Iraq is not an easy place to do much of anything these days, but perhaps most tragically, it is an impossible place to love, which is to say, "someone else." Shia men married to Sunni women are regularly forced to divorce their wives, and vice versa. Rand Abdel-Qader was beaten to death by her father and brothers for nursing an imaginary love affair with a British soldier. Upon investigating this honor killing, the police congratulated Rand's father, who blamed his wife's lustful genes for polluting his daughter. And when said wife tried to leave him and flee to Jordan, she was assassinated. "The way he was speaking about his daughter and wife was like if they were animals and not human beaings," says journalist Afif Sarhan (above left), who spoke to Rand's father for the Guardian and was sitting in his native Brazil, probably nursing a cold beer on a beach somewhere, when he learned poor Rand's infatuation had claimed its second victim and rushed back to cover the story. "Love has to be calculated in Iraq today," a country in which Sarhan says quite simply, "they think of women as machines."
But who are "they" exactly? In the case of one Sunni-Shia couple, college sweethearts deeply in love with one another, "they" was her (Shia) family, under pressure from Shia religious leaders, leaders under pressure from any number of forces — the famed Moqtada Al-Sadr, insurgents, local officials, it's never quite clear. The couple divorced; he shot himself two weeks later.
Stories like this go generally unreported in Iraq today; as for Rand's honor killing, it warranted 15 seconds on the local news, according to Sarhan. Everybody is too fucking scared. There is no shortage of good men in Iraq, but to be a good husband these days, as with many basic things we take for granted, can require an inordinate amount of bravery, as in the case of the husbands of a couple women in Basra who took it upon themselves to start an NGO promoting women's rights.
Thanks to some help from the Guardian, you can help those women and their husbands, along with six other women who work for the NGO, by emailing my PayPal account with funds so they can get the hell out of Basra and into Jordan. But what of the women — and men — who stay? If you can't fuck, what is there to live for? "TV, funerals and bad news," says Sarhan, with whom I spent the past few hours Skype-chatting.
Sarhan, who is 29, is not a participant in the Love Drought — he's taken; she's also Brazilian — but he does need work, if any editors are listening. He was kind enough to entertain my stupid questions, which I'll do you the courtesy of not transcribing here, but in summary:
Everyone in Iraq hates America but loves Obama. They hold out hope he will change things. Sarhan, a Lebanese Brazilian raised in Brazil, is one of those "moderate" Muslims the right wing press keeps telling us don't exist. He drinks liquor and is, by most definitions anyway, a feminist, though he keeps his personal views quiet when interviewing the upholders of honor killers and the like. He says the disastrousness of the invasion has almost thoroughly discredited anything smacking of "Western Values" but that, change being the one constant, that could change. In addition to an Obama presidency ushering in a new less audaciously harmful era of US foreign policy, Iraqis harbor hopes planted in them by Egyptian soap operas that they will someday not be dirt poor. They also like soccer, which is one of the many reasons Sarhan, sharing a birthplace with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, is more popular than the US Military, despite his radical feminist views. (Also he speaks like 90 languages.) "Poverty is the main issue that takes people to crimes and terrorism," he says. "If people had stable lives, work and education, our world would be much better…Iraqi people are good, really good."
If you're interested in Iraq Sarhan recommends the book Mayada
And if you're interested in adding to the Jezebel Exile In Jordan Fund, PayPal a donation to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll keep you updated on its size and status.
Afif Sarhan: The Blog [Blogspot]