Iraq: We've only just begun ...

A 2003 'blog' (weblog) entry by a young Iraqi woman about life under occupation, many aspects of which remain the daily reality for Iraqi women in 2005.
Females can no longer leave their homes alone. Each time I go out, E. and either a father, uncle or cousin has to accompany me. It feels like we’ve gone back 50 years ever since the beginning of the occupation.
A woman, or girl, out alone, risks anything from insults to abduction. An outing has to be arranged at least an hour beforehand. I state that I need to buy something or have to visit someone. Two males have to be procured (preferably large) and 'safety arrangements' must be made in this total state of lawlessness. And always the question: "But do you have to go out and buy it? Can't I get it for you?" No you can't, because the kilo of eggplant I absolutely have to select with my own hands is just an excuse to see the light of day and walk down a street. The situation is incredibly frustrating to females who work or go to college.

Before the war, around 50% of the college students were females, and over 50% of the working force was composed of women. Not so anymore. We are seeing an increase of fundamentalism in Iraq which is terrifying.

For example, before the war, I would estimate (roughly) that about 55% of females in Baghdad wore a hijab- or headscarf. Hijabs do not signify fundamentalism. That is far from the case- although I, myself, don’t wear one, I have family and friends who do. The point is that, before, it didn’t really matter. It was *my* business whether I wore one or not- not the business of some fundamentalist on the street.

For those who don’t know (and I have discovered they are many more than I thought), a hijab only covers the hair and neck. The whole face shows and some women even wear it Grace Kelley style with a few locks of hair coming out of the front. A ‘burqa’ on the other hand, like the ones worn in Afghanistan, covers the whole head- hair, face and all.

I am female and Muslim. Before the occupation, I more or less dressed the way I wanted to. I lived in jeans and cotton pants and comfortable shirts. Now, I don’t dare leave the house in pants. A long skirt and loose shirt (preferably with long sleeves) has become necessary. A girl wearing jeans risks being attacked, abducted or insulted by fundamentalists who have been… liberated!

Fathers and mothers are keeping their daughters stashed safe at home. That’s why you see so few females in the streets (especially after 4 pm). Others are making their daughters, wives and sisters wear a hijab. Not to oppress them, but to protect them.

I lost my job for a similar reason. I’ll explain the whole depressing affair in another post. Girls are being made to quit college and school. My 14-year-old cousin (a straight-A student) is going to have to repeat the year because her parents decided to keep her home ever since the occupation. Why? Because the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq overtook an office next to her school and opened up a special ‘bureau’.

Men in black turbans (M.I.B.T.s as opposed to M.I.B.s) and dubious, shady figures dressed in black, head to foot, stand around the gates of the bureau in clusters, scanning the girls and teachers entering the secondary school. The dark, frowning figures stand ogling, leering and sometimes jeering at the ones not wearing a hijab or whose skirts aren’t long enough. In some areas, girls risk being attacked with acid if their clothes aren’t ‘proper’.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI- but I prefer ‘SCAREY’) was established in 1982 in Tehran. Its main goal is to import the concept of the “Islamic Revolution” from Iran to Iraq. In other words, they believe that Iraq should be a theocracy led by Shi’a Mullahs. Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, the deputy leader of SCIRI, is a part of the nine-member rotating presidency and will soon have a go at ruling Iraq.

The SCIRI would like to give the impression that they have the full support of all Shi’a Muslims in Iraq. The truth is that many Shi’a Muslims are terrified of them and of the consequences of having them as a ruling power. Al-Hakim was responsible for torturing and executing Iraqi POWs in Iran all through the Iran-Iraq war and after. Should SCIRI govern Iraq, I imagine the first step would be to open the borders with Iran and unite the two countries. Bush can then stop referring to the two countries as a part of his infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ and can just begin calling us the ‘Big Lump of Evil and Bad North Korea’ (which seems more in accord with his limited linguistic abilities).

