The Six Day Phwoar (Israel: A new gay icon?)

January 08, 2007

* This email list/website has previously included articles on Israel’s gay scene and on the treatment of homosexuals in the Arab world. See, for example, the fourth and fifth articles in the dispatch titled Harry Potter taught at Bar-Ilan University (June 24, 2003).

 

CONTENTS

1. Brutality against homosexuals in the Arab world
2. “We are their only hope”
3. Israel: A new gay icon?
4. Gay pride in Israel; Gay torture in the West Bank
5. Islamic militia target gays in Iraq
6. “The Six Day Phwoar” (By Chas Newkey-Burden, Attitude, Dec. 2006)
7. “Unspeakable love” (By Brian Whitaker, Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2006)
8. “Saddam execution unlikely to end violence against Iraq gays” (365Gay.com, Dec. 31, 2006)



[Note by Tom Gross]

BRUTALITY AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS IN THE ARAB WORLD

I attach an article from “Attitude,” a gay magazine based in the UK, which explores the gay scene in Israel. (A shorter, adapted version of the article also appears on Ynet.)

The article is by British journalist Chas Newkey-Burden, who is a subscriber to this email list. He compares the freedom and rights afforded to homosexuals in Israel with the lack of freedom given to them in the rest of the Middle East:

“In neighbouring Arab states, laws governing homosexuality are brutal. In Lebanon, you can face a year in prison for being gay. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Iran they’ve managed to come up with an even worse sentence: first torture, then death. These are not just theoretical punishments, these sentences are regularly carried out.

“The legal situation in the Palestinian territories is less clear-cut but gay men are routinely and brutally tortured by their families and communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Gay Palestinians are tortured and murdered by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.”

The violence and discrimination against homosexuals in the Arab world is all but ignored by the western media and by politicians supposedly concerned with human rights, such as the left-wing mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who regularly coddles up to the most homophobic and anti-Semitic of Islamic clerics.

“WE ARE THEIR ONLY HOPE”

Newkey-Burden points out the lengths to which organizations in Israel go to make homosexual tourists feel comfortable, “For instance, tourist industry conventions in Israel include seminars on gay tourists and how to treat them,” he says.

“Perhaps the most surprising gay visitors to Israel are those from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. AGUDA organises Arabic gay evenings where gay Palestinians are invited to come and party with Israelis and many take up the invitation. ‘We are their only hope,’ he says. ‘If they came out where they live, they would be killed but they can come and party with us in Israel.’”

ISRAEL: A NEW GAY ICON?

Newkey-Burden, who is not Jewish and was on his first trip to Israel, was so impressed with Israel that he concludes that “We’ve crowned a lot of gay icons down the years: artists, musicians and others who have inspired us, thrilled us and enjoyed a deep mutual admiration with us. Many of them have overcome enormous brutality and responded to that brutality with dignity and in style. To that list of gay icons we can now perhaps add the country of Israel, which for gay men represents a beacon of light in a dark region, and a land of enormous promise and pleasure.”

GAY PRIDE IN ISRAEL; GAY TORTURE IN THE WEST BANK

The second article below is by Brian Whitaker, The Guardian’s Middle East editor. The Guardian is one of the most hostile papers to Israel in the world so it comes as no surprise that Whitaker is generally not very pro-Israel, although this piece is a partial exception. The piece appears in the prestigious British publication, The Jewish Quarterly.

Whitaker acknowledges that hundreds of Palestinian homosexuals have sought and received political asylum in Israel, although he says that some of them are then effectively forced by the Israeli authorities to work as undercover agents or informants for Israel in return for permanent residency in the Jewish state.

Whitaker is author of the book “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East.”

For more on Brian Whitaker, please see the following two dispatches:

* The Guardian attacks Memri (Aug. 13, 2002)
* Memri responds to the Guardian (Aug. 27, 2002)

ISLAMIC MILITIA TARGET GAYS IN IRAQ

The third article attached below concerns gays in Iraq, reporting on how armed Shia and Sunni Islamic militia are roaming the streets of the capital Baghdad targeting gay men and lesbians for kidnap and/or murder. Last March, prominent Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for gays to be killed.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

“A BEACON OF LIGHT IN A DARK REGION”

The Six Day Phwoar
By Chas Newkey-Burden
Attitude (UK gay magazine)
December 2006

Tel Aviv resident Justin Rudzki was strolling across the city’s busy Dizengoff Square one day when he spotted an Arab man. Their eyes met and the two men approached one another. But this wasn’t to be yet another moment of conflict between Jew and Arab in the Middle East. The pair instead swapped phone numbers and arranged a date. You might not expect such an encounter to be able to occur in Israel. But then the more you look into gay life in this country, the more surprises you uncover.

