Foreign Policy Blogs

“Emo” Eradication in Iraq

As we’ve heard far too many times from Iraq, “the situation is bad, and we’re expecting the worst.”

To update the piece I wrote back on March 7th regarding the targeted killings of members of the LGBT community in Iraq, the violence has metastasized. Now the victims are “emos,” a term once reserved in the West for sensitive youth who soothed the tempo of young adulthood with melodic styles of rock, and unique dress. In Iraq, “emos” describe a peculiar mash-up of femininity, Satan worship, homosexuality, and affinity for Western dress and music. More practically, the label is a catch-all for suspected gays and lesbians, used by the conservative Interior Ministry to eradicate this grave religious and cultural taboo.

Over the past two months, more than 70 so-called “emos” have been beaten to death by roving bands of Shi’a militia, assigned the rank of “community police” by the bureaucratic higher-ups who want to wage culture war on social deviance. Their weapon of choice is said to be the cinder block – a blunt instrument of violent identity politics. As international consternation grows, the Interior Ministry has adjusted its tone, and retracted their more bellicose warnings but not a stated commitment to see “emos” are “dealt with,” but peacefully. Their denials of cultural crusading ring hollow, as do protestations that this crisis has been exaggerated by the media.

The tide is high for social violence – initial efforts to root out gays have careened off into attacks against any young man with long hair or a slightly effete appearance. Despite government statements that this is a non-event, Iraqi bloggers are reporting many victims were brutally raped before they were murdered, suggesting this crescendo of murky violence boils down to a question of control.

As if we needed another instructive lesson, that power comes with targeted bloodshed in Iraq.