Friday 18 May 2007

Support women's rights in Iraq

This - on religiously-motivated violence against women in Iraq - is profoundly depressing. It's of particular concern that the terrible incident described took place in Kurdistan, which some had hoped would provide a model of secular pluralism that the rest of Iraq might follow. Read the whole report by Katha Pollitt and follow the links to this website where you can sign this petition. Whatever your views on the war, the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq deserves the support of western progressives and feminists.

The views of Houzan Mahmoud, a key figure in the campaign, don't always make comfortable reading for those who supported the war on liberal and humanitarian grounds, but they deserve a hearing. She is equally critical of the occupation and of the sectarian and theocratic elements active in the insurgency and (in her view) in the new Iraqi government.

Certainly supporters of the war, and of the continuing US/UK military presence, need to ask themselves why the rights of women (and of sexual minorities, for that matter) haven't seemed to be as high a priority in Iraq as in the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. I remember reading that secular Iraqi radicals were appalled at how UK military authorities made facilities available to reactionary religious parties in places like Basra, as part of the post-occupation reconstruction. This kind of strategy is a throwback to the patronising colonial habit (echoes of which are still evident in the UK government's approach to minority groups at home) of governing through self-appointed 'community' leaders - often the most conservative elements in the community - rather than putting in place the structures needed for a genuinely democratic non-sectarian politics. Another motive may have been suspicion, from the Bush administration particularly, of the leftist politics of the main secular parties in Iraq.

Whatever the reason, the ironic result may be an Iraq dominated by the kind of patriarchal theocratic politics that the west is seeking to oust in Afghanistan.