When I told friends I was visiting Israel, the common response was “Be careful, make sure you don’t get killed.” In fact, such is the level of security there, I felt far, far safer in Israel than I do in London. Similarly, when I told friends I was visiting Israel to write a feature for a gay magazine, the common response was: “Be careful, I bet it’s a really homophobic country.”

It is nothing of the sort. Workplace discrimination against gay people is outlawed; the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has many openly gay members; in schools, teenagers learn about the difficulties of being gay and the importance of treating all sexualities equally. The country’s army, the Israel Defence Force has many dozens of openly gay high-ranking officers who, like all gay soldiers in its ranks, are treated equally by order of the government. The Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples are eligible for spousal and widower benefits. The country has many gay football teams. Nearly all mainstream television dramas in Israel regularly feature gay storylines. When transsexual Dana International won the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest as Israel’s representative, 80 per cent of polled Israelis called her “an appropriate representative of Israel”.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Arab states, laws governing homosexuality are brutal. In Lebanon, you can face a year in prison for being gay. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Iran they’ve managed to come up with an even worse sentence: first torture, then death. These are not just theoretical punishments, these sentences are regularly carried out.

The legal situation in the Palestinian territories is less clear-cut but gay men are routinely and brutally tortured by their families and communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Gay Palestinians are tortured and murdered by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

So in terms of legislation, Israel is incredibly advanced by any standard, let alone that of a Middle Eastern country which is less than 60 years old. But winning laws is one challenge, winning the hearts and minds of a nation is another altogether. From my experiences there, the gay community in Israel are winning this challenge too. I made a point throughout my trip of telling all of the many ordinary, heterosexual Israelis I encountered that I was in the country to research a feature for a gay magazine. Without exception they were delighted to hear this and deeply proud of their country’s record on gay rights.

A religious state with a positive gay rights record: Israel can in this sense be seen as a shining example to other religious states, be they Christian or Muslim. There is no doubt that Judaism is disapproving of homosexuality and yet the world’s only Jewish state has managed to pass pro-gay legislation and create widely-welcoming atmosphere for its gay citizens and visitors. Maybe it is the persecution that the Jewish people have faced for centuries that makes them so accepting of gay people. Or perhaps the threats they still face from their neighbours give them a sharper sense of priority. Whatever the case, the widespread sense of tolerance is tangible.

Not that this tolerance means, however, that Israeli gay men do not face personal and religious challenges in coming to terms with their sexuality. When I met 20-year-old Yossi Herzog in Tel Aviv, those contradictions and challenges were apparent. Slim, pretty and lively, at first sight he could be any of the boys who queue outside London’s G.A.Y. club on a Saturday night. But as we passed near one of Tel Aviv’s synagogues, he nervously clipped a skull cap on his head. When he took me for a falafel in bustling Shenkin Street, he went through a pre-meal kosher blessing. But just minutes later, as we sat on the shoreline in the blistering afternoon heat, we were discussing what we do and don’t like doing in bed with other guys. Just like any other gay guys might. Then, I stepped away to take a phone call on my mobile and when I returned, he had put his skull cap back on and was reading Jewish prayers.

I had interviewed Yossi the previous evening on Tel Aviv’s “Hilton beach” it is opposite the Hilton hotel which is also known as the “Gay beach”, where men openly check each other out and pick each other up. It is also popular among dog-walkers and surfers so it is also known as the Dog beach and the Surfing beach. How many names can one beach have? Interestingly, it is neighboured by the city’s Religious beach which has separate bathing days for men and women. And all this is just yards from Tel Aviv’s Independence Park, which is the main gay cruising area in Tel Aviv the cruising park in Jerusalem has the same name.

Yossi says he’s never been cruising at Tel Aviv’s Independence Park. Well, the lad has hardly had a chance, he only made his aliyah immigration to Israel four weeks prior to the interview. He grew up in the USA but had for the previous two years lived in the UK. He can therefore easily compare the UK gay scene with the Israeli one.

