Sunday, December 07, 2008

Iraqi Women, Then and Now

Iraqi diva Ififa Iskandar performing a concert during the 1950s.

In many parts of the world, women have gained more rights over the years. In Iraq, the situation has been reversed.

During the reign of the Iraqi Royal family, Iraqi women were more liberal than their peers in many neighboring countries. The picture above is a reminder of the good old times in Iraq.

There's a myth, which was circulated over the Internet and by some journalists, that the Baathists liberated the Iraqi women. The Iraqi women were already free. Truthfully, the Baathists were secular folks. When they came to power, they didn't stop women from pursuing education and careers.

When I attended university during the 1980s, probably one or two female students wore hijabs on the entire campus. The same held true on Iraqi streets. This wasn't true by the time I left Iraq in 1994.

For the record, I respect women who choose to wear the hijab freely. But, it infuriates me to see pictures of veiled Iraqi women AND know that fear of religious thugs forced them to wear the hijab.

After the removal of Saddam in 2003 and the installation of a bunch of religious fundamentalists as the face of the Iraqi government, Iraqi women started to lose their rights at the speed of light. Nothing has prepared the liberal Iraqi women for the bleak future enforced by a constitution that doesn't separate the state from religion.

Sudarsan Raghavan of The Washington Post reports the following grim news from today's Iraq:

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.
Last year, Saud [An Iraqi women rights activist] 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.

This is the liberation Iraqi women were given by the Bush administration. This is the legacy he's leaving behind: This administration turned secular Iraq into another fundamentalist Iran of the 1980s.

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