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Universal Peach





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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 11:50 AM
Iraqi women, fighting for a voice
Activists confront dual powers of religion and tribalism

By Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post

updated 4:14 a.m. ET, Sun., Dec. 7, 2008

IRBIL, Iraq - Hawjin Hama Rashid, a feisty journalist in bluejeans and a frilly blouse, had come to the morgue in this Kurdish city to research tribal killings of women. "A week doesn't pass without at least 10," the morgue director said, showing Rashid pictures of corpses on his computer screen.

First, a bloated, pummeled face.

Next, a red, shapeless, charred body. "Raped, then burned," the director said.

Then, another face, eyes half-closed, stab wounds below her neck.

Rashid leaned closer to the screen.

It was the bloody corpse of her best friend, Begard Hussein. Hussein had complained to police about her ex-husband, who had threatened to kill her if she refused to annul their divorce. Rashid had wanted to publish a photograph of her friend's body after she was killed in April, but officials said none existed. "They lied to me," Rashid said as she left the morgue, her sorrow fusing with anger.

'Women are being strangled'
From the southern port city of Basra to bustling Irbil in northern Iraq, Iraqi activists are trying to counter the rising influence of religious fundamentalists and tribal chieftains who have insisted that women wear the veil, prevented girls from receiving education and sanctioned killings of women accused of besmirching their family's honor.

In their quest for stability in Iraq, U.S. officials have empowered tribal and religious leaders, Sunni and Shiite, who reject the secularism that Saddam Hussein once largely maintained. These leaders have imposed strict interpretations of Islam and enforced tribal codes that female activists say limit their freedom and encourage violence against them.

"Women are being strangled by religion and tribalism," said Muna Saud, a 52-year-old activist in Basra.

The activists' struggle is part of a broader battle over the identity of a nation in transition. Driving the debate are questions central to Iraq's future: What role should Islam play in government, politics and society? And to what extent should Western attitudes and ideas influence the country?

"Without changing the way society thinks, changing laws on paper is useless," Rashid said.

Western imprint
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, satellite television, cellphones and Internet access have deepened the West's imprint on the relatively stable Kurdish region of Iraq, known as Kurdistan. Today, many urban women wear Western clothes and eschew Islamic head scarves. Women make up more than a quarter of the regional parliament.

Oval-faced with curly, brown hair, Rashid grew up in a secular Kurdish family in Sulaymaniyah, the main city of eastern Kurdistan. In high school, she read socialist writers and joined the student union. When Hussein's Baath Party tried to expel the school's female dean for not joining the party, Rashid led a demonstration to protest the expulsion. The dean was reinstated.


After college she became a journalist, covering women's issues. Today she lives alone, unconventional for most single Iraqi women. A Jennifer Lopez poster hangs on her living room wall.

Rashid, 36, writes a column for a magazine run by Shawushka, a women's group named after a Kurdish goddess. The bimonthly publication has 2,000 readers, but its Web site provides a wider reach. Rashid also appears frequently on Kurdish television networks, where she routinely criticizes the government.

Such pressure helped push the regional Interior Ministry to launch a task force to combat violence against women, but it is also seen as a threat to traditional values. "Women are trapped in a moral and cultural tug of war," said Pakshan Zangana, a Kurdish lawmaker. "There are forces trying to pull women into the 21st century. Then, there are other forces pulling women backwards, to keep them as second-class citizens."

In her columns, Rashid has railed against forcing women to wear head scarves and battled for the rights of imprisoned women. Mostly, Rashid writes about "honor crimes" -- tribal killings and burnings of women accused of engaging in premarital sex or adultery.


Iraqi laws allow for leniency for such killings, but Kurdish authorities have made the crimes equivalent to any other murder. Yet the violence has mounted since the invasion. Activists say that police rarely enforce the law, fearing tribal disputes; and when they do, perpetrators are still handed light punishments.

