Yesterday in Baghdad, Iraqi actor Karar Nushi was murdered due to rumours of his homosexuality. He had been receiving death threats because of his “transgressive appearance” – particularly his long hair – and was discovered brutally stabbed on a central street in Baghdad.
It is a devastating incident, yet an increasingly regular phenomenon since the Western invasion of Iraq in 2003. Humanitarian reports estimate that between 2004 to 2009, 680 people have been murdered due to gender and sexual non-conformism. According to Amir Ashour, the remarkable founder of IraQueer – a charity to support LGBTQI+ citizens in Iraq – queer people are publically exposed by Isis with their names and photos on walls around Baghdad. “In some parts of the country, if it is even discovered that you know a queer person, it can be very dangerous."
Amir explained that on one of these "killing lists…a person's crime was having long hair. All it takes is the perceived idea of someone's sexuality, or the perceived idea of someone's gender expression," for them to be murdered. The “offender” Amir refers to was a married heterosexual man with kids, whose slight variation of male propriety resulted in his execution.
I am a queer Iraqi, and feel enormously privileged to live safely in London when I hear about such news. But I watch on guiltily in a climate of Western Islamophobia, where such incidents are co-opted by the far right as a way to incite xenophobia. Of course, they mask their extremism as “the fight to preserve Western liberalism,” and I’m told to count my blessings that the West has saved me from my barbaric homeland. Gay voice in the far right, Milo Yiannopoulos, is but one disgusting example of someone justifying Islamophobia as “protecting civil liberty.”
While the “fight against extremism” has been the recent epithet of Western democracy, we have to ask ourselves – what has been the West’s role in extremism in Iraq?
Violence against LGBTQI+ people in Iraq has escalated dramatically since the Western invasion in 2003, and it’s not a coincidence. Just as the far right use LGBTQI+ rights as a way to brew racism, Isis exploit LGBTQI+ people as a tool to fuel anti-Western hatred. Disdain for the West is potent on Iraqi soil – what did we expect after destroying a civilisation for no actual reason? And homosexuality has become imaged as a Western export. Amir’s team on the ground have seen how LGBTQI+ bodies are weaponised by Isis as being symptomatic of the Western corruption of Iraq. It seems that no matter where you look, queer bodies are the scapegoat for extremism. Are we worth so little?
It surprises many that being LGBTQI+ is not actually illegal in Iraq. This is of great pleasure to our now pitiful Home Office – haunted by the ghost of Theresa May’s post – who use the legislative specificity as a way to reject LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from Iraq. In 2010, for instance, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group exposed that 98-99 per cent of LGBTQI+ asylum applications in the UK were denied. And as recently as 10 April 2017, the Home Office arrested 30 Iraqi refugees – many of whose lives are endangered in Iraq – forcing them on a charter plane without negotiation.
It’s hard to get your head around this without wanting to cry: the West has destroyed a once glorious civilisation, has had a role in allowing LGBTQI+ hate crimes to escalate on foreign soil, yet refuses to help those lives who are now endangered because of this. To top it all off, the West paints itself as the bastion of civil liberty. It’s similar to how we’ve selectively forgotten that homophobia in Africa and India is partially a hang up from the ideology of British colonialism – many now tut disapprovingly at the “primitive” behaviours abroad.
Don’t be one of them. As someone with the privilege of living in the West, do all you can to ensure the safety of those we have had a part in endangering. I’d encourage you to start with a donation to Amir’s urgent organisation, IraQueer.
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