“I much prefer the gay scene here,” he says. “For a start, the men are so much hotter,” he beams. “Here the men are tall, slim and tanned. Not like in the UK where they are more like cottage cheese all pasty and chunky.

“Israelis are very blunt, straightforward people and that helps make gay life here much more enjoyable than it is in England. Here, if you like someone you tell them. If you don’t like someone, you tell them. There are none of the “playing it cool” games you get in England, none of the whole “should I, shouldn’t I” text message extravaganza.

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city but the gay capital of the country is Tel Aviv. Bustling and modern, with a warm air of hedonism flowing through it, Tel Aviv has a fine gay scene with a number of bars, clubs, saunas and gay sex shops on its streets. At bars like Evita, a hip, young crowd converges after midnight none of the gay nightlife gets going much before this to party into the early hours.

The city is also host to the House Of Freedom. Opened in the late 1990s, this is a shelter for gay, lesbian and transgender youngsters between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been thrown out of home after coming out to their parents. At the House Of Freedom they are counselled by social workers who then visit the parents and attempt to bring about a reconciliation. Those attempts are often successful, each year hundreds of gay youngsters return to a better home thanks to this remarkable institution.

However, the city’s gay scene does not represent a gay ghetto inside which gay men have to hide. Brandon, 22, moved to Tel Aviv from upstate New York to study at one of the city’s universities. He has a boyfriend back home and he told me they could never consider holding hands in public there. However, when I met Brandon, he was hoping that his boyfriend would soon visit him in Israel. “I can’t wait for him to get here so I can show him how gay-friendly this place is,” he says. “I think he’ll be surprised. I think a lot of people would be.” He has no doubts they will hold hands on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Justin Rudzki agrees. He and his boyfriend Raphael regularly hold hands as they walk around the city. How much abuse have you received, I asked him. “None,” he replied, clearly dumbstruck that I even had to ask.

Shai Doitsh, spokesman for the National Association Of GLBT In Israel (AGUDA), expands on this theme. “It is not big deal at all for a gay couple to kiss in the street in Tel Aviv,” he says. “In fact, we now have a joke that if a man and a woman are seen kissing in the street, that is more strange!” Shai is full of enthusiasm for the gay scene in Tel Aviv and is looking forward to word getting out about it. “Our gay scene must be the best kept secret in the gay world,” he says.

However, efforts are being made by Shai and his colleagues to get that secret out and to attract more gay visitors to Israel. Shai is producing a gay map of Tel Aviv so visitors can find all the city’s gay venues. The tourist industry here is brilliant geared up to deal with gay visitors. For instance, tourist industry conventions in Israel include seminars on gay tourists and how to treat them.

Perhaps the most surprising gay visitors to Israel are those from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. AGUDA organises Arabic gay evenings where gay Palestinians are invited to come and party with Israelis and many take up the invitation. “We are their only hope,” he says. “If they came out where they live, they would be killed but they can come and party with us in Israel.”

Mahmoud (not his real name) is a 19-year-old gay Israeli Arab from a small town outside Tel Aviv. He is enormously grateful to mainstream Israel for its gay-friendliness. “I cannot be open at all in the town where I live,” he sighs, “because it is a predominantly Arab town.” What would happen if you came out in the town you live in, I ask. “Very, very bad things,” he says and refuses to elaborate.

However, the gay scene of Tel Aviv offers him a haven. “I can come here and be myself,” he smiles. “This is a lifesaver for me.” He insists he has never faced hostility on the Tel Aviv gay scene because of his Arab roots.

Bob is an Israeli Jew who regularly sees Israeli Arabs on Tel Aviv’s gay scene. “I definitely welcome them all,” he insists. “To be honest, Israeli Arabs do often bond together in general society, rather than mingling with Israeli Jews. But on the gay scene, things are different and Israeli Arabs are often seen and welcomed in our bars.”

So what about liaisons between the two communities, along the lines of Justin Rudzki’s? Yossi says that many Israeli Jews are attracted to Israeli Arabs. “I suppose they are the forbidden fruit for us and we probably represent similar to them. So it is an attractive prospect all round. Tourists, too, are a popular prospect among Israeli gays. Everyone wants to fuck a tourist.”

