MADRE News

Choose a news category:

Who is Killing the Women of Basra?

Posted on: Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Keywords: Women's Health, Combating Violence Against Women, Iraq, Middle East

In Basra, Iraq's second largest city, 2008 was ushered in with an announcement of the 2007 death toll of women targeted by Islamist militias. City officials reported on December 31 that 133 women were killed and mutilated last year, their bodies dumped in trash bins with notes warning others against "violating Islamic teachings..." But ambulance drivers who are hired to troll the city streets in the early mornings to collect the bodies confirm what most residents believe: the actual numbers are much higher. The killers' leaflets are not very original. They usually accuse the women of being prostitutes or adulterers. But those murdered are more likely to be doctors, professors, or journalists. We know this because activists from the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) have taken on the gruesome task of visiting city morgues to try and determine the scale and pattern of the killings. According to OWFI, most of the women who have been murdered "are PhD holders, professionals, activists, and office workers." Their crime is not "promiscuity," but rather opposition to the transformation of Iraq into an Islamist state. That bloody transition has been the main political trend under US occupation. It's no secret who is killing the women of Basra. Shiite political forces empowered by the US invasion have been terrorizing women there since 2003. Within weeks of the invasion, these groups established "Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice" squads, which many Iraqis refer to simply as "misery gangs." They began by patrolling the streets, harassing and sometimes beating women who did not dress or behave to their liking. Coalition forces did nothing to stop them, and soon the militias escalated their violence to torturing and assassinating anyone who they saw as an obstacle to turning Iraq into an Islamist state.

The Culture Card

Despite the clearly political nature of these killings, US media generally portray violence against Iraqi women as an unfortunate part of Arab or Muslim "culture." For instance, journalist Kay S. Hymowitz has catalogued the "inventory of brutality" committed by men in the "Muslim world," railing against "the savage fundamentalist Muslim oppression of women." Hymowitz echoes a commonly held assumption, namely that gender-based violence, when committed in the Middle East, derives from Islam. Of course, pinning violence against women on Islam is politically useful: it helps to dehumanize Muslims and justify US intervention in their countries. It also deflects attention from the many ways that US policy has ignored and enabled violence against the women of Iraq (like championing political leaders with an openly-stated intent to unravel women's legal rights). But in fact, culture alone explains very little. All human behavior has cultural dimensions, but culture is merely a context, not a cause or a useful explanation for violence, whether in Iraq or anywhere else. It makes much more sense to examine gender—a system of power relations whose number one enforcement mechanism is recourse to violence against women. There is nothing "Muslim" about that system, except that its Muslim proponents, like their Jewish, Christian, and Hindu counterparts, use culture and religion to rationalize women's subjugation. In fact, shifting the focus from culture to gender reveals a system of power that is nearly universal. Yanar Mohammed, the founder of OWFI, describes this year's killings of women in Basra as a campaign "to restrain women into the domestic domain and end all female participation in the social and political scene." Compare her comment to Amnesty International's conclusion about the ongoing mass killings of women in Guatemala. According to Amnesty, that wave of violence, "carries with it a perverse message: women should abandon the public space they have won at much personal and social effort and shut themselves back up in the private world, abandoning their essential role in national development." This certainly captures the intent of Iraq's Islamists, who have little in common with the killers of women in Guatemala, other than a rigid adherence to a gendered system of power. Instead of lamenting the "brutality" of Islam, the US media should start connecting the dots between the US occupation and the empowerment of people who use violence against women as a strategy to pursue their political agenda. We can start with the fact that the Pentagon has trained, armed, and funded the very militias that are killing the women of Basra.


« Back to "Press Room" Next Article »



Article Tools
Increase Font Decrease Font Reset Font Print Page Email Page


Archives

"Press Room" Home September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001

Contact

Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
EMAIL: media@madre.org

To sign up to receive MADRE media alerts, click here.

Bring MADRE to You