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New York Times admits:

'Life better for gay & lesbian Iraqis under Hussein'

Lavender & red, part 119

Published Jan 27, 2008 7:55 PM

The New York Times—an imperialist mouthpiece—admitted in a mid-December article that social life was better for those who it described as “gay and lesbian Iraqis” under the secular government of Saddam Hussein. The Times also confirmed that sanctions, war and occupation crushed that social progress and ushered in death-squad terror.

The Dec. 18 article was a political feature, not based on breaking news. The original headline summed up: “Gays Living in Shadows of New Iraq: Violence Replaces Tacit Acceptance.”

Times journalist Cara Buckley interviewed Iraqis who she described as gay. She reported, “And, until the [U.S.] American invasion, they said, Iraqi society had quietly accepted them.”

Buckley said those Iraqis she interviewed offered this view of life before sanctions and war: “For a brief, exhilarating time, from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, they say, gay night life flourished in Iraq. Whereas neighboring Iran turned inward after its Islamic revolution in 1979, Baghdad allowed a measure of liberation after the end of the Iran-Iraq war.”

The New York Times newspaper—“all the news that’s fit to print”—doesn’t see fit to mention that U.S. imperialism instigated the Iran-Iraq war. The Reagan administration armed both sides. Instead, the article continues to attempt to pit the two oil-rich countries against each other.

At the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, Buckley continued, “Abu Nuwas Boulevard, which hugs the Tigris River opposite what is now the Green Zone, became a promenade known for cruising. Discos opened in the city’s best hotels, the Ishtar Sheraton, the Palestine and Saddam Hussein’s prized Al-Rasheed Hotel becoming magnets for gay men. Young men with rouged cheeks and glossed lips paraded the streets of Mansour, an affluent neighborhood in Baghdad.”

The Times quotes Ali Hili, who left Iraq in 2000 and is now living in London, where he heads the organization Iraqi LGBT-UK. Hili stressed that before the U.S. war and sanctions, “There were so many guys, from Kuwait, from Saudi Arabia, guys in the street with makeup,” Hili recalled. “Up until 1991, there was sexual freedom. It was a revolutionary time.”

Buckley noted, “Then came the Persian Gulf War, and afterward Saddam Hussein put an end to nightclubs. Iraq staggered under the yoke of economic sanctions.”

The late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a bourgeois nationalist, reportedly added a religious law that made anal intercourse, prostitution, rape and incest a capital offense in 2001. The edict came after almost a decade of economic strangulation, as the U.S. pressed for shock-and-awe military invasion.

Buckley asked two of the Iraqis she interviewed what life was like in Iraq for them and acquaintances after the 2001 law was written. She reported, “While anti-gay laws were increasingly enforced, Mohammed and Mr. Hili said they still felt safe. Homosexuality seemed accepted, as long as it was practiced in private. And even when it was not tolerated, prison time could be evaded with a well-placed bribe.”

The admission by the New York Times that social attitudes towards male-male or female-female sexuality were freer under the secular Ba’athist government of Saddam Hussein is particularly shocking after U.S. finance capital has enforced 12 years of economic warfare, unleashed two blitzkrieg wars and continues to be the military occupation force against the entire population of Iraq based in part on the Big Lie.

Prewar media agitation about a virtual fascist dictatorship for “gays” in Iraq targeted newspapers aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans audiences in the U.S. and Britain, and helped sell the war as “liberation.”

But imperialism, and colonialism before it, has never brought liberation to the Middle East. Just the opposite is true. For example, the Times neglected to mention that British finance capital outlawed “sodomy” in Iraq—almost a century ago.

For the purposes of the Dec. 18 New York Times feature, however, Iraqi history begins with the mid-1980s, and “gay” and “lesbian” are fixed categories, identical to Western concepts, and transcend economic and social relations, cultures and eras.

Translating sex & love

More than a century ago, as the historical sun rose on capitalist economic and accompanying military expansion, Europeans also judged and condemned, speculated and sensationalized, categorized and theorized regarding Arab sexualities, particularly about expressions of love between adult men and adolescent males.

Scholar and author Khaled El-Rouayheb pointed out, “The tendency is very much in evidence already in Sir Richard Burton’s remarks on ‘Pederasty’ in the ‘Terminal Essay’ to his translation of The Arabian Nights in 1886. Writing before the term ‘homosexuality’ was introduced into the English language, Burton still assumed that he was faced with one phenomenon, ‘pederasty,’ which he claimed was widespread in the Islamic world and regarded as at worse a peccadillo.”

El-Rouayheb is the author of a meticulously researched book, entitled “Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World., 1500-1800,” that was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2005.

Khaled El-Rouayheb cautioned, “The assumption that it is unproblematic to speak of either tolerance or intolerance of homosexuality in the pre-modern Middle East, would seem to derive from the assumption that homosexuality is a self-evident fact about the human world to which a particular culture reacts with a certain degree of tolerance or repression.

“From this perspective,” he continued, “writing the history of homosexuality is seen as analogous to writing, say, the history of women. One assumes that the concept ‘homosexual,’ like the concept ‘woman,’ is shared across historical periods, and that what varies and may be investigated historically is merely the changing cultural (popular, scientific, legal, etc.) attitude toward such people.”

El-Rouayheb concluded, “The concept of male homosexuality did not exist in the Arab-Islamic Middle East in the early Ottoman period. There was simply no native concept that was applicable to all and only those men who were sexually attracted to members of their own sex, rather than to women.”

Next: British outlawed ‘sodomy’ in Iraq.

E-mail: lfeinberg@workers.org