What wonderful news! Israel is full of absolutely gorgeous men and women. I asked all of my interviewees what the best aspect of the gay scene in Israel is, and all answered with two words: “the men”. It’s true. If you come to Israel, bring some Rescue Remedy with you because you are going to be in constant shock at the sheer beauty of pretty much human being you encounter. Forget the Six Day War that Israel fought in 1967, my trip to Israel which was one day shy of a week was a Six Day Phwoar.

In England, soldiers are widely fetishised in gay porn films and on websites like gaydar. However, these fantasies normally remain just that: fantasies. That guy in Soho who promises you he is a soldier is in all likelihood a PA for a fashion firm in reality. In Israel, however, national service requires all Israeli men to join the IDF at 18 for three years, so if you go to any of the country’s gay bars you are almost guaranteed to be able to pick up a solider. After all, plenty of the ranks of the IDF are gay and during the recent war with Hezbollah, gay Jewish porn star Michael Lewis was flown in from New York to entertain the troops.

When I met him, Yossi had recently taken on a one-man initiative to raise morale among the troops: “I pulled one four days ago,” he says, and shows me a photo of the guy that he took on his mobile phone. Very nice too. “Sadly he only spoke Hebrew and I don’t know the Hebrew word for uniform so I couldn’t get him to put it on for me!”

It is not just the boys who make your jaw drop. It seems that every inch of land in Israel is full of history and intrigue. You don’t ever want to close your eyes in case you miss something. For instance, I took a two-hour taxi ride from the blissful peace of the Dead Sea to the bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv. During this time I saw tanks from the 1948 war of independence; passed an ancient guesthouse where Jesus stayed; stared in admiration at a quartet of an ultra-orthodox Jew, an Arab, a uniformed Israeli soldier and a mini-skirt wearing girl in her late teens all engaging in friendly chit-chat as they waited for some traffic lights to change Israel’s troubles in the region are well-publicised but sights such as this happy quartet are far from unheard of in the country’s big cities. Also during this ride I looked over at the old town of Jerusalem and then rode a camel around a petrol station full of Bedouin Arabs. Meanwhile, the Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv is not just wonderful to look at, it is also a poignant “fuck you” to the Nazis who banned Bauhaus from Europe. But now Bauhaus buildings stand tall and proud in Israel, as do the Jews who Hitler tried to destroy.

Israel is a fantastic place to visit for anyone, gay men included. No, perhaps gay men especially. However, it is more than just a great country for us to visit. We’ve crowned a lot of gay icons down the years: artists, musicians and others who have inspired us, thrilled us and enjoyed a deep mutual admiration with us. Many of them have overcome enormous brutality and responded to that brutality with dignity and in style. To that list of gay icons we can now perhaps add the country of Israel, which for gay men represents a beacon of light in a dark region, and a land of enormous promise and pleasure.

 

UNSPEAKABLE LOVE

Unspeakable love
Brian Whitaker on homosexuality in the Middle East and the gay Palestinians who have taken refuge in Israel
The Jewish Quarterly
Summer 2006

www.jewishquarterly.org/article.asp?articleid=218

Open homosexuality is a social and religious taboo almost everywhere in the Middle East. In Iran and most Arab countries, same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by imprisonment, flogging or sometimes death. Even in countries where homosexuality is not specifically outlawed, such as Egypt, generalized laws against “immorality” are used to target gay men.

The notable exception is Israel, where same-sex relations between men became legal in 1988. Four years after de-criminalizing homosexuality, Israel went a step further and is now the only country in the Middle East that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The law has certainly made its impact felt, requiring the military to treat gay and lesbian members of the armed forces equally and, in one celebrated case, forcing El Al to provide a free ticket for the partner of a gay flight attendant, as for the partners of heterosexuals. And in 1998 Israel’s tolerance of sexual diversity attracted worldwide attention when the transgender Dana International won the Eurovision Song Contest.

In an essay on Israel’s gay history, Lee Walzer, author of Between Sodom and Eden (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), explains:

“The reasons for gay and lesbian political success during this period from 1988 through the mid-1990s were many. Chief among them was the fact that gay activists pursued a very mainstream strategy, seeking to convince the wider public that gay Israelis were good patriotic citizens who just happened to be attracted to the same sex.

