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Thursday, March 23rd, 2006
Iraqi Exile Speaks Out Against the Targeting of Gay Iraqis by Shia Death Squads

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Shiite death squads in Iraq have been systematically targeting gay Iraqis for persecution and execution.

The attacks follow a death-to-gays fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani last October.

In a question and answer section of his website, Sistani says homosexuality is "forbidden" and calls for the killing of gays in the "worst, most severe way."
AMY GOODMAN:    For more on the story, we are joined by Ali Hili, a gay Muslim Iraqi living in exile in Britain. He fled Iraq two years ago.

Five months ago, he founded the Abu Nawas Group to support persecuted gay Iraqis.   He joins us on the line from London.   He doesn't want to expose his face, as he's received several death threats.

We're also joined on the telephone here in New York by Doug Ireland who broke the story in the Gay City News, a columnist for The Nation magazine, Village Voice and New York Observer for years, also a contributing editor of POZ, the monthly for the HIV-positive community.

Ali Hili, let’s begin with you in London.   What exactly do you know?   What was your experience in Iraq, and why have you gone into exile?

ALI HILI:    Iraq, at the time of Saddam, was — I mean, I'm talking about as a gay Iraqi — it was not as bad as we can see now.

In fact, it was a little bit — we have a little bit acceptance.   We have little bit of — not too many intimidation.

People are really accepting gays, especially in theater, in entertainment and media.   We had several actors, singers, which was very popular before.   There was no homophobic attitudes toward gay and lesbians.

Most of them are welcomed in the community and the society.   And people just — we indulgence with the rest of Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ:    And what has happened in the period since the U.S. occupation?

ALI HILI:    Well, we started to receive information, in particular, the last two years, when we made contact with our friends, in particular, my old friends in Baghdad.

Horrific, horrific details about, I mean killing, intimidation, harassing, arresting.

It's a very dark age for gays and lesbians and transsexuals and bisexuals in Iraq right now.

And the fact that Iraq has been shifted from a secular state into a religious state was completely, completely horrific.

We were very modern.

We were very, very Western culturalized — Iraq — comparing to the rest of the Middle East.   Why it's been shifted to this Islamic dark ages country?

AMY GOODMAN:    Can you tell us about the fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani?

The section on his website that talks about homosexuality is forbidden and calls for the killing of gays in the worst, most severe way.

ALI HILI:    Okay.   After the killing of one of our colleagues — and his partner has been injured — it alerted us to start to search for orders of killing, and attract our attention al-Sistini's highest spiritual leader for the Shia in the Middle East.

On his website, we found an order for killing for gay and lesbians.

In fact, I'm looking at it right now.   ‘Til this moment, nothing has been changed since we approached them.

We asked them to change it and do something about it.

Our sources inside Iraq told us that they used this print and give it, send it to people from this website.

So we found it, and we started to do a little campaign here in London with our little group to approach the Iraqi government and the media right now to do something about this killing.

JUAN GONZALEZ:    We're also joined by journalist, Doug Ireland, who broke the story in the Gay City News.

Now, this is a human rights issue that has gotten no attention, absolutely no attention here in the United States.   Could you talk about it and what you went over in your article?

DOUG IRELAND:    Yes.   The organized and systematic kidnapping and assassination of gay people in Iraq has gotten absolutely zero coverage in the United States media.   The killings are ongoing.

They are almost a daily occurrence.   I spoke this past weekend with an underground gay activist in Baghdad, who told me that just in the previous week four gay Iraqis had been found murdered in the usual style, employed by the Badr Corps, which is to say the bodies are discovered with their hands bound behind their backs and bullets in the back of the head.

The Badr Corps, which is the military arm of the of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is compiling lists of homosexuals.

Many gay Iraqis are — they are warned that if they do not get married, they will be subject to assassination.

They usually give them about a month to change their ways, as they put it.   And if they don't, they are targeted for murder.

There have been assaults by the Badr Corps in the streets of Iraq.   And since the Ayatollah al-Sistani's death fatwa against gays, this has given a green light for manifestations of public homophobia in the most violent way by Shia Muslims in Iraq.

So you have situations where Badr Corps thugs will drag someone into the street and begin beating them, and they are then surrounded by crowds of Shia passers-by who cheer them on.   It's a very desperate situation.

The gay activist I spoke to in Baghdad, with practically tears in his voice, was begging the West to, “Please, we need protection!”

