Better the devil…

Ali Hili, the gay Iraqi activist who blew the whistle on grand ayatollah al-Sistani’s death-fatwa against homosexuals, recently appeared on Talking With Tatchell on online ‘TV’ station 18 Doughty Street.

Here is a summary of what he had to say:

Saddam was a tyrant. It is good that he is gone. But since the American and British-led invasion in 2003, a once prosperous nation has been reduced to chaos, impoverishment and terror. Homophobia, sexism and religious intolerance are spiralling out of control.

Despite Iraq’s immense oil wealth, mass unemployment and poverty are now the norm. In many regions, public utilities and welfare provision have collapsed.

Although many Iraqis are attempting to forge a peaceful, democratic future, much of the country is blighted by prejudice, war, mob rule, witch-hunts and sectarian violence. Most people live in a state of permanent insecurity and fear.

Suicide bombings, assassinations and death squad killings are daily occurrences. Some of this indiscriminate violence is perpetrated by foreign al-Qaida terrorists and by Sunni insurgents, including loyalists to Saddam’s now defunct Baathist regime.

But many of the killers are linked to leading Shia parties in the western-backed Iraqi government, in particular to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed wing, the Badr militia. Other killers belong to the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to firebrand fundamentalist cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.

Both these Shia militias have instituted a reign of terror, often aided and abetted by Iran. Despite their differences, Sadr and Badr share the common goal of establishing an Islamist dictatorship.

Under their brutal, perverse interpretation of Islam, Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities face harsh persecution; as do women who refuse to wear the veil and who refuse to submit to male domination. Also targeted by the Sadr and Badr killers are lesbian and gay people, women who have sex outside of marriage, and anyone who wears jeans or shorts or who listens to western music. Having a stylish haircut, drinking alcohol or wearing jewellery can get you branded as an “infidel” and result in a bullet in the back of the head.

Saddam was evil. But even under his savage regime everyday life and personal relationships were never subjected to such extreme moral policing and violent repression. In particular, for women and gay people, and for Muslims who follow the “wrong” interpretation of Islam, the clock is being turned back to the Dark Ages.

Or, you could watch the programme

To find out more about Ali Hili and his Iraqi-LGBT network, visit their blog, where, if you support their work, you can make a donation.

There will be those who will take this a evidence that Saddam should have been left where he was. But that is like saying that Ian Smith’s brutal and savage Rhodesian regime should have been left in place because Mugabe – in retrospect – turned out a far worse dictator (who could have imagined!?). I opposed the Iraq war precisely because I anticipated this chaos – a chaos set in motion by the war, but ultimatley caused by Islamist forces seeking to exploit the power-vacuum left by Saddam, and killing ordinary Iraqis in their hundreds every week. But even this is a fruitless debate. The world is as it is today, and that’s what has to be dealt with. ‘Coulda-woulda-shoulda’ really helps no one. So what is to be done? I must confess that I really don’t have a snappy answer.