrahamic religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, and this type of behavior will not likely disappear from the face of the earth any time soon. This is in contrast to pagan religions, which aren’t based on any kind of holy text, or Buddhism, which explicitly rejects fundamentalist thinking. There’s a reason why religious violence in India was rare until the arrival of Islam and why European pagans often saw the gods of each other’s religions as analogous to their own rather than as “false gods.”

Chris McCoy
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid said:

To lump in fundamentalist Islam with, say, Reform Judaism or American mainline Christianity is not only intentionally offensive but reveals a deep ignorance about all of the above.

I think until all non-fundamentalist Christian sects come out and publicly, and vehemently oppose fundamentalist Christianity; and oppose it as harshly as many Americans have publicly stated that Islam should do within it’s own ranks, then they are are guilty of the sin of omission.

Silence lends consent. Evil exists because good men do nothing.

Chris McCoy
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

AJD said:

This is in contrast to pagan religions, which aren’t based on any kind of holy text, or Buddhism, which explicitly rejects fundamentalist thinking.

One of my favorite examples of how this is wrong, is from Joseph Campbell’s Transformations of Myth Through Time. Wherein he relates the story of how the Shaman of the Russian steppes were obliterated, not by Muslims, not by Christians, but by Tibetan Buddhists.

August 17th, 2009 | LINK

Sorry, having a flashback here. I thought we were back on the atheism vs Christianity thread. ;)

I like Lilo’s point, about how this is another unintended consequence of the invasion of Iraq. I seem to remember that before the invasion gay Iraqis were rarely attacked, unlike now.

Christopher Waldrop
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

As I recall, one of many justifications for the invasion was that we’d supposedly be putting an end to the torture and brutal treatment of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein’s regime. It was very hard to argue with the claim that the people of Iraq could be better off under different leadership, but, as we’ve seen, it hasn’t actually happened.

I like Lilo’s point as well, particularly the point about learning what we can do.

August 17th, 2009 | LINK

Chris, shamanism remains an integral part of Central Asian cultures to this day, including among the predominantly Tibetan Buddhist Mongolians, so I’m not sure what you mean by its being “obliterated.” The shamanistic Bon religion is also practiced in Tibet today alongside Buddhism; there was a lot of competition between the two, but I don’t know of Bon practitioners being burned at the stake for heresy.

Buddhism has a long tradition of debate and questioning. Even the Dalai Lama publicly said that if Buddhists encounter scientific facts that negate their own beliefs, then they should dump their beliefs and adopt the scientific facts instead.

That being said, I’m not trying to make Buddhism out to be innocent — Tibetan lamas have a pretty violent and sordid history. But intolerance among most religions pales in comparison to what’s been happening in the Christian and Muslim worlds practically since those religions’ inceptions.

What’s happening in Iraq right now is nothing but a more violent version of what fundamentalist Christians are doing to us in this country in an effort to perpetuate nearly 2,000 years of sexual repression (not to mention anti-gay hate crimes here, which are unconsciously committed for the same reason). Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious organizations that accept and welcome gays are a very new phenomenon among a family of religions that has spent most of its history hunting down and killing us.

I’m not questioning anyone’s right to practice whatever religion they choose. If you want to change the minds of the world’s Jews, Christians and Muslims, then have at it, but let’s be honest: There is something at the heart of these religions — the idea of a jealous, vengeful, angry and punitive deity and the idea that there is a “One True Faith” — that causes this violence to happen.

Timothy Kincaid
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

AJD and Chris,

Please continue the conversation here.

August 17th, 2009 | LINK

One of the more compelling arguments against invading Iraq was that it would replace an atheist regime with a fundamentalist Muslim one. Now we’re seeing the fruit of that ill thought out decision.

Thanks again Dubya!

David C.
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

Not to defend him, but Saddam Hussein was staunchly secular and worked to secularize Iraqi government. We are seeing the result of enabling Islam and its traditions to reassert themselves in Iraq. Such is the consequence of supporting self-determination by the Iraqi people through a democratic process.

Feel free to go to the religion thread to discuss the matter of religion per se, but this is a political and religious matter, and worthy of treatment here. Specifically, how can the US, which essentially handed the Iraqi people a democratic system without the wisdom of the US Founders, expect to rein in the influence of Islamic tradition? The answer is, the US can’t because it has little to no leverage on the issue.

A fundamental provision of the Constitution of Iraq is that Islam is the state religion and a basic foundation for the country’s laws, and no law may contradict the established provisions of Islam. There will be people that will take that as license to do many bad things that are contrary to basic decency as measured by US standards, including the violent repression of gay people.

The Constitution of Iraq does not permit the persecution and murdering of anybody, and there are clauses in the constitution that are intended to ensure freedom from psychological and physical torture, and inhumane treatment, but it will be specific laws that protect gay people, and those laws must be enacted by the Iraqi parliament.

Islam is both a political system and a belief system, and it will be difficult if not altogether unreasonable to expect that it can be made over to support a system of full human rights any time soon. Add to this the fact that the constitution is maddeningly vague and incomplete in places, and one can be sure that it will be a long time before gay people are protected in Iraq. The sad fact is that there is little the US can do about that now.

paul canning
August 17th, 2009 | LINK

If you want to practically help send some $$$ the way of ‘Iraqi LGBT’

They run safe houses inside Iraq as well as supporting refugees in the rest of the middle east.

Whilst the HRW report is good news for raising the profile of the pogrom, only Iraqi LGBT is actually supporting people (saving them from murder) inside the country. But funds are scarce and they consequently have to turn people away.

To find out more, read their annual report which is published on their website.

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