Workers Vanguard No. 943
25 September 2009
Hundreds of Iraqi Gays Slaughtered Under Imperialist Occupation
All U.S. Troops Out Now!
Across Iraq, gay men and boys are being murdered with impunity in a systematic campaign that started following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has been intensifying in the last few months. Death squads abduct their victims from the streets, break into their homes or entrap them in Internet gay chat rooms. They are brutalized and interrogated to extract the names of other potential victims before being murdered. The mutilated bodies are dumped in the garbage or hung as warnings in the street, their genitals cut off and the word “puppy,” a derogatory term for homosexual, daubed on their chests. The murderers mete out grotesque and sadistic torture to their victims, sealing their anuses with glue and force-feeding them laxatives, leaving them to an agonizing death. Men are targeted for not looking “manly” enough, wearing their hair too long or their jeans too tight. Malicious neighborhood gossip could bring about a death sentence.
How many have been killed might never be known as many murders go unreported given the entrenched stigma and sense of shame associated with homosexuality. UN officials put the number in the hundreds; the London-based Iraqi group, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) reported that a total of 680 people have been murdered since 2004, seven of them women. According to the London Observer (13 September), more than 130 have been murdered since the beginning of the year.
The campaign has been largely blamed on Shi’ite militias. However, according to human rights groups, police and security forces and other religious and ethnic vigilante gangs are involved in the murders, from Shi’ites in the south to Sunnis in Baghdad to the Kurds in the north. Boys as young as 14 are shot and killed by the police for being gay.
It is the imperialist occupation that has unleashed the reactionary forces wreaking death and terror on gay men and fueled the ethnic and religious antagonisms engulfing Iraq in an orgy of bloodletting. By some estimates, more than 1.2 million people have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. And many of those carrying out such slaughter, including against homosexuals, are forces tied to the Iraqi government puppets put into power by the U.S.
It is a measure of the ferocity of the terror meted out to gay men today that they are nostalgic for the life they had under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, the bloody oppressor of workers, leftists, Shi’ites and Kurds. As one gay man told Newsweek (26 August 2008), “Those were the most beautiful days of our lives,” adding, “The fall [of Saddam] was the worst thing to happen.” While suppressing all perceived political enemies, Saddam’s regime did not criminalize homosexuality. Through suppression, he stayed the hands of the clerical reactionaries. In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion, we called for the military defense of Iraq against imperialist attack, without giving the capitalist regime of Saddam Hussein a scintilla of political support. All U.S. troops out of Iraq now!
While the crimes of abduction, torture and murder of gays are the work of the reactionary zealots who prowl the streets of Iraq, such crimes are incited and prepared by a vicious crusade demonizing homosexuality as “disgusting,” a “disaster” and “delinquent behavior.” In 2005, top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a religious decree to punish and murder gay men and lesbians “in the worst, most severe way of killing.” Moqtada al-Sadr ordered that the “depravity” of homosexuality be eradicated. News media have bemoaned the “feminization” of Iraqi men, “endangered manhood” and “spread of the third sex.”
Gays in Iraq are not the only victims under the imperialist occupation. Women, who at least in the cities enjoyed a relative degree of freedom under Saddam’s regime, are driven off the streets, forced into the veil, beaten, raped, beheaded, stabbed, burned and stoned to death in the barbaric practice of “honor killing,” now intensifying throughout Iraq. Their “crimes” include taking off the veil or falling in love with men outside their tribes. In Iraqi Kurdistan, touted by the capitalist media as a secular region, 17-year-old Du’a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death by a mob in the town of Bashiqa in 2007, with 2,000 men watching. She fell in love with a man outside her tribe.
Homosexuality and Arab Culture
In the Near East, the persecution of gays is not confined to Iraq. In March, a 44-year-old gay man was shot to death in Yemen, one of several gay men killed since 2008. Last year, Ahmet Yildiz, a gay physics student, was gunned down in Istanbul. In Iran, homosexual men and teenagers are frequently hanged. Iraqi gay men who sought refuge in Syria have been forced back across the border into the hands of their executioners. Last month, in the “democratic oasis” of Zionist Israel, a semi-theocratic state, a gunman sprayed a gay club with bullets in Tel Aviv, killing two people and wounding more than ten. As we wrote in “Protest Anti-Gay Persecution in Egypt!” (WV No. 801, 11 April 2003), following a vicious roundup of Egyptian homosexuals:
“Across the Islamic crescent, from Morocco to Malaysia, homosexuality is a crime under Sharia (Islamic law), punishable by death in Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and ‘liberated’ Afghanistan, among others. It is a measure of the pervasiveness of anti-gay bigotry in these societies that there is no word in Arabic, Urdu or Farsi for homosexual that is not demeaning or derogatory.”