In the first six months of this year, 206 women were killed in Kurdistan, 150 of them burned to death. The killings were up 30 percent from the previous six months, according to the Kurdish regional government's Human Rights Ministry. Activists say many honor crimes go unreported or are portrayed as accidents. They also say that some women have immolated themselves out of despair.

Rashid has received numerous death threats. In an e-mail, someone threatened to rape her for being un-Islamic. When Rashid complained, a police officer told her to stop fighting for women's rights.

The ex-husband of her friend Hussein, Rashid said, also vowed to kill her after she published her article. "The police didn't pursue him because they considered it an honor killing," Rashid said. "He is still free today." Repeated efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Ari Rafiq, an Interior Ministry official who heads its task force on women, said his men were searching for the ex-husband. "There are eyewitnesses who saw him murder her," Rafiq said.

Iraq's constitution states that men and women are equal under the law. But it also states that no laws can be passed that are inconsistent with Islam, allowing for ultraconservative interpretations, female activists say.

Kurdish lawmakers are trying to enact regional legislation that would outlaw forced and early marriages, female genital mutilation and honor killings. They would also give women greater rights and status in marriage, divorce and inheritance. But the lawmakers acknowledge that such measures will be difficult to pass and even harder to enforce.

'Still suffering from the past'
"We're still suffering from the past," said Jinan Q. Ali, the minister of women's affairs in the Kurdish regional government. "You can't say the government and police are not doing their job. To transfer a society from a violent one to a peaceful one won't happen suddenly."

On a sultry morning in Basra, Muna Saud, her face framed by a black shawl, slipped unnoticed past the thick knots of men at the provincial health ministry. She glided from office to office until she found Zahra Abdul-Zahra, a former student, and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek.

"I want to find a job for Selma," Saud said quietly, pulling a résumé, tucked neatly in a blue folder, from her black bag.


Saud helps lead the Iraqi Women's League, an activist group whose members teach women computer skills, English and how to be assertive in a male-dominated world.

Saud is thin as a matchstick with an angular face and sad, piercing eyes behind oval glasses. She wore a black blouse and a black skirt -- and pink lipstick, just enough to not attract attention.

With violence falling across Iraq, urban women have gained some freedom. They can drive, wear makeup or walk in some areas without head scarves -- actions once forbidden by religious vigilantes.

Saud said she hopes that women such as Selma can help embolden other women and change perceptions by becoming role models in the workplaces. But on this day, as on many others, Saud was confronted with Iraq's reality: One of Abdul-Zahra's co-workers, also in a head scarf, blurted, "Doesn't she have wasta?"


Saud remembered when Iraqi women didn't need wasta -- connections -- to find a job. In the late 1970s, thousands of Iraqi women, then among the most liberated in the Arab world, worked as doctors, engineers and civil servants.

The daughter of a tailor, Saud wanted to become an accountant. But she soon realized that only women who joined Hussein's Baath Party could succeed in such a profession, so she left the university and found work in a pharmacy. There she held secret meetings of the Women's League.

Her brother, Mahmoud, was taken into custody for being a Communist. Inside her cramped bedroom, where buttery sunlight floats through tan curtains, Saud keeps her brother's execution order in a box under her bed. She has worn black since he was hanged in 1983.

"The power I get is because of these experiences," said Saud, who has not married.

Attacked for being too educated
After the invasion, she and 30 Women's League members started their workshops. But by 2005, Iraqi women were being attacked for not covering their faces or for being too educated. Some had acid thrown in their faces. Many feared leaving home.

In a nationwide survey of 1,500 Iraqi women released this year by Women for Women International, a Washington-based nonprofit, nearly two-thirds of women who were questioned said violence against them had risen; slightly more described the availability of jobs as "bad."

Last year, Saud also visited morgues to tabulate the number of women killed in Basra for a report to Iraq's parliament. She found 150 victims. She said she had known three of them: Maysoon was killed with her brother, both shot five times in the head for being Christians; gunmen killed Lubna for walking a little too close to her fiance; Sabah was murdered in a market for not wearing a head scarf.

