February 14, 2007

Love is in the Air...

Today, the day for Lovers.
Every single website talks about virtual boxes of chocolate, virtual roses and virtual cards ....Ahhhh Love is in the air. Soapy, sloppy, sentimental, tear jerking heart shaped wishes and millions of dollars are made in profit out of "Love", American style, today the 14th February.

Sorry, was never inclined to much cheap romance myself. I have no love card to show you, no amorous song to sing and I can't stand virtual flowers.
I usually go for the real thing. And the only real thing for me today are my feelings.

So today it's official: I absolutely hate, loathe,despise, abhor the sectarian mullahs in power in today's "liberated" Iraq.

One would have thought that on this loving day, I would entertain at least one empathic wish towards them..but no...nothing. Quite the opposite in fact.
I tried to give it more thought, with difficulty, as they actually make me cringe and all I want to do is recoil , close my eyes and make them disappear for ever...
It is not so much that they are "religious" men that bothers me. I have nothing against religion per se and I consider myself "religious" in my own way.
It is what they represent that bothers me and makes them detestable in my eyes.

And what do they represent? They represent the deep misogyny that was latent in some segments of Iraqi society and that has now erupted to the forefront fuelled not only by sectarianism but also by the most perverted interpretations of the holy texts.
It is this mixture that has given rise to the most grotesque violence Iraq has witnessed in centuries. I am by no means absolving the American occupation of any responsibility.I have spoken in the past about the occupation and "foreign" interventions.

But today I want to concentrate on the "current" Iraqi fabric,(if such a thing still exists) regardless of anything else.
I know Iraqi society quite well- The Before and After. Actually, sometimes I feel I know it all too well and that is not forcibly a good thing, as that knowledge rips away at any illusions I may secretly harbor.

And since today is Valentine's day and it is the day of gender "exchanges", I must add that I also know the psyche of Iraqi men quite well. And I want this piece today to be dedicated to "Iraqi" men, at least some of them.

Not any Iraqi men. Not the struggling Iraqi men, nor the imprisoned Iraqi men, nor the resisting Iraqi men, nor the exiled Iraqi men, but to the Iraqi men today running Baghdad. Them and their followers, each single one of them. And for the sake of easing my "love declaration", I will focus on the sectarian men whom I have come to know directly and indirectly.

These fanatics and the "men' who represent them share a deep commonality.
Their hatred and fear of women. Does not matter if they are wearing a turban and a cleric's robe or a suit.
I can usually spot them miles away. I will give you a few cues, maybe they will come in useful to you.

I am not someone who dwells too much on details nor do I like to write about them but on the other hand, am a keen observer of details.
One does not need to be a skilled anthropologist to notice certain common traits in a group of people and in this instance our sectarian men.
And yes the devil hides in the detail.
Take for instance Sistani, Al Hakim, Muqtada al Sadr ,Hassan Nassrallah and Fadlallah.
What do they have in common apart from their turbans? Did you ever look at their hands?
Well they all wear a silver ring with a stone either on the small finger or the one next to it.
You might say yes so what ? Hold your horses and be patient...
Now take J.Solar, Al-Jaafari, Al-Maliki,J.Bolani,M.Al Rubaie aka K.Shahpour, or any of the official sectarian "Iraqis" in power, or take the Lebanese representatives of Hezbollah and what do they have in common?
The proverbial ring of course and what else? They have all the same attire. A three day beard, preferably no tie and a shirt buttoned up to the neck amongst other things and I forgot, the famous "rosary". (Thank God,Hamas has not caught up with the official attire yet)
Everytime I see this lot, I can't but notice this common "look" to them.As if it was some kind of uniform.
Who elses dresses that way? The Iranian officials.
Observe them well next time you switch on your tv and watch out for the ring. The ring made in Qom.
You might again protest so what? What has that got to do with gender exchanges?
And I will respond,everything! Provided of course, you make an effort to think deeper.

It is difficult to explain in simple words without having to resort to extended sociological analysis.
But I shall abstain from engaging in extended analysis and just concentrate on my gut feelings, that "place" that women need to listen to more often.
I personally believe it is from that place that "the Spirit" speaks to us.
So am going to try and put into words those deep visceral feelings and try to give them shape and form and some coherence.

The occupation of Iraq brought to the surface what I like to call the retrograde renegades.The reactionaries, the "religious" fascists.

A commentator called them the lumpenproletariat, maybe an accurate description but I will stay away from labels in this context. I would like to concentrate on the male/female dynamics here, away from class analysis and that, despite the theoretical objections you may have.

This group of men, from ministers, to mullahs, to average middle class men turned sectarian, to less privileged ones, have one common thread that ties them together. It is actually not a thread it is a rope: Their deep hatred of women. And I shall explain why.