When gay activists have gone to the U.S. authorities in the Green Zone, I was told, “We are laughed at, and they don't care.”

They treat the gay Iraqis who are begging them for protection with contempt and derision, which is rather scandalous.

AMY GOODMAN:    Ali Hili, you left Iraq two years ago, living in exile, now afraid to even show your face.   Were you a supporter of Saddam Hussein?

ALI HILI:    No, no, no, no.   Actually, I'm personally, I have big hate for this person.   He is the worst thing that ever happened to Iraq, maybe, until we saw these religious mullahs who were brought to the government to lead this country.   We were much better off in the Saddam time, although he's a tyrant.

But the Middle East is not that little, simple a-b-c.   The politics shouldn't approach Iraq in that way.   Again, it's a huge, huge mistake, taking off a secular state, with a neighbor Islamic state.

Iran has a great, huge, huge influence now on Iraqi government.   And they want to adapt the Islamic — Iran version inside Iraq and in the south.

We have sources that's been telling us that several, several Iranian officers and people are really working with the government, and especially the last report we got today from Mr. Muhammed al-Shahwani, the Iraqi intelligence director of the Ha’aretz newspaper, it says names and addresses belonging to Badr organization, closely associated to the Iranian regime, were discovered during a raid by the Iraqi Intelligence Agency against police central last month, and Iranians were arrested during the raid.

In Iraq, one was charged of a television station; with no authorization, he's working.   And another one is an officer intelligence from Iranian regime.

These horrific — and in fact, it's proved that Iraq has been penetrated by the Iranian regime, through these mullahs and religious parties.

AMY GOODMAN:    Ali Hili, we want to thank you very much for being with us and for speaking out where you are now in Britain, having gone into exile from Iraq, and Doug Ireland of Gay City News, for breaking this story.

Abu Nawas logo
< If you would like to help support gay Iraqis, the Abu Nawas Group (logo left) desperately needs money to expand its work on their behalf.   The Abu Nawas Group works closely with the British gay rights group OutRage! — so, if you'd like to make a donation to the Abu Nawas Group, checks should be made payable to "OutRage!", with a cover note stating it is a donation for "Abu Nawas Iraqi LGBT — UK".   and mailed to: OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK.

Lebanese group tackles biggest taboo
Saturday 07 January 2006
By Christian Henderson in Beirut

Cover of Lebanon's latest gay publication in Arabic

Being gay in the Arab world is not easy.   Homosexual behaviour is criminalised in all Arab countries and arrests of people accused of being involved in purportedly unnatural acts are frequent.

In 2001, Egyptian police arrested and detained 52 gay men, including one minor, who the authorities said had engaged in lewdness at a party on a private boat along the Nile shoreline.

Twenty-three of the men received severe prison sentences for among other things, contempt of religion.

In Abu Dhabi in November police broke up a so-called gay wedding and arrested scores of men.   UAE officials said they would inject suspects with hormones although they later denied the treatment took place.

The very few Arab gays who are bold enough to publicly identify themselves as homosexual often face alienation from their friends and family.

Some countries in the region have laws penalising homosexuals with the death sentence and death threats against homosexuals by angry relatives are not unheard of.

Lebanon scene

But amid regular reports of draconian measures, one group of gay activists in Lebanon is challenging what is one of the biggest taboos in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Helem, an acronym in Arabic for the "Lebanese protection of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community", is the first public gay-rights group in the Arab world.
Many states in the region have laws penalising homosexuals

A non-governmental, non-profit organisation registered in Quebec, Canada, it maintains support groups in Australia, France and the US as well.

Last summer, the group released a quarterly magazine for gays and lesbians — the first widely distributed gay publication in the Arabic language.

Entitled Barra (Arabic for "Out") the magazine has been accessed over the internet by readers across the Arab world and the website receives 60,000 hits a month.

Five per cent of the hits come from Lebanon, 6% from Saudi Arabia, and the remaining hits come from other Arab countries and unidentifiable sources.

"The target is lesbian gay, bisexual and trans-sexual people and to help Lebanese and Arab society understand more of this section of society that is completely alienated," says George Azzi, Helem's coordinator.

Intolerant status quo

"We are trying to fight this [intolerant status quo], this was the idea behind the magazine.   To have a voice, a voice that was completely shut down," Azzi said while sitting in Helem's office in a Beirut villa.

He said Helem had to overcome resistance from many gays in Lebanon who were fearful of the consequences of appearing publicly.