Honor killings are a problem in Basra, too, but Saud understands her boundaries. "I'll get killed if I try to protect a woman from her tribe," she said.


The Women's League now has 280 members, but not all are active. Only five showed up on a recent morning to plan another workshop, despite a government crackdown on militias that had made Basra safer. All wore head scarves.

"Women got killed in the streets," Saud said. "They are still afraid."

'Consider the women as nothing'

At a meeting in Az-Zubayr, a dusty town about 18 miles southwest of Basra, local activists informed her that only three women from the last workshop had landed jobs.

"Some ministries only want men," Saud said, shaking her head.

She said she watched with apprehension as the U.S. military backed tribal groups to fight Sunni insurgents. "In the beginning, the United States gave power to religious parties. Now, giving power to tribal leaders is also a mistake," Saud said. "They consider the women as nothing."

Saud shakes hands with men in public. She refuses to wear a head scarf, which she views as a symbol of submission. She wears a shawl only because her family fears for her life. But she is careful not to anger the religious conservatives who rule Basra.

"I'm never aggressive with them. I respect their ideologies," Saud said.


Anwar Indalel Shubbar, a local government official with the ultra-religious Fadhila Party said that women are entering "illegal relationships" if they have premarital sex and that honor killings are sanctioned by tribal laws.

"Our religion rejects the honor killings, but we can't stop the habits and traditions we have inherited," Shubbar said. She said she favors the imposition of Islamic law.

Even the biggest victory of Iraqi women is bittersweet: A quarter of all seats in Iraq's parliament are constitutionally required to be filled by women. But out of 25 committees, only two are led by women. And most female lawmakers belong to the ruling religious parties. "It's all abayas and female mullahs," Saud said.

At the health ministry, Saud urged Abdul-Zahra to be more assertive and speak to her male boss about Selma. But Abdul-Zahra balked. Saud was disappointed but not discouraged. "I have my girls in every ministry," she said.

'My family will kill me'
A day after her visit to the morgue in Irbil, Rashid interviewed a pale 17-year-old inside a women's prison. Eyes clouding with tears, the teenager recounted her romance with a young man. Her relatives had accused her of dishonoring her family and tribe; her brother had tried to kill her to restore that honor. She had taken refuge here, behind walls topped with barbed wire.

A few days earlier, her father had offered to forgive her -- if she became the second wife of a relative old enough to be her grandfather. She refused.

"I know my family will kill me if I go back home," she told Rashid.

The teen said she was worried that the authorities would force her to return to her family. "I don't have money. I don't have a lawyer. I don't know what is going on," she said. She asked that her name not be used because she feared for her life.

Rashid asked social worker Tafgah Faisullah Muhammed what would happen if the court returned the teenager to her family and then killed.

"We can't do anything," Muhammed said.

"Have any girls been killed after they were released to their families?" Rashid asked.

"Yes, four girls were killed after they left this place," Muhammed said.

Rashid returned to her apartment. It was time to write.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28092937/page/4/



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Zen Peach



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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 11:57 AM
I wonder what would have happened in Iraq had the United States stayed totally out of their affairs from the beginning.

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 12:03 PM
I think it's obvious that the females and the Christians would have been better off if we hadn't interfered.

I didn't vote for Bush either time but as an American I can't help but feel guilt over this...

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 12:07 PM
quote:
I think it's obvious that the females and the Christians would have been better off if we hadn't interfered.

I didn't vote for Bush either time but as an American I can't help but feel guilt over this...


Me too. No wonder so many people throughout the world don't like this country.

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 08:48 PM
There is NO WAY you can blame this sh!t on America.

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 09:03 PM
When a country interfers with the politics of another country as in this one helping to install Sadaam in Iraq, then rightly or wrongly, the country that interfers is held responsible, at least by perception. I'm not saying we're responsible....but I'm saying this country is being perceived as reaponsible.