As above so is below and the microcosm reflects the macrocosm.
Try to imagine the men in power today in Iraq as a microcosm and their followers as macrosoms. One is a mirror for the other. And they in turn are a mirror for the greater power, their true Mother, the concubine Iran,the only woman they have pledged allegiance and loyalty to under the guise of political Shi'ism.
I will not even use the word Islam here, as I believe true Islam is free from clerics and from reactionary fascism.

The women in Iraq prior to the American occupation were amongst the freest in the Arab world. They had access to education, employment and were ruled by civil law as opposed to religious law. For example, universities had over 50% of female students. 38% of Iraqi doctors were women, 70% of working women were employed by the government in public civil activities.
The 1970 Iraqi constitution affirmed that all are equal in front of the law regardless of gender.
Labor law 71 stipulated that men and women must have equal pay, are eligible to vote, acquire businesses, and have an equal opportunity in all spheres of life.
In 1993, during the sanction years! Unicef reported:" Rarely do women in the Arab world enjoy as much power and support as they do in Iraq..."

In fact,anyone who knows about Iraqi contemporary history, will affirm that women were active since the 1920's, engaged in struggles against the British occupation, involved in the 1958 revolution, full participants in the political life of their country....until...
Until the Americans landed bringing their retrograde renegades and placing them in power with the apparent blessings of the Iraqis.Remember those famous elections?

The family and civil laws were changed, women were stripped of the many rights they had during the "dictatorship" as you so much like to call it, they faded away from public life and from the streets...
The occupation with its insecurities, its brutality and its pauperization of women was further enhanced by the coming into power of a bunch of reactionary, backward thugs provided courtesy of Iran.
Just like you have your neo nazis, we have our neo fascists (not to mention our thieves) "graduates" from Qom, Teheran, Najaf and Kerbala...
Your neo-nazis shook hands with our neo-fascists and we women paid the price and continue to do so, the price of their love affair.
(Incidentally the concubine (Iran) and the Sultan(USA) are coming together again- just check the news closely, can't be bothered to link tonight)

I can't even begin to tell you how hard this subject of women is, for me.
How much it makes me angry and sad at the same time and fills me with such a rage,
I can't even begin to describe...
This is one of the reasons I have not written about it before and as I am writing now, I feel myself having to chose my words carefully because if I don't, I can easily re-ignite the fires of hell with my tongue. So I am holding back and letting it trickle gently.

As I was saying earlier on, added to the occupation, Iraqi women had to face the brunt of political religious fascism Iranian style. (Keep checking the cues I gave you above...)
Not only the men in power had their own vestmental attire but us women had to have the same.
A "safeera" meaning a woman who is not covered up is shunned to the point of being ejected from her job. I have many, many, examples in mind.
And not so slowly even covered women were relegated back to the domestic realm for the atmosphere in the public sphere, the work place, was becoming intolerable vis a vis what they considered the "weaker" sex until they weakened us into silence....

But as I have affirmed it before, they will not silence me. Nor them, nor their supporters at home or abroad. I will keep on denouncing them today, tomorrow and from beyond my grave until the day of judgement.

Added to the torture, rape and massacres endured by Iraqi women from the occupying forces, came the rape, torture and slaughter by our "new men" in power and their boys.
Added to the Fatimas and the Zeynabs of Abu Ghraib who either banged their heads until death or committed suicide, added to the Abeers, came the rape and torture of Iraqi women who did not comply and/or who belonged to the wrong sect.

Those who did not comply were harassed and harassed and harassed some more,until they fled the country.

Fawzia, a ballet dancer has become a manicurist in a hairdressing salon in Amman.
Salma, a Phd in chemical engineering, spends her days peeling potatoes(about the only thing she can afford) in her damp moulding tiny appartment in Cairo.
Lootfiyah, a professor in the History of Art is now working as a supervisor in a kindergarden in Amman
Sumaya, a brilliant artist spends her days teaching spoiled Gulf kids how to draw pictures for special occasions like Valentine.
Najwa, a medical doctor with two postgraduate specializations from England, is now working as a assistant in some remote clinic in a God forsaken village in Syria... and the examples abound...
The younger ones who dropped out of college are caught in other Arab capitals as "filles de joie".
The older ones, widows and destitutes, like the Umm Husseins and the Umm Ibrahims make a living selling garbage bags and cigarettes and sleep on the dirty pavements of Amman, Cairo and Damascus, eating left overs and stale bread given by passers by...
The examples given above comprise Sunni, Christian and Shia women by the way.