“Helem was rejected by a big part of the community because they didn't want anything that visible”

George Azzi,
Co-ordinator, Lebanese gay-rights magazine Helem

"Helem was rejected by a big part of the community because they didn't want anything that visible.   They wanted to stay invisible," he says.

Although homosexuality is still illegal in Lebanon, Helem is now able to work openly and there are bars and cafes where gays are able to openly congregate.   The group has taken part in several public events including the Beirut marathon.

Helem has also registered itself with the Lebanese authorities suggesting that the government is at least willing to tolerate such an organisation.

Some activists say homosexuality is on the verge of being decriminalised and expect a change in the law within a year.

But while gays in Lebanon appear to be making strides, Helem acknowledge that the situation in other Arab countries is very different.

No space

"In other countries it's either the lack of a strong civil society or a conservative society where there is no space to come out," Helem activist Ghassan Makarem says.

Often pressure from religious conservatives motivates governments to crack down on gays.

"The only solution is to persuade the religious leaders that they don't need to control everything," Azzi says.

“We are not in the business of outing people”

George Azzi,,
Co-ordinator, Lebanese gay-rights magazine Helem

The gay movement in the Arab world also faces larger questions concerning the definition of sexuality in societies where sexual orientation has sometimes been harder to classify than in the West.

Helem say they recognise the risks of using definitions that may not be accurate for the Arab world.

"The way that Islamic societies look at sex in general is completely different from Europe," Makarem says.

Wary of West

The group is also wary about emulating Western gay rights groups who have often taken militant stances including the naming of homosexuals who had sought to keep their sexuality a secret.

International gay-rights groups have been accused of being "missionaries" who used terminology that could not be applied to sexual habits in Middle Eastern societies.

"I don't think they really understand the priorities here," says Makarem.   "They might turn the issue into something that movement is not ready for."

"We know there are lots of (gay) people in the parliament, in the government, in the media and public personalities.   But we are not in the business of outing people."

Out of the Koran
By Rachel Giese, Xtra!

There's a revolution underway, and for DJ and activist Zahra Dhanani, the evidence is on the dance floor.

At FunkAsia, her monthly South Asian club night, Dhanani sees a "multifaith, multi-gendered, multi-sexual collaboration.   There are people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds coming together to have a good time.   And most significantly, there are straight people, many with religious backgrounds, who are, for the first time, meeting and hanging out with queer people.   And do you know what?   All those people might not always agree with each other, but they respect each other and respect each other's differences.   And that is revolutionary."

Dhanani is looking forward to seeing some of that revolutionary spirit at Toronto's international conference for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual Muslims, where she will be performing.   Some 200 participants from around the world are expected to attend.

"It will be both a revisiting and a celebration of what it means to be Muslim," says El-Farouk Khaki, a Toronto lawyer and one of the conference organizers.

The conference offers a much more open image than "the mostly unidimensional view of Islam that's held in the West," says Dhanani, where Muslims are usually seen as terrorists, fundamentalists or both.

"The truth is," Khaki says, "the fundamentalists don't represent the majority of Muslims.   But a lot of moderate and progressive Muslims feel pushed to the side and shut out of the mosques."

For most queer Muslims, being open within their communities has been an enormous challenge.   Not only do they fear rejection from their families, but from their broader communities.

"Homosexuals cannot be Muslims," blasts one recent on-line debate on the topic.   When a chapter of Al-Fatiha was founded in England three years ago, the head of one fundamentalist group issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, denouncing Al-Fatiha members as traitors.   "Never will such a group be tolerated in Islam," he told followers.

In some Muslim-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death, while in Egypt, there has been a recent spate of arrests of "perceived homosexuals."   Some have been convicted for having on-line conversations in gay chatrooms, and most notoriously, this year 12 men were sentenced to three years in prison for the "habitual practice of debauchery" after being arrested on a gay boat cruise on the Nile River.

Scott Siraj Kugle, a professor of religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, who will be discussing spirituality and sexuality at the conference, says that the struggle for queer Muslims will get harder before it gets easier.

"As more and more of us speak out and come out, we are harder to ignore and opposition will be more virulent.   But I don't think that backlash will last long.   I think what we're really experiencing now is a groundswell of moderate and progressive Muslims speaking out in their communities," says Kugle.

