Iraqi Civil Society and Gay Rights

(What's This All About?…Introducing small-d)

A recent New York Times article on civil society groups in Iraq is a little short on detail, doing a better job of highlighting the poverty and despair in Iraq than hope for the future. But it is heartening to learn that "Since 2003 the government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially." Some of these groups are, however, fronts for Shiite and Sunni extremists. The author also doesn't mention the Bush administration's decision to drastically cut aid for Iraqi civil society and democracy building through the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. (I guess Iraqis will have to make do with rhetoric.)

More encouraging, and frankly awe-inspiring, are the efforts of a "clandestine network" of Iraqi gay and lesbian activists to turn back the anti-gay pogrom that has accompanied the militant Shiite ascendancy in Iraq. In April of last year Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani – the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq and an important political power-broker on whom the coalition forces have relied to maintain calm – declared a fatwa on his website calling for all homosexuals to be killed in the "worst, most severe way." Since that declaration, The Independent reports "mounting evidence that fundamentalists have infiltrated government security forces to commit homophobic murders while wearing police uniforms." According to gay rights activists, the Shiite fundamentalist death squads have even in some cases used Internet chat rooms created by gay Iraqis to arrange to meet gays in Baghdad and other cities, then abducted and shot them.

But on May 10th the fatwa was removed from Sistani's site. The London office of the Iraqi LGBT – an Iraqi gay rights organization that represents "a clandestine network of lesbian and gay activists inside Iraq's major cities" – claims credit for the reversal after protesting the fatwa directly to Sistani. Then again, though the fatwa calling for death to gays in Iraq was removed, a fatwa calling for lesbians to be punished remains. Still, it's difficult to imagine anything more ballsy than being a gay rights activist in Iraq. The back story according to the London office of Iraqi LGBT is also intriguing: they claim that Sistani got in touch with them first, demanding that they remove the criticisms from their English-language site immediately. Instead, they demanded that Sistani remove the fatwa. "After two weeks of sometimes tense negotiations, Sistani's representatives in London and Najaf agreed to drop the homophobic fatwa from his website – except for the section calling for the punishment of lesbianism," says Iraqi LGBT. Check out their site for more info and this interview with their London representative.


Explore posts in the same categories: Iraq, Middle East Democracy

2 Comments on “Iraqi Civil Society and Gay Rights”

  1. Mike Harrison Says:

    In Russia, too, attacks on homosexuals are common and rarely prosecuted. The Chicago Tribune recently ran an excellent article on the subject (you may have to register to read it):,1,212660.story

  2. Wiliam Says:

    haha great! I must show that to my friend 😀

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