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 09:15 PM
I say BALONEY.

Whether Saddam was in power, or what we have now in Iraq (which is a jumbo cluster f**k,) this was all brought on by Islam and it's repressive nature towards women.

I try not to talk about different religions, out of respect, but this is the culture these countries live in. Keep 'em down and use religion as the reason. It happens in America, too, just not to the extremes in countries that condone or tolerate "honor killings."

The article makes it sound like the only thing a Muslim woman in the middle east is good for is to strap a bomb on their ass and send them into the town square. I wonder what they are told their heavenly reward is, since men get 72 virgins. What do women get for being martyrs?

[Edited on 12/8/2008 by BigDaveOnBass]

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 09:45 PM
Thank you BDOB!

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 09:49 PM
What do women get for being martyrs?

Revenge. I'm not certain a man would understand.

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 10:06 PM
quote:
I wonder what would have happened in Iraq had the United States stayed totally out of their affairs from the beginning.


Sadaam would still be slaughtering people and his sons would still be raping. I think that's pretty obvious.

 

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  posted on 12/7/2008 at 10:17 PM

"The U.S. was officially neutral regarding the Iran-Iraq war, and claimed that it armed neither side. Iran depended on U.S.-origin weapons, however, and sought them from Israel, Europe, Asia, and South America. Iraq started the war with a large Soviet-supplied arsenal, but needed additional weaponry as the conflict wore on.

Initially, Iraq advanced far into Iranian territory, but was driven back within months. By mid-1982, Iraq was on the defensive against Iranian human-wave attacks. The U.S., having decided that an Iranian victory would not serve its interests, began supporting Iraq: measures already underway to upgrade U.S.-Iraq relations were accelerated, high-level officials exchanged visits, and in February 1982 the State Department removed Iraq from its list of states supporting international terrorism. (It had been included several years earlier because of ties with several Palestinian nationalist groups, not Islamicists sharing the worldview of al-Qaeda. Activism by Iraq's main Shiite Islamicist opposition group, al-Dawa, was a major factor precipitating the war -- stirred by Iran's Islamic revolution, its endeavors included the attempted assassination of Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.)

Prolonging the war was phenomenally expensive. Iraq received massive external financial support from the Gulf states, and assistance through loan programs from the U.S. The White House and State Department pressured the Export-Import Bank to provide Iraq with financing, to enhance its credit standing and enable it to obtain loans from other international financial institutions. The U.S. Agriculture Department provided taxpayer-guaranteed loans for purchases of American commodities, to the satisfaction of U.S. grain exporters."

Perhaps without United States support Hussein might not have gained the foothold he had over Iraq. Just a thought.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 12:32 AM
quote:
Perhaps without United States support Hussein might not have gained the foothold he had over Iraq. Just a thought.
Ann, the article reads as though the honor killings and Muslim repression of women wasn't as prevalent when Saddam was in power.
quote:
In their quest for stability in Iraq, U.S. officials have empowered tribal and religious leaders, Sunni and Shiite, who reject the secularism that Saddam Hussein once largely maintained. These leaders have imposed strict interpretations of Islam and enforced tribal codes that female activists say limit their freedom and encourage violence against them.
To me, that would equate to the U.S., having empowered Saddam, helped reduce Muslim female oppression in Iraq.

Now, we just need to convince the tribal and religious leaders we seem to be empowering to curb the violence towards women. Just tell them straight up... start treating women better or you don't get SQUAT out of the deal.


[Edited on 12/8/2008 by BigDaveOnBass]

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 12:53 AM
--------------------------------------------------------------------------- -----
Perhaps without United States support Hussein might not have gained the foothold he had over Iraq. Just a thought.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------- -----

Ann, the article reads as though the honor killings and Muslim repression of women wasn't as prevalent when Saddam was in power.