For Kugle, the path to liberation lies in liberating Islamic theology itself – something that is very new for Muslims.   "So many of us are afraid of the Koran because for so long it's been used against us.   For a long time, Muslim feminists and gay activists took a secular route and avoided the Koran altogether because they didn't feel it could be anything but oppressive.   But there's a new generation of Muslim feminists, particularly in Morocco, South Africa and Iran, who are engaging with the Koran and seeing that there are new ways to interpret it.   And when you read the Koran, you realize that far from condemning us, it actually offers a lot of resources on how to live sincerely within our faith as gay and lesbian.   For instance, the Koran is full of really interesting stories about rebellion."

Though there is not a large focus on homosexuality in the Koran, Kugle says "the traditional interpretations of the Koran make some conclusions about homosexual acts that are condemning, but I'm not sure that those are accurate and correct interpretations.   There's not even a word for homosexuality or homosexual in the Koran."

He points to the story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah, which has been used as well in Christianity and Judaism to denounce homosexuality.   "But some scholars, like myself, interpret that as a condemnation of rape, not of homosexuals."

Adds Dhanani, "You have to remember that the Koran was not written by the Prophet Mohammed, but by people who would have been influenced by the culture and traditions of their time.   Some of that just doesn't work for the times we are now living in.

"For instance, there are references in the Koran about how to treat your horses and your cattle.   That's just not relevant to the majority of Muslims today and so people don't fixate on whether people are treating their horses properly in accordance with the Koran.   Most of the people who want to follow the Koran literally, only want to follow part of it literally.

"What people forget is that culture is not static.   And our traditions have to keep up with changes in our culture.   Many things that have simply been traditions – which are subject to change as culture changes – are seen as religious doctrine."

Until recently, Christians and Jews were the only major religious groups visible and active in queer issues and fighting for recognition within their faith communities.   Many gay and lesbian Muslims felt stuck with the painful choice of either hiding or denying their sexuality, or abandoning their faith.   In the last decade, however, queer Muslims have taken great steps out of the closet.   Salaam now has chapters in Halifax and Vancouver, as well as Toronto, while Al-Fatiha, its sister organization, has nine chapters in the US, as well as affiliate groups in Britain and South Africa.   Khaki says this growth and empowerment owes its emergence to a number of factors.   One of the most significant is the Internet.

"Once people got on-line and started talking," he says, "things really began to change.   Suddenly all these people who felt isolated in their local communities realized they weren't alone."   Websites like and offer gay and lesbian Muslims a global community in which to come out.   Al-Fatiha, itself, was created in 1997 out of a listserv e-mail list.

The aftermath of 9/11, a topic that will be discussed at the conference, has been another significant factor.

"With all the tragedy and suffering that came with 9/11, one good thing that emerged was that progressive Muslims began the process of reclaiming a faith that had been hijacked by fundamentalists," Kugle says.

Adds Khaki: "Sep 11 forced progressive and moderate Muslims into the spotlight.   First of all, there were many people who led completely secular lives who suddenly were being identified by their religion and who had to come to terms with that.   Then there were many people who felt silenced and pushed to the sidelines who felt compelled to speak out.   All of a sudden it was possible and necessary within the Muslim community to raise alternative views.   There was a blossoming of a global progressive Muslim movement and queer Muslims were a part of that."

Another factor, particularly for Muslims in Canada, has been the advancement of gay and lesbian rights.

"We are, overall, more accepted and more secure.   That legitimacy makes it more difficult for people to hate us.   As more queers come out publicly, it makes it much harder for people in the Muslim community to exclude or condemn us," says Khaki.

Khaki points to a recent panel discussion that Salaam held at the 519 Community Centre.   "There was a straight woman on the panel in a hijab.   That wouldn't have happened 10 years ago.   A religious straight woman would probably have not wanted to associate herself with us.   Now it's less of a problem."

Dhanani says that changes to Canada's refugee laws, which now allow people to claim persecution due to sexual orientation, have also been significant.

"There's been an influx of gay and lesbian refugees from Muslim countries who have been persecuted for their sexuality.   Many of them are becoming politically active here.   The flip side of that is that there is also a generation of people, like me, who are immigrated here as children, or who are first generation.   We have now come of age.   We feel secure here.   We know our rights as Canadians and as queers.   And we feel more comfortable coming out."

© 2005 Independent Media Institute.   All rights reserved.


       Afghanistan — Western Terror States: Canada, US, UK, France, Germany, Italy       
       Photos of Afghanistan people being killed and injured by NATO     


For archives, these articles are being stored on website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.