“Killing gays is halal,” permissible under Islamic law. “We’ll get points in heaven for it.”
NEW YORK MAGAZINE From Baghdad—frightening reports of gay pogroms, where homosexual men are targeted, tortured, slayed. From New York—a scurry to find those same men before they are killed, and shepherd them to safety. On a bright afternoon in late March, an 18-year-old named Fadi stood in a friend’s clothing store in Baghdad checking out the new merchandise. A worker in a neighboring store walked into the boutique with a newspaper in his hand and shared a story he had just read. It was about “sexual deviants,” he said. Gay men’s rectums had been glued shut, and they had been force-fed laxatives and water until their insides exploded. They had been found dead on the street.
That evening Fadi met up with his three closest friends—Ahmed, Mazen, and Namir—in a coffee shop.“They’re doing this to frighten us,” he said. In recent weeks, with rumors of gay death squads and torture on the rise, the four friends had lowered their profile. They no longer went to the Shisha every night. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings,” Fadi said, on the last night they met there.
On April 4, at about 8 p.m., Fadi’s cell phone rang. It was Mazen’s brother. “Mazen and Namir have been killed,” he said. The maimed bodies of the two friends had been discovered together in the vast Shia district of Baghdad named Sadr City, which is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shia militia. Mazen had had his pectoral muscles cut off. There were two drill holes in Namir’s left leg, below the knee. Both had been shot in the head, apparently from close range.
“Two young men were killed on Thursday,” an unnamed Sadr City official told the Reuters news agency in a story published that same day. “They were sexual deviants. Their tribes killed them to restore their family honor.” In the same story, Reuters cited a police source as saying that the bodies of four other gay men had been found in Sadr City on March 25 with signs on their chests reading PERVERT.
Fadi called Ahmed. They spoke for an hour. They were devastated by their friends’ deaths, of course. They were also terrified. Under torture, Mazen and Namir may have given up their names.
There was no announcement, no fatwa, no openly declared policy by a cleric or militia leader or politician, but a wave of anti-gay hysteria hit the country. An Iraqi TV station, with disapproving commentary, showed a video of a group of perhaps two dozen young men at a private dance party, wiggling their hips like female belly dancers. Terms like the third sex and puppies, a newly coined slur, began to appear in hostile news reports. Shia and Sunni clerics started to preach in their Friday sermons about the evils of homosexuality and “the people of Lot.” Police officers stepped up their harassment of openly gay men. Families and tribes cast out their gay relatives. The bodies of gay men like Mazen and Namir, often mutilated, began turning up on the street. There is no way to verify the number of tortured or harassed, but the best available estimates place that figure in the thousands. Hundreds of men are believed to have been killed.
The eruption of violence in February appears to have been an unintended consequence of the country’s broader peace. In the wake of the surge in American troops and the increase in strength of the Iraqi military and police forces, Iraq’s once-powerful Sunni and Shia militias have wound down their attacks against American forces and one another. Now they appear to be repositioning themselves as agents of moral enforcement, exploiting anti-gay prejudice as a means of engendering public support.
It doesn’t help that gay people have virtually no allies in Iraqi society. Women, ethnic minorities, detainees, people who work for the Americans—just about everyone else in the country has some sort of representation. But there are no votes to be gained or power to be accrued in any Iraqi community—Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Christians, Turkmen—by supporting gay people. Gays in Iraq today are essentially a defenseless target.
United States officials have been aware of the gay killings in Iraq for several months and have raised questions about the Iraqi government’s role in the rise in violence and its response to the purges. But the Iraqis sometimes express repulsion at gay people, sources familiar with American diplomatic efforts say. And there is only so far Americans can push the Iraqi government without inadvertently causing a backlash on gay Iraqis. The U.S. State Department says it is working to accept as many Iraqi refugees as it can into the country, but Scott Long insists not enough is being done. “Only in the past year has the U.S. really started meeting its obligations to endangered Iraqis by ramping up the numbers it’s willing to accept. But it’s critical for authorities to commit to recognizing LGBT Iraqis as among those endangered, and as fitting into the U.S. numbers. We’re waiting for a public commitment.” READ THE REST: The Hunted