I’m grateful for Ralph Reiland bringing attention to the matter of “emo” eradication in Iraq, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t expand, slightly, on his thoughts. It’s an important matter that I’ve been paying close attention to over at the Foreign Policy Association — and been quoted about here. To be clear, young men and women in Iraq are not being killed for the type of music they listen to or for merely being “emos” — a label once reserved in the West for sensitive youth who soothed the tempo of young adulthood with melodic styles of rock, and unique dress.
In Iraq, “emos” describe a peculiar mash-up of femininity, Satan worship, affinity for Western dress — but most of all, presumptions of homosexuality. In practice, the label “emo” is a catch-all for suspected gays and lesbians (al shath), used by the conservative Interior Ministry to eradicate this grave religious and cultural taboo.
Mr. Reiland is correct “emos” are being killed…but he drastically understates the amount of violence directed toward this particular subset of Iraqi society. Over the past two months, more than 80 so-called “emos” have been beaten to death by roving bands of Shi’a militia, assigned the rank of “community police” by the bureaucratic higher-ups who want to wage culture war on social deviance.
It all started back in August of 2011, when the Interior Ministry instructed the Education Ministry to distribute memos to curb “emo” culture in schools. Concurrently, offenders were listed by name on flyers posted anonymously around predominantly Shi’a neighborhoods. Before long, bodies began to turn up.
The weapon of choice is the cinder block (known as the mawt al-blokkah) — a blunt instrument of violent identity politics. As international consternation grows, the Interior Ministry adjusted its tone, and retracted more bellicose warnings against these young people. However, they maintain a stated commitment to see “emos” are “dealt with.” Their denials of cultural crusading ring hollow, as do protestations that this crisis has been exaggerated by the media.
The worst and most virulent homophobia in Iraq is regularly witnessed in Shi’a neighborhoods. Although Iraqi gays claimed success in 2006 following the decision of Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani to remove a fatwah calling for the killing of all homosexuals in the “worst, most severe way possible” from his website, the tone of conduct was clearly established years ago.
The tide is high for social violence — initial efforts to root out gays have careened off into attacks against any young man with long hair or a slightly effete appearance. Despite government statements that this is a non-event, Iraqi bloggers are reporting many victims were brutally raped before they were murdered, suggesting this crescendo of murky violence boils down to a question of control.
As if we needed another instructive lesson, that power comes with targeted bloodshed in Iraq.