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IRAQ

Iraq War Won't Help the Homos
Western domination with a gun in one hand, a gay rights manual in the other.
By Sara Pursley


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APRIL 15, 2003. Back in the old days of colonialism, Western domination was often secured with, as the phrase goes, a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other. Today there are folks who seem to think that a gun in one hand and a gay rights manual in the other might somehow produce more satisfying results.

The argument that bombing Iraq will benefit the homosexuals and women living there has recently raised its predictable head in the gay press, and I admit that I have a hard time taking it seriously.

Maybe it's because even American bombs aren't smart enough to discriminate, assuming their makers and launchers would want them to. Which they probably don't. Surely our sub-cultural memory must include the graffiti on that bomb aimed at Afghanistan last year: "High Jack This Fags."

Or maybe it's that Bush, during his last few war speeches, couldn't even get the word "democracy" past his lips, let alone any allusion to sexual freedom or constitutional protection for minorities. It's just plain weird that folks continue to insist that Bush has a plan for democracy and human rights in Iraq when he no longer claims it himself.

Or maybe I'm suspicious of plans for social change in another country that don't involve working with people who actually live there. Without this work, there is only one path to change and that is the path of domination. Do we think the people of Iraq will be fooled by this?

But in case my suspicions are just leftist paranoia, let me see if I can get this straight. After the last pro-Saddam fighter surrenders and the bombs stop falling, the U.S. military will occupy Iraq. Perhaps the occupying powers or their new puppet government will abolish the death penalty for homosexuality and other sexual crimes, even though they did no such thing last year in Afghanistan. Then, what?

Unless the United States, as an occupying power, helps implement democracy and political rights, leaves the oil fields and profits to their rightful owners (the people of Iraq), starts to show some concern for other issues important to Iraqis (such as Palestinian statehood), and then gets the hell out, there will be a nationalist movement in Iraq against American imperialism and the American-backed government. Since those things cannot and will not happen, by the U.S. government's own admission, this movement is inevitable.

The implication of such a movement for U.S. interests in Iraq is, in all likelihood, the reason that the senior Bush Administration abandoned support for the popular uprisings it had initially encouraged during the first Gulf War, leaving their participants to be massacred by Saddam Hussein's army. It is also, in all likelihood, why the U.S. then turned to a decade of sanctions, which weakened popular resistance far more than it weakened Saddam's government.

As the current Bush Administration must know, Iraqis have not in recent memory taken kindly to foreign domination, and are not entirely inexperienced in how to get rid of it. They fought direct British control from 1920-1932 and indirect British control from 1932-1958. The latter form of rule, which wanted little more than what the U.S. probably wants now — military bases and access to oil — was no more popular than the former. The nationalist movement, despite brutal repression, culminated in the revolution of 1958, during which the British embassy went up in flames.

Nationalist movements are always cultural battlegrounds, in which issues of gender, sexuality, religion and civil society are fought. The first Iraqi nationalist movement had a powerful secular slant, and a strong feminist component. As far as I can gather, the place of religion, and the place of related issues of gender and sexuality, will be even more strongly contested this time around than they were the first time, because Iraq's long history of political secularism appears to be cracking under pressure.

One sign of this was Saddam Hussein's growing fondness for terms such as "holy war," a clear shift from his government's historical commitment to secularism, which had been not only firm but downright bloody (as when he slaughtered the country's Islamic leaders, along with its communists and other leftists).

Another sign was the new law implementing the death penalty for homosexuality, prostitution and other sexual crimes, which had been in place for a little over a year when Saddam's regime collapsed last week. Before November 2001, many of these practices, including that of homosexuality, were not mentioned in Iraqi law at all.

There are, and will continue to be, people fighting for a secular, progressive, democratic government in Iraq, and the last thing those people need is "help" from us in the form of support for American aggression and occupation. Imperialist wars are always culture wars, and even the most persecuted Iraqis can tell the difference between solidarity and domination.

Sara Pursley is a columnist for Gay City News.



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