Ever since entering Iraq, Al-Hakim has been blackmailing the CPA in Baghdad with his ‘major Shi’a following’. He entered Iraq escorted by ‘Jaysh Badir’ or ‘Badir’s Army’. This ‘army’ is composed of thousands of Iraqi extremists led by Iranian extremists and trained in Iran. All through the war, they were lurking on the border, waiting for a chance to slip inside. In Baghdad, and the south, they have been a source of terror and anxiety to Sunnis, Shi’a and Christians alike. They, and some of their followers, were responsible for a large portion of the looting and the burning (you’d think they were going to get reconstruction contracts…). They were also responsible for hundreds of religious and political abductions and assassinations.

The whole situation is alarming beyond any description I can give. Christians have become the victims of extremism also. Some of them are being threatened, others are being attacked. A few wannabe Mullahs came out with a ‘fatwa’, or decree, in June that declared all females should wear the hijab and if they didn’t, they could be subject to ‘punishment’. Another group claiming to be a part of the ‘Hawza Al Ilmia’ decreed that not a single girl over the age of 14 could remain unmarried- even if it meant that some members of the Hawza would have to have two, three or four wives. This decree included females of other religions. In the south, female UN and Red Cross aides received death threats if they didn’t wear the hijab. This isn’t done in the name of God- it’s done in the name of power. It tells people- the world- that “Look- we have power, we have influence.”

Liquor stores are being attacked and bombed. The owner usually gets a ‘threat’ in the form of a fatwa claiming that if they didn’t shut down the store permanently, there would be consequences. The consequences are usually either a fire, or a bomb. Similar threats have been made to hair-dressers in some areas in Baghdad. It’s frightening and appalling, but true.

Don’t blame it on Islam. Every religion has its extremists. In times of chaos and disorder, those extremists flourish. Iraq is full of moderate Muslims who simply believe in ‘live and let live’. We get along with each other- Sunnis and Shi’a, Muslims and Christians and Jews and Sabi’a. We intermarry, we mix and mingle, we live. We build our churches and mosques in the same areas, our children go to the same schools… it was never an issue.

Someone asked me if, through elections, the Iraqi people might vote for an Islamic state. Six months ago, I would have firmly said, “No.” Now, I’m not so sure. There’s been an overwhelming return to fundamentalism. People are turning to religion for several reasons.

The first and most prominent reason is fear. Fear of war, fear of death and fear of a fate worse than death (and yes, there are fates worse than death). If I didn’t have something to believe in during this past war, I know I would have lost my mind. If there hadn’t been a God to pray to, to make promises to, to bargain with, to thank- I wouldn’t have made it through.

Encroaching western values and beliefs have also played a prominent role in pushing Iraqis to embrace Islam. Just as there are ignorant people in the Western world (and there are plenty- I have the emails to prove it… don’t make me embarrass you), there are ignorant people in the Middle East. In Muslims and Arabs, Westerners see suicide bombers, terrorists, ignorance and camels. In Americans, Brits, etc. some Iraqis see depravity, prostitution, ignorance, domination, junkies and ruthlessness. The best way people can find to protect themselves, and their loved ones, against this assumed threat is religion.

Finally, you have more direct reasons. 65% of all Iraqis are currently unemployed for one reason or another. There are people who have families to feed. When I say ‘families’ I don’t mean a wife and 2 kids… I mean around 16 or 17 people. Islamic parties supported by Iran, like Al-Daawa and SCIRI, are currently recruiting followers by offering ‘wages’ to jobless men (an ex-soldier in the army, for example) in trade of ‘support’. This support could mean anything- vote when the elections come around, bomb a specific shop, ‘confiscate’, abduct, hijack cars (only if you work for Al-Chalabi…).

So concerning the anxiety over terror and fundamentalism- I would like to quote the Carpenters- worry? “We’ve only just begun… we’ve only just begun…”

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