Sistani Retreats on Anti-Gay Fatwa
Removal from ayatollahs Web site not a full victory for Iraqi gays and exiles
BY DOUG IRELAND
Iraqi gays are claiming partial success following the decision by Iraqs Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and his aides to remove from his Web site a fatwa calling for the killing of homosexuals in the worst, most severe way possible.
The fatwa itself, however, remains in force, and has not been publicly repudiated by the grand ayatollah, who is the supreme religious authority for Iraqs Shia Muslims.
The removal of the fatwa from the ayatollahs Web site followed protests to Sistani by the London office of the Iraqi gay rights organization, Iraqi LGBT, which represents a clandestine network of lesbian and gay activists inside Iraqs major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Duhok, and Basra.
Following two weeks of often tense negotiations with Iraqi LGBTU.K., Sistanis office agreed to remove the fatwa calling for the murder of gay menbut unfortunately refused to remove the fatwa urging punishment for lesbianism.
Initially, Sistanis office had demanded that Iraqi LGBT-U.K. delete its criticisms of Sistani from that groups Web site and apologize to the grand ayatollah for questioning his religious authority. The gay Iraqi group refused, and instead issued a counter-demand that Sistani remove his death to gays fatwa from his Web site. Sistanis representatives in London and Najaf finally agreed to drop the homophobic fatwa from his siteexcept for the section calling for the punishment of lesbians.
While welcome, the removal of the murderous fatwa from Sistanis Web site is unlikely to affect the situation on the ground in Iraq, where death squads of the Badr Corpsnow operating in police uniforms with the authorization of the Iraqi Interior Ministrycontinue their lethal campaign of terror against gay people. Absent any public repudiation by Sistani of his fatwa and its formal withdrawal, the wave of organized intimidation, violence, and murder directed at Iraqi gays is likely to persist unabated.
(This reporters first story on the fallout out from the ayatollahs fatwa, Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays, published March 23 of this year, is available at gaycitynews.com/gcn_511/iraq.html).
We welcome the decision to remove the most murderously homophobic part of Sistanis fatwa from his Web site, gay Iraqi refugee Ali Hili, coordinator of Iraqi LGBT - UK, said from London. Ali is also Middle East Affairs spokesman for the British LGBT rights movement, OutRage!, which works closely with the Iraqi gay group.
But, Hili, said, This decision does not go far enough. The fatwa has been removed from Sistanis Web site only. It has not been revoked. We want the entire fatwa withdrawn, including the hateful denunciation calling for the punishment of lesbians. We urge Sistani to apologize and revoke, in public, his fatwa calling for the murder of homosexuals, and to issue a new fatwa condemning all vigilante violence, including vigilante attacks on gay and lesbian people. We believe that Sistanis fatwa has encouraged and sanctioned the current wave of execution-style assassinations of lesbians and gay men. He owes gay Iraqis an apology. He owes all Iraqis an apology for setting straight Iraqis against gay Iraqis.
According to the Iraqi LGBT group, Endorsing the murder of other human beings is un-Islamic. Our Muslim faith is one of love, compassion, tolerance, and mercy. Hatred and prejudice have no legitimate place in our religion. Sistanis encouragement of homophobic violence provokes negative views toward the Islamic faith and towards Muslim people.
Hili added, Iraqi LGBT-UK still holds Sistani personally responsible for the murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Iraqis. He gives the killers theological sanction and encouragement.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.