Cruel Iraq Percolating Democracy

March 15, 2012     

by Avi Melamed


According to recent reports, at least fourteen teenagers – some argue that the number is actually much higher – were murdered inIraq.  Most of the youths were stoned and others were shot.  They were targeted because they were labeled as “Satan worshipers.”

These teenagers are known in Arabic as “emo” – a shortcut for the English word “emotional.”   Their apparel and codes of dress are clearly inspired by Western heavy metal music and culture.

An anonymous entity entitled “The Rage Companies” published a leaflet which included the names of twenty-two other Iraqi teenagers.  The “Rage Companies” demand that these twenty-two individuals sever their connection with the “emo” group otherwise they too will be severely punished.

The Iraqi constitution recognizes the freedom of speech and expression.  However, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior officially announced its intention to “eliminate the group.”

Rumor has it that the “executing contractor” that did the Ministry of Interior’s “dirty work” was a Shiite group. Apparently, the teenagers were Shiites because most of the bodies were discovered in the eastern section of Baghdad in a Shiite neighborhood called Or.

The Shiite leadership in Iraqcondemned the murder, yet emphasized that the “emo” group and its behavior was completely inappropriate and they are antithetical to Islam and to Iraqi society’s values.

What is interesting about this incident is that even though the scope of the “emo” phenomenon inIraq is negligible, the impact it has had on the public discourse has been substantial.


First of all, this story exposes the unbridgeable animosity between Sunnis and Shiites inIraq.

Sunnis are the majority in Islam.

The Sunni clergy officially define the Shiite branch of Islam as a distortion of pure Islam.

In the eyes of the Sunnis, Shiism has an element of paganism which is totally antithetical to Islam.

People who present themselves as Sunnis wrote opinion pieces and articles arguing that the existence of a Shiite Satan worshipers i.e. the “emo” group is an inevitable outcome of that paganism.

Some Iraqis argue that the “emos” are simply imitating a foreign cultural which is natural for teenagers.  Some add that given the gloomy reality of life in Iraq, the “emo” phenomenon is simply an expression of frustration of the young generation.

However, others argue that the “emo” phenomenon presents a threat to Iraqi society and its values.

Given the chaos in Iraq one cannot avoid the irony of that particular perspective.

Shiite and Sunni militant groups which operate in Iraq including Al-Qaida, Iraqi Hezbollah, The Mahdi Army, The Sader Army, The Brigades of the True Believers, The Judgment Day Militia and others terrorize Iraqi civilians on a daily basis.

According to cautious estimates between the years of 2003 and 2010 about 110,000 Iraqis – most of them civilians – have been killed in the endless violence between Sunnis and Shiites inIraq.  Iraqi suicide bombers alone have, in that time frame, killed about 12,000 Iraqis and injured more than 30,000.  It is estimated that the number of widows and orphans in Iraq is exceeding 1,000,000 people.

Women are easy prey in Iraq.  In fact, Article 137 of the Iraqi constitution formally discriminates women in various aspects of life.  In the last decade a sex industry has developed inIraq.  Thousands of Iraqi women are forced to provide sexual services in both Iraq as well as in other Arab states like Jordan, Syria and the Gulf.  It is estimated that about twenty-percent of girls under the age of 18 have been kidnapped or sold by their relatives.

And finally, Iraq has enormous natural wealth of oil or gas.  However, one- third of the people live below the poverty line.

Chaos rules in Iraq and Iraqi society is drowning in violence, crime, poverty and corruption.

However, in 2012 Iraq, a group of harmless teenagers inspired by Western Heavy Metal culture is officially pursued, persecuted and murdered by the Iraqi government because they present a threat to the Iraqi society and its values.

An Iraqi columnist Aziz Al Hajj accurately described that irony in his article published last week in Elaph, one of the leading Arabic news portals, entitled:  Iraq Between the Satan Worshipers and the Looters of the People

The tragic story of the Iraqi “emo” teenagers has to do with a substantial issue – the Arab world and democracy.

This story reflects some negative aspects of Iraqi society – lack of tolerance, rejection of “the other,” hostility towards the “different” – and mostly – towards Western culture.

The absence of tolerance, the disrespect for alternative means of expression, and the demand for a strict conformity are not exclusive toIraq.  Unfortunately these characteristics are very common in the Arab world.

Given that, it is no wonder then that many people – including many Arabs – argue that a real democracy will never take hold in the Arab world.

The story of the Iraqi “emo” teenagers and the rise to power of parties that advocate an Islamist agenda and promote blatantly undemocratic values, clearly support that skepticism.

However, I believe that values and codes which are clearly inspired by democratic thought and ideology are beginning to percolate within the Arab world and this clearly irreversible process will only intensify over time. It will not be quick and it will not be painless.  However, we must always remind ourselves that Western democracy was not born overnight; it was a long, painful and challenging process.

The earthquake that has rocked the Arab world as a result of “The Arab Spring” – that most of you know I like to call “The Arab Awakening” – has generated many aftershocks that will continue to reverberate within the Arab world for years to come.  The Arab world has experienced a profound trauma – many of their dearest and most sacred beliefs, concepts and leaders have been shaken to the ground and unmasked.  What we are currently witnessing is the rebuilding of the Arab world.  This process is, and will continue to, generate massive turbulences and aftershocks throughout the Arab world and beyond.

The Arab world is at the beginning of a long, painful and challenging process.  However, I believe that in the long run we will witness a real assimilation of democratic values within the Arab and that a democratic model- adjusted to the Arab world – not necessarily identical to Western style democracy, will emerge in time.

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