The Girls of Kurdistan: Liberated and Mutilated

As members of the Bush administration are running their final lap on a variety of shows to defend their legacy, especially concerning Iraq, it is necessary to remember that things are definitely worse for women and girls there (although we already know they don’t count, really):

"Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor’s house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan’s genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan’s mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq –and one of the few places in the world–where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament’s refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women."

This is what goes on in the "more progressive" region of Iraq, I can’t imagine what goes on in the rest of the country. But good news, Kurdistan has a Minister for Human Rights, what does he think of this issue?

The reasons given for circumcising girls are the usual ones: control girls sexuality and keep them "clean" so that men can eat the meals she’ll cook. And the stories are also familiar:

"Ghamjeen Shaker, a 13-year-old from the Kurdish capital of Irbil, said she is still traumatized from the day she was circumcised. She sits with her legs clenched together and her hands clasped tightly on her lap, as if protecting herself from another operation. Indeed, Shaker says she sometimes dreams that the midwife who circumcised her is coming back to perform the procedure again.

She was 5 when her mother sent her out to buy parsley and then locked her in the front yard of their home with six other girls. "I knew something bad was going to happen, but I didn’t know exactly where they were going to cut," she recalled. "My family just kept saying, don’t worry, this is a social custom we have been doing forever."

"They pinned me to the ground, and I just cried and cried," said Shaker, who spoke barely above a whisper. "I was just so astonished. But now I realize that they want to prevent women from living their lives normally.""

Or this,

"When Sheelan entered the room, her mother, Nawchas and a local woman placed the girl on a tiny wooden stool the size of a brick. The midwife applied yellow antiseptic to her pelvic area and injected her with lignocaine, an anesthetic. Little children peeked through the window to see what the noise was about.

"It’s all right, it’s all right," Sheelan’s mother whispered, as the girl screamed so loudly her face turned red. She tried to bunch up her skirt over her pelvis and shield the area with her hand, but the women jerked her arms back.

Then Nawchas uttered the prayer, made a swift cut, and immediately moved the girl over a pile of ashes to control the bleeding.

The entire ritual took less then 10 minutes.

Back home, Sheelan lay on the floor, unable to move or talk much. She clutched a bag filled with orange soda and candy and barely said anything except that she was in pain.

But she became more animated when asked whether it was worth it to have the operation so her friends and neighbors would be comfortable eating food she prepared. "I would do anything not to have this pain, even if meant they would not eat from my hands," she rasped slowly.

"I just wish that I could be the way I was before the procedure," she said."

Again, I do not want to read or hear another word on respect for other cultures. This is sexist torture and butchery in the name of religion and patriarchy.

The US War Against Al Jazeera

I know Robert Fisk is controversial. But he lives and breathes the Middle East and has intimate knowledge of it. In his latest column for the Independent, he reports on the restraint that Al Jazeera has shown considering the amount of atrocities on tape it receives:

""We’ve trained ourselves not to go to the maximum in our feelings when we see terrible things like this," Ayman Gaballah, Al Jazeera’s deputy chief editor, says bleakly. And I can see why. There are other tapes, other outrages too terrible to show. George Bush wanted to bomb the station’s headquarters in Doha but staff have shown great sensitivity with what they show the world from Iraq. There is no proof that any of Al Jazeera’s reporters was ever tipped off about anti-American attacks before they happened – in Iraq, I investigated these claims in 2003 and 2004 – but plenty of proof that some things are too awful to see.

On one tape, a half-naked man is held to the floor while another produces a small butcher’s knife and slowly carves his way through the victim’s throat, the poor man’s shriek of pain dying in froths of blood until his head is eventually torn from his body.

Another tape shows 18 Iraqi policemen held captive against a demand for the release of Iraqi women prisoners. They are aged between 17 and 40 and stare at the camera hopelessly.

Al Jazeera aired the pictures and the written demands but then cut the next scene. It shows the 18 men trussed up and blindfolded in front of a ditch. A hooded man then fires into the back of one of their heads and – along with other men off-camera – goes from one body to the next, firing again and again. Some of the victims are still alive, their legs kicking and the hooded man goes to each one and fires again into their heads. Then, in the background, a bearded youth approaches the camera, holding an Islamic flag. He is singing."

None of these have been aired. And yet, the Bush administration has an active war going on against Al Jazeera as if it were owned and controlled by Bin Laden himself:

"If Al Jazeera’s staff have paid a terrible price for their reporting and have been the witnesses to some of the ghastlier acts in Iraq, they appear to have the ferocious support of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who spends his millions funding the loss-making station.