"Educated" kurdish women on the other hand are hardly concerned.They are quickly sent out by H.Al-Zebari,the Kurdish minister of foreign affairs, to fill up the ranks of the Iraqi missions abroad even though they can't speak Arabic or English. But we are reassured they represent Iraq. Good to know that. Now I can sleep in peace.

Those who were left behind and could not escape were given the royal mullah treatment.
Not only they need to cover up and become anonymous again, quietly slipping incognito so as not to disturb the women haters, but they are also deliberately targeted.
They have either quit their jobs, stopped going to schools or universities and those who still need to work are daily harassed.
If they belong to the wrong sect or religion, Sunni or Christian, their lives are made a living hell.

One christian woman, Batul,an ex-graphic designer, opened a hairdressing salon for women only, using all her savings as she could no longer tolerate the work atmosphere. Only to have the Sadrist militia thugs close it down one day and threatening to burn her and her shop.Why? She had pictures of female uncovered heads on her window sill.
Shereen, with a degree in economics, is harassed daily in her workplace and accused of stealing even though she has been working in the same place for the past 10 years. Why? She is sunni. Shereen will be quitting her job at the end of this month.
Madiha was forced to leave the hospital she worked in even though she was a very qualified surgeon. Why? She was a sunni and the hospital and the ministry of health were taken over by the Sadrists. Besides which, she refused to cover up.

Since they belong to the wrong sect, these women have become kosher, both in the eyes of the occupier and the eyes of the fascists that roam Baghdad's streets.
(I hate to think what the situation is like in Basrah another fascist strong hold.)
If they are not harassed, they are abducted, kidnapped, raped,mutilated in their genitals, slaughtered and thrown in the streets.
Those who escaped murder, committed suicide or escaped never to be seen again.

Why target women and in particular educated working women? Because they happen to be educated, knowlegeable, intelligent, vocal, creative, active, expressive...
And these mullahs and their followers cannot stand anything of this sort.
These women are their antithesis. These women represent everything they hate about the female sex.
They cannot be fitted into the box of a "uterus" reproducing machine, nor do they fit the image of the subdued female that can be easily made to shut up...
These women represent an equal if not more and our brutal, violent, sexual sadists cannot stand anything but their own mediocrity - both spiritual and intellectual.
These women present a true challenge to them, they have an individuality and hence they are silenced through exile or death.

Ironically in the "new democracy" the "individual" woman is no longer tolerated.
But and that is the dark, dark, side of the equation, those women who have never worked and are in dire need are taken in temporary marriage contracts in exchange for a few dollars, another form of "halal" prostitution allowing these "brave" men to remain the sole, unchallenged "players" in the public and private spheres.

Some of you may argue that political religious fascism has nothing to do with it.
You might exclaim, but look at Iran, women work there and they are not harassed.
I will respond - true (and maybe not so true,Iran is not my concern).

But since when do the colonizers and the would-be imperial strivers want their subjects to excel in anything? They would want them to stay dependent, totally dependent and at their mercy.
Tear away the social fabric and target the women and you would have achieved your goal.
If you have not figured this out by now, then you have not understood anything about colonialism western or eastern.

So Iraqi women have retreated back into silence, into obscurity, into the blinding shadows we have fought so hard to unshackle ourselves from for centuries...
All of this shrouded by a deafening silence.
Where are the Layla Ahmeds, the Nawal Al Saadawis, the Amina Waduds, the Fatima Mernissis, the Kate Millets, the Gloria Steinems, the Betty Friedans, the Germaine Greers of this world?
Not one voice,not one article, nothing. Nothing by these "famous" arab and western feminists.

If you see them per chance, tell them there is no "Feminine Mystique" left in Iraq, there is no feminity in Iraq, there are no feminists in Iraq, there is nothing that remotely resembles a living "woman" anymore in Iraq.
Tell them we have become shadows in the obscurity when we used to be free wings in the sunlight.
Tell them we have lost our voices and our joy.
Tell them we have lost our creativity and our inner surge,
Tell them we have been hushed through death threats, exile, rape, torture and slaughter.
Tell them neither Agape nor Eros are with us tonight.We have none but Thanatos as a dependable companion.
Tell them on this Valentine's day, that there is no place for Love in Iraq.
The lovers have been silenced, the poet is dead and the music has stopped.

P.S: I mentioned that I have not seen one article by women lately but I have failed to mention that I found one beautiful piece by an Iraqi,Arab, man in Honor of Iraqi women. Maybe this is a good omen ... maybe just maybe, our salvation will come at the hands of the true Iraqi men who resist both the fascists and the nazis.
P.S.S: Keep checking those rings though and the 3 day beard. Many "hidden" ones pretend that they are when they are not!

Painting: Iraqi female artist, Betool Fekeiki.