That was in response to a comment unrelated to the article.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 04:48 AM
quote:
Now, we just need to convince the tribal and religious leaders we seem to be empowering to curb the violence towards women. Just tell them straight up... start treating women better or you don't get SQUAT out of the deal.



I'm confused I thought you said we weren't responsible for this...

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 06:58 AM
We are not responsible. But if we have an opportunity to influence thier behavior in the future, it is certainly worth a try, IMHO.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 07:39 AM
quote:
quote:
Now, we just need to convince the tribal and religious leaders we seem to be empowering to curb the violence towards women. Just tell them straight up... start treating women better or you don't get SQUAT out of the deal.
I'm confused I thought you said we weren't responsible for this...
We're not responsible for how Muslims treat their women. We may be responsible for empowering the tribal factions and religious leaders, but we don't tell them to beat, rape, burn and murder their women when they feel like they've been "dishonored."

I still don't see how you think AMERICA is responsible for this, but then you and I don't see much the same, anyhow.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 08:13 AM
To be honest what business is any of it of ours? We are the terrorists here, attacking a country that posed no threat to us, and now people think that we can still "win". Win what?? WTF, can you imagine if YOU lived in a country that the US invaded that killed off innocent people by the dozens. The treatment of women has nothing to do with the US, but every other problem there it. "Insurgants" oh, you mean people trying to defend THIER country? The whole thing is sick, why dont we help Darfur? Congo? Much worse things are happening there, but no oil.......
 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 11:44 AM
Wasn't it Colin Powell that said you break it you own it?

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 12:10 PM
We may be responsible for empowering the tribal factions and religious leaders,

The 'mob' has a history of violence. If someone supports and empowers the mob, wouldn't that someone be complicit in the actions that follow?

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 02:27 PM
quote:
There is NO WAY you can blame this sh!t on America.


Of course you can, if hating eeeeveeel AmeriKKKA is your natural predisposition. These sand-savages have been behaving like this since the onset of recorded history but now it's conveniently the fault of the U.S.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 03:03 PM
quote:
We may be responsible for empowering the tribal factions and religious leaders,

The 'mob' has a history of violence. If someone supports and empowers the mob, wouldn't that someone be complicit in the actions that follow?


Unless your logic eats itself the answer would be yes...

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 03:23 PM
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/29/60minutes/main3553612.shtml

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 04:01 PM
quote:
"They were like telling us that Christians were against Islam, that we're infidels, that women shouldn’t drive and a woman that doesn’t wear a scarf would get her head cut off," the man told Pelley. "And I thought, 'What, are we going back to the Middle Ages?'"
That's the problem over there, in a nutshell. We didn't cause it. It just didn't flourish under Saddam's control because he didn't put up with that horse hockey. He was a tyrant of gigantic proportions, but I suppose he had to be to keep the place under control. Doesn't make it right, but it doesn't make it America's fault, either.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 04:15 PM
The point isn't whether we've done anything or not, the thing is, under the current administration (and I know, others as well) foreign policy decisions have been made that make it easy to BLAME America. That's the perception causing problems.

And to RBK, recognizing wrongs that may have been done by our country doesn't mean disloyalty to our country. People who don't have the freedom to disagree with a country's policies are the ones living under dictatorships.

 

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  posted on 12/8/2008 at 04:34 PM
If Clinton had taken out Osama Bin Laden when he had the chance, would that have stopped 9/11 from happening? If 9/11 hadn't happened, would we be over there in Iraq right now? Who knows...

One event triggers a whole chain of events. We can keep going back and saying, "If this hadn't happened, then this might not have happened." It's all conjecture.

What IS happening is women are being brutalized because they won't conform to a religion that is being forced on them by a bunch of extremists with cave men mentalities. I know not all Muslims share those beliefs.

My last comment on this thread will be...Why did we give up searching for Osama Bin Laden in the first place?

 

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