“This strategy, pursued until recently, reinforced the perception that gay rights was a non-partisan issue, unconnected to the major fissure in Israeli politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict and how to resolve it. Embracing gay rights enabled Israelis to pat themselves on the back for being open-minded, even as Israeli society wrestled less successfully with other social inequalities.”

Across the Green Line in the West Bank and Gaza, however, the picture is very different. The penalty for same-sex acts under Palestinian law is not entirely clear, though in practice this is less significant than the extra-judicial punishments reportedly meted out by the authorities and the threats that gay men face from relatives intent on preserving family “honour”.

Writing in the New Republic (19 August 2002), Yossi Halevi described the case of “Tayseer”, a Palestinian from Gaza, who was 18 when an elder brother caught him in bed with a boyfriend. His family beat him and his father threatened to strangle him if it ever happened again. A few months later, a young man Tayseer had never met invited him into an orange grove for sex:

“The next day he received a police summons. At the station Tayseer was told that his sex partner was in fact a police agent whose job is to ferret out homosexuals. If Tayseer wanted to avoid prison, he too would have to become an undercover sex agent, luring gays into orchards and turning them over to the police.

“Tayseer refused to implicate others. He was arrested and hung by his arms from the ceiling. A high-ranking officer he didn’t know arranged for his release and then demanded sex as payback.

“Tayseer fled Gaza to Tulkarem on the West Bank, but there too he was eventually arrested. He was forced to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with faeces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see... During one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle.”

The key ingredients of Tayseer’s story are repeated in other published accounts given by gay fugitives from the West Bank and Gaza: a violent family reaction, entrapment and blackmail by the police coupled with degrading improvised punishments. The hostility of families is a predictable response from those who regard homosexuality as a betrayal of “traditional” Arab-Islamic values. This attitude is by no means unique to the Palestinians, but while it may be possible in some Arab countries to take refuge in the anonymity of big cities, the Palestinian territories are small, with mainly close-knit communities where it is difficult to hide.

Religious condemnation of homosexuality found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam derive mainly from the biblical story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom, which also figures in the Qur’an. In recent decades progressive Jews and Christians have increasingly questioned traditional interpretations of scripture and moved towards acceptance of homosexuality, at least within stable, loving relationships. As for Islam, however, the trend has generally been in the opposite direction partly because of the weakness of secular or progressive religious currents but mainly because political conditions have led to a growth of religiosity and recourse to supposedly traditional Arab-Islamic values.

Historically at least, the view that homosexual acts should be punished by execution is a feature of all three monotheistic religions. Britain applied the death penalty for sodomy over several centuries originally on the basis of ecclesiastical law up until 1861.

Today, Islamic law is widely interpreted in the same way by many prominent and widely respected scholars, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shi’a cleric in Iraq, whose fatwa advocating death for liwat (sodomy) was posted in Arabic on his website. A number of gay men have been systematically murdered in Iraq recently and campaigners say the fatwa provided religious sanction and encouragement for the killings.

Four years ago in Israel, a prominent rabbi, David Batzri, also advocated the death penalty. “Homosexuals and lesbians are not only a sickness,” he told Maariv newspaper in February 2002. Last year, during the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, a religious extremist attacked three marchers with a knife and reportedly told the police he had come “to kill in the name of God”.

Of course, there are important differences between Israel and the Arab countries particularly in the reaction to such views. Rabbi Batzri’s remarks caused public outrage and the man who attacked the Jerusalem parade was promptly arrested. In Israel, religious figures and their legal opinions carry far less weight, and the rights of gay people are protected by the state.

For gay Palestinians who feel persecuted at home, the obvious escape route is to Israel, but because of the political conflict this can be fraught with difficulties. As far as most Palestinians are concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of their cause, while gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion.

“In the West Bank and Gaza, it is common knowledge that if you are homosexual you are necessarily a collaborator with Israel,” said Shaul Gonen, of the Israeli Society for the Protection of Personal Rights (“ ‘Death Threat’ to Palestinian Gays”, BBC, 3 March 2003). Bassim Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, explained:

“In the Arab mindset, a person who has committed a moral offence is often assumed to be guilty of others, and it radiates out to the family and community. As homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature, it is not hard to link it to collaboration a crime against nation” (“Palestinian Gay Runaways Survive on Israeli Streets”, Reuters, 17 September 2003).