Stories abound of the day that George Tenet – then America’s CIA chief – turned up in Qatar to give the Emir a dressing down for Al Jazeera’s reporting. There was a stiff row between the two men before the Emir walked out.

In Washington, he was invited to meet Vice-President Dick Cheney, only to find that Mr Cheney had a thick file on his desk when he walked in. It was Mr Cheney’s list of complaints against Al Jazeera. The Emir told him he would not discuss it. "Then that is the end of our meeting," Mr Cheney announced. "It is," the Emir apparently replied. And walked out. The "meeting" had lasted 30 seconds.

But those are the high points, the drama of Al Jazeera. The dark moments are on those terrible tapes. I asked some of the reporters how humans could commit such atrocities. None of them knew."

Like they say, read the whole thing.

In Which Tony Karon and I Share Contempt for Tony Blair

Everybody should read Tony Karon’s blog, Rootless Cosmopolitan , as a general rule. But I want to point out one item :

"Converted to Catholicism, ‘e did. And now he’s out to save the world . The problem with the idea of a global conversation between Muslims and Christians refereed by Tony Blair? Two words: Tony Blair.

The very idea that the co-author of the Iraq war; the man currently tasked with implementing a U.S. Middle East policy premised aimed at building up the regime of Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas — through such signal achievements as getting the Israelis to remove four (yes, four!) West Bank checkpoints — a man who suggests that there’s no basis whatsoever in reality to the grievances against the West imagined by most Muslims — the idea that this fellow is going to morph into the great conciliator between Muslims and the West, shows the utter dearth of feedback in the Bush-Bono bubble wrapped world in which he moves."

I wish I could write snark like that. And the rest is of the same caliber. Bottom line, Tony Blair was George Bush’s (willing or not willing, who cares) lapdog. But what is worse is that for all the claims to religious values (another pile of BS if we ever heard one), Tony Blair is a big phony, as illustrated by this item from Le Nouvel Observateur :

"The former British Prime Minister decided to make public his wife’s miscarriage to avoid the spread of rumors of Iraq invasion."

That’s right, Mr "We need the moral strength of religions" used his wife’s miscarriage as a propaganda tool to avoid dealing with the problem of England’s complicity on the then upcoming Iraq war. And who is the source for this: his wife, in her book. As she tells it: here she is, bleeding, while Tony and Alastair Campbell are discussing how to manage the press (if the Blair family cancelled its vacation without an explanation, the press might think that the invasion was imminent, better use the miscarriage).

Oh, and as for religion, Tony Blair’s position are of the usual condenscending and loathsome patronizing, for instance :

"Blair and those working with him think religion is key to the global agenda. "You can’t hope to understand what’s happening in the world if you don’t know that religion is a very important force in people’s lives," says Ruth Turner, 37, formerly a top aide to Blair in 10 Downing Street, who will head the foundation. "You can’t make the world work properly unless you understand that."

Tony Blair, please go away, on a pilgrimage or something, but leave the world alone, you’ve created enough mess as it is. But actually, such ideas might find a sympathetic ear someplace else (another thing that makes me want to throw up).

Honor Killing in Iraq – Update

About two weeks ago, I posted about this story of an honor killing in Iraq of a girl who had fallen in love with a British soldier. There is now an update from the Guardian, and it’s not good:

"Five weeks ago Leila Hussein told The Observer the chilling story of how her husband had killed their 17-year-old daughter over her friendship with a British soldier in Basra. Now Leila, who had been in hiding, has been murdered – gunned down in cold blood.

Leila Hussein lived her last few weeks in terror. Moving constantly from safe house to safe house, she dared to stay no longer than four days at each. It was the price she was forced to pay after denouncing and divorcing her husband – the man she witnessed suffocate, stamp on, then stab their young daughter Rand in a brutal ‘honour’ killing for which he has shown no remorse.

Though she feared reprisals for speaking out, she really believed that she would soon be safe. Arrangements were well under way to smuggle her to the Jordanian capital, Amman. In fact, she was on her way to meet the person who would help her escape when a car drew up alongside her and two other women who were walking her to a taxi. Five bullets were fired: three of them hit Leila, 41. She died in hospital after futile attempts to save her."

Leila’s own sons had disowned her. It is unknown who killed her. But this is the new Iraq, the democratic Iraq where mothers and daughters have become victims of systematic, religiously-based and sexist violence. I guess there is no war to wage against the terrorism exercised against women.