When I was in middle school, my taste for fashion was — to say the least — interesting. I would hack my hair into asymmetrical experiments, dye it impossible colours, and layer myself with kitsch garments found in northern suburbs op-shops. I would have liked to have been caught reading Camus in public, and for people to ask what made me such a complex personality.
In other words, I was another precocious teenager who wore her emerging individuality on the outside. I've toned down on the black nail polish, but I still cut my own hair (with varied results).
Right now in Iraq, teenagers just like I was are afraid for their lives. The media have dubbed the phenomenon 'Emo Deaths': young men who dress in emo fashion — skinny jeans, black t-shirts, piercings — are being targeted as homosexuals.
According to officials and human rights monitors, between 58–100 young men have been abducted, tortured, and beaten to death with cinder blocks since February.
Human rights groups have identified the leaders of the death squads as Badr and Sadr, the armed wings of the two major Shi'a parties that govern Iraq. Morality police and religious courts are complicit in the murders, despite homosexuality remaining legal in Iraq.
A statement issued by the Iraqi government reads:
The Emo phenomenon or devil worshipping is being followed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate [the phenomenon] as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger.
They wear strange, tight clothes that have pictures on them such as skulls and use stationary that are shaped as skulls. They also wear rings on their noses and tongues, and do other strange activities.
As a former strangely-dressed teenager, I can assure you it had nothing to do with Satanic pens and pencils.
Even more concerning is that in 2005, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani — one of the most influential leaders in post-conflict Iraq — issued a fatwa calling for the execution of homosexuals, giving divine ordinance to the mundane affair of a hate-crime.
Ali Hili, an activist representing Iraqi LGBT, said, 'What is happening today in Iraq is one of the most organised and systematic sexual cleansings in the history of the world.'
At least 16 of the murders have occurred in Sadr City, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in outer Baghdad. During the war, the Shi'a area was heavily militarised, and subject to a four-year blockade. The city was attacked by the allied forces, Al-Qa'eda, and smaller sectarian militias. Thousands died.
The link between poverty, protracted conflict, and the homophobic pogrom in Baghdad's poor neighbourhoods is clear. Without even sufficient resources to live healthily, how is a society expected to emerge from a conflict as bloody as Iraq? And why would we expect any better when invasion created the conditions for war-lords, and the self-appointed Mujahadeen, to legitimise their authority?
In Bougainville where I am staying, people who work with women and families have observed a sharp increase in family and gender-based violence since the conflict that spanned the '90s; violence in the aftermath of war is very common.
It was between 2006–2012 — the latter phase of the Iraq war and the beginning of peacetime — that an estimated 750 Iraqi homosexuals were murdered because of their sexuality.
Some voices in the media have used the murders to incriminate religion. Misogyny and homophobia can, rightly or wrongly, be read into almost any religion, and such attitudes flourish while war wounds are fresh. But in the absence of religion, they would emerge from any other cultural outlet. They are, after all, patriarchal attitudes. People are constantly blaming religion for the damages of patriarchy.
It's very easy to describe human rights abuses in the middle east as the inevitable offspring of Islam. Less easy to attempt to understand the extent of social damage that turns people like us into people who hunt and bludgeon innocent teenagers.
'Peace is inextricably linked to equality between women and men,' reads a UN Security Council International Women's Day statement from 2000. I would include sexual minorities in the balance.
Australian weapons contributed to Iraq's abjection. Even if we legally recognise the rights of women, sexual minorities and obnoxious teenagers inside our own borders, our contribution to their persecution in other places should make us all a little uncomfortable.
Ellena Savage is a Melbourne writer and a past editor of the Melbourne University student magazine, Farrago.