Regarding gay men as politically treacherous is not unique to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. There are parallels here with Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, when gay men engaged in secret government work were treated as a particular security risk. In the popular imagination, this may well have been seen as an intrinsic part of their psychological make-up, although the fact that their sexual activities were illegal did expose them to the possibility of blackmail by Soviet agents.

Equating homosexuality with collaboration makes it extremely dangerous for Palestinians to return home after fleeing to Israel. One man told Halevi in the New Republic of a friend in the Palestinian police who ran away to Tel Aviv but later went back to Nablus, where he was arrested and accused of being a collaborator:

“They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.”

There is little doubt that some though by no means all gay Palestinians are forced by their precarious existence to work for Israeli intelligence in exchange for money or administrative favours such as the right of residence; both Eid and Gonen said they knew of several. Others, meanwhile, are coerced into undercover work for the Palestinian authorities; one 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressurized by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to become a suicide bomber in order to “purge his moral guilt”, though he had refused (“Palestinian Gay Runaways”, Reuters, 17 September 2003).

Estimates of the number of gay Palestinians who have quietly and usually illegally taken refuge in Israel range from 300 to 600. Although Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and recognizes same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes, it does not welcome gay Palestinians mainly because of security fears. This often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of finding a proper job and constantly at risk of being arrested and deported. Some try to disguise themselves by wearing fake military dog-tags and even Star of David medallions.

“The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat,” Gonen told a news programme (“Palestinian Gays Flee to Israel”, BBC, 22 October 2003). But even if they are neither collaborators nor a security threat, they can easily become targets for exploitation by Israeli men. “They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies unwillingly because they have to survive,” Gonen said:

“Sometimes the Israeli secret police try to recruit them, sometimes the Palestinian police try to recruit them. In the end they find themselves falling between all chairs. Nobody wants to help them, everybody wants to use them.”

 

VIOLENCE AGAINST IRAQ GAYS CONTINUES

Saddam Hussein execution unlikely to end violence against Iraq gays
By 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
December 31, 2006

Human rights group say that the execution of Saddam Hussein will not end the kidnappings and murders of gays in Iraq, mainly in the capital of Baghdad.

As roaming militias of Sunni and Shiites jockey for power dozens of gay men and lesbians have been seized and taken away, never to be heard from again. As the country continues its downward path toward civil war the struggle for power has moved beyond Hussein loyalists.

Iraq’s small LGBT community is mostly closeted. Homosexuality was a crime under Saddam’s regime and there has been no improvement since the US led invasion.

In March, prominent Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for death to gays.

The actual violence against gays first became known in April when IRIN, United Nations sponsored media group, reported it had learned from Rainbow For Life, an Iraqi LGBT group that 12 of its members in Baghdad had been killed by militia kidnappers when their ransom demands could not be met.

Another 70 have been threatened with kidnapping the group said.

“We know for certain that those killed were targeted because of their sexual preferences,” Mustafa Salim, a spokesperson for Rainbow for Life, told IRIN.

Last month, five more gay activists were abducted at gun-point by Iraqi police in Baghdad according to the British LGBT rights group Outrage. Their fate remains unknown.

The men, ranging in age from 19 to 27 were identified only by their first names Amjad, Rafid, Hassan, Ayman and Ali. All were members of Iraq’s clandestine gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT which Outrage had been helping get gays out of the capital.

Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi Muslim who is head of Iraqi LGBT and Middle East spokesperson for Outrage said that at the time of the police raid, the five men were holding a secret meeting in a safe house in the al-Shaab district of Baghdad and were on the phone with him.

“Suddenly there was a lot of noise, then the connection ended,” Hili said.

Just days after these five activists were abducted, Haydar Kamel, aged 35, the owner of a well known men’s clothing store in the al-Karada district of Baghdad, was kidnapped near his home in Sadr city. The kidnappers are alleged to have been members of the Mahdi army, an Islamist militia loyal to fundamentalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

“Haydar had previously received death threats because of rumors about his alleged homosexuality. For many months, he had financially supported several men who were in hiding after they had been threatened by death squads because of claims that they were gay,” said Hili.

Dozens of similar raids by men wearing army and police uniforms have been carried out in the capital.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.