The Near East has witnessed far more tolerant times in regard to homosexuality. During the golden days of Arab culture and learning in the centuries following the founding of Islam, one of the greatest poets of classical Arabic literature, Abu Nuwas (ca. 755ca. 815) or “father of curls”—so named because he wore his long hair to his shoulders—was openly gay and a court poet. He was famous for his erotic lyrics on male love and wine, a theme that was picked up by the best poets of Persia and Arabia, such as Omar al-Khayyam, Hafiz and countless others. The collection, A Thousand and One Nights, originally included an erotic tale titled “Abu Nuwas and the Three Youths,” which was removed from the 1930 English-language edition. A major boulevard in Baghdad is named after Abu Nuwas; now the reactionaries are planning to change its name.
Even in the 20th century, as Arab culture became increasingly insular and intolerant, there continued to be a current of toleration of homosexuality among major Arab intellectuals. The novels of Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, often portrayed homosexual characters as human beings no different than others. Likewise, such portrayals were also common in the films of the late Egyptian director Youssef Chahine. In his classic 1978 film, Alexandria Why? Chahine depicts a young Egyptian aristocrat who during the Second World War sought out a foreign officer to kill in an act of “patriotism.” But when a young British soldier is delivered to him, they end up falling in love with each other. More recently, the 2002 novel, The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany and the 2006 film version have both been a subject of controversy in the Near East due to their positive portrayals of homosexual characters.
Marxists and Homosexual Rights
Whether in the benighted East or in the West, persecution and bigotry against gays are not simply a question of backward ideology; they flow directly from a core element of class society: the institution of the family. The family, with its entrenched patriarchy, is the main source of the oppression of women, youth and homosexuals in class society. It embodies societal gender roles that are then reinforced by religious moral codes. The institution of the family is key to capitalist society, which is built upon private property and domination of the ruling class over the workers and the oppressed. The family provides the mechanism through which private property is passed down to the next generation. Alongside organized religion, it acts as a conservatizing force, regimenting the population, teaching respect to authority and instilling a morality that proscribes anything perceived as a threat to the sanctity of the family.
We are virtually alone on the American left in our defense of gays in predominantly Muslim countries. Historically, Marxists have been strong defenders of homosexual rights. In a series of articles in 1895, Eduard Bernstein, a leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), condemned the trial of the great 19th-century writer Oscar Wilde, who was condemned to two years in prison by a British court for homosexuality. August Bebel, cofounder of the SPD, considered same-sex love as natural and aesthetically as noble as “normal” relations. Addressing the Reichstag (parliament) in 1898, he called for the repeal of the German criminal code against male same-sex acts.
But it was the Bolsheviks who gave flesh and blood to the Marxist understanding of the woman question and homosexual rights. At a time when the European capitalists were prosecuting homosexuals, the revolutionary Bolshevik regime that took power after the 1917 Russian Revolution laid the basis for the first time for real equality for women and eliminated all laws against homosexuality. As Dr. Grigorii Batkis, the director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, wrote:
“Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called ‘natural’ intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters. Only when there’s use of force or duress, as in general when there’s an injury or encroachment upon the rights of another person, is there a question of criminal prosecution.”
— quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935) (1974)
While many of these emancipatory principles were later reversed as the Stalinist bureaucracy sought to entrench itself in the USSR—in part by reinforcing the family and traditional social values—they inform our Marxist approach. For us the guiding principle for sexual relations is that of effective consent, meaning mutual agreement and understanding, as opposed to coercion. As long as those who take part agree to do so at the time, no one, least of all the state, has the right to tell them they can’t do it. We oppose reactionary “age of consent” laws and have been the subject of slanderous attacks for our defense of NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) in the U.S.
Under capitalist rule, gays in Iraq will never realize the rights that their counterparts have gained in advanced bourgeois societies. At the same time, such democratic gains in the West are not only partial, but also reversible. Bible bigots, “family values” crusaders and other reactionaries serve to ensure that homosexuals in the U.S. and other Western countries continue to face violence, persecution and abrogation of their rights.
In terms of Iraq—a country forcibly cobbled together by British imperialism and populated by historically hostile ethnic and religious groups that are themselves further riven by clan and tribal rivalries—there is no basis for stable bourgeois-democratic rule. With their enormous social contradictions, Iraq and the Near East more generally present a powerful argument for Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which found living confirmation in the Bolshevik Revolution. Trotsky’s theory holds that in those countries where capitalism emerged belatedly, the tasks historically associated with the bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries can be carried out only under the class rule of the proletariat. Liberation from the imperialist yoke, which exacerbates backwardness and reaction, and the equitable resolution of the democratic rights of all peoples of Iraq and the region more broadly can be achieved only through the overthrow of capitalist rule in the region and the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East.
While proletarian rule will do much to end the oppression of women and homosexuals, routing the reactionaries, the final eradication of oppression cannot be realized before the family is replaced in a communist society. To finally arrive at classless communism requires the destruction of capitalist imperialism as a world system and the establishment of a world socialist division of labor, leading to a tremendous leap in the productive forces that can provide material plenty for all. Our task is to build revolutionary workers parties of the Bolshevik type that will act as tribunes of the people, defenders of all the oppressed, leading the fight for world socialist revolution, laying the material basis for the eradication of the